The government of Peru is launching a sustained offensive against the drug trade that finances the last remaining Shining Path stronghold, the VRAEM, seeking to eradicate drug crops and destroy illegal landing strips.
The head of the government’s anti-drug body, the National Commission for Development and Life without Drugs (Devida), Carmen Masias, stated that the government aim was to eradicate 75 percent of the coca crops in the Apurimac, Ene and Mantaro River Valleys, better known as the VRAEM. This is not only one of the drug producing heartlands, but also home to the last powerful faction of the Shining Path rebels.
The goal forms part of the government's target of eradicating 30,000 hectares of coca crops in 2014, which if reached, will be a new record.
Another aspect of the strategy is the destruction of illegal air strips in the VRAEM. Much coca base and cocaine leaves the VRAEM in light aircraft. Intelligence sources have identified 72 illegal air strips, not all in the VRAEM, which are being used to move up to 20 tons of drugs a month.
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While the Shining Path makes some money from illegal logging and extortion, its main source of revenue, by far, is from the coca base and cocaine that leaves the VRAEM. The rebels set the price for coca base, regulate purchases, and protect shipments that leave their territory, as well as helping secure the illegal air strips. Even as air strips are cratered by the military, new ones are being carved out in the jungle, sometimes under rebel supervision.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of the Shining Path
Although the rebels in the VRAEM suffered a major blow last year with the killing of their military chief, Orlando Borda Casablanca, alias "Alipio," and another senior leader, Marco Quispe Palomino, alias "Gabriel," the Shining Path still dominates the region.
The Peruvian security forces are hoping to repeat their 2012 success, when they captured the head of the Shining Path faction in the Upper Huallaga Valley, another coca-growing area. A two-year operation against the rebels there led to the arrest in February 2012 of Florindo Eleuterio Flores, alias "Artemio." The Shining Path in the Huallaga are now a spent force, unable to exercise the same control as before, and eradication efforts are able to progress largely unhindered. The new target of the security forces is the VRAEM rebel boss Victor Quispe Palomino, alias "Camarada Jose."
As things stand, however, the Shining Path will almost certainly try to block eradication efforts in the VRAEM, and the aim of destroying 75 percent of the coca in the areas they operate is extremely ambitious.