Peru's government announced a new four-year strategy that will attempt to pacify the lawless VRAE stronghold of the Shining Path's last remaining faction. Unlike previous efforts, emphasis will be on development over militarization, a crucial change that could see the government make gains.
On June 27, Peru launched Plan VRAEM, a new government initiative that seeks to combat drug trafficking and bring a stronger government presence to the Apurimac and Ene River Valley (VRAE), a key stronghold for the Shining Path guerrilla group, and the Mantaro valley which lies to the region's north, reported Andina.
Prime Minister Oscar Valdes stated that unlike previous government attempts to pacify the region that focused solely on combating Shining Path rebels, the new strategy will focus on development in the region. The plan will have four key aims: bringing state presence back to rural villages, lifting people out of poverty through the building of schools, roads and hospitals, removing the Shining Path, and clamping down on organized crime and drug trafficking. Emphasis will be on the first two points, Valdes affirmed.
The VRAE-based faction of the Shining Path is led by Victor Quispe Palomino, alias "Comrade Jose," and are thought to number around 500 fighters. After the arrest of the leader of the Huallaga faction earlier this year, dismantling Comrade Jose's group is considered the final obstacle before the government may declare the rebels defeated.
Valdes added that government officials will visit the area at the end of each month to ensure that the development programs are progressing.
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The emphasis on developmental initiatives over a militarized strategy is a significant step by the government to bring order back to the lawless VRAE region where an estimated 80 percent live in poverty. President Ollanta Humala has previously attempted to bring the area back under government control by installing a state of emergency in the region last year in an effort to combat the Shining Path but this strategy has seen few, if any, gains.
Comrade Jose's faction has embarrassed the government on a number of occassions this year, particularly in April when the rebels kidnapped a group of 36 gas workers. Though they were later freed, evidence emerged of a botched military operation in which the Shining Path ambushed security patrols with ease and even managed to kill a helicopter pilot. The fiasco eventually led to the resignation of both the Ministers of Defense and the Interior.
More worrying for the government is that the guerrillas appear focused on achieving popular support from locals, organizing speeches in villages to espouse leftist political rhetoric and justify their actions in the region.
Mayors from the VRAE have previously demanded the government alter its strategy, requesting the president to focus on bringing basic infrastructure back to the region. It appears Humala is now heeding their call.