Title: The Corner of the Living: Local Power Relations and Indigenous Perceptions in Ayacucho, Peru
Name: Miguel La Serna

Assistant Professor
Department of History
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Year: 2007
Type: Dissertation Fellowship
Summary: Why did some Peruvian peasants support the 1980s Shining Path insurgency while others joined the counterinsurgency? This is the main question I ask in this comparative study which uses the long-term experiences of the two historically significant communities Chuschi, the symbolic birthplace of the insurgency, and Huaychao, the birthplace of the peasant counterinsurgencyas a lens for understanding how it is that people from the same racial, class, and geographic origin can end up on two different sides of a civil war. I argue that historically-and locally-rooted power relations, social conflicts, and cultural understandings conditioned indigenous peasants divergent responses to the Maoist insurgency. As was the case in Chuschi, peasants who supported the guerrillas did so because it provided them with an opportunity to resolve local conflicts that had long been undermining local mores. By contrast, in communities such as Huaychao, where no such threat to the status quo existed, Shining Path experienced stauncheven violent resistance.

I arrive at this conclusion through an interdisciplinary research methodology. Drawing from detailed periodical research, oral interviews, and ethnographic field work in Ayacucho the wellspring of Perus armed conflictI began by identifying the key players and episodes of the civil war in Chuschi and Huaychao. I then pulled back the historical clock to see if any of these same figures appeared in the archival record during the forty year lead- up to the insurgency. Beginning my archival research in the year 1940 allowed me to examine the dynamics of power relationships and social conflicts for a full generation before the emergence of Shining Path. This methodology revealed a striking correlation between pre-insurgency conflict and insurgency-era political violence. In pro-guerrilla Chuschi, every single victim of Shining Path violence during the initial three years of the insurgency had a long pre-insurgency record of violating local mores. This suggests that villagers turned to Shining Path to administer justice and not necessarily because they subscribed to rebel ideology. In anti-guerrilla Huaychao, on the other hand, customary justice had successfully curbed the types of social and cultural transgressions that plagued Chuschi. It follows that villagers in Huaychao rejected Shining Paths proposition to replace their customary system of justice with the guerrillas radical popular trials. Only after 1983 does it become more difficult to detect clear patterns between pre-insurgency and insurgency-era violence. This makes perfect sense given that the guerrilla and counterinsurgency forces both escalated their attacks on the Andean peasantry after this period. Concentrating my analysis of the civil war on the first three years of armed conflict (1980-1983) allowed me to gauge indigenous peasants initial, grassroots, reactions to Shining Path. In short, this project offers a political history of Ayacucho communities before and during the Peruvian civil war.