copyright 2007, Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media
Jump Cut, No. 49, spring 2007

Filming the war with Sendero

by Francisca da Gama

Latin American cinema has long taken up the theme of attempting to capture a silenced history (Bedoya 1995; 220). In Peru, this effort has been exacerbated not only by the constraints of state intervention, but also the limited development of a local film industry, which continues to be one of Latin America's most impoverished. Notwithstanding, the country's cinema does provide some of the more explicit accounts of Peru’s years of political violence during the 1980s. What follows is a discussion of two feature films: Francisco Lombardi’s The Lion’s Den (1988; La boca del lobo) and Marianne Eyde’s You Only Live Once (1993; La vida es una sola), in the context of Peruvian historiography and intellectual cultural production.

This essay proposes that the different status accorded to each of these films as representations of Peru's war with Sendero Luminoso (or Shining Path) centers on the competing conceptions of national identity they present and the problematic of screening the Andean subject in Peru.[1][open notes in new window] In The Lion’s Den, Lombardi continues to privilege the dominant discourse of the nation; he critiques the military but also seeks to incorporate the indigenous into a broader national identity. By contrast, in You Only Live Once, Eyde attempts to undermine the legitimising discourse of the nation in favour of a local Andean identity; her film is also critical of the alternative discourse on the nation put forward by the Communist Party.

Peru's political context

In order to contextualize this discussion, first I want to turn to the difficulty of historicizing the period of political violence in Peru, which lasted through the 1980s and early 1990s. During this time, the country approached civil war with the rise of armed struggle led by the Communist Party of Peru-Sendero Luminoso (PCP-SL), a conflict which saw more than 30,000 mostly indigenous peasants killed.[2]

Sendero emerged at a time when the left in Peru appeared defeated. The guerrilla movement led by Hugo Blanco had largely disappeared by the 1960s, and a number of left intellectuals had been recruited into the service of the state during the military left dictatorship of Velasco. Having undergone a series of schisms, this branch of the Communist Party emerged in 1970 from a provincial university setting in Ayacucho, a major Andean center largely neglected by the state, whose financial and political center was (and continues to be) based in the capital, Lima. Sendero was based on Maoist ideology and a reclaiming of Peruvian Marxist José Carlos Mariátegui. By appropriating the work of Mariátegui, Sendero could emphasise its localized application of Maoism and create its own “indigenous” Marxism. It launched its People’s War in 1980 just when organised international communism was in retreat.

One of the conspicuous aspects about scholarship on Sendero is that the movement was not taken seriously when it first emerged on Peru’s political scene; initially, it went largely unnoticed by historians and the media alike. Part of this neglect may be attributed to the conceptual currency of “Andeanism,” a term used by Orin Starn, useful for understanding contemporary colonial intellectual approaches to the indigenous subject in the Andean region. Drawing on Edward Saïd’s critique of “Orientalism,” Starn shows how Andeanist scholars construct their knowledge of the Andean region based on their own preconceived notion of what it means to be “Andean.” This kind of scholarship is embedded in colonial attitudes and conforms to the idea of the indigenous as unchanging, timeless, and therefore outside of history. In terms of the emergence of Sendero, what Starn argues is that while Andeanist anthropologists of the 1960s and 1970s were busy identifying traditional markers of indigenous identity – such as cultural rituals, community organization, spiritual beliefs, language structures – they were in fact totally out of touch with the local reality, which was that a communist party was successfully mobilizing amongst a disaffected peasantry in preparation for armed insurrection.

Early studies of Sendero were for the most part dismissive of the organization as an outside, Western-stylized Marxist movement, said it violently imposed its vision of society on a passive, helpless indigenous people, and concluded that it would rapidly disappear. As Steve Stern has observed, when historians did approach the subject of Sendero, it was framed as,

“Enigma, exoticism, surprise … a freakish evil force outside the main contours of Peruvian social and political history – more an invention of evil masterminds and an expression, perhaps, of the peculiarity of a particular regional milieu than a logical culmination or byproduct of Peruvian history” (Stern 1-2).

In order to assert their own moral distance from the movement, others contributed to the language of enigma and freakishness, or elected not to deal with the subject at all.

More recent scholarship on Sendero has shifted to reassess the movement critically in order to address how this period of Peru’s history for the country’s Andean population became dehistoricized. Historians now see that Sendero's rise responded to concrete historical developments in Peru. This period saw political upheaval, government corruption, a weak left, and racism towards the indigenous population — who continued to live in poverty and be excluded from political decision-making (see the volume by Stern). Such exclusion allowed Sendero to operate amongst the rural indigenous peasantry. The organization was largely unnoticed in its early years in a region that had been historically neglected by successive governments. Political, social and intellectual attitudes towards the indigenous as outside history and unchanging were condensed onto attitudes towards Sendero.

An important text for Sendero was Ayacucho: Hunger and Hope by Peruvian anthropologist Antonio Díaz Martínez. Largely ignored by Andeanist anthropologists, it highlighted the poverty and intense class-differences in the region. Díaz Martínez’s study presented the Andean peasant as dynamic and changing. While Sendero did not sustain this attitude towards the Andean in its practical work, the organization largely had success in recruiting from impoverished indigenous Andean communities because it understood indigenous identity.

In the nineteenth century, early attempts to exoticize the Indian saw the development of literary indigenismo, a movement that fictionalized the ways in which the trilogy of landowner, priest and local governor worked together to exploit and oppress indigenous communities.[3] Indigenismo was a product of urban, educated, white intellectuals. It was tied up with liberal ideologies that sought to bring the indigenous population into the nation-state through programmes such as education. Its ideological development saw indigenismo being openly extolled by the State in the early 1920s in order to co-opt the indigenous population by regulating indigenous communities. The preoccupation with the indigenous figure reflected the deep cultural divide in Peru that existed between primarily the sierra and the coastal regions since the colonial era. This divide is also a theme of the two films discussed below.

Army as outsider

The Lion’s Den and You Only Live Once reveal the effects of regional differences on understanding, and creating, political violence in Andean Peru. That Sendero's early activities were ignored in the media is referred to directly in the opening titles of The Lion’s Den, which state that the film is “based on true facts which occurred between 1980 and 1983.” Along the same thread as Lombardi’s earlier film, an adaptation of the novel La ciudad y los perros, The Lion’s Den denounces the harsh tactics of the Peruvian military and the psychological conflicts these generate amongst its officers. The narrative's period coincides with the Peruvian military’s early strategy in combating Sendero. They waged a genocidal campaign and the film has a reference to the “dirty war,” a term resonant of Argentina’s Dirty War, characterized by the military's ruthless, systematic program to clamp down on political opposition. This reference in the film introduces us to later scenes of indiscriminate violence carried out by the military against the rural indigenous community in order to stamp out Sendero.

The Lion’s Den begins by showing replacements sent to a military post in a small rural town near Ayacucho, Chuspi. The narrative centres on the figure of Vitín, a young soldier, and his experience of life in the army and the sierra when he transfers to this unpopular emergency zone in order to secure a rapid career path. The military have been sent there to contain Sendero. Consistent with military policy at the time, the men sent to fight the peasants are from the coast and therefore do not identify with the local population. The establishing scenes depicting the arrival of the military highlight the isolation of the town they have been sent to. Shots of the mountains and the trucks carrying the soldiers and supplies coming up the trailing road accentuate the remoteness of the village, just as the war with Sendero was distant from Peru’s urban populations. These scenes of the landscape emphasize both the disruption that occurs with the soldiers’ arrival, and the foreignness of the village. From the soldiers’ perspective, they are entering a foreign land.

This sense of disruption is further enhanced with the early image of an indigenous girl with her small herd of sheep, staring at Sendero placards and graffiti in the square. While she seems indifferent, it is clear that something is not right. The theme of descent into chaos, caused by the activities of Sendero, gets played out in the film as the events unfold. It first seems that there is hope in that the girl, as with her village, can be rescued by the military. The closing scenes reverse this. There the girl looks on as Vitín leaves the village with Andean music playing in the background; she has not been protected by the military and her world remains in a state of chaos.

Lombardi relies on exoticized notions of the Andean with these images. He presents a young indigenous girl in full traditional dress, innocent, waiting to be rescued by the outsider, and uses this kind of imagery to foreground a key event in the film whereby a group of villagers are herded like animals and slaughtered by the military. He also reinforces relations between the people and the land through the the way he depicts animals and cultivation of food.

While these associations between geography and people are not erroneous in the sense of traditional indigenous relations with the land, they serve a dual purpose in The Lion’s Den. In the film, they reinforce Andeanist ideas about the region's indigenous people (the local people are a part of the land) and also to highlight the cultural clash between soldiers and villagers (they, as part of Sendero, must be conquered). The military's inability to relate to the people is a result of their cultural differences, which are also a means used by them to justify their brutal tactics.[4] The soldiers cannot discern who belongs to Sendero and the movement is never explicitly presented in the film or to the soldiers. Any one of the peasants in the village could be a member of the organization. In surveying his surroundings marked by walls covered in PCP-SL graffiti, Vitín can tell that “they” have already been there. Using only the personal pronoun, he looks at the villagers in the square and observes that “they” could still be there. By not naming Sendero, Lombardi emphasizes how ominous and alien the sierra is to the young military men who could just as well be in another country. They miss their own cultural referents such as food and music. They do not cope well with the change in climate and terrain that is home to Peru’s predominantly indigenous population. We also experience Vitín’s initial anxiety, paving the way for his disillusionment with the military.

Even though the soldiers are Peruvian, their racism prevents them from understanding what Sendero is; it also keeps them from seeking the townspeople's co-operation in the fight with Sendero. The army’s first activity takes place when the Peruvian national flag erected above the barracks has been tauntingly replaced overnight by the PCP-SL hammer and sickle flag. A series of reprisals follow. In order to find the culprit, the soldiers search every home and finally find evidence in the shop of a retablista.[5] He is tortured after not cooperating in answering their questions until they discover that he only speaks Quechua. Tellingly, the soldiers interpret this linguistic barrier not as revealing the incongruity of the military’s presence in the sierra, but instead as giving evidence to the backwardness of the people who reside there. There follows a program of national retraining in a public ceremony of pledging allegiance to the Peruvian flag. Roca appears at the top of the stairs, enhancing his authority over the peasants below who look indifferent when he announces:

“Now we will pay tribute to our only flag, to the flag of our homeland.”

Everyone is then coerced into singing the national anthem, nudged by soldier’s guns if unenthusiastic. Only valid is the flag of the colonial nation, not the red flag of Sendero. Yet the symbol of the Peruvian flag is also meaningless to the indigenous peasants gathered in the square, for they are not full members of the nation. Significantly, Vitín erects the Peruvian national flag in the first scenes following the attack on their station. In a sense, he becomes the true defender of the national from his initial support for military operations in Chuspi, loyally following his superiors’ commands, to his later defection following his increased criticism of what defending the national really entails.

The film highlights the army’s inability to relate to the villagers in order to reveal the harsh reality of collective punishment and ignorance about indigenous culture. Following reports that Sendero were present in the village the night before, the soldiers visit a local farmer and discover that the guerrillas took a cow from him. In order to assert their own authority and status over Sendero, the soldiers kill a cow for the military. The unnecessary slaughter of animals is anathema to the villagers, whose relation to the natural world conflicts with that of the Westernized soldiers. The people's livestock and lands form part of their livelihoods and they cannot afford to feed both armies.

The narrative theme of a national army at odds with its Andean environment is reinforced with the rape of an indigenous woman, Julia. Sendero, buried in the indigenous population, is like the land and must be conquered. However, this level of colonization acquires another dimension with Julia’s rape, which reinforces the association of the colonized and land with the feminine.[6] While the military presumably are in the village to protect the community, the rape goes unpunished as Vitín protects his fellow soldier and rapist, Quique. It is during a community fiesta that things come to a head. Quique tries to force his way in and is accused by party goers of raping Julia. He uses his authority as a soldier to break up the fiesta, and then a false accusation leads to suspected senderistas being rounded up, some of whom are tortured. The incident culminates in the massacre of thirty peasants, whose bodies are blown up in order to destroy the evidence. It is at this point that Vitín rebels against his commander and deserts from the army. The association of the feminine with conquest is reinforced when Roca accuses Vitín of not being “man enough” to shoot the villagers; for Vitín this crucial turning point reveals to him that the question of “them” or “us” can never work. The army will always be against the people.

Sendero as insider/outsider

The theme of the exotic Andean “other” is also played out in the film You Only Live Once. As this film attempts to historicize Peru’s political violence in an Andean context, it strives to subvert the dominant discourse about the nation and views of the Andean in Peru. Set during the early years of political violence, the Andean appears in the film as something entirely foreign, which is used to highlight the cultural clash with outsider military forcers. You Only Live Once centers on the experiences of an Andean community and the ruptures posed by both the military and Sendero.

The film begins with the arrival of three young students in a rural community during their semester break and at the time of a community fiesta. The opening dialogue is in Quechua and is not subtitled for the Spanish audience. All the stuff of Andeanist anthropological study is present such as indigenous music, dance, and traditional dress, and sheep being decorated in what appears to be a spiritual ritual. We soon learn that two of the students are from the village itself, and they have brought a friend in order to carry out “research.” However, that research, it transpires, is to study the community’s customs in order to recruit members to Sendero. The arriving students are all members and their friend, Meche, is their leader.

Like the soldiers in Lombardi’s The Lion’s Den, Sendero’s presence in the community serves to disrupt community order as community-appointed leaders and rules become replaced with a new political power driven by Sendero, and the primary means of social identification through community is replaced with that of party. In a scene that mirrors the military roundup of villagers in The Lion’s Den, community members are taken from their homes and rounded up into the village square where they must assert their allegiance to the new law. However, they must swear allegiance to not the law of the Peruvian nation nor the flag but rather the law of the Party. They are gathered together to witness a “People’s Trial.”

The film has as a subplot a love affair between two community members, Florinda and one of the returning students and senderistas, Aurelio. Florinda is young and naïve; she contrasts with Meche, the young woman leader of the Sendero students. Florinda wears traditional dress and seems passive, unlike Meche who wears Western clothes and has a leadership role in Sendero. Although Meche is clearly indigenous, her primary identity appears as a Sendero party leader. Florinda, on the other hand, must negotiate her indigenous identity and the party's demands and is unable to reconcile both. After she joins Aurelio and his comrades, Florinda soon discovers that his declaration of red love is a metaphor for love of the Party. She becomes disenchanted with the senderistas and returns to her community, but the people will not let her stay, fearing the military's inevitable reprisals. The community response to Sendero’s presence has been to organize itself and not be drawn into the war between the military and Sendero.

Critics have found You Only Live Once's conclusion reactionary. For example, Cynthia Tomkins interprets Eyde’s portrayal of Sendero as equally destructive of the community as the military. She goes so far as to suggest that Eyde “reproduces the propaganda of the state apparatus” and ultimately “justifies the army’s repression” (Tomkins 142). However, I believe that Eyde’s film is more subtle in its critique of the army, going beyond the traditional anti-dictatorship and anti-military narratives of Latin American film. In doing so, Eyde has presented a more complex Sendero subject in order to historicize the movement. That the army’s presence is disruptive and repressive is assumed in You Only Live Once; it does not need to be unravelled for the viewer. When the military imposes leaders of its own choice onto the community in order to organize a “civil defence” group, it knows that the people chosen will certainly face danger from Sendero.[7] The army also has no regard for the villagers, roughening up any suspected Sendero member, including women and children. The soldiers go so far as to pull young boys from a school to be questioned (and most likely tortured). The teacher is herself threatened as the military assumes that anybody teaching in that region is a senderista. As the commanding officer states:

“This community doesn’t even exist on the map. What you are viewing is a geographical error.”

Unlike Lombardi’s representation of the military, there is no ambiguity in Eyde’s portrayal of the armed forces. She does, however, present an ambiguous Sendero subject in order to provide a visual representation of the disjunction between Sendero’s goals and the reality of violent revolution. This ambiguity does not reinforce common assumptions about the movement and its relations with indigenous peoples as something simply imposed on a passive indigenous population. Rather, this film shows how the movement, initially acting as insider from within the community, turns outsider, as a consequence of its “ambiguous identity.”[8] This kind of narrative allows for reflection on the movement’s development and recognizes its relation with Andean communities, as one complexly mediated by community and urban intellectuals. It also serves to historicize the emergence of Sendero and by extension, the experiences of indigenous communities during the years of political violence when they were largely ignored.

Historian Carlos Iván Degregori has attributed Sendero's transformation from an insider into an outsider movement to its failure to develop its relation with the Andean, which weakened its link with the communities. He identifies a series of ruptures between Sendero and the peasantry which led to this transition. These are Sendero's use of violence and mode of domination; its approach to history and perceptions of time and space; its attitudes toward Andean culture; and methods of organizing politically (Degregori 133-52).

You Only Live Once builds its script around these ruptures, in particular the way in which the senderistas fail to relate to Andean culture and social structures. These include:

Representing the Andean on screen

Both The Lion’s Den and You Only Live Once generated different responses in Peru, which I believe has to do with how the Andean is represented in these two films. The Lion’s Den, despite being more graphic in its denunciation of the military, was not subjected to the same opposition as Eyde’s You Only Live Once. Lombardi’s film screened to packed audiences once it was released and received national acclaim. Eyde’s film, however, despite being dubbed by the country’s foremost film critics as one of the best films on an Andean subject to be produced in Peru since 1972, and initially awarded government funding, proved to be far more controversial (Bedoya 454). Following its release, the Film Commission expressed its objection to You Only Live Once and a number of Lima cinemas refused to screen it, because it was regarded as pro-Sendero.[9]

That Eyde’s film was produced under different conditions is an important factor in considering these reactions and the two films' different receptions. By the 1990s, with Alberto Fujimori newly elected as President, much of the countryside had been militarized. The state had also embarked on a more sophisticated clamping down on discussions about the war in Peru as the military assumed even greater political powers amidst neoliberal economic restructuring. This ideological restructuring included the overhaul of Peru’s law on cinema; the law's main articles were overturned so that theatres no longer were required to screen local films. Furthermore, the public mood following the arrest of Sendero leader Abimael Guzmán in 1992 would little tolerate a critical appraisal of Sendero after ten years of political violence. Moreover, that Eyde presented guerrillas entangled in a love story rather than in all the blood and tragedy of war, also made her portrayal of the war with Sendero unconvincing (Cotler 98 and 101).

It is compelling to understand that, in terms of public consciousness, the emotional toll of twelve years of political violence resulted in a less rigorous and objective study of this period of Peru’s history. However, I believe this response to Eyde's film has more to do with prevailing Andeanism and reluctance to historicize the experience of political violence for Peru’s indigenous peasants who had, until the war reached Lima, been largely ignored. The representation of Sendero in You Only Live Once is clearly critical of the organization, evident in scenes which depict Sendero’s execution of “people’s justice” and the characters' seemingly rabid repetition of Gonzalo-inspired slogans. I interpret the failure to recognize Eyde’s critique of Sendero as related to the ongoing inability of urban intellectuals to relate to the Andean. Just as the military in Lombardi’s The Lion’s Den cannot discern between the senderistas or the peasants, it would seem that these also appeared as one to urban audiences.

The polemic generated by Eyde’s film highlights two important issues for film and history in appraising the years of political violence in Peru. In terms of history, it demonstrated how this period was dominated by a historiography and cultural politics that could not accommodate the complexities of the Andean. In terms of film, it reveals the way in which Peruvian cinema continued to be an exclusive domain still centred in Lima.

Cinema in Peru developed as a largely urban enterprise in close association with the state. It was under the left-military Velasco government that Peru’s film industry was given a boost in the 1972 Law. This law encouraged local productions by way of requiring compulsory screening of Peruvian cinema, and offering tax incentives for local producers. This was followed two years later with a censorship law specifically aimed at cinema and which denied certification of compulsory screening to films that did not conform to the official discourse put out by the state. Yet state administration of the laws on cinema was inconsistent. Considered an integral part of industrialization, cinema was initially covered by the Ministry of Industry. However, once the military government recognised the possibilities of using cinema to promote its projects, it became the responsibility of the Ministry of Information, which put out the official state propaganda. Deriving from the military government’s drive to stimulate Peruvian cinema and also from its own reconfiguring of national identity drawing on indigenous culture, the government promoted the idea of an Andean or “campesino” cinema. Documentaries with an Andean subject and for an Andean audience were produced under the military government, but these were to sell the government’s agrarian reform project. In general, bar a few attempts, Peru has not had an Andean cinema such as Bolivia's Grupo Ukamau led by Jorge Sanjinés. Originally appearing on screen in the form of documentaries about Peruvian tourist attractions and exotic indigenous cultural traditions in the 1950s, the Andean has for the most part been excluded from Peru’s cinematic tradition. Even when Andean cinema is discussed in critical terms in Peru, it is generally against indigenista literature without an acknowledgement of indigenismo’s ideological underpinnings, that is, as a literature with an indigenous subject, written by and for an urban white audience.[10] This partly reflects the way in which the Andean has been used in political debates in Peru. As with literature, cinema in Peru has also been bound by conditions in which intellectual life continues to serve urban cultured elites and set the rules by which the Andean subject can be represented on screen.[11]

Andeanism and national identity

Drawing on this point of regional differences in Peru, I see as one of the reasons why Lima audiences rejected You Only Live Once is that Eyde subverts the dominant discourse of the nation by promoting a local identity centred on the Andean. In contrast, Lombardi’s The Lion’s Den still upholds in some way the liberal underpinnings of nation in Peru. In The Lion’s Den, the first lieutenant who is later killed by the guerrillas, emphasises to his men the need to abide by the law; he reprimands his soldiers when they take liberties with the community. His replacement, Roca, is the opposite, obsessive in his campaign to exterminate Sendero. But Roca’s brutality is explained through his own personal obsession resulting from an incident in his past. He is determined to be successful in Ayacucho in order to secure a promotion denied to him in his career. Even his own men refer to him as crazy so that his behaviour is rationalized according to a psychological defect.

On the one hand, The Lion’s Den offers a critique of the military’s tactics in Ayacucho. On the other hand, Lombardi seems to propose that there is a law, one not correctly implemented. The military presence is not the problem, but rather, how the military behaves towards the community. By breaking the law, the military’s activities are damaging to the nation at large.[12] The Lion’s Den seems to place hope in the figure of Vitín who is able to morally extricate himself from the military.

After playing a game of Russian roulette with Roca, Vitín exposes his commander’s weaknesses. In a sort of statement about machismo, Vitín asserts that the weak do not invent the laws, as Roca would have it, but rather the weak do not respect them. Thus Lombardi’s portrayal of the military, while warning of things to come, still allows for a sympathetic reading of the military. The coastal viewer can empathize with the soldiers who find themselves in this "foreign" land — one still technically part of the same nation but whose peole are not treated as equal citizens. We are a part of Vitín’s own awakening, not only to the military’s institutionalized violence but also to his own attitudes to indigenous people and to racism in the army. Moncada’s warning that one day people will find out about the massacre serves as a warning to everyone that truth will prevail. With the proper enactment of the law, enshrined in the Peruvian Constitution, national concerns may be met.

However, the idea that truth will emerge is not matched by the film's politics. As Bedoya has pointed out, part of the weakness inherent in The Lion’s Den is precisely its failure to centrally address the massacre, loosely based on real events in Soccos. By focusing on the emotional and psychological turmoil of Vitín and Roca, Lombardi has managed to depoliticize the film and present a variation of the adventure narrative — a group of paranoid soldiers confronting an invisible enemy in an alien environment (Bedoya 2003; 186).

A critique of the military is also present in You Only Live Once, except that in Eyde’s portrayal, the film does not focus on possible salvation for the officers. The military appears out of place, structurally corrupt and ruthless. Their very presence gives credence to the political movement they are there to wipe out. Unlike Lombardi, whose reading of the war with Sendero is centred on upholding the nation's true values, in You Only Live Once, Eyde appears to reject the national in favor of the local. Her portrayal of Sendero organizing in an indigenous community highlights that the script will not focus on a passive Andean Other incapable of change, but rather on an active people, able to engage in “resistant adaptation” and determine its own history.[13] Here she presents the ambiguous identity of Sendero as “insider/outsider” in order to historicize the movement’s emergence and demise.

In her critique of Sendero’s presence in the community, Eyde highlights the failure of what were the two predominant competing discourses on the nation in 1980s Peru:

In opposition to these two competing discourses, she asserts the regional alterity of the Andean, but not as an exotic, enigmatic Other characteristic of hegemonic representations of the indigenous in Peru. Rather she depicts an Andean community as one that has its own local identity and political authority.

To assert the primacy of community self-rule has much broader implications for the debate on Peru’s democratization and role of indigenous peoples, a debate which then had not assumed the same urgency as it has today.[14] Peru’s indigenous communities long retained their own forms of governance on local issues by way of elected, rotating heads of community, communal assemblies to make decisions, and a politics based on persuasion. But successive governments decreased the power of local forms of government. And during the years of political violence, these were further eroded as Sendero assassinated local leaders who would not comply with them and attempted to establish their own political authority. At the same time, while emergency zone territories were denied basic rights, the military handpicked community leaders who would collaborate with them, denying communities their long-standing tradition of electing their own representatives (Montoya 106-8). Under the Fujimori government, politics in Peru became centralized as local forms of government became increasingly targeted under the President's neoliberal program. Moreover, unlike his predecessors, Fujimori did not appeal to any pre-hispanic referents in his promotion of national identity in Peru (Oliart 421). Rather, it could be said, he represented an appeal to multiculturalism in Peru, with much being made of his own ethnic background as the son of Japanese immigrants.

By way of conclusion, I would posit that both The Lion’s Den and You Only Live Once may be read in the context of the debate on democratization in Peru. Peru failed to make a successful transition to democracy in 1980. In the absence of a genuine debate on democratization, Sendero posed the major challenge to this failure. Both Lombardi and Eyde appear to be critiquing the models for governance presented by the military and Sendero respectively. The Lion’s Den may be read as promoting the principles of liberal democracy, which continue to place a high value on the Constitution and the importance of transparent state institutions. In the case of You Only Live Once, the alternative put forward is the existing model of the indigenous communities who cannot be represented in the dominant model of Western democracy.


1. I use the term “Andean” to refer to indigenous peoples of the Andean region of Peru. This avoids the misguided term “Indian”, and acknowledges the historical identity of indigenous peoples of the area across the region, rather than disintegrated nationalities that were introduced following independence from Spain.

2. All references to “Sendero” or the “Party” are to this particular faction of the Communist Party in Peru. Sendero’s activities came at a time when South America had been stifled by extended periods of military rule and the general retreat of the left from a class-based politics. This was in contrast to Central America that saw broad-based movements such as the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, the FMLN in El Salvador, and the indigenous movement of Guatemala.

3. The foundational indigenismo text was Clorinda Matto de Turner’s Aves sin nido. There are also varying degrees of indigenous identity. Indigenous identity that drew from the Andean region was privileged because of its roots in the Inca empire, which lent the movement a legitimising discourse. The Incas were esteemed as a highly organised society with long-developed cultural traditions and a high level of economic activity, which were destroyed by the colonial invaders. Reinforcing notions of cultural purity, these perceptions contrasted with attitudes towards other indigenous cultures such as those of the Amazon region which were largely ignored or derided in early indigenista writings.

4. The emphasis on foreignness was also a tactic of the military dictatorships of the Southern Cone region in order to justify rooting out opposition. By attributing insurgent activities to foreign influences (such as the Soviet Union or Cuba), it was possible to argue the defence of the nation. While Peru wasn’t under a military dictatorship, its armed forces would have been influenced by the national security doctrine that had developed amongst Latin American militaries.

5. Retablos are painted triptych wooden boxes with figurines inside. Originally Spanish, they were used to depict the Saints and Christian scenes and were soon adapted by the Andean population to represent very local traditions.

6. See Val Plumwood, Feminism and the Mastery of Nature (London: Routledge, 1993) 2-5.

7. Known as rondas, these civil defence groups were often used by the military to fight Sendero rather than providing a genuine defence force for the communities they were formed in.

8. Starn highlights this ambiguous identity in Sendero as an insider/outsider movement, and cites the example of The Lion’s Den as successfully capturing this identity (71-72).

9. The politics of La vida es una sola saw it rated for viewers over 18 by the same board that regularly rated pornographic movies.

10. The most notable effort was the Cuzco School of the 1950s where filmmakers such as Chambi, Figueroa, and Nishiyama attempted to create an Andean cinema as part of an overall project of representing an authentic national cinema.

11. See Angel Rama, The Lettered City, for an overview of the history of the role of intellectuals and the development of literature in Latin America as an elite institution.

12. It is significant that the translation in the subtitles for “Senderista” in Spanish, that is, a person who belongs to Sendero, appears haphazardly in English as “terrorist.”

13. The term “resistant adaptation” is taken from Stern who cites Degregori’s reference to the way in which Indians cooperated with Sendero as a means of preserving themselves (Stern 127, note 1).

14. Attempts to reincorporate an Andean sensibility in Latin American politics have been made by current Bolivian president, Evo Morales.

Works cited

Bedoya, Ricardo. Cien años de cine en el Perú: Una historia crítica, 2nd ed. Lima: Universidad de Lima/ Fondo de Desarrollo, 1995.

________. “La boca del lobo / The Lion’s Den.” Alberto Elena and Marina Díaz López (eds). The Cinema of Latin America. London: Wallflower, 2003. 185-91.

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