Old Enemy, New Strategy
By Dialogo January 01, 2012
The Apurimac and Ene Rivers Valley, known by its Spanish acronym VRAE, is a
remote region in the center of Peru characterized by rugged mountainous terrain and
densely forested jungles. Home to nearly a third of the country’s coca crops, the
VRAE region is also the focal point for a counterinsurgency war being fought by the
Peruvian Armed Forces against the Shining Path.
Once a politically motivated terrorist organization, the Shining Path has
resurfaced as a narcoterrorist group splintered into two relatively independent
factions. One group is in the Upper Huallaga Valley, and the other, larger group, is
in the VRAE.
Formed in the 1970s by philosophy professor Abimael Guzmán, the Shining Path
was a Maoist guerrilla group bent on overthrowing the Peruvian government. For more
than two decades, the terrorist group waged a bloody war against the government,
carrying out bombings and assassinations that killed more than 30,000 Peruvians,
according to official accounts. Whether it was in the countryside of central and
southern Peru where the rebels were strongest, or in the capital of Lima itself, the
Shining Path assassinated citizens, including government officials, business owners
and even peasants, without impunity.
The terrorist group began its decline in 1992, when Guzmán and other
political leaders were captured and imprisoned by security forces. By 2002, analysts
estimated that the group had no more than 200 members, down from an estimated 5,000
at the height of its insurgency.
With no ideological leadership, the group became more militant and turned to
drug trafficking, resembling the Colombian guerrilla organization, the Revolutionary
Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and
Crime 2010 report, Peru has surpassed neighboring Colombia in becoming the world’s
top producer of coca leaves, the raw material for cocaine production. The Peruvian
government believes that the Shining Path receives about $15 million annually from
drug profits to stay armed and maintain its clandestine network.
“They lost their way, and now they’re simply an organization which survives
[on drug trafficking], fighting with the police and the military, but with no chance
of winning or gaining any sort of political control,” said General Carlos Morán, the
former head of the counterdrugs directorate of the Peruvian National Police.
Eliminating the enemy
With the insurgency in the Huallaga Valley reduced by security forces to a
few remnants, the military is concentrating on the VRAE region by deploying close to
5,000 military personnel.
In 2008, the Armed Forces established the VRAE Special Command, made up of
members of the Peruvian Army, Marine Corps and Air Force. This new command gave the
Armed Forces a heavy presence in the region in addition to increased resources and
Since that time, Peruvian forces have had success in capturing numerous
terrorist members, recovering ungoverned areas that were under Shining Path
influence, destroying several cocaine labs, and rescuing women and children who were
being used as foot soldiers. These results have not come without losses, however,
with about 60 police and Military officers killed in the past three years, including
five Soldiers who died in an ambush on the eve of President Ollanta Humala’s
election and two more who were killed just days before his inauguration in July
A new strategy
Recognizing the need for a new counterinsurgency strategy, the Peruvian
Military has introduced two more battalions to reinforce the two already in place,
with one battalion designed to focus specifically on counterintelligence. “We’re
paying much more attention to the problem of drug trafficking. We’re conducting
operations against drug trafficking in integrated operations with the police where
this had not normally been done in the past,” said Lieutenant General Leonel Cabrera
Pino, former VRAE commander and current commander of the Central Region, including
Lima. “We can win again. We won the war against Shining Path in the 1980s and 1990s,
and we’re going to win it again.”
Upon his inauguration, President Humala, a former Army lieutenant colonel who
was deployed in the Upper Huallaga Valley, instructed Minister of Defense Daniel
Mora Zevallos to provide the VRAE Command with all the necessary resources to defeat
the Shining Path once and for all. Some of those resources are already being
implemented with the Army’s use of unmanned aerial vehicles, which transmit the
locations of Shining Path members in real time to the nearest patrol unit.
“I believe that we have to press a bit harder in the fight, because if we
give them breathing room, they’ll start to expand again,” added Lt. Gen. Cabrera
Fostering security solutions
Oscar Picón Alcalde/Center For Hemispheric Defense Studies Alumni Association
Peruvian security forces battle crime, terrorism and drug trafficking in the
most challenging of environments, such as the Apurímac and Ene Rivers Valley. To
explore these intense regional issues in a multinational form, the Peruvian Center
for Hemispheric Defense Studies Alumni Association hosted the Second Hemispheric
Security and Defense Conference in Lima on November 7-8, 2011.
American, British, Colombian, Israeli, Mexican and Peruvian experts discussed
narcotrafficking trends, anti-terrorism strategies, organized crime issues and
security-related technology, among other topics. Participants included members of
the Peruvian Armed Forces, Peruvian National Police, government ministries, military
schools and others linked to the defense sector.
The conference helped generate alternative solutions to security and defense
issues. More than 250 military and civilian participants showed that an open forum,
where topics are presented and debated, worked well for the group, and the format
will be proposed to become standard.
Sir, did you know that the first image is from a Colombian command, not a Peruvian command!