Abimael Guzman, the leader of the brutal Shining Path insurgency in Peru who was captured in 1992, died on Saturday in a military hospital after an illness, the Peruvian government said.
Guzman, 86, died at 6:40 a.m. local time after suffering from an infection, Justice Minister Anibal Torres said.
The former philosophy professor launched an insurgency against the state in 1980 and presided over numerous car bombings and assassinations in the years that followed. Tens of thousands died. Guzman was captured in 1992 and sentenced in life in prison for terrorism and other crimes.
The Shining Path “murdered thousands of innocents and undermined the peace of the country. We do not forget the horror of that time, and his death will not erase his crimes,” Economy Minister Pedro Francke said.
Guzman preached a messianic vision of a classless Maoist utopia based on pure communism, considering himself the “Fourth Sword of Marxism” after Karl Marx, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin and Mao Zedong.
He advocated a peasant revolution in which rebels would first gain control of the countryside and then advance to the cities.
10,000 armed fighters
Guzman’s movement declared an armed struggle on the eve of Peru’s presidential election in May 1980, the first democratic vote after 12 years of military rule.
Throughout the 1980s, the man known to his followers as Presidente Gonzalo built up an organization that grew to 10,000 armed fighters before his capture inside a Lima safehouse in September 1992 by a special intelligence group of the Peruvian police backed by the United States. Since then, he was housed in a military prison on the shores of the Pacific that was built to hold him.
By the time Guzman called for peace talks a year after his arrest, guerrilla violence had claimed tens of thousands of lives in Peru, displaced at least 600,000 people and caused an estimated $22 billion in damage.
A truth commission in 2003 blamed the Shining Path for more than half of nearly 70,000 estimated deaths and disappearances caused by various rebel groups and brutal government counterinsurgency efforts between 1980 and 2000.
In its songs and slogans, the Shining Path celebrated bloodletting, describing death as necessary to “irrigate” the revolution.
Its militants bombed electrical towers, bridges and factories in the countryside, assassinated mayors and massacred villagers. In the insurgency’s later years, they targeted civilians in Lima with indiscriminate bombings.
Nearly captured in 1990
For 12 years, Peruvian authorities could not crack the Shining Path’s ranks, organized in a near-impenetrable vertical cell structure. Guzman was nearly captured at a safehouse in Lima in June 1990, but slipped away.
Guzman was initially sentenced to life imprisonment by a secret military tribunal, but Peru’s top court ruled in 2003 that the original sentencing was unconstitutional and ordered a new trial. He also received a life sentence at the 2006 retrial.
The Shining Path was severely weakened after Guzman’s capture and his later calls for peace talks. Small bands of rebels have nevertheless remained active in remote valleys, producing cocaine and protecting drug runners.