On August 9, Peruvian forces captured two top-ranking commanders of the Shining Path Maoist guerrilla, following a series of offensives between the army and the insurgents. The events suggest that the insurgency is not extinct as previously thought, and remains a strong security threat for Peru.
Twenty-three years after the imprisonment of Shining Path’s founder, Abimael Guzman, the Maoist insurgency has lost much of the ideological foundations that once made it the most significant existential threat to the Peruvian state. Fifteen years have passed since the end of a gruesome civil that left nearly 70.000 people dead.
Currently, the Communist-Maoist Guerrilla ‘Sendero Luminoso’ (Shining Path) is believed to have some 350 strong men in its ranks — significantly less than its 4000 members when at its zenith, yet enough to cause concern.
Shining Path was considered to be extinguished out of the Peruvian military offensives since the early 2000s. However, Latin American insurgencies do not evaporate — instead, their columns and blocs mutate into smaller operating cells which turn into autonomous profit-seeking organizations.
Shining Path remnants are now led by Víctor y Jorge and the Quispe Palomino brothers, which have turned the guerrillas into a criminal gang proficient in money laundering techniques. Recently, the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has included the Shining-Path in its black list of ‘terrorist-financing organizations’.
The US Government will enforce the seizing of assets and properties related to money laundering activities connected to Shining-Path, stating in a communiqué: “Since its founding over three decades ago, the Shining Path has evolved from a militant terrorist group to a criminal narco-terrorist organization responsible for trafficking cocaine throughout South America.”
Peruvian Miniter of Defense Jakke Valakivi has openly recognized that Shining Path still operates in the eastern Peruvian region of VRAEM. This is a thickly forested area, between the Apurimac, Ene and Mantaro rivers, which is known to have some of the most dense coca plantations in Peru, offering great yields due to the unparalleled alkaloid levels of its leafs. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime estimates that Peru has surpassed Colombia as world’s top coca producer, with some 50.000 hectares of coca plantations, with 40% in the VRAEM region alone.
Nearly 300 tons of cocaine are produced in the VRAEM a year, and nearly 50% of it is transported by air to neighboring countries. The UN gives an estimate of 80 clandestine airfields in VRAEM alone, making it a hub for illegal goods distribution.
Shining Path has also been diversifying its revenue sources, from coca plantations to more labor-intense industries such unauthorized timber and gold mining. These industries, unlike the cocaine alkaloids, are products that can easily be slipped into the legal market, making it easier for unlawful groups to blend into formal businesses.
Not yet extinct
Shining Path’s operation in this coca hub is a major cause of concern for Peru, and events this summer indicate that the organization, thought to be extinct, is still very much operational.
First, on July 5, 54 hostages – 33 children and 21 adults – were released from the hands of Shining Path by an Army operation. On July 28, another 39 hostages were released, but nearly 200 people are still held under captivity by the guerrillas.
The same week, an army raid into the VRAEM forest produced a ‘cocaine hydrochloric kitchen,’ with over 155 kilograms of alkaloids and heavy weaponry that allegedly belong to Shining Path. Shining Path did not hesitate to retaliate. On August 5, a guerrilla surprise assault to a Peruvian Army base has left one soldier dead and two wounded.
Consequently, the Peruvian Army captured two top-ranking Shining Path commanders. The recently-arrested militants have been accused of assassinating police officers, sabotaging energy infrastructure, IED detonations and mining fields along the VRAEM region.
Shining Path is not extinct; it is smaller, yes, but still very capable of posing a threat to the development of some regions in Peru. Security breaches in the Peruvian, Bolivian and Argentine airspace due the low level of air radar controls, plus the absence of a ‘take-down law’ to enforce it, grants illegal groups the possibility of trafficking drugs and gold and transporting cash with low risk of interception.