fajardos at SPAMix.netcom.com fajardos at SPAMix.netcom.com
Wed Aug 18 22:41:56 MDT 1999

> I don't know about workers in and leftist intellectuals in Lima. But I have
> very little doubt that peasants in PCP controlled areas were able to feel a
> kind of freedom from oppression that they had never felt before. The first
> thing that PCP guerrillas did was haul brutal plantation owners, overseers
> and cops to the village square, try them and then execute them. This is the
> testimony of people who are hostile to the PCP.


The first peasant armed self-defense units ("rondas")emerged in the
northern mountains in Cajamarca and Piura in the 1970s to guard against
cattle thieves.  From there, as political violence spread through the
south-central highlands peasants organized rondas there as well to
defend the communities from attack. While these were still embryonary
the military moved to limit or destroy them under the administration of
Fernando Belaunde Terry (1980-1985), partly out of mistrust of the
Quechua peasants and partly due to a belief that the Armed Forces alone
should exercise a monopoly on weapons (They were unhappy even when Pres.
Alan Garcia supplied the police with North Korean HK assault rifles).

By the mid 1980s the Armed Forces had moved to try to control the rondas
and use them as a living shield between themselves and the PCP forces.
They organized villages reminiscent of the "poles of development" set up
in Guatemala.  Peasants were forced to set up around these villages as
their only protection, as the hinterland was turned into a no-man's land
where anyone was fair game for both sides.

In these villages, where they had been promised protection, the peasants
were left unprotected.  In many instances the PCP was able to carry out
killings within earshot of the military quarters without any
interference.  Moreover, unable to farm, peasants in strategic villages
were forced to turn to thievery to survive and excursions led by the
military became supply raids for the peasants forced to go along.

Surprisingly, in many remote communities, people hung on, living in
caves and farming by night in some instance, and always accompanied by
armed self-defense units.  In some places, refugees decided to return
and eke out a living from their land or die there, at home, on their own
land, amid their own mountains and under their own sky.  Still, in other
areas, whole new communities were set up on a militarized basis by
displaced persons and refugees from PCP base areas.

These communities tried to maintain a sort of neutrality under
conditions in which neither combatant side would allow neutrality to
exist.  The PCP initially gained widespread support by evicting abusive
authorities, usurers, and implacably tracking down cattle thieves.  They
imposed a sort of order which proved very popular in many areas, but
their brutality pushed them beyond what was acceptable for many
communities who while harboring grievances against individuals still
regarded them as community members and kin.  Over and over, one learns
of stories in which the population said "punish but don't kill" only to
be ignored by the PCP incursion force.

Then, when the military entered the fray in 1982, the PCP was unable to
defend the communities it had recruited in Ayacucho and Apurimac.
Indeed, while the peasants were facing the carnage of 1982-1984, which
wiped entire towns from the map, the PCP columns fled over the mountains
into Puno, Junin, and the Huallaga valley.  That's the "kind of freedom
from oppression" that the PCP left the peasantry with.

When they returned, the PCP militants that came were no longer from the
communities in the area and thus had no ties to the people.  Anyone who
had collaborated with the military or assumed any position of authority,
no matter under what duress, was executed as a traitor, often over the
community's opposition.  Those who found themselves living under PCP
control were forced to limit production and to break off trade with
other areas, thus severing vital networks for manufactured goods and
cash.  Moreover, traditional authorities and kinship structures were
replaced by the People's Committees, which banned many of the rituals
and festivals which bound the community kinship networks together and
helped establish community identity.  Over time, as things went worse
for the PCP elsewhere, more and more of the production was diverted to
feed the mobile guerrilla columns and hunger spread through the base

After years of the PCP's project with meager positive results, and
facing the prospects
of a war without end --which had already produced 25,000 dead, 4,000
missing, tens of thousands of orphans and widows, and the virtual
destruction of their communities-- the rondas turned to the military and
requested weapons.  By then, 1989 and on, the military had changed its
tuned and agreed to supply the ronderos with shotguns and shells.  With
these, augmented with farm implements, homemade guns, slings, captured
weapons, and even wooden replicas of guns, the ronderos moved from
self-defense to armed offense and reclaimed communal lands, driving out
the PCP columns.  By the mid-1990s thousands of peasants were moving
back to their villages, rededicating their towns, and attemptinmg to
rebuild their lives in peace -- a peace guaranteed by the presence of
the ronderos.

The military and Fujimori can crow all they want about defeating
subversion in Peru, but the truth is that the peasantry, self-organized
and armed, really defeated Sendero.  The peace belongs to them.

- Juan

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