Despite arrest, Peru’s Shining Path continues

By Antonio Sampaio, Research Assistant, Armed Conflict Database and Survival

Peruvian President Ollanta Humala speaks after Comrade Artemio's arrest. Photo from Humala's Flickr feed‘I lost,’ admitted the Shining Path rebel leader, when captured by Peruvian troops in his jungle hideout, where he lay wounded and abandoned by his own guerrillas. ‘Comrade Artemio’ was the last ideologically driven member of the original Sendero Luminoso central committee still at large, and his arrest on Sunday underlined how – just like FARC in Colombia – the Shining Path has morphed from a Maoist insurgency into a criminal organisation with links to narco-trafficking.

Since Shining Path resurfaced in 2008, eight years after its first 20-year war with the Peruvian government effectively ended, it has been divided into two factions. Artemio headed the northern Upper Huallaga group. But another seemingly greater threat remains in the faction led by ‘Comrade Jose’ in the Ene-Apurimac River Valley (known as the VRAE).

The VRAE faction, like Artemio’s now-defeated group, has forged strong links with the cocaine trade. Jose and his fellow fighters have little regard for their predecessors’ communist ideology; instead they busy themselves providing routes for traffickers, charging smaller gangs for safe passage. The group’s business model also involves selling coca leaves and providing workers for cocaine production. Last October, VRAE guerrillas almost brought down an army helicopter; and we at the IISS Armed Conflict Database have meanwhile tracked their spread into regions formerly considered safe.

This surviving Shining Path faction is thriving because of support from a poor population with few economic alternatives to coca production. The presence of 3,000 government soldiers in the VRAE has not halted its activities. Indeed, according to intelligence reports cited by Peruvian newspaper El Comercio, the group is already looking to fill the vacuum left by rival Artemio’s demise in the Upper Huallaga.

All of this matters because Peru has recently become the world’s largest cocaine producer. As well as being a major processing hub, it offers jungle routes to profitable markets in Europe and the US. This has led to concerns about the presence of Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel, some of whose members have reportedly struck a deal with Jose over the production of a high-purity cocaine base.

The US government sponsors some coca eradication programmes and offers other assistance, but Peru’s security apparatus is ill-prepared to combat this menace; the president of the Peruvian Council of Ministers, Oscar Valdes, has conceded that the funds available for fighting groups linked to the drug trade are insufficient.

So President Ollanta Humala (pictured, above) may have been slightly optimistic in announcing after Artemio’s arrest that Shining Path was ‘no longer a threat’ to his country. And, despite stepped-up government efforts in the VRAE,  it may take a while before Comrade Jose joins Artemio in declaring defeat.


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