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STATE OF FEAR: THE TRUTH ABOUT TERRORISM(director: Pamela Yates; cinematographer: Juan Durán; editor: Peter Kinoy; music: Tito la Rosa and Tavo Castillo; Runtime: 94; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Paco de Onís; Skylight Pictures; 2005-Spain-in Spanish with English subtitles)
“This dry but informative no frills film is a good educational tool.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Pamela Yates’ (“Presumed Guilty”) solid documentary is drawn from the records of Peru’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It juxtaposes the beauty of the Peruvian countryside, its Andes Mountains and breathtakingly beautiful coastline with the disturbing revelations of a 20-year reign of terror. The harrowing film traces the beginning of the terror, attributed to a college professor Abimael Guzmán (captured in 1992) who turned fanatical after returning from a visit to Mao’s China. His Shining Path group of dissident Communists took a violent course of action to achieve their ends (it’s a Maoist guerrilla organization that launched the internal conflict in Peru in 1980. It originates from a maxim of José Carlos Mariátegui, founder of the original Peruvian Communist Party in the 1920s: “Marxism-Leninism will open the shining path to revolution”). This group split from other Communist groups and advocated violence to reform the corrupt and racist country (recruiting by force among the indigenous Indian population-you were either with them or against them; the Indian peasants were half of the country, lived in poverty, had no political power and were discriminated because of their darker color.

The Shining Path appeared first in the remote mountain Indian village of Ayachucho in 1980, where they strung up dogs to utility poles as a scare tactic and then coerced the Indian population to follow them or die. The film takes us to the collapse through corruption and scandal of President Alberto K. Fujimori’s government in November 2000. During that intervening bloody period of civil war there were an estimated 70,000 civilians dead and untold numbers scarred forever. The story serves as a parallel lesson for Bush’s War on Terror,” as the Peruvians tried military force and ended up no safer for it.

This disturbing and insightful film is told mostly through moving personal interviews and by using declassified video footage gained by the Truth Commission that shows Shining Path guerrillas and Fujimori troopers in the process of kidnapping, assaulting, and killing civilians. It’s pointed out that only when the upper-class whites in Lima were killed did the government begin to take the Shining Path for real, and that even after the Shining Path was dissolved by 1992 the disingenuous government still made the invisible and non-existent enemy the centerpiece of their policies in order to coverup their corruption and restrict the media. The native population suffered the most, as they were caught between the bloody terrorists (who did more harm to the indigenous population they were supposedly liberating than good) and the heavy-handed torture-minded military who were insensitive to the native population and didn’t have the ability to tell a civilian apart from a guerrilla fighter as they went on a mindless killing spree. If this sounds too much like what’s happening in Iraq, so be it. It seems that so many history lessons are never learned. The War on Terror in Peru, like the one in America, basically used the War on Terror as an excuse to further repress the people and curb their civil liberties in the name of protecting them. This dry but informative no frills film is a good educational tool and serves to give an American audience a quick refresher course on recent history; it fills a vacuum left by the lack of coverage in the American mainstream media of a dysfunctional Peruvian democratic government that nevertheless operated as a quasi-dictatorship and failed to fulfill its promise on agrarian reform.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”