The Dogs of War: The Animals of the Internal Armed Conflict in Peru (1980-2000)

This article is a part of our “Revolutionary Animals” series, which examines the roles of animals in revolution, representations of revolutionary animals, and the intersections between representation and the lived experiences of animals.

By Fritz Culp

Under the dark of night, several stray dogs disappeared from the streets of the City of Kings, only to reappear once again the following morning. On December 26, 1980, painted black and hung from light poles in downtown Lima, the metropolis awoke to dangling corpses with signs that read: “Deng Xiaoping, Son a Bitch!”[1] The perpetrators behind the macabre spectacle, the Communist Party of Peru – Shining Path (PCP-SL) – were also responsible for initiating the Internal Armed Conflict (1980-2000), a gruesome war that tallied over 69,000 casualties.[2]

Man hanging a dog from a lamp post.
The hanging dogs of Deng Xiaoping, 1980. By Carlos Bendezú, Caretas.

In the years leading up to the revolutionary movement, many awoke throughout the countryside, not to hanging dogs, but to empty corrals and herds that had seemingly shrunk overnight. Previously, the Revolutionary Government of the Armed Forces (1969-1975) had initiated a massive agrarian reform in 1969. In addition to the expropriation and redistribution of land, the military regime had promoted rural developmentalism by modernizing sheepherding and industrializing other animal husbandry activities.[3] These objectives, however, were derailed by a second military coup in 1975. Ultimately, the unfinished agrarian reform left profound judicial and structural voids that were conducive to corrupt officials, moral deviants, and cattle rustling in much of rural Peru.[4] Besieged by these circumstances throughout much of the 1970s, many Andeans looked to protect their livestock by bringing lawless individuals to justice, conditions which produced fertile grounds for the seeds of revolution to take root. 

As the violent conflict began in 1980, the Shining Path entered select Andean communities with promises for a new, more just order. Upon arrival, Senderistas carried out juicios populares (popular trials), that violently punished corrupt officials, degenerates, and abigeos (cattle thieves). While the PCP-SL frequently experienced resistance throughout the countryside, some hamlets openly welcomed political violence, reaffirming the party slogan which stated: “Blood will not drown the revolution, but water it.”[5] To be clear, while some seeds sprouted and flourished, rural support was less about initiating a revolution for global communism. For many highlanders, the people’s war was seen more as an opportunity to settle the score with intervillage rivals, confront remnants of agrarian cooperatives, or punish specific social deviants when local justice systems had failed to do so.[6]

In the years to come, however, political violence engulfed peasant communities, communal relations, and the domesticated farm animals that they had originally hoped to protect. When the PCP-SL was not committing acts of violence, insurgents frequently raided villages for supplies, oftentimes stealing sheep, cattle, and other domesticated animals. As a result, indigenous peasants became increasingly disillusioned with the Maoist rebellion and its unfulfilled promises.  

In the same way that unpunished cattle rustling incentivized peasants to voluntarily endorse the uprising, the carnage of livestock during the 1980s proved to be an equally destructive force, one that fatally disconnected the PCP-SL from its rural support bases. For instance, the Shining Path attacked an experimental cattle farm under the direction of the University of Huamanga in 1982. Insurgents raided the facilities for supplies, destroying tractors, and setting fire to what they could not take. The cries of peasant women, however, interrupted the cruel task assigned to young party members who had begun to slaughter the cattle. The heart wrenching petitions ultimately prevailed as the resolve and hands of the cadres faltered.[7]

Unfortunately, events like Allpachaka became more frequent as the internal conflict intensified. Findings from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and other studies show that rebels systematically eradicated sheep and cattle – even obligating peasants to kill their own farm animals.[8] In other instances, the Shining Path animalized their victims. In Huaycán, for example, insurgents covered a corpse with papers that read “así mueren los perros traidores” (traitorous dogs die like this).[9] The PCP-SL, however, was not alone in these morbid escapades. The increased presence of the counterinsurgency in the Andes had escalated violence against humans and animals alike. Together, state forces and guerrillas dehumanized indigenous peasants with such brutality that survivors lamented: “we lived and died like dogs.”[10]

Such violence became commonplace. In places such as Alto Canipaco, idle soldiers often killed livestock for sport.[11] Even the Nobel author Mario Vargas Llosa gravitated towards the unthinkable, recreating the Shining Path’s slaughter of over 400 alpacas in his novel Death in the Andes.[12] At this juncture, it became evident that both sides were utilizing domesticated animals and indigenous peasants as a currency of sorts, exchanging deadly blows to the opposition, all the while, inflating the cost of war. 

Equally important, the violence against animals and the tears shed on their behalf in Allpachaka reveal aspects of the revolution’s epistemic blindness. At the surface, the conflict had seemingly unfolded amongst Quechua-speaking peasants in the countryside, when in reality, all levels of the PCP-SL had largely consisted of Spanish-speaking white urban mestizos.[13] Moreover, the overzealous reverence for the doctrine of Mao and Marx distanced the Shining Path from Peruvian cultures and traditions. 

The autobiography of Lurgio Gavilán Sánchez – an Andean youth that fought for both the Shining Path and the Peruvian Armed Forces – confirms as much. Within the ranks of the PCP-SL, he and other illiterate monolingual Quechua-speakers understood very little, much less cared about the contents of Mao’s Five Essays on Philosophy.[14]And later as a soldier, Gavilán reflects on the assortment of animals he befriended in Ayacucho: when he was not catching crickets for his rooster, Gavilán talked with a black eagle that perched nearby or admired the captive fox trapped in the barracks.[15] In stark contrast to the party chairman, Abimael Guzmán, and his obsession for “crossing the river of blood,” the memories from the young soldier emphasize his acute awareness and appreciation for life. The PCP-SL, and to a lesser extent, the Armed Forces, had yet to see that Gavilán and indigenous peasants valued the lives of their animals in ways that extended well beyond their economic utility, much less grasp the underlying ontological and epistemological values that shaped their world. 

Two boys sitting and holding small animals.
Lurgio Gavilán Sánchez at the Los Cabitos Military Base (right)

While it is true that social deviants and cattle rustlers conditioned certain villages to embrace the uprising, it is also true that the rigid dogma of the PCP-SL held no esteem for life. As the war waged on, highlanders increasingly began to see themselves in Deng’s hanging dogs – a realization that led many degraded peasants to withdraw direct and passive endorsements for the insurgency. Intermingled with the rise of the peasant self-defense units and the capture of Abimael Guzmán and other leaders in 1992, the livelihoods and livestock of Andean highlanders show that by the late 1980s the erosion of rural support had already begun to turn the Maoist revolution on its head.

Fritz Culp is a PhD Candidate at the University of South Carolina in the Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures. His research examines political violence and extractivism in the Andes. Twitter: @FritzCulp

Title Image: The arrival of the Shining Path in Weqwes by Edilberto Jiménez in Chungui: Violencia y trazos de memoria.

Further Readings:

Aguirre, Carlos, and Paulo Drinot, eds. The Peculiar Revolution: Rethinking the Peruvian Experiment Under Military Rule. University of Texas Press, 2017.

del Pino, Ponciano. En nombre del gobierno: el Perú y Uchuraccay: un siglo de política campesina. Lima: Universidad Nacional de Juliaca, 2017.

Gorriti, Gustavo. The Shining Path: A History of the Millenarian War in Peru. University of North Carolina Press, 2000.

Milton, Cynthia. Art from a Fractured Past: Memory and Truth-Telling in Post-Shining Path Peru. Durham: Duke University Press, 2013.

Starn, Orin, and Miguel La Serna. The Shining Path: Love, Madness, and Revolution in the Andes. WW Norton, 2019.

Stern, Steve, ed. Shining and Other Paths: War and Society in Peru, 1980-1995. Durham; London: Duke University Press, 1998.

Theidon, Kimberly. Intimate Enemies: Violence and Reconciliation in Peru. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012.


[1] According to the PCP-SL, the Cultural Revolution had failed to maintain its course after Mao Zedong’s death, arguing that Deng Xiaoping had debased China by pushing the country towards global capitalism with his revisionist market reforms. Thus, the insurgency hung Deng in effigy, lambasting the statesman as an ‘imperialist running dog’ – a pejorative expression frequently utilized by Mao to denigrate counterrevolutionary imperial forces.  

[2] Even though the 1993 National Census recorded 17% of the total population as Quechua-speaking, over 70% of the deceased spoke Quechua as their first language. For further knowledge, see Carlos Iván Degregori, “Sobre la Comisión de la Verdad y Reconciliación en el Perú,” in No hay mañana sin ayer (Lima: Instituto de Estudios Peruanos, 2016), 27-68. 

[3] Javier Puente. “Livestock, Livelihood, and Agrarian Change in Andean Peru,” Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Latin American History. (2018): 2, 21.  

[4] See Enrique Mayer, Ugly Stories of the Peruvian Agrarian Reform (Durham; Duke University Press, 2009).

[5] Orin Starn, “Maoism in the Andes: The Communist Party of Peru-Shining Path and the Refusal of History,” Journal of Latin American Studies 27, no. 2 (1995): 409. 

[6] Miguel La Serna, The Corner of the Living: Ayacucho on the Eve of the Shining Path Insurgency (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2012), 163-65. 

[7] Carlos Iván Degregori, How Difficult It Is to Be God: Shining Path’s Politics of War in Peru, 1980–1999 (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2012), 121-130. 

[8] Comisión de la Verdad y Reconciliación, “Informe Final,” August 28, 2003, accessed on 3 March 2021; Edilberto Jiménez, Chungui: violencia y trazos de memoria. (COMISEDH, 2005), 149.

[9] Lugar de la Memoria, “Caso 1003732,” 1994, accessed on 30 March 2021.

[10] Kimberly Theidon, Intimate Enemies: Violence and Reconciliation in Peru (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012), 54. 

[11] Comisión de la Verdad y Reconciliación, “Informe Final”

[12] For more on the literary event, see Mario Vargas Llosa, Death in the Andes, trans. Edith Grossman (New York: Picador, 1993), 38-46. 

[13] A mestizo is a person of mixed European and Indigenous descent. 

[14] Lurgio Gavilán Sánchez, When Rains Became Floods: A Child Soldier’s Story (Durham: Duke University Press, 2017), 11. 

[15] Gavilán, When Rains Became Floods, 45-46. 

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