Abimael Guzman, leader of Peru’s Shining Path terrorist group, dies at 86

Abimael Guzmán, the mastermind of the Shining Path terrorist organization in Peru, a brutal Maoist movement that nearly toppled the country’s government in the 1980s and early 1990s, leaving thousands of people dead, died Sept. 11 in a hospital at a military prison outside Lima. He was 86.

Peru’s justice minister, Aníbal Torres, announced the death, saying the cause was an infection.

Mr. Guzmán, a onetime philosophy professor and longtime Communist Party member, traveled to China in the 1960s and became a devotee of Mao Zedong and the Cultural Revolution, a repressive movement meant to reorder Chinese society.

Calling himself “President Gonzalo,” Mr. Guzmán devised a set of principles based on Maoist thought as the guiding ideals of the Sendero Luminoso, or Shining Path, a term derived from an earlier leader of Peru’s Communist Party.
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Building a stronghold at a provincial university in Ayacucho in the Andes Mountains, Mr. Guzmán proved to be a charismatic leader whose followers — mostly students and small farmers — considered him a godlike figure. They called him the Fourth Sword of Marxism, after Karl Marx, Russian revolutionary Vladimir Ilyich Lenin and Mao. A U.S. State Department official once described him as “Charlie Manson with an army.”

Mr. Guzmán advocated a violent takeover of Peruvian society, maintaining that true revolution would come only after crossing a “river of blood.” To him, even the Cuban regime of Fidel Castro and the Chinese leaders who succeeded Mao were too soft. His vision of nationalism resembled that of Cambodia’s Pol Pot, whose regime killed nearly a quarter of the country’s population.

Mr. Guzmán sought to abolish banks, money and large-scale industry and aimed to reshape Peruvian life as a proletarian utopia, made up of farmers and craftspeople trading through barter.

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