Peru Defeats Shining Path’s Huallaga Faction as VRAEM War Rages On
By Dialogo June 21, 2013
LIMA — The sentencing of one of Peru’s most infamous rebels to life in prison means the virtual elimination of the Shining Path’s powerful Huallaga Front — and a major victory in the government’s decades-old battle to wipe out the Maoist terrorist group once and for all.
Florindo Flores, better known as “Comrade Artemio,” held sway over the Huallaga Front in the northern jungle from early in the 1990s, and was the last remaining member of the outlawed party to be arrested or killed. Until recently, the Huallaga was Peru’s principal drug-trafficking zone.
On June 7, following a six-month trial for drug trafficking, murder and terrorism, he was sentenced to life in prison as well as a $200 million fine. Flores, arrested in February 2012, denied all charges until the end, insisting in a tearful plea two days before sentencing that he was a political prisoner.
Anti-Terrorism Prosecutor Julio Galindo said he was pleased with the verdict, although he would have liked a stiffer penalty; his office had proposed fining Flores nearly $4 billion.
“There were no doubts in this trial. We provided abundant evidence showing Artemio’s role as a terrorist leader and drug trafficker,” Galindo told Diálogo after the verdict was announced. “We expected nothing less than a life sentence.”
Over the last 16 months, several dozen followers of Flores have been captured, and no terrorist attacks have been reported in the zone. A state of emergency remains in force there, but police commanders in charge of the zone say full pacification should be achieved shortly.
VRAEM displaces Huallaga as main coca-producing zone
The situation is quite different in Peru’s south-central jungle, in a Belgium-sized valley formed by the Apurimac, Ene and Mantaro rivers. Known as the VRAEM, this area has been under a state of emergency for the past 10 years due to Shining Path activity. In 2009, this area displaced the Huallaga as Peru’s primary drug-trafficking zone.
The VRAEM faction, led by Victor Quispe Palomino and two of his brothers, began ratcheting up their actions just as the state was dismantling Flores’ columns in the north. In 2012, Quispe Palomino columns killed 20 police officers and soldiers, alarming the government of President Ollanta Humala.
The rebels retreated somewhat after an attack on an airstrip last October, which destroyed three helicopters used to service the Camisea gas pipeline. But they renewed their activities in April, with attacks on mixed military-police patrols and the destruction of four mobile telephone towers in the past two months.
Shining Path rebels also killed two soldiers, one in April, and another in a June 11 clash with a security patrol. The latest fight came after security forces stepped up actions in the VRAEM — which has 20,000 hectares of coca under production — to locate a Shining Path column that briefly took over the camp of a construction company building a highway in the zone.
The rebel column stole food, medicines and communications equipment, though the Joint Chiefs of Staff denied initial reports that dynamite had also been stolen. That attack was reminiscent of an April 2012 incident, in which a Shining Path column took over a camp used for pipeline construction. They kidnapped 36 workers, holding them for nearly one week.
Is violence a response to alternative development programs?
Analysts say the stepped-up terrorist actions are in response not only to an increased military-police presence in the zone, but also government-led development program slated to invest close to $1 billion in the VRAEM in the coming years. That includes $300 million worth of infrastructure and social programs this year, as well as a coca eradication plan in the zone.
Jaime Antezana, who has followed the Shining Path since the 1990s, said the rebels see opposition to coca eradication as a way of gaining a stronger foothold among the population.
The Shining Path is no longer a Maoist party, but a “terrorist franchise in the service of drug trafficking,” he told Diálogo. Antezana added that armed actions “are meant to keep the state from moving in with forced coca eradication.” He said this is a tactic Artemio and his forces followed in the Huallaga, promising to stop eradication by attacking Corah brigades.
In late May, Shining Path terrorists interfered with radio signals in the VRAEM, interrupting transmissions with a clandestine broadcast calling for farmers to “defend their land, crops and water, organizing militarily with weapons in hand and under the direction of the Communist Party of Peru.”
Other analysts, however, said the government should keep its battle against Shining Path terrorists separate from its anti-narcotics and rural development programs.
Manuel Boluarte, who has studied subversion and drug trafficking for several decades, said the Humala government needs to clearly distinguish between the drug and terrorism fight.
“The national police, which were in charge of anti-narcotics operations in the VRAEM, have lost autonomy now that the Army is in control of all operations in the valley. The Shining Path is expanding its area of operation and increasing the rhythm of attacks, which requires all their attention,” Boluarte said.