Today in Latin America, María Elena Moyano

For younger activists looking for an example of people taking control of their situations, one does not have to look any further than Villa El Salvador, a pueblo jóven, a shantytown in southwestern Peru, just outside the capital of Lima. Villa El Salvador’s hardships were intensified in the 1980s due to economic hardship and violence.

Peru, when Alan García (current president, elected in 2006) inherited it, was struggling with a conventionally (for the time) weak economy. García’s first reign is important because he set up measures that expanded public expenditures and, like many countries today, limited external debt payment. This did not work as well as predicted and Peru was racked with budget deficits, hyperinflation and negative GDP growth. These measures hardly impacted Sendaro Luminoso (Shining Path) who, as a vanguard of communist revolution, committed massacres as if following the Comiterns’ third phase – all those not like you, are imperial and fascist in nature. Shining Path is a complex social organ, something we will not discuss here, but it is relevant that its ties to revolution were much accepted, but its persistence to use violence is something that is still condemned to this day.

Out of Villa El Salvador came María Elena Moyano. Today, we remember her death 17 years ago, in 1992.

Born in 1960, she was active in her youth, participating in youth groups trying to alleviate the poverty that she saw and experienced. In 1984, when she was only 24, she was elected head of the Federación Popular de Mujeres de Villa El Salvador (Fepomuves), a federation of women in Villa El Salvador.

Coming out of the 1980s, women’s rights were becoming more widely accepted by a more general public. We’ve heard the tales of Pinochet as well as the Argentina military being brought down by women, usually mothers of the disappeared. Fepomuves was no different. It struggled against an elite and population in Lima that would as soon have nothing to do with them.

Fepomuves is best known for its important work in the soup kitchens (comedores populares), something that was a struggle throughout the 1980s to maintain through the hyperinflation. Often, kitchens would close or not be able to feed the increasing poor. It also participated in projects to provide health care to women, a glass of milk a day for children in the barrios, and spearheaded committees on education.

María left Fepomuves in 1990. She was elected shortly to become Deputy Mayor of Villa El Salvador. It is here that Shining Path became active in and around Lima.

The major qualm of Shining Path, and many movements of its kind, was collaboration, either for personal gain or direct betrayal. But, as mentioned above, the legitimate grievances of the movement and those that followed often did not know what to do with allies who did not share their views. The death of María Elena Moyano highlights a strong stance against violence as a means to coercion and proves the futility of Shining Path in its then incarnation.

María, in November of 1991, she left the country for ten days as threats by Shining Path intensified. She would return saying, she would “rather lose her life struggling against Sendero than die with feelings of anguish and impotence away from the country.” The recent deaths of women and Shining Path’s unannounced campaign of violence against them shook María, for good reason.

Her life began to be conducted within municipal buildings. She was being shut in upon herself. On February 14, Shining Path called for an armed strike on the capital of Lima. She denounced the violent tactics. The following day, today, 17 years ago, María Elena Moyano was machine-gunned down by a group of Shining Path and her body blown up with dynamite in front of her children and loyalists.

Fepomuves still exists to this day, with over 10,000 women actively in the organization. Shining Path never understood, but Fepomuves was more than women leaders (unlike Shining Path, which after the capture of Abimael Guzmán, ceased to exist). The deaths of María Elena Moyano cannot bring down the whole of the movement. Her dream of equality for women is still something to fight for, something to continually take not of.

Below is a video from 2008 in Villa El Salvador honoring Moyano.


~ by Daniel on February 15, 2009.

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