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Chronicle of a death foretold

Associación "María Elena Moyano", Chalaco, Perú. Photo Ángela Valverde Ortiz

Rummaging through the blog of a development worker in the northern highlands of Perú, I saw this photo of a flag belonging to an agricultural cooperative. The name on the flag, María Elena Moyano, is one I'd forgotten since I first heard about her murder back 1992.

Moyano was one heck of a brave woman who took on Sendero Luminso (Shining Path) during the peak of its violent revolution. She had gained popularity as an organizer of communal kitchens and women's support groups in Villa El Salvador, one of Lima's most crowded and impoverished slums. Her trajectory culminated in her election as deputy mayor of Villa El Salvador.

Unlike many leftist revolutionary groups, Sendero didn't make war strictly on the oligarchy. Community organizers and labor leaders were attacked with equal vigor because, according to Sendero logic, they were interfering with the revolution by making conditions more tolerable for the masses.

Moyano, center, with her two sons, who witnessed her assassination.

As the story goes, Moyano became more visible as a political force and more vocal in her opposition to the revolution. Sendero made death threats and attempted to kill her in her own house with a shotgun. But she continued to speak out against the violence. Eventually they succeeded in silencing her by machine-gunning her in front of her kids and then blowing up her body with dynamite.

Not a happy ending. Except if you consider that Moyano quickly became (and continues to be) a legend to the poor and disenfranchised of Perú, as evidenced by the photo of the flag. She was also celebrated by the middle and upper classes, who were equally frightened by the prospect of Maoist guerrillas running rampant in the streets of Lima.

Red Cientí­fica Peruana has a Marí­a Elena Moyano tribute site (in Spanish), including a short biography in English.

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