From the Sierra to the Cities : The Urban Campaign of the Shining Path

by Gordon McCormick


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The current insurgency in Peru is an expression of a larger, historically based conflict between the traditional societies of the sierra and the modern, Spanish-speaking culture of the coastal plain. This dichotomy, which began with the Spanish conquest, has played a powerful role in shaping modern Peruvian history, ensuring that even under central government, Peru has remained culturally divided. This report examines the urban guerrilla campaign of Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path). It assesses Sendero's organization and operations within the city and the integrated role played by the urban and rural campaigns in the movement's larger theory of victory. The study examines the factors that brought Sendero into the city and the ideological and organizational assumptions that underlie its approach to urban operations, and compares them with those of the other South American urban guerrilla organizations of the late 1960s and early 1970s. The author discusses Sendero's position within and around Lima, the nature of its position elsewhere in Lima department and the surrounding central highlands, and the implications of this position for Sendero's general game plan against Lima and the central government. He examines recent trends in the movement's counter-urban campaign in the interior and what they suggest about Sendero's growth and level of consolidation in the sierra; he also discusses the difficulties Sendero has encountered in operating in an urban environment. Finally, he presents a net assessment of the strengths and limitations of Sendero's urban campaign and its implications for the stability of the prevailing order and the future of Peru.

The research described in this report was sponsored by the Under Secrety of Defense for Policy. The research was conducted in the National Defense Research Institute, RAND's federally funded research and development center.

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