Thursday, November 17, 2011

Augusta la Torre Carrasco, a.k.a. Comrade Norah

To give context before you read this piece: Sendero Luminiso (Shining Path) is a Peruvian Maoist guerrilla group that initiated in 1980 its opposition to the established military government of Peru. Shining Path is regarded as a terrorist organization by the Peruvian government, European Union, United States, and basically anywhere else that capitalism flourishes. Whether or not they are terrorists is not for me to convince you here. They are known as one of the most brutal guerrilla groups to have ever existed since they have had, in the past (I don't know about now), a policy of killing all rival leftist groups and civilian deaths have been linked to them. 

Based on what I've read, their main political goal has been to overthrow the Peruvian government and replace it with a new democracy that is led by the people. I won't go into any specifics about their Maoist/Marxist ideology and militant strategies. If you know Maoism well and truthfully, then you can pretty much guess. Overall, I think it is important to know that Present-Day Shining Path activities have been reportedly different from the context in which Comrade Norah found the SL. A lot of what the Shining Path has been doing lately seems to deviate from the original political activities that Gúzman and his comrades carried out.

      Comrade Norah was a founder of the Peruvian Maoist revolutionary guerrilla group, "Sendero Luminoso" (Shining Path). Born as "Augusta la Torre Carrasco" in the town of Huanto on 1945, Comrade Norah was surrounded by a family with strong political lineage. Her grandfather, Carlos la Torre Cortez, was already known for forming the Rights of Man's defense League in 1923 who lobbied against the policies of President Augusto B. Leguía. Her father was a leader of the Peruvian Communist Party (PCP).  Because of her father's involvement in revolutionary politics, Comrade Norah was influenced at a young age with a certain political orientation in mind; one that was against the feudalistic, backwards society she lived in. Her experiences with her politically active family members contributed to her decision to join the Communist Party in 1962 at age seventeen. It was through her mother and father that she would meet her husband, Abimael Gúzman, a professor of Philosophy, who is today credited as being the sole founder of Sendero Luminiso. However, other sources have repeatedly cited Comrade Norah as being involved in all levels of in organizing the group. The high level of participation from women at the beginning of Sendero Luminiso and throughout the formation of the group is traced back to Comrade Norah's efforts in organizing groups centered around women's issues in Peru.

       Tracing Comrade Norah's political maturation and her life in general has been a difficult task that researchers today are still working on. After the late 1970s, she lived in hiding alongside her husband. We know that two years after Norah joined the PCP, the communist party divided into a Pro-Soviet and Pro-China group (basically two different ideological camps who either agreed with the revolutionary ideology/practices of the Soviet Union or agreed with Mao and his approach in establishing a People's War and People's Republic). Norah chose the Maoist faction of the group called "Bandera Roja". Bandera Roja sent her and Gúzman to China to further their political education in March 1965. Both of them spent five months training in an officer's school, receiving lessons on Marxist and Maoist philosophy, as well as lessons engaging military practices. She and her husband eventually broke with "Bandera Roja", disagreeing with the leadership strategies of it and founded "Red Fraction". Out of this group arose the first strands of what would become Sendero Luminoso

Another pic of Comrade Norah
       Much of Norah's work, as I mentioned earlier, was in mobilizing women. When she and Gúzman returned from their trip in China, she led the  Women's Popular Centre, a movement that raised political awareness by sponsoring talks, creating, and distributing written propaganda. Augusta la Torre, Elena Ipparaguirre (another Sendero Luminiso member, a close friend of Comrade Norah, and later wife of Gúzman, after Norah's death), and Catalina Andrianzen authored the 67-page book El Marxismo, Mariátegui, y el movimiento femenino (Marxism, Mariátegui, and the feminist movement). In 1974, Comrade Norah continued to mobilize women through the Women's Popular Movement or People's Women's movement (depending on the source you read), a movement that was formed as a fusion of the Women's Popular Centre and the Women's University Front at the Universidad Nacional San Cristobal de Huamanga (UNSCH). Norah and other members of this movement did most of their political work in the countryside in order to nationalize the organization, realizing how important it was to have the participation of peasant women as well. The presence of the Women's Popular Movement has been noted in Arequipa and Lima's shantytowns.

        Her radical views and political work eventually attracted attention from the Peruvian government. Throughout her political work and life, she denounced the military government under which the Peruvian's peasant and working-class were oppressed. In a 1975 speech, Norah said to an assembled crowd that the regime was for "utlising women for capitalist, pro-imperialist, and feudal interests". In the First Convention of Women Workers in Lima, she described the government as bloodthirsty and inhumane. In 1969, a government report was issued detailing Comrade Norah's political activities. That same year, while participating ferociously in the education protests in Ayacucho and Huanta, she was arrested. Even after her brief imprisonment, she continued to promote Sendero Luminoso and in a 1975 debate with the intellectual, Carlos Franco, she defended Marxism. Her clear commitment to the party and to promoting visible opposition against the established military dictatorship earned her lead positions in the committees and bureau of Sendero Luminiso.

       On December 24, 1980, the radical led SL's first major guerrilla attack on the Hacienda San Agustín de Ayzarca in Pujas. After this attack, Comrade Norah retreated permanently to the countryside to focus on strategies for carrying out guerrilla operations. In 1988, her death was announced and to this day, the circumstances of her death are unclear. Comrade Norah is today remembered as Sendero Luminiso's greatest heroine and the prominent reason for the great level of participation of women in Sendero Luminiso. SL is known for having the biggest political participation from women and for having the greatest amount of female leaders.

         Regardless of how people feel about SL, I value Comrade Norah and I do, on many points, agree with the political aims of the Sendero Luminiso because they started out as a group with concern for the treatment of peasants and the feudalistic hacienda system that characterizes most of Peru's working conditions. I still think that this still shapes their main political concerns but I am truly not sure since I have not been reading up on what the Shining Path has really been up to. Nonetheless, Comrade Norah is cool. She made sure that women participated and most revolutionary uprisings that are successful are successful because of major involvement of women (with the exception of Fidel and Cuba who are unique in contrast to other revolutions that have either failed or been relatively weak because one of the things they lacked was strong support and participation of women).

"Family Ties: The Political Genealogy of Shining Path's Comrade Norah" by Jamie Patricia Heilman. 2010. Bulletin of Latin-America Research.
"Guerrilleras in Latin-America: Domestic and International Roles" by Margaret Gonzalez-Perez. 2006. Journal of Peace Research.

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