Voices From the War: Exploring the Motivation of Sendero Luminoso Militants.


This study focuses on the militants of the Partido Comunista del Perú - Sendero Luminoso (PCP-SL). It argues that it is wrong to consider these as a homogenous group who joined the PCP-SL for the same reasons and in the same way. Using the testimonies of the prisoners accused of terrorism, it shows that the motivations of Sendero Luminoso militants varied according to their profile and their position in the organisation's political hierarchy. Teachers and local officials, at the top of the party, were strongly committed to the movement's ideological rationale and to popular war and still believe revolution is the only solution for social change. University students were usually second-rank militants with a social conscience and ideological training, and with a strong desire for belonging. Peasants and merchants constituted the masses, who sympathised with the PCP-SL discourse and saw in it an opportunity to change their situation.

The PCP-SL's strategies of recruitment also varied according to the profile of potential militants and the conditions it encountered. Within the universities, ideological training and the building of clientelistic relationships were the most effective mechanisms to attract militants. In the rural areas, the PCP-SL resorted to a combination of strategies, including participation in community tasks and punishment of those who threatened community order. The use of terror and coercion gradually became a common strategy as resistance to the PCP-SL grew.

The paper is based on a review of 121 testimonies from prisoners and of the final report of the country's Truth and Reconciliation Commission. From these, it was possible to reconstruct the profiles of the PCP-SL militants, to understand why they joined the party, and to learn more about how they were involved with it.


CRISE Working Paper 57, 72 pp.

Voices From the War: Exploring the Motivation of Sendero Luminoso Militants.

Published 1 January 2008