Yet again, Peruvian security forces are seeking to force Shining Path guerrillas out a jungle region that produces most of the country’s cocaine, but military operations have long failed to stamp out what remains of the rebel group.
A late August battle between troops and a Shining Path cell in the Valley of the Apurímac, Ene and Mantaro Rivers (Valle de los Ríos Apurímac, Ene y Mantaro - VRAEM) left four rebel fighters dead, including alias “Cirilo," a local leader. Two soldiers were also killed, the Ministry of the Interior stated in a news release.
The firefight occurred after troops discovered armed guerrillas safeguarding cocaine in in Chachaspata, a town in the department of Ayacucho in the southwestern part of the country. A second conflict took place later in the Mar providence of the same department, El Comercio reported.
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The military attack also led to the seizure of weapons, explosives and 79 kilograms of cocaine.
The Shining Path faction of the VRAEM supports itself through drug trafficking, though its role is limited to providing armed escorts of drug shipments passing through the area, Pedro Yaranga, a Peruvian security expert, told InSight Crime. He added that the group’s presence has been reduced to a narrow corridor between the departments of Junín, Ayacucho and Huancavelica.
The remote jungle region accounted for nearly 70 percent of some 50,000 coca crops in the country in 2017, the last time the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) was able to conduct a survey, according to its latest World Drug Report.
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An overwhelming military presence in the region -- the VRAEM currently has 52 bases and between 8,000 to 10,000 troops -- has been unable to root out the rebel group, which has kept itself going by securing shipments of cocaine.
Some 450 members of the Shining Path continue to control several strategic drug trafficking territories in the region, according to information provided to InSight Crime by Peru's Counter-Terrorism Directorate (Dirección Contra el Terrorismo - DIRCOTE).
The stalemate is likely to hold, though the guerrilla group has become a shadow of its former self when the group terrorized Peru with assassinations, bombings, beheadings and massacres.
The government is also considering new ways of dealing with the legacy of the Shining Path conflict, having agreed on September 3 to pay compensations to victims of the violence and their relatives.
In 1992, authorities captured Abimael Guzmán, the group's founder and principal leader. His second-in-command, Florindo Eleuterio Flores, alias “Comandante Artemio,” was taken down a decade later all but ending the bloody civil war, which took some 70,000 lives and lasted for two decades, from the 1980s to the early 2000s.
Currently under the leadership of brothers Víctor and Jorge Quispe Palomino, the group has tried to reinvent itself as the Militarized Communist Party of Peru (Militarizado Partido Comunista del Perú – MPCP), in an effort to gain the support of rural farming communities within the VRAEM that were victimized by the Shining Path.