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El Nino and Civil Confict in Peru


Case Basics

Environmental Aspects

Conflict Aspects

Influence of El Nino on the Conflict

Related Information and Sources


The history of Peru is drenched in civil violence. Since the time of the Incan Empire the traditional way to gain power was to overthrow the government in power. When the Spanish came to Peru they too killed the emperor and instated their government, religion, and values on the native people. Throughout the era of colonization huge inequalities between the natives and the Spaniards were created. These inequalities left a legacy of violence in Peru. This violence seemed to peak in the 1980s.  The combination of a poor government practices and unusual environmental conditions caused by El Nino lead to the outbreak of a long, violent civil war.  

Case Basics


Historical Conflict in Peru from 1572-1980:

Peru's history as in independent nation started in turmoil, and has remained that way for a large portion of its history. Starting from the reign of the Spanish, with the execution of Tupac Amaru in 1572, there have been numerous uprisings of rebel groups, looking to challenge the standing government of the time. The first major uprising was lead by Tupac Amaru II. Tupac Amaru II was the son of a chief and powerful trader. Despite his prestige, he still believed native people were being taxed unfairly and in 1780 he launched a rebellion against the Spanish. Tupac Amaru s followers grew greater than 60,000.  They attacked Spanish estates, freed prisoners, and removed Spanish authority figures from power. His rebellion, however, was unsuccessful as he and his family were captured in April of 1781 and executed on May 18, 1781.

The next major civil conflict in Peru was its war for independence. In 1821 Lima was captured by Jose de San Martin of Argentina. The war against Spain lasted until 1824, when Argentina and  Bolivia finally succeeded in aiding Peru to become the last colony to gain independence in South America.

In 1948 the first of several coup d'état occurs. General Manuel Odría lead the revoultion that ousted the civilian leadership. The country remained under military rule until 1963 when the military allowed for civilian rule once more. Five years later, General Juan Velasco Alvarado lead the second military coup d'état. During his rule Velasco ordered large scale land reform and nationalization programs. Velasco stayed in power until 1975 when General Morales Bermúdez replaced him. The military rule lead by Morales remained until 1980 when the military allowed a civilian rule once again.


The Shining Path

Most of these military coups spawned from the extreme inequality left behind from the colonial era. While these were violent conflicts the violence was mostly kept to political figures. While the residuals of colonialism may have been what started these coups, they did little to change the them once in power. This lead to an increase in inequality and discontent among civilians.

The Shining Path was a resistance group lead by Abimael Guzmán, a disgruntled philosophy professor. Guzmán started the Shining Path as a small, intellectual, radical, Maoist group. The group was mostly educated citizens who politicized during the college and high school years. They felt the need to fight for the poor, because they did not believe the poor would do so themselves. For the Shining Path, it was an intellectual fight, rather than a fight of necessity.

While the Shining Path was the largest rebel group, it was not the only one. The Tupac Amaru Movement was a smaller leftist resistance group. The Shining Path refused to align with any other group, so that positioned both leftist groups as individual players in the battle for control. They would often engage in battle with each other, which only furthered the destruction of the State.  

In 1980, when the government was returned to civilian rule, the Shining Path and Tupac Amaru Movement saw this as the opportune time to begin their attempts to obtain power. Both groups relied heavily on guerrilla tactics, which tended to take the lives of poor civilian villagers, the very people they claimed to be fighting for.

In 1994, 6000 Shining Path guerillas surrendered to the government. While some violence continued, the mass violence that had plauged the last decade was over.

Civilian Government

Unfortunately for the civilian government, its time spent in power only worsened the state of Peru. In 1980 President Belaunde Terry was elected into office. His poor policy making aided by one of the worst El Nino events in recent history lead to a debt crisis, hyperinflation, food shortages, unsanitary cities, and overall discontent with the government. This lead to even more violence from the rebel movement.

While the Shining Path and the Tupac Amaru Movement were the cause of the most civilian deaths, the Government had its fair share of civilian casualties. The government created military zones in the areas of Peru that were seeing the most revolutionary activity. In these zones the government had total control of the area. In these zones civilians were not only attacked by the revolutionary guerrillas, but also terrorized by the military. The military could torture, sexually assault, and even murder entire villages with no penalties.

In 1985 Belaunde was voted out of office and peacefully replaces by Alan Garcia Perez. During Garcia's time as president inflation reached 7650%, and violence from the Shining Path and Tupac Amaru Movement continued to increase. In 1990 Peru elected Alberto Fujimori. In his first year as president Fujimori decreased inflation from 7650% to 139%. In 1992 he dissolved congress, and then called for new congressional elections. In 1993, with the new congress, Fujimori passed a new constitution. The government under Fujimori also severely cracked down on the revolutionaries, forcing their surrender in 1994.

While Fujimori seems like a great leader, he had a dark side. In allowing the military to crack down on revolutionaries, he also allowed them to rape, pillage, and massicure villages. He was involved in a political bribery scandle, causing the international community to not recognize his victory in an already questionable election.

A major underlying factor in the Peruvian Civil War of 1980 is El Nino. El Nino, also known as the Southern Ostulation, is a strange weather phenomenon that occurs approximately every 2 to 9 years. The weather even typically lasts between a year and two years, and in rare cases it can last up to five years.

During El Nino years, the tradewinds that usually carry cold water from the east weaken, which causes a significant warming of waters on the western coasts of the Americas. The weakening of the these tradewinds, combine with the change in ocean temperatures causes changes in weather worldwide.


The temperature changes exhibited in the maps cause extreme changed in weather. Areas that are usually dry experience increased precipitation, areas that usually see a lot of rainfall suffer from drought, cold areas warm, etc

6: (Right) shows the areas most effected by El Nino, and its effects. Notice how the northwestern coast of South America is one of the most effected areas. Here you can see that the west coast of Peru experiences very wet conditions during December, January and Feburary. This is the reason for the flooding and crop distruction in Peru in 1982.








The conflict lasted 20 years. It began in 1980 with the the Shining Path and Tupac Amaru reacting to the installment of a civilian government, and ended in 2000 with the fall of Alberto Fujimori


The war effected all of Peru, but the areas that saw the most violence were in the provinces of Ayacuco, Hurncrvelica, Lima, Junin, Pasco, Hurnuco, and San Martin which are located in the Peruvian Andes.

Similar to the violence, El Nino effected all of Peru through food shortages and increasingly difficult economic times. However certain areas are effected more than others. The coastal deserts, located along the western coast, saw increased rain and flooding. The northern provinces had saw mass destruction of farmland due to floods.


State: Peruvian Civilian Government, Peruvian Military
Revolutionaries: The Shining Path, Tupac Amaru Movement

Environmental Aspects

Type of Environmental Problem:

The El Nino event of 1982-1983 is one of the strongest El Ninos on record. The sea surface temperature derivation from the norm was 5 degrees C. This is two degrees higher than the usual sea surface temperature derivation of three degrees. An increase of two degrees causes the effects to become much more severe than they usually are. The El Nino of 1982 was so stong that areas that normally recieve 6 inches of rainfall in a year recieved almost 11 feet of rain, and during one 24 hour period the ocean temperature increased over 7 degrees C. This means that the rainfall in the coastal deserts increased significantly more than average making flooding increadibly distructive. More severe flooding means more loss of cropland. A lack of cropland caused fewer crops, both for sustenance and exportation. Another problem caused by the increase in flooding was that is caused sanitary problems. The increase in unsanitary living conditions caused diseases, such as malaria, to spread rapidly.

The increased temperature of the ocean had direct effects on fish stocks. The extremely warm water causes a decrease in productivity, causing a decrease in fish stocks.  In the case of Peru in 1982-1983 it caused an extremely low anchovy catch in 1982-1983. Most of the anchovy catch is exported. Not having a successful anchovy harvest was detrimental to the already plummeting economy.

Another reason the severe El Nino events are a problem is because as climate change causes our oceans to warm, these events are expected to occur more frequently, and with greater intensity. If we are seeing conflict correlating with El Nino events, then that may mean that there will be more conflict in areas strongly effected by El Nino in the coming years.

Type of Habitat

Varies- Ocean warming causes oceans to become less productive, thus causing a decrease in marine life. The coastal areas see increased in rain and flooding.

These are the predominent ecosystems of Peru. During El Nino years areas in yellow, the coastal desert plains, experience extreme flooding. The areas in green, the tropical mountain forests and rain forests, experience unusually long dry season. The brown areas are the least effected, though they tend to experience dryer conditions during El Nino.

Act and Harm Sites

Act: Pacific Ocean
Harm: International
Example: Flooding of Peruvian coastal farmland, increased drought in the southwestern United States

Conflict Aspects

Type of Conflict

Civil War

Level of Conflict


Level of Violence

High, approximately 70,000 people, mostly civilians, died between 1980 and 2000.

The Influence of El Nino on Conflict

The Links and Dynamic of El Nino and Conflict in Peru

There is a definite link between the Civil War of 1980 and El Nino. Prior to the event, Peru was already suffering from a faltering economy caused by a history of unstable governments, and inflation when one of the strongest El Nino events on record hit in 1982. The increase in rain caused by El Nino lead to flooding in the northern farmlands. The land the farms sit on is usually a coastal desert watered by irrigation. During El Nino years, these lands flood, causing crop destruction. In 1982, just two years after the election, El Nino brought some of the worst floods Peru has ever seen. This caused massive food shortages of both sustenance crops, causing starvation, and exportable crops such as coffee. The warm waters of El Nino also caused a decline in the fisheries, specifically anchovies, which is another major export of Peru.

Another major issue brought about by El Nino was a stark increase in unsanitary conditions. When farmlands flooded There would often be stagnant water, and rotting plants. This caused a spike in mosquito populations, which lead to an increase in diseases such as malaria. In more urban areas flooding caused a backup of sewers, which also lead to unsanitary conditions and increases in disease.

The conditions left behind by El Nino caused a decline in the livelihood and wellness of civilians. Starvation, disease, and a rapidly deteriorating economy caused citizens to question the newly instated civilian government, pushing citizens to join the rapidly growing following of the Shining Path and Tupac Amaru Movement. El Nino intensified the already poor conditions in Peru, causing

Civilians joined these forces in the hopes that they would bring better living conditions to their country but in reality, they only added to the chaos. When the Shining Path and Tupac Amaru were small groups, the government paid little mind to them. As the living conditions of Peru worsened their followings grew. This allowed the revolutionary groups to gain power and become a real, violent, threat to both the government and civilians. When the government realized that they could not handle the threat without the military they instated military zones in the areas seeing the most violence. In these zones the military had total control, and often abused their power by sexually assaulting, pillaging, and even massacring villages. This kind of behavior caused civilians to distrust the government and to become even more discontent with the state of the nation.

The effects of the violence, like the effects of El Nino caused the discontent of citizens to feed the support for the Shining Path and Tupac Amaru Movement, which in turn fed into the level of military control. All of these factors fuel the war which then increases the three contributing factors, causing a self perpetuating cycle.

Timeline of El Nino and Conflicts in Peru

To better illustrate the correlation between El Nino and conflict in Peru, this timeline illustrates when violent events occured in relation to El Ninos. It can be seen that in the years during and after El Nino events conflict was more likely to occur.

Outcome of the Conflict

After approximately 70,000 caualties, and numberous crimes against humanity, President Fujimori resigned from office and feld to Japan in November of 2000, thus ending a difficult, violent era in the history of Peru.

Related Information and Sources

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Relevant Websites and Literature

"1982 El Nino: The Worst There Ever Was"

"Background Note; Peru" U.S. Department of State, November 9, 2011.

Becker, Marc and Alessandro Michelucci "Amaru, Tupac II" Yachana.

"El Nino" National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

"Peru Shining Path and Its Impact" Mongabay


"Timeline: Peru" BBC News, August 13, 2011.

Wall, Tim "Tropical Civil War Correlated to El Nino" Discovery News, August 25, 2011

s in order of appearance:

"Machu-Picchu-Panorama" June 26, 2008. Small Planet Photos.

"Fujimori Safe in Chile for Now" Vivirlatino

"El Nino Conditions" NOAA.

"NOAA/NESDIS SST 50KM Golbal Analysis" NOAA.

"El Nino Conditions" NOAA.

"Typical Effects of El Nino" NOAA.

Google Earth

[Jessica Ballance- 18 December 2011]