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BOOK REVIEW: "How Difficult It Is To Be God" by Carlos Ivan Degregori

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BOOK REVIEW: How Difficult it is To Be God: Shining Path’s Politics of War in Peru, 1980-1999  by Carlos Ivan Degregori  (University of Wisconsin Press) 2012

Translated into English and published shortly after his death in 2011, Peruvian anthropologist Carlos Ivan Degregori’s sweeping history of the Marxist-Leninist-Maoist revolutionary group Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso), is quite fascinating, particularly for those of us who, throughout the 1980’s, would hear the occasional news report about this violent, ideological insurgency somewhere in the Andes Mountains.

Fortunately, Degregori, a noted Peruvian intellectual, digs deep in exposing the read to the origins, inner culture, appeal and legacy of Shining Path and how over those years, up until the capture of revolutionary leader Abimael Guzman (a.k.a. Comrade Gonzalo) in Lima in September 1992 after years of war in the Ayacucho region and the deaths of as many as 69,000 people.

As the book notes, via editor Steve J. Stern: “The Shining Path proved formidable in its ability to organize cadres and build their ideological faith, to establish a beachhead of militants and sometimes a social base in rural communities, to overwhelm the local police, and to use lethal violence to enforces and expand complicity in ‘liberated zones.’”

Again, Degregori has to take us into political, economic and racial history in Peru, with the legacy of Spanish conquest of indigenous peoples.

And while the rural peasants would seem to be a natural ally to the efforts of Shining Path, the Senderistas ran into culture clashes because the “total domination” of Shining Path did not click with traditional peasant culture, along with Catholic and local Andean beliefs which the Shining Path “considered such beliefs archaic and disgusting.” The Senderistas viewed Andean culture as part of the past and a “reflection of the existence of man under landlord oppression.”

Reading it reminds me of the problems Che Guevara and his Marxist revolutionaries had in Bolivia in 1966-67 when they tried to win over the peasants in the rural countryside. The peasants weren’t buying what Che and the others were selling.

Now, young people seeking truth and coherence found something in Shining Path and Guzman himself is presented, via Sendero propaganda posters, as the fiery Marxist leader, holding his book and wearing spectacles and a suit. This would not particularly appeal to simple peasants where much of the action took place, outside the city centers.

Again, Degregori offers the reader a lot of information. Shining Path, we should note, is not romanticized at all and shouldn’t be. The author, who was personally affected by the terror they wielded, lays it all out there for the reader. An informative book. An important read.

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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