The Rondas: Community-based resistance or an arm of the military?

September 25, 2007


Some proponents of refugee resettlement argue that peasant defense patrols-rondas campesinas-are the answer to the security concerns of returning refugees. There is widespread consensus in Peru that the rondas have been the key tool in pushing Shining Path out of important areas it previously controlled in the Andean countryside and parts of the jungle. Peasants in the northern Andes independently formed the first rondas campesinas in the late 1970s to try to prevent cattle thievery. In an attempt to legitimate their counter-insurgency strategy, the army began using the same term, rondas campesinas, to refer to military-led defense patrols. The army created the first defense patrols in and around Ayacucho in the early 1980s, and made peasant participation compulsory. By the late 1980s, however, autonomous rondas appeared throughout the conflict areas of the sierra and the jungle. Reports indicate that dozens, if not hun- dreds of rondas were organized in the late 1980s and 1990s independent- ly of the army to prevent further abuses by Shining Path.

Most of these defense patrols are once again under strict military con- trol, though many peasants continue to participate voluntarily. Several reports even indicate that peasants frequently seek out the military's help in the face of Shining Path attacks. This is a dramatic change from the early 1980s, when the military was notorious for its human rights abuses against individual peasants and sometimes entire communities.

The issue of the peasant defense patrols is quite complex and becoming increasingly politicized. Many Peruvians, including those on the moderate Left, are generally in favor of the patrols as an effective option against Shining Path. Others, including the radical anti-Shining Path Left, refuse, on human rights and broader political grounds, to consider any alliance with the military.

There is no doubt that the rondas have been a key part of the govern- ment's counter-insurgency strategy. For some-even on the Left-this is a positive sign, as it involves the civilian population in elaborating strategies of pacification. For others, however, the rondas put ill-equipped peasants on the front lines of the governments counter-insurgency war. Shining Path has brutally victimized the patrols, and the government has not prop- erly equipped or trained them to engage in full-fledged military actions. But many peasants have organized patrols on their own, and say that they want either a military base or a defense patrol in their community. Such appeals highlight the historical inability of the Peruvian state to provide basic security guarantees to its citizens in the Andean highlands. They also reveal the failure of Shining Path's peasant-based war.



Read the rest of NACLA's July/August 1993 issue: "Latin American Women: The Gendering Of Politics And Culture."

Tags: Peru, peasant patrols, refugees, displaced, shining path

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