September 25, 2007

THE FIRST OF JUNE: THE RESIDENTS OF VILLA El Salvador's First Sector are holding an assembly. Suddenly a man gets to his feet, gun in hand, demanding to know the whereabouts of Mayor Michel Azcueta, who is not present. "Tell him his days are numbered," the man shouts and disappears into the night before the mayor's assistants can react. Nobody from the district can recall having seen that face before. The day before, ElDiario, generally acknowledged to be the voice of the Partido Comunista del Perd (Sendero Lumi- noso), had denounced Azcueta as a "calloused opportunist and traitor" who, against the will of the people had imposed "revisionist monstrosities" such as comedores populares, Glass of Milk Committees, citizens' patrols and self-man- agement. The threats against Azcueta, who is the United Left's vice-mayoral candidate for Metropolitan Lima, followed a rash of assassinations by Sendero Luminoso of union and grass-roots leaders last May, including the massacre of a dozen community leaders in Junin, the assassination of five labor leaders of the combative and radicalized Federaci6n Minera and of the provincial mayor of Azfngaro (Puno), also a member of the United Left. Sendero Luminoso is still viewed by many outside the country as an indigenous messianic movement that ex- presses the will of a more radical and better organized sector of the people. But in fact this group developed outside of and in opposition to the main social organizations of Peru's poor, which it considers to be "contaminated" by revisionism, pacifism, economism and other vices. Sendero's leaders are from the provincial, mestizo, intel- lectual elite; its cadre are youth suffering poverty and racial discrimination, including mestizo university and high school students from the provinces. Sendero offers hope to the desperate, a single, absolute and total truth to the disillu- sioned, and an extremely effective organization-a "war machine" as they call it-which holds the promise of total power. Above all, Sendero has proved seductive to young people with no grass-roots organizing experience. It appeals to the disorganized and looks down on any organization that is not affiliated with the party: "The leadership of the party is indispensable; nothing but the party," states one of its recent directives, adding that "with the people we use persuasion, but anybody who dares to violate the law will be sanctioned and even annihilated." Recently, Julio Portocarrero, a union leader of many years, was invited to chair a workers assembly in one of Lima's oldest industrial districts. Suddenly, four armed and hooded senderistas interrupted the meeting shouting slo- gans. Portocarrero answered them, "Only our enemies come here armed and hooded. If you say that you are the friends of the people, put your arms away and show your faces, and if you want to talk, ask permission and then wait your turn." The senderistas beat a retreat to the sound of insults and jeers. Recently, Sendero declared an "armed strike," that is, a compulsory work stoppage in the district of Chosica, 50 kilometers east of Lima. Days earlier, three Andean depart- ments had been forced to observe a similar "armed strike." In Chosica the day began with a march of defiance led by neighborhood children. Their parents refused to be cowed by Sendero's threats, and carried on with their usual activities. "Organization is the natural barrier against Sendero," says Victor Abregd G6mez, who as president of the Coordinadora Metropolitana de Organizaciones Vecinales represents a majority of the organized settlers. Perhaps that is why the organized poor are among Sendero's favorite targets.

Tags: Peru, homeless, Villa El Salvador, Shining Path

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