Peru's Shining Path rebel group may be expanding their international drug trafficking operations, serving as suppliers to traffickers in neighboring Bolivia, according to one analyst.
The military commander of the last remaining faction of the Shining Path, Martin Quispe Palomino, alias "Comrade Gabriel," (pictured) is acting as a crucial link between narcotics suppliers in southern Peru and traffickers across the border in neighboring Bolivia, analyst Jaime Antezana told La Hora N.
Recent shows of strength by the guerrilla group, such as the kidnapping of 36 gas workers, were an attempt to assert the group's authority in the Apurimac and Ene River Valley (VRAE) and display their force to other drug traffickers, as well as to the Peruvian state, Antezana added.
Speaking in another interview with Peru 21, Antezana declared that the group, led by Victor Quispe Palomino, alias "Comrade Jose," can no longer be considered a ideologically driven force thanks to their association with drug trafficking. He said that clashes between security forces and the Shining Path are part of a "narco-war."
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The drug trade is probably the main revenue source for the VRAE-based group, which is thought to be the last remaining branch of the Shining Path, after the leader of a rival faction was captured in February. Antezana's claims that the group are involving themselves in transnational operations would mark an expansion from their role of taxing coca growers and protecting cocaine production facilities and shipments.
It is not the first time that reports have emerged of the Shining Path's links in Bolivia. In July last year, two alleged members of the rebel group were arrested in La Paz with 43 kilos of cocaine. In August, four activists handing out Maoist propaganda were detained in the capital, accused of recruiting for the Shining Path.
As well as being evidence of the group's links in Bolivia, the latter incident highlights the continued importance of political ideology to the group, despite the claims of the Peruvian government and analysts like Antezana that teh rebels are nothing more than "narco-terrorists."
Bolivia serves as a key transit point for narcotics travelling south from the Andes to Chile and Argentina, from where they are sent to Europe. The country lacks strong local drug trafficking groups. Colombian traffickers and Brazilian prison gangs are known to operate in Bolivia, yet they do not to date appear to have established a sophisticated network to gain complete dominance over the market. This could make it easier for the Shining Path to become players in Bolivia.