There are reports from Peru that the most senior active commander of the Shining Path rebel group, "Comrade Artemio," has been severely wounded in combat, which could lead to the disintegration of his faction.
Florindo Eleuterio Flores Hala, alias "Comrade Artemio," was allegedly shot in the chest and hand after fighting broke out in the Upper Huallaga valley of San Martin region in northern Peru. He apparently managed to evade capture with the help of loyal fighters in this, his longtime stronghold.
Conflicting reports have emerged as to who wounded the rebel leader. According to investigative news site IDL-Reporteros, some members of Artemio's group had turned and begun collaborating with the police. One of these shot Artemio at around 4 a.m. on Thursday morning, prompting a gun battle between loyalists and police informants, leaving several wounded. Conversely, the mayor of Tocache, San Martin has claimed that Artemio was injured by police officials, and not members of the Shining Path. Reports suggest that the rebel leader could be gravely wounded, potentially losing his hand.
Peruvian authorities spent Thursday searching the area intensively for Artemio, deploying some 130 police and soldiers along with helicopters.
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In an interview with El Comercio, the director of IDL-Reporteros, Gustavo Gorriti, stated that if Artemio -- the last remaining leader from the Shining Path's central committee -- were to fall, it would likely spell the end of his faction of the Shining Path. This is largely due to the fact that those closest to him are far younger and lack the ideological grounding Artemio has developed during his 30 years in the rebel movement. However, as Gorriti told the Guardian, as more time passes, the better the chances are of Artemio evading capture and regrouping his fighters, providing his injuries don't prove fatal.
Peru's government has claimed to be closing in on Artemio for months. In July last year they arrested a women said to be his girlfriend, Elisa Monica Culantres Cordova, alias "Evelyn," and just last month captured a man who was allegedly a member of the commander's security ring. These events, combined with Artemio's calls on the government in December for a truce, suggest that his faction is gravely weakened and that, with his arrest or death, it could disappear.
However, the area of operations of this, one of the two main Shining Path factions still active, is one of the centers of coca cultivation in the country. The Upper Huallaga valley is of strategic importance to the drug trade and so the remaining Shining Path fighters could simply move into cocaine trafficking without the ideological facade of the rebel movement. The links between the drug trade and the Shining Path are also close in the other rebel stronghold of the Valley of the Apurimac and Ene Rivers (known as the VRAE), commanded by Victor Quispe Palomino, alias "Comrade Jose."
Artemio has claimed that his group has abstained from direct involvement in cocaine trafficking and production, something rejected by both Peruvian officials and the United States, which is offering a $5 million dollar reward for his capture. Like in neighboring Colombia, where the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN) are both deeply involved in the drug trade, it is clear that Shining Path's survival is inextricably linked to income from cocaine.