A politician in Peru is urging that the security forces be deployed to "stateless" drug transit areas where one analyst says Shining Path guerrillas are making inroads, a sign the group may be expanding its territorial reach after years of decline.
Congressman Carlos Tubino said that the Peruvian military and police should be deployed to areas without a state presence, such as the Masisea district in Ucayali, a province in central Peru on the eastern border with Brazil, Diario UNO reported. Tubino is the representative for Ucayali and vice president of the Defense and Anti-Narcotics Commission in Congress.
The congressman's comments came in response to remarks by drug and terrorism expert Jaime Antezana that a faction of the Shining Path guerrilla group -- which has long been involved in drug trafficking activities -- has expanded into Masisea.
During an interview for Canal N, Antezana said that armed columns of the Shining Path's Quispe Palomina clan have been filtering into Masisea from the Apurimac, Ene and Mantaro River Valleys (VRAEM) region since September 2013. According to Antezana, the Masisea faction now numbers between 130 and 150 people -- which would equal just under half of the total Shining Path force -- and top commander Víctor Quispe Palomino, alias "Comrade José," is also currently in the area.
"This is a process of expansion, not withdrawal," he said.
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The analyst said that one reason behind the Shining Path's apparent move into Ucayali is that coca cultivation has surged in certain areas of the province, citing government technicians working to combat illegal logging in the area.
Antezana explained that Ucayali is also an important drug trafficking hub, noting that Masisea has seen an increase in drug flights due to stepped-up aerial interdiction efforts in the VRAEM.
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Following the decimation of the Shining Path in Peru's Upper Huallaga Valley in 2012, the guerrilla group's presence was believed to have been reduced to the VRAEM region, where it still taxes coca production. If Antezana's analysis is correct, however, the Shining Path is not only increasing its power following a steep decline, it could also be strengthening its role in the illicit drug trade.
The sheer logistics of deploying armed cells to establish operations in the very remote Brazilian border region would be proof that the Shining Path's military capacity is greater than what the government had previously predicted.
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Furthermore, its apparent decision to move into Ucayali likely means the guerrillas want to increase their trafficking role further. IDL Reporteros Director Gustavo Gorriti confirmed to InSight Crime that a new air trafficking route has opened up between the VRAEM region and Ucayali, although he did not comment on the possible guerrilla presence in the area. The latest United Nations report on coca in Peru also considers Ucayali to be a key aerial and fluvial drug transit region into Brazil.
Still, there may be reason to doubt Antezana's assertions. The UN figures state that Ucayali is actually one of the areas with the lowest amount of recorded coca cultivations in the entire country due to government eradication efforts.