The game of cat and mouse between the Peruvian security forces and the country's chief rebel group may be having the perverse effect of forcing the guerrillas into the arms of organized crime.
The Shining Path, under pressure in their strongholds from army offensives, have spread out their forces and deepened their ties to drug trafficking, continuing to deliver their Communist message to the remoter hamlets and villages of the Peruvian highlands.
An article in the Peruvian daily El Comercio looks at how the most belligerent of the two remaining Shining Path (or 'Sendero Luminoso' in Spanish) factions, led by aliases ‘José’ and ‘Raul’ (believed to be brothers with the surnames Quispe Palomino), has expanded its reach beyond the Apurimac and Ene river valley (Valle de los Rios Apurimac y Ene – VRAE) in the departments of Ayacucho and Apurimac, and been spotted in the department of Junin further north.
The El Comercio article is complemented by another published in La Republica, dealing with an alleged money laundering network based around the VRAE, with links to the Shining Path, showing how the rebels tentacles are stretching out and interwining with organized crime.
The VRAE is home to some of the densest cultivations of coca in Peru and the heart of much of the country's drug trafficking. Peru is seeing an increase in coca cultivation, as it threatens to dislodge Colombia from its position as the world's number one producer of cocaine. In 2008 coca production increased 4.5 percent while it dropped 18 percent in Colombia, according to United Nations figures. The U.S. government statistics (from the 2010 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report) have Peru producing 225 tons of cocaine in 2009, compared with 270 tons in Colombia.
The new reach of the Shining Path has also allowed the rebels to diversify the routes they use to smuggle cocaine out of the Peruvian highlands on their way down to the Pacific Coast, where shipments are bought by the Mexican drug cartels and smuggled northwards through the Pacific. The article reveals how the Shining Path rebels escort shipments across stretches of Peru, charging drug traffickers up to $30 a kilo. The rebel columns are not only marching through the mountainous terrain but have access to vehicles and are able to cover large distances quickly.
Another effect of the army offensives against the rebels has been to force them to better arm and equip themselves, using the proceeds from drug trafficking to buy weapons on the black market.· Police intelligence sources are cited tracking more than 100 rifles (mostly AKMs, the upgrade of the basic AK-47 Kalashnikovs produced in the 1960s) and some rocket-propelled grenades used to target military helicopters, one of which was hit in 2009 in Santo Domingo de Acobamba (Huancayo province).
While the Shining Path deepen their links with drug trafficking organizations, it seems they have not abandoned their ideology or political work.· There are regular seizures of Shining Path propaganda material, while the hammer and sickle is to be seen daubed on huts around the Upper Huallaga and VRAE.
It is also clear that the Sendero faction in the VRAE is growing in strength and sophistication thanks to involvement in the drug trade, mimicking the position taken by both Colombian rebels groups, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia - FARC) and the National Liberation Army (Ejercito de Liberacion Nacional - ELN)
The goverment has had some success against the Shining Path but principally against the faction entrenched in the Upper Huallaga Valley (in the northern department of San Martin, commanded by alias ‘Artemio’ (whose real name is believed to be Florindo Eleuterio Flores), and not against those based in the VRAE.