On the Movimiento Revolucionario de Tupac Amaru
Along the west coast of South America lies the Republic of Peru whose fantastic mountains; kingdom of emerald in the Amazon; and its arid desert of Lima are called home to millions of nations of people, animals, and a plethora of coveted resources.
As a consequence of the latter, Peru had been a subject to Spanish colonization for nearly 300 years with the land pillaged along with centuries of genocide and enslavement of its people. Political domination of the Spanish lasted until the 19th century with the bourgeois revolutions of South America that led to wealthy criollo-rule, merely a republican form of Spanish monarchy. Due to the conditions of the Native, Black, peasantry, and working-class Peruvians, the writings of Jose Carlos Mariátegui, renowned as the father of Peruvian communism, resonated with the masses and contributed to the growth of prominent socialist parties including but not limited to the Partido Comunista de Perú and Partido Comunista del Perú-Marxista-Leninista. These two groups later developed into the two biggest communist insurgent groups in Peru, the Sendero Luminoso for the former and the Movimiento Revolucionario de Túpac Amaru for the latter. It was also during the decades of the communist uprising that the trafficking of cocaine from South America into the United States took the national stage on political debates in the United States. The US empire declared a “war on drugs” that set Draconian and punitive punishments for its users at home and set the justification for intervention abroad. The Peruvian and US governments facilitated the trafficking of drugs through Latin America while scapegoating communist groups as a measure of counter-insurgency, while the US funded right-wing dictatorships and death squads. This piece will explain the actions carried out by the Movimiento Revolucionario de Tupac Amaru through the CIA and the War on Drugs.
The Epoch of Primitive Communism
Pre-Columbian Peru was home to one of the largest empires in the world, the Incan empire. While class hierarchy existed, what Engels would later write about in The Origins of the Family, Private Property, and the State, the Inca’s had a practice called mita which refers to a collective labor system regardless of class status and the equity of the resources produced. In the 17th century, during the spread of the Spanish empire, Francisco Pizarro and the conquistadors slaughtered and destroyed Incan communities all through the lowlands of Peru and nearby areas. The Spanish brought enslaved people from western Africa to replace the rapidly dying native populations in the Peruvian lowlands to produce cash crops for the empire, while also using native labor and stealing gold for the crown and the Catholic Church. The Spanish also brought a new caste system during their colonization of Peru;
Españoles ranked as the most elite, peninsulares.
Criollos who were of Spanish descent born in the colonies. Mestizos were those who were Spanish and Native.
Mulattoes were those who were African and Spanish. Indios were those who were Native.
Negros were for those who were African, and Zambos.
The lowest on the colonizer’s system, were for those who were of Native and African descent (Gaughran Colonial Peru, the Caste System, and the “Purity” of Blood 1).
The Spanish had a process of systematically creating new races through miscegenation of the people they enslaved, called mestizaje. Berta Ares Queija wrote in “Mestizos, Mulattos, and Zambaigos” about the mestizaje in Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia and brings attention to the miscegenation, especially, people with African origins. She wrote on a Peruvian quote “El que no tiene de Inga tiene de Mandinga”...“...y muchos tienen a la vez un tanto de Inga y un tanto de Mandinga” which means he who does not have Indian blood has African blood and many have a lot of both Indian and African blood. The Spanish caste system was born out of misogyny, racism, and religious imperialism but mostly explains the modern Peruvian racial demographics. 45% of Peru is native, majority being Quechua and Aymara, 37% are mestizo, 15% are white, and 3% being between Afro, Japanese, and/or Chinese Peruvian. However, it is believed the Afro-Peruvian population is about 10% of the population, as Afro Latinidad in Peru was formally recognized in 2017. The colonial history of Peru is key to understanding the particular conditions of the country that sparked decades of revolutionary struggle against capitalism, it serves to understand who were the oppressed and who were the oppressors.
As a result of racialized class systems, many along the bottom of the pyramid found themselves allied with the socialist movement.
The establishment of the MRTA followed the coup d’etat against President-General Velasco who nationalized Peruvian oil from the New Jersey Standard Oil Company, established Quechua, Aymara, and Spanish as Peru’s official languages; levied a much needed land reform and redistribution to the peasantry; and denounced U.S. imperialism into Peru and all of Latin America. President Velasco was ousted by the urban Peruvian bourgeoisie and replaced through another military coup by General Morales Bermudez (Bamat 130), a conservative and pro-capitalist president who adopted IMF policies which plundered the Peruvian economy (Taylor 3).
According to Maoism in the Andes by Lewis Taylor who gathered information through the words of Mercado of Sendero Luminoso, during the Bermudez administration “wages fell by 35%” while “prices rocketed by 221%”. The MRTA developed out of the remnants of several leftist organizations of Peru, as did Sendero Luminoso, but the two differed on execution, tendency, and organization. As for Sendero Luminoso, Chairman of the Peruvian Communist Party Abimael Guzman, better known as Gonzalo, developed a tendency known as Marxism-Leninism-Maoism which his party said mirrored the philosophies of the Chinese revolution and protracted people’s war with Mariáteguismo. In fact, in Mariátegui’s Seven Essays on the Peruvian Reality, which describes the socioeconomic conditions of the country being unique as a former Spanish colony, Mariátegui wrote “el Marxismo-Leninismo es el sendero luminoso del futuro” which means in English “Marxism-Leninism is the shining path of the future”, which inspired the name for the PCP’s newspaper. MRTA, on the other hand, saw the Chinese revolution as Marxism-Leninism applied to Chinese conditions that though are similar, not the conditions of Peru. MRTA had several departments in its overall organization that worked to tackle the Peruvian state such as its mass front groups, theoretical cadre, and armed forces. The MRTA had described itself as stuck between radicalizing the social democrats of the “legal left” and bringing dialectical materialism to the “dogmatic militarists of the Shining Path” (McCormick 7).
While being politically active for over a year and under different banners, the MRTA first gained international attention when the armed wing when it bombed the residence home to U.S. marines stationed in Lima, Peru. Through movement-building in cities like Lima and Trujillo but especially in the rural, extremely impoverished communities, the MRTA’s membership and sympathizers increased to cause alarm first through the intensity of the violence, the loss of private capital, and the level of support from Peruvians. While the MRTA and Sendero Luminoso were struggling against the Peruvian government, the real authority, as all three players knew, was the U.S. government. This is exemplified the CIA’s report on MRTA in 1991 stating that the MRTA had attacked U.S. spheres of influence 100 times.
In 1991, both Sendero Luminoso and the MRTA declared war on the United States, as reported in the CIA’s Terrorism Review of Anti-U.S. Terrorism in Latin America. Later that year, the CIA gathered information on the MRTA’s internationalism, finances, and intra-national affairs. The report said “the MRTA poses one of the most serious threats to U.S. interests in Latin America today”.
But while the Andes were organizing, U.S. and Peruvian capitalists collaborated on policies to crackdown on the indigenous insurgents.
During the 1880s into the 1950s, U.S. capitalists and pharmacists found the remarkable effects of the coca leaf, which is native to the Andes, of course all of which native Peruvians have already known of and been using for centuries. Paul Gootenburg’s Secret Ingredients: the Politics of U.S.-Peruvian 1915-1965 had quelled my skepticisms over rumors that Coca-Cola had previously used cocaine as its base ingredient. In fact, it was the coca leaf, the base for cocaine in the same way poppy seeds are the base for heroin, that was used in coca-cola which, slowly then, ended up developing into cocaine. Gootenburg wrote “in response to growing medicinal demands after 1884, Peru began busily exporting to the United States and Europe substantial quantities of dried coca-leaf-from the native plant Erythroxylon Coca” leading into the west’s discovery of the effects of cocaine. Afterwards, once criminalized and banned from the U.S., the United States sought to restrict the growing of coca plants by the Peruvian population also at the same time as the privatization of Peruvian lands while Maywood Chemical and Coca-Cola’s, both American companies, investments in Peru were at its height. One may infer that through corporations, the United States facilitated the trafficking of cocaine while criminalizing the Peruvian people for indulging in a cultural plant. As imperialists have done with the FARC, the FMLN, and in modern days the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, the stigma of being attached to the trafficking of drugs and being a Latin American leftist have become inseparable.
The tendency of leftist movements, as with Sendero Luminoso and the MRTA, are to organize and work with the indigenous and the peasantry in rural communities. In the case of Peru, many of the communities in the Cuzco state are underserved and under-developed, leading to a larger support for leftist activity. However, it is also with these native and oppressed groups that grow coca leaves, that the criminalization of their native plant was painted on their skin. Suzanna Reiss wrote in “We Sell Drugs: the Alchemy of U.S. Empire” how despite the U.S. being the top importer and retailer of coca-leaf products, after the prohibition of coca in the U.S., the empire had painted Peruvians, especially natives, as “cocaine addicts” which prompted further U.S. interventionism into Peruvian affairs. The trafficking of cocaine from Peru to the U.S. was pinned on Sendero Luminoso and the MRTA as means of self-financing by American “analysts” and became central in discrediting the efforts of socialism building in Peru to both Limeño and American audiences.
However as with the Iran-Contra Affair, the right-wing accusers of the MRTA had much more than blood on their hands.
In his A Language Older Than Words, Derrick Jensen interviewed former MRTA member, who is in exile in Germany, Isaac Velazco about the MRTA, the U.S., and Peruvians. From his research of the drug trade in Peru, Jensen shares that “in 1996, one hundred and sixty-nine kilos of cocaine were found in the presidential plane, one hundred and twenty kilos were found in one Peruvian warship, and sixty-two in another. Also that year, Demetrio Chavez Petaherrera...testified in a public hearing that since 1991 he’s been personally paying Peru’s drug-czar Vladimiro Montesinos (an ex-CIA informant)...$50,000 per month in exchange for information on United States Drug Enforcement Agency activities”. However, the U.S. imperialist machine still drew connections of cocaine trafficking to the leaders of the communist insurgency. Victor and Jorge Quispe Palomino, leaders of the Sendero Luminoso, had been declared by the U.S. Department of Treasury as narcotic traffickers.
As the War on Drugs grew, so did U.S. intervention in not only Peru, but all of Latin America. Today, there are roughly 800 U.S. military bases outside of U.S. territory, 76 of them are in Latin America with 8 in Peru (Lindsay-Poland 1). In 1992, Clifford Klaus wrote for the New York times under the headline “U.S. Will Assist Peru's Army in Fighting Cocaine and Rebels” sharing that the U.S. will be sending $10 million to the Peruvian government to “to help the Peruvian military fight drug traffickers and Maoist guerrillas involved in the cocaine trade” funding, training, and leading the Peruvian military in a war against its oppressed.
The Internal Armed Conflict in Peru took the lives of 69,000 Peruvians, mostly at the hands of the Peruvian state forces.
In the 1990 Peruvian election, the conditions of Peru dramatically changed with the victory of Alberto Fujimori, emerging from a political machine FREDEMO (Frente Democrático) that is pro-U.S. and pro-capitalist. It was with the reactionary military rule of Fujimori that the Peruvian internal conflict grew increasingly bloody. Grupo Colina was established by Fujimori that was an anti-communist death squad. This combined with millions in defense from the strongest country on the planet proved to be the prevailing threat to the communist insurgency.
Yet the MRTA continued to resist and in 1996 carried out their final major attack: the hostage crisis on the Japanese Embassy. Alberto Fujimori was of Japanese descent and had invited politicians in Japan to Peru to celebrate Japanese Emperor Akihito’s 63rd birthday when 14 members of the MRTA stormed the ambassador’s home and held high-level officials hostage for nearly four months. They treated the officials with relative compassion and once the standoff ended, members of the MRTA were murdered and mutilated in unmarked graves. The aunt of Nestor Cerpas, the leader of the MRTA, was arrested for attempting to honor his memory (Jensen 1).
In 2001, after rewriting the constitution and arranging a self-coup to manage a third term, Alberto Fujimori was arrested and sentenced to 25 years for crimes against humanity. He has two children, Keiko and Kenji Fujimori, who followed in his footsteps of high-level political status in Peru and in 2017, then-President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski gave a humanitarian pardon to Alberto Fujimori which resulted in his resignation with a 17% approval rating. Peru today is regarded as one of the most U.S. friendly countries in Latin America, however, this title was granted just before Brasil’s Bolsonaro ascended to power.
The story of the United States and capitalism in my family’s country is just a part of the larger narrative that is smaller nations losing their sovereignty to the will of larger nations. To the United States empire, the Global South exists for U.S. capital and its people are vessels of free labor. But as Peruvians, our blood is full of struggle and resistance that has been passed down from our ancestors. The conditions of Peru, despite the political climate, still invigor struggle among the masses. While the results of the Peruvian Internal Armed Conflict have resulted in reactionary politics, state sanctioned violence, and extreme state surveillance, the legacy of the communist insurgents inspires and continues to educate the internationalist socialist movement. As our people continue to resist, victory is but on the edge of the Peruvian tongue.
Kayla Popuchet is a Peruvian-American CUNY student studying Latin American and Eastern European History, analyzing these region's histories under a scientific socialist lens. She works as a NYC Housing Rights and Tenants Advocate, helping New York's most marginalized evade eviction. Kayla is also a member of the Party of Communists USA and the Progressive Center for a Pan-American Project.
This article was republished from Kayla Popuchet's Blog.