The Peruvian government has arrested key members of the Shining Path rebel group, which continues to maintain its hold over the country’s crucial coca growing regions.
Among those captured were Víctor Quispe Zúñiga, the son of the group’s current leader Víctor Quispe Palomino, alias “Comrade José,” Peru’s defense ministry announced in a November 13 press release. Three children of other senior members of the group, all between 19 and 24 years old, were also detained in the operation.
“This is a very strong emotional blow to their parents,” former Peruvian interior minister Rubén Vargas told InSight Crime. “They were going to take over leadership of the group in the coming years.”
The arrests were made in the town of Mayapo in the heart of Peru’s primary coca growing region, the Valley of the Apurímac, Ene, and Mantaro Rivers (Valle de los Ríos Apurímac, Ene y Mantaro – VRAEM). The VRAEM accounted for 37% of the country’s total coca hectarage in 2022, according to a June report by Peru’s national anti-drug commission.
Since the height of its power in the 1990s, the Shining Path has controlled the region. The group has fractured multiple times, with Comrade José’s Militarized Communist Party of Peru (Militarizado Partido Comunista de Perú – MPCP) eventually emerging as its primary remnant.
The recent arrests form part of a larger offensive by Peruvian authorities against the group.
Five militants and one soldier were killed in an unsuccessful operation by Peruvian armed forces to capture Comrade José in March. Another member of the MPCP’s next generation, Comrade José’s nephew, was arrested in September.
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The Shining Path and its remnants have been a steady criminal force in Peru for decades, and despite crackdowns by security forces, income from drug production and trafficking keep them afloat.
The Shining Path has long funded its political struggle with diverse sources of illicit revenue such as illegal logging and extortion. The VRAEM’s cocaine economy, however, has been crucial to the longevity of the group’s remnants, Pedro Yaranga, a Peruvian security expert, told InSight Crime.
“They would not exist without coca because they would not have the resources,” he said.
Through its control over key territory in the VRAEM, the MPCP facilitates coca cultivation by providing protection services for growers’ crops. The group then oversees the shipment of coca leaves, coca paste, and cocaine out of its stronghold, from where it is shipped by drug traffickers to Bolivia, Brazil, and other countries.
Peru’s port of Callao is also a key transit point for cocaine from the MPCP strongholds. Around 40% of the cocaine produced in the VRAEM passes through the port, Vargas told InSight Crime. From Callao, it is then shipped to consumer markets in North America and Europe.
The centrality of coca cultivation and other criminal economies in the VRAEM means that organized criminal groups will remain even if continued operations against the group’s next generation are successful and the MPCP structure is dismantled.
“In the event that the MPCP were to be wiped out, the few that are left would simply become organized crime gangs,” Yaranga said.
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