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The Shining Path to Heartbreak 

Jennifer Gonzales 

In the spring of 1990 I was studying medicine at the National University of San Marcos in Lima, Peru. It was a typical Wednesday afternoon and I was eager to leave our Biology lecture. Our class was dismissed early by Professor Martìnez’s teaching assistant because our instructor never appeared. As I exited the building, I turned my head towards the court yard because I heard shouting. There were multiple masked individuals holding signs that read “Viva la Patria Roja”. They were wearing black ski masks and tees with the Peruvian Communist Party’s insignia. Their t-shirts were emblazoned with the PCP’s party symbol the golden hammer and sickle. My stomach dropped and my heart began to race because I realized that I’d come face to face with the Shining Path.

As the country’s leading terrorist organization, the Shining Path had been wreaking havoc across the country since 1980. The Shining Path was an extremist faction of the Peruvian Communist Party. It had derived its name from the founder of the PCP José Carlos Mariátegui’s maxim “Marxism-Leninism will open the shining path to the revolution”. In the impoverished regions of the Peruvian highlands in Ayacucho, the Shining Path was born. The PCP’s Shining Path or Sendero Luminoso (PCP-SL) was formed by a philosophy professor named Abimael Guzmán at the National University of San Cristóbal of Huamanga in Ayacucho. Professor Guzmán had visited China and was extremely influenced by Mao Zedong’s Marxist teachings. He attempted to radicalize the campus by indoctrinating college students and espousing Communism in the classroom. According to Guzmán’s interpretation of Maoism, income inequality shouldn’t exist and all Peruvians should have equal access to food and basic necessities. Guzmán intended to lead a Communist insurgency against President Fernando Belaúnde Terry’s administration. Guzmán believed that the foreign-dominated political system neither adequately represented the interests of the indigenous Incans nor supported its political vision. He started convincing the farm laborers of Ayacucho that violence was necessary to overthrow the corrupt government. Senderistas, or members of the Shining Path, incited civil unrest by arming themselves, mobilizing their forces, and killing government officials. They infiltrated different levels of the government and society by recruiting policemen, physicians, and professors. The Shining Path also generated revenue by producing cocaine from the coca plant in the Amazon. The Senderistas partnered with Peruvian drug trafficking organizations and coca-growing peasants to mass-produce and distribute cocaine. The Maoist guerilla group began waging civil war in Ayacucho and terrorism spread its cancerous tendrils throughout the, highlands, jungle, and coastal regions of Peru in the 1980s.

As I was observing the masked faces, I noticed a familiar figure in the distance. This person was holding a megaphone and inciting the crowd. He was the only unmasked figure and appeared to be the leader of the group. I locked eyes with this man and gasped because I recognized a crescent shaped scar in the middle of his forehead. Alb-Victor Rodríguez was my childhood best friend and former fiancée. He was born with a birthmark resembling a half-moon above his brow ridge. We grew up together in a tiny town named Chihua in the Andean highlands and dreamed of practicing medicine in the U.S. Chihua was an impoverished village located in the province of Huanta and in the region of Ayacucho. As the local shaman’s assistant, Victor would capture venomous snakes, scorpions, and spiders in an attempt to extract their poison for medicinal purposes. These creatures had healing properties and the local shaman would use them to help ailing patients. Our single-story shelters, positioned alongside a babbling brook, were surrounded by a bountiful countryside orchard. We lived off the land as subsistence farmers, owned few material possessions, and coexisted peacefully. My family lived next door to the Rodriguez family. Our immediate family consisted of my father Pedro, my mother Maria, my brother Eduardo, and myself. The Rodriguez family’s one-room shack housed all six of them: his grandmother Roberta, mother Ramona, brother Oscar, twin sisters Gabriella and Isabella, and himself. Victor’s father Gonzalo had abandoned his teenage girlfriend Ramona after Victor’s birth. Although Victor never met his father, he assumed the paternal role of the patriarchal caregiver in his family.

Victor had always been a willing risk-taker but I never feared for his life until he joined the rebel army. He’d been recruited by the Shining Path when we were first-year pre-medical students at the National University of San Cristóbal of Huamanga in 1980. Senderistas targeted Quechua speaking natives from the most poverty stricken regions of Peru. Quechua was the language of the descendants of the indigenous Incans living in the Andean highlands. As the Shining Path expanded, they also recruited college students at local universities including San Cristóbal. Incan descendants and rural farmers felt neglected and disenfranchised by the Spanish-speaking government. The Shining Path appealed to the peasantry and local students by highlighting the vast disparity of wealth in Peru. Victor was enticed by the Shining Path’s professed ideology and vision of an equitable society. He began attending meetings in the fall of our first year and was persuaded to participate in the arsenic attack in the spring. Sendero Luminoso launched the People’s War against the Peruvian government on May 17, 1980, in a nearby town named Chuschi, on the eve of Peru’s first national election in 12 years after military rule. Sendero Luminoso’s arsenic attack, resulting in the destruction of many ballot boxes, symbolized an attack on military, tyrannical, and democratic rule. Although they were initially ignored by the government, Sendero Luminoso continued amassing followers and gained the public’s attention throughout the next decade. I pleaded with Victor to stop attending meetings and cease all communication with Sendero Luminoso.

“Please, Victor. I’m begging you to quit. The Shining Path is a dangerous terrorist organization. There are other ways to achieve social justice and peace” I earnestly entreated.

“Estrella Angela Flores Gutiérrez, I love you very much. I would do almost anything for you but I cannot stop now. We’re so close to achieving our dreams. As a physician, I could have repaired broken bones and treated illnesses. As a socialist activist, I can enact change on a national scale” he retorted.

“I love you too Victor…but I’m sorry I can’t marry someone who is intent on destroying our country. I’ve decided to transfer to San Marcos and will continue studying medicine in Lima. We can start our lives together in the capital…Will you join me?” I anxiously asked.

“…I’m sorry too but I cannot leave Ayacucho. The war against the wealthy has barely begun. I’m needed by my brothers in red to continue fighting for the rights of our people” he responded.

“My family and I are leaving for Lima at dawn. I’ll be waiting for you at the bus stop. We can be happy there. I hope you’ll decide to give us a chance” I implored him to reconsider.

“Goodbye Estrella. I’ll remember you every time I look at stars and will love you until my dying day” he murmured.

As tears streamed down my face, I replied. “Farewell Victor. I hope you achieve everything you dreamed of achieving and more. I’ll cherish the memories we made together until we meet again.”

I reluctantly released his hand from my own and turned my sights toward the future awaiting me in Lima.

The Shining Path had infiltrated the capital by the time I was admitted to medical school in 1984. The revolutionaries were responsible for citywide blackouts, bombings, and barbaric bonfires in which humans were burned. The nation also dealt with hyperinflation throughout the 1980s. The prices of goods skyrocketed due to the scarcity of resources and specifically access to medicine and food was restricted. Sendero Luminoso attempted to ensure the equitable distribution of wealth by destroying the current national economy. They intended to equalize the economic situation by demolishing everything in their path and chaos ensued wherever they’d infiltrated. Unfortunately, the Shining Path’s actions resulted in increasing poverty and mortality rates. The national guard and presidential administration ultimately failed to contain the situ- I was suddenly interrupted by a sharp tap on my right shoulder followed by a curt command.

“Ms. Flores, you haven’t answered my initial question. Would you return to the reunion between yourself and Mr. Rodriguez?” Mr. Roberts wearily requested.

“My name is Angela García-Flores and my ex-husband is Alberto García. Estrella Angela Flores Gutiérrez and Victor Alberto García Rodriguez no longer exist. We legally changed our names after marrying because my ex-husband was seeking asylum in the U.S. due to political violence in Peru. I changed my name again to Angela García-Flores after our divorce in 2003” I indignantly replied.

        “Ms. García-Flores, I’ve asked you to recount the traumatizing events of 1990 because I’m trying to provide Mr. García with legal defense against deportation. The Cleveland Immigration Court will determine whether your ex-husband should be deported and your testimony will be vital. As a veteran immigration attorney, I’ve represented clients facing deportation charges at the Cleveland Immigration Court. I can assure you that the judges representing the Executive Office for Immigration Review are extremely thorough. It is their duty to investigate the circumstances surrounding the rejection of the political asylum claim and Mr. García’s expired visa. Your deposition is needed to persuade the immigration judge that your ex-husband would suffer persecution due to his political opinion and membership in a particular social group. According to his immigration records, your ex-husband allegedly arrived on a tourist visa in 1993. He overstayed his visa but was granted temporary protected status (TPS) after your marriage at the end of the year. He applied for asylum in the early 2000s after your divorce; however, his application was denied. Although the immigration judge allowed him to remain in the U.S. by granting “stay of removal orders”, his various attempts to appeal his case have been unsuccessful. The “stay of removal orders” temporarily postponed the Department of Homeland Security’s deportation of your ex-husband, whose immigration status was pending, and indicated that he could remain in the U.S. until further notice. Therefore, they are determining whether or not he should be deported from the U.S.A 26 years after arriving.” he countered.

        “I understand the gravity of the situation; however, I consider all of the details to be important seeing as my testimony will determine my ex-husband’s fate. Nonetheless, I’ll willingly comply with your demands and continue my story” I retorted.

In regards to my reunion with Alb-I mean Victor, I was bewildered by his reappearance. His physical appearance and mental state were drastically altered since our last encounter. His luscious raven locks had been sheared and his light brown eyes had hardened. He had also clearly grown taller, leaner, and more muscular. Victor’s bulging biceps were tattooed and clearly read “Viva la Patria Roja” and “Sendero Luminoso”. My eyes were instantly drawn to the star-shaped symbol and crescent moon marking his forearm. It was difficult to discern the meaning of the letters inside the symbols from a distance but somehow I understood their meaning: Estrella and Victor. He’d inked my name in the middle of the star and his inside the moon, thereby intertwining our cosmic destinies. I yelped in surprised and immediately covered my mouth as other members of the Shining Path turned their gazes towards me. Although I was panicking, I slowly raised my arms to indicate that I wasn’t a threat. Victor gravely nodded at his second-in-command, lowered his megaphone, and indicated that everyone should follow suit. The Senderistas similarly lowered their weapons and turned their heads towards their leader. As the members of Shining Path removed their ski masks, I was surprised to learn that Professor Martìnez was also a terrorist and Victor’s second-in-command.  I was paralyzed with fear but attempted to hold Victor’s steadfast gaze. As he strode through the crowd, his followers parted like the red sea for their messianic leader. I’ll never forget his searing glare and the feeling of his calloused hands against mine followed by a suffocating embrace.

He whispered into my ear “I always knew you’d return to me my Estrella. Stars can never be separated from the moon because they can’t escape its irresistible pull”.

As I clung to him, I whimpered “Victor, I never thought we’d meet again. I worried day and night that you’d be maimed or killed in an attack. I’ve missed you dearly. Everything has changed these past few years…What has become of you?”.

“Estrella, I never stopped loving you. The markings on my arm reminded me of you every day we were separated…I’ll admit that I’m not the person you remember but I promise my love has never waned. Although I can’t imagine that you expected me to lead Sendero Luminoso in the capital, I’m certain that you’ll come to understand…We have much to discuss. Would you join me tonight for dinner?” he eagerly asked.

“…I don’t know what to say. I haven’t changed my opinion about the Shining Path since we last spoke…However, I’d never forgive myself if we never had the opportunity to speak again” I hesitantly responded.

“Let’s consider the matter settled. I’ll send a car to pick you up and drop you off at the dining location. You need to be ready by 7pm and dress formally” he replied.

“I’ll see you tonight…don’t you need my address?” I asked.

The police sirens suddenly started blaring indicating that he was being pursued. In response to my final inquiry, he smirked and hastily fled the scene. As I watched his troop follow his lead, I couldn’t help questioning my decision to reconnect with a leader of the Shin-…

Alberto’s attorney interrupted me again and said “Ms. García-Flores, I must stress that the immigration court will not condone fraternization with terrorists. It is our duty to explain that Mr. García quit the Shining Path in 1993 in order to eventually marry you. Therefore, he would be considered a persecuted member of a particular social group because he is an enemy of the terrorist organization. I must also remind you that your ex-husband is running out of time. He is being detained in a facility awaiting judgement regarding his immigration status. Can you describe the location and topic of the discussion with Mr. García?”

“I truthfully don’t remember the exact location but that evening we discussed Victor’s journey at great lengths” I wistfully reminisced.

“I’m afraid my patience is wearing thin Ms. García-Flores” Mr. Roberts muttered.

“Mr. Roberts, I promise that I will answer all of your questions if you allow me to finish my story” I snapped.

As I was saying, we met for dinner in the spring of 1990 and discussed our perspective journeys. I summarized the past decade of my life and he proudly explained how he had rapidly risen in the ranks of the Shining Path. I repeated my former sentiments but he quickly dismissed my concerns. I was suddenly struck with the realization that he would never change. I met his steely gaze as I rose to depart and he grabbed my hand.

“Estrella, wait…. God dammit I have to tell you something or I’ll regret it for the rest of my life. I’m… I’m still madly in love with you. Don’t leave me again. I can’t bear it. I have everything I ever wanted except for you. Please stay with me. We can start our lives together…. Will you join me?” he pleaded.

“Victor, I asked you the same question a decade ago. I’m sure you remember your response. You can’t condemn me for similarly choosing my career over love. I’ve applied to medical residency programs in the U.S and have received a few offers. I recently accepted an offer to train at the Case Western Reserve University Hospital (CWRU) in Cleveland, Ohio and have already submitted my H-1B visa. I plan to depart after graduation and have no intention of returning” I responded.

“I cannot accept that. You WILL stay and you WILL marry me” he barked.

“Victor, I’ll always care for you but I’m no longer engaged to you. I’m immigrating to the U.S. to practice medicine. I’m fulfilling my lifelong dream and leaving our war-torn country behind” I replied.

He responded by abruptly rising from the dinner table and slamming the door as he exited the restaurant. I gazed longingly at the entrance for several minutes before deciding to collect my belongings and leave. The following month I graduated from San Marcos and immigrated to the U.S. to practice medicine in Cleveland.

“Ms. García-Flores, can you elaborate on the development of the romantic relationship between yourself and Mr. García? When did you resume contact with one another?” he asked.

“Mr. Roberts, I didn’t hear from Victor for several years. I was completing my third year of residency at CWRU in January of 1993 when I received a letter” I responded.

Victor wrote to me explaining that he had left the Shining Path.  He intended to seek refuge in the U.S. because he was fleeing from political violence in Lima, Peru. As the former leader of the capital’s SP faction, he would be persecuted by either the Senderistas or President Alberto Fujimori’s administration if they found him. Abimael Guzmán, the most wanted murderer in Peruvian history, was captured in September of 1992 after a 12-year manhunt. The Shining Path began collapsing without Guzmán’s dictatorial control and had practically disbanded by the end of the year. Victor decided to immigrate to the U.S. by applying for a tourist visa because his lawyer advised him against applying as an asylum seeker.  He was informed that it was unlikely that he would qualify as a refugee because he was a former member of the terrorist organization that he was fleeing. Therefore, he traveled to the U.S. as a tourist and informed me that he’d be visiting Cleveland next month. He desperately wanted to see me because he wanted to explain his decision to quit the Shining Path. I was dumbstruck by his letter but eventually replied.

Dear Victor,

I was astonished by the content of your letter. I cannot express how relieved I am to hear that you have quit SL. I’ve prayed for your well-being numerous times over the past few years. I’m a third-year resident at CWRU and will complete my residency next spring. In regards to your inquiry, I hesitantly agree to meet. I’m not certain that it’s the best idea but I can’t find it in my heart to decline your request. I’ll include my address and telephone number below.

Address: 1990 Circle Dr., Apt. 123 Cleveland OH. 44106
Phone: 216-667-0001

Con Cariño,


Dear Estrella,

I’m shedding tears as I read your letter. Although we’ve only been separated for three years, I’ve never stopped thinking about you. Ultimately, I left the Shining Path because I decided that my family was more important than my country’s freedom. My involvement with the organization endangered them and I couldn’t help remembering your wise words. I’ll admit I was furious with you for a while but how could I condemn you for leaving me as I left you? I believe I finally understand what you meant during that fateful conversation. I look forward to reuniting next month.

Con Cariño,
        Alberto García

P.S. My attorney has advised me to change my name when I enter the states.

As you can imagine, we were equally excited and nervous to see one another. We embraced for an eternity and vowed never to be parted again. We were married on December 31st, 1993 and legally changed our names from Estrella Flores and Victor Rodriguez to Angela and Alberto García. I suppose I should have suspected that our bliss wouldn’t last. We filed for divorce a decade after reuniting in 2003. Alberto cared for me deeply but regretted leaving his family and former friends behind. He’d obsessively follow the political situation in Peru and President Fujimori’s administration on the news. Although we desperately wanted children and attempted various fertilization treatments, we were unable to procreate. As an uneducated immigrant, he was unable to find suitable employment in the U.S. He grew to resent me because he was an infertile, unemployed, temporary protected status holder stuck in North America and unable to contribute to the war against the govern—Shining Path. I was pleased to learn that a few weeks after I filed for divorce I received another job offer from CWRU. They had agreed to sponsor my H1-B visa for the foreseeable future, thereby ensuring my legal permanent resident status (LPR). I decided to remain in Cleveland and continue to work at CWRU while he moved to Cincinnati, Ohio. Although I became a U.S. citizen five years later, my ex-husband lost his temporary protected status after the divorce. His first asylum application was rejected; however, the immigration judge granted “stay of removal orders”. I hadn’t heard from him since 2008 and was surprised to receive his message in January. I worried for him when President Trump was elected but hoped that the “stay of removal orders” would protect him from threats of deportation. Unfortunately, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) raid at the meatpacking plant in December resulted in Alberto’s arrest and detainment in an immigration detention facility.

I agreed to testify today to persuade the immigration court that he deserves to remain because as his former spouse I’ve been wronged by him. I’ve determined that he’s neither a model citizen nor has he been the best husband but I nonetheless have forgiven him for his past actions. He doesn’t deserve to be deported to Peru nearly three decades after arriving in the U.S. His immediate family has died, his former friends are incarcerated, and the political situation remains dangerous. Although the Shining Path was defeated during President Fujimori’s administration, Senderistas remain active in the uninhabited regions of the Amazon. There were reports of cocaine production by the SP as recently as 2015 and he is a marked man. As a former leader of the Shining Path, he would face persecution due to his political beliefs and membership in a particular social group. I won’t condemn him to that fate and neither should arbiters of the Cleveland Immigration Court.

“Thank you Ms. García-Flores. I believe I have everything I need to build his case. I will contact you with any further questions” said Mr. Roberts.

“I’m glad I could be of some assistance Mr. Roberts. I would appreciate it if you would tell Alberto I’m praying that he wins his case. I’d also like to apologize for my earlier behavior. Alberto’s trial hasn’t been easy for my chi—for me. I’d like to thank you for everything you’ve done to help him” I responded.

“It was my pleasure Ms. García-Flores. I’ll be sure to pass along the message to Mr. García. I’m sure he could use the emotional support. I promise to remain in contact and provide updates regarding his case and immigration status” replied Mr. Roberts.

We shook hands and I released the breath I’d been holding since I’d arrived. Although I’d never forget what Alberto had done and who he had hurt, I couldn’t sentence my ex-husband to a fate that would result in his death. I certainly couldn’t bear the thought of deporting the father of my twin children. Our son Oscar Victor and daughter Maria Estrella Flores were born September 1st, 2009. We’d seen one another five years after our divorce on what would have been our fifteenth wedding anniversary. We sought comfort from one another on a lonely winter evening on New Year’s Eve of ’08 and hadn’t spoken since. I’d been hiding the existence of our children from my ex-husband for a decade.  I didn’t have the willpower to divulge the truth and he was currently facing deportation charges. Although our kids knew they were fatherless, I’d explained that their father had died in a car accident shortly after their birth. I shuddered while imagining how my ex-husband and children would react if they learned that I’d been hiding their existence from one another. I decided to lay the matter to rest and focus on the present while I awaited the immigration court’s decision.

The immigration judge’s ruling on August 10tht, 2019 determined that Alberto García, formerly known as Victor Alberto Rodriguez, would not be granted asylum. He was not considered a refugee fleeing political violence because he was not determined to be a persecuted member of a particular social group whose political opinion would endanger his life. Although I was heartbroken by the news, I’ll admit that I was somewhat relieved. I knew that I needed to protect my children and prevent him from ever interfering with my family’s wellbeing again. I’ll always love him but I knew the truth. He hadn’t fled the capital because he was interested in marrying me, because he feared endangering his family, or sought asylum in the U.S. because he feared political persecution. He’d immigrated to the U.S. in an attempt to escape the wrath of the Shining Path for deserting and the government’s prosecution of Senderistas after the capture of Guzmán in the early 1990s. He’d always believe in the Marxist ideology propagated by the Shining Path and would have chosen them over his family if given the chance. I later learned that he was incarcerated upon arrival to Peru and reunited with his former friends. The Senderistas cut his throat in jail because they resented him for escaping decades of incarceration. Victor was buried in an unmarked grave among the masses of the victims of the Shining Path. I finally felt at peace with my decision and refrained from reminiscing about my former life as the wife of a leader of the Shining Path.

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