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Miguel La Serna - 'Murió comiendo rata.' Power Relations in Pre-Sendero Ayacucho Peru, 1940-1983

Miguel La Serna - 'Murió comiendo rata.' Power Relations in Pre-Sendero Ayacucho Peru, 1940-1983

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Published by: José Ragas on Feb 05, 2012
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 Vol. 9, No. 2, Winter 2012, 1-34 www.ncsu.edu/acontracorriente
 
 Murió comiendo rata:
 
Power Relations in Pre-Sendero Ayacucho, Peru, 1940-1983
 
Miguel de la Serna
University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill
 While taking my first shuttle to the Ayacuchan community of Chuschi in 2007, I went over my archival notes with my research assistant, Alberto.
1
 
1
An earlier version of this essay appeared under the title: “Local PowerRelations in Ayacucho, Peru, 1940-1983” (Paper presented at the CLAH-AHA 2008Meeting, Washington, D.C., 3-6 January 2008). I thank Christine Hunefeldt,Nancy Postero, Susan E. Ramírez, Eric Van Young, and especially my anonymouspeer reviewer, for their thoughtful comments on previous drafts of this essay. I owea tremendous debt of gratitude to Alberto Tucno and Julian Berrocal Flores fortheir invaluable assistance during my field research in Chuschi and Ayacucho City.Finally, I thank the Ford, Fulbright, and Guggenheim Foundations for providingme with the financial support necessary to complete this project.
I told Alberto about Humberto Azcarza, a
mestizo
power holder who had been abusing Chuschi’s indigenous peasantry non-stop between1935 and 1975. Moments later, Alberto showed me an obscure text that hehad come across, about the neighboring town of Quispillaccta. I leafedthrough the pages and began reciting a passage about a bloody battle thaterupted between the peasants of Chuschi and Quispillaccta in 1960. Theauthors of the text, all of them Quispillacctinos, claimed that the
 
La Serna 2
Chuschinos
 
had been led by Azcarza and another
mestizo
named ErnestoJaime. These men, the authors argued, were not native Chuschinos
 
 but“foreigners” who had settled in the village as adults.“That’s not true,” interrupted the woman sitting directly across fromme, with whom I had been grinding knees for the past two hours.“What makes you say that?” I asked.The woman looked at me and smiled: “Humberto Azcarza was my grandfather.”My heart sank. I could feel my face turning flush red. Momentsearlier I had been talking about Humberto Azcarza as though he were aliterary villain, all the while his granddaughter had been sitting right nextto me! Rather than apologize, I decided to let her know about my research.The woman was quite friendly, and she seemed curious to know more. Ascarza’s granddaughter and I spent the next hour exchanging what weknew of certain names and episodes in Chuschino
 
history. Some of themHumberto had told her when she was a young girl living in Chuschi. When we got off the shuttle around 8:00 a.m., I gave her my card and she invitedus to come to her father’s house later that morning.“Can I borrow that book?” she asked Alberto, referring to the one written by the Quispillacctinos. He complied, and Alberto, the son of 
comuneros
(indigenous commoners),
 
never saw the book again.
2
 * * *This essay analyzes the power relationship between
comuneros
and
mestizo
notables in Chuschi, a community of mostly Quechua-speakingpeasants in the Andean department of Ayacucho, Peru. Chuschi achievednational fame after the Peruvian Communist Party-Shining Path (PCP-SL) burned the local registry to the ground on 17 May 1980 on the eve of Peru’sfirst democratic elections after twelve years of military rule. The episodesymbolized Shining Path’s Inicio de la Lucha Armada (Initiation of the Armed Struggle—ILA), for which Chuschi would serve as an early guerrillastronghold. Given Chuschi’s historical significance with respect to the
2
Field Notes, Chuschi (26 July 2007).
 
Murió comiendo rata
 
3
armed struggle, the community has received a good deal of scholarly andmedia attention in recent years. Understandably, this research has focusedon Chuschi’s experience during the immediate period of political violence(1980-2000).
3
The analysis that follows draws from and builds upon theories of moral economy. Conventional scholarship in moral economy emphasizesthe subsistence ethic and legal/material concerns that drive rural powerrelationships.This study seeks to broaden our understanding of both Ayacucho and the political violence by exploring the nature of local powerrelationships in Chuschi in the forty years leading up to the armed conflict.This approach will help explain why some indigenous Ayacuchans initially supported Shining Path’s “people’s war.”
4
In his influential 1978 study on peasant revolutions, JamesC. Scott argued that the advent of capitalism and commercial agriculturecaused landlords in Southeast Asia to abandon their longstanding socialand economic commitments to the peasantry, thus giving peasants cause tosupport collective violence.
5
During the 1980s and early 1990s, somescholars used this notion of moral economy to explain peasant support forShining Path. Cynthia McClintock, for example, placed a subsistence crisisat the heart of Ayacuchan peasants’ decision to support the Maoists.
6
 Similarly, Ronald Berg linked initial support for Shining Path in Andahuaylas to peasants’ cries for “economic justice.”
7
The conclusions of these moral economists have since been contested, some of them heavily. A good deal of this criticism focused on the moral economists’ analysis of economic structures, conditions, and relations. Samuel L. Popkin famously took issue with Scott’s assertion that the breakdown of pre-capitalistinstitutions jeopardized peasant livelihood, arguing that “there is no needfor dramatic subsistence crises before peasants in ‘feudal’ or subsistenceareas will support revolutionaries.”
8
 
3
See Gorriti,
The Shining Path
, 17-20; Isbell, “Shining Path and PeasantResponses”; Sánchez Villagómez,
Pensar los senderos
. A notable exception isIsbell’s
To Defend Ourselves
, which focuses on Chuschi’s community structuresduring the 1970s.
McClintock’s detractors were equally 
4
E.P. Thompson, “The Moral Economy”; Scott,
The Moral Economy 
.
5
Scott,
The Moral Economy 
.
6
McClintock, “Why Peasants Rebel.”
7
Berg, “Peasant Responses,” 116.
8
Popkin,
The Rational Peasant
,
 
3, 28.

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