Pubdate: Sat, 29 Dec 2001
Source: Independent  (UK)
Copyright: 2001 Independent Newspapers (UK) Ltd.
Author: Jan McGirk


Peru's Maoist guerrilla movement, the Sendero Luminoso or Shining Path, is 
reinventing itself as an international drugs gang, police say. The group, 
dormant for almost 10 years, is regaining momentum in the rugged highlands.

Last spring, Colombian drug barons, who lose acres of supplies each time 
US-donated helicopters spray their crops with herbicides, were quick to 
seize an unexpected opportunity to move into Peru. Washington had stopped 
using its aircraft to prevent drug flights between Colombia and Peru after 
a CIA blunder led to the shooting down of an American missionary's plane. 
Border surveillance was badly affected, and within months world attention 
turned to Afghanistan.

With the Afghan heroin trade in a shambles, Colombian traffickers are 
poised to penetrate Europe, using cocaine distribution networks. They 
already dominate the US trade.

Police in the Upper Huallaga Valley, Peru's principal coca-growing region, 
claim Colombian entrepreneurs have begun to supply farmers with poppy seed, 
arrange start-up credits for new planters and furnish weapons to protect 
the lucrative new fields. Sticky opium gum sells for twice the price of 
coca base, incentive enough for most subsistence farmers to begin 
cultivation. Guerrillas exploit the trade by demanding protection money 
from opium farmers and traffickers.

The Shining Path, which began in the early 80s as a Maoist reform movement 
in the Andes, was all but vanquished by widespread arrests in 1992. But the 
rebels have begun to ambush security forces and menace peasants again. The 
600 remaining guerrillas take their cue from narco-guerrillas across the 
border in Colombia and fund themselves through heroin trafficking.

The Shining Path movement, which once threatened to topple the Peruvian 
government, became dormant after the capture of its leader, Abimael Guzman. 
More than 5,000 guerrillas, bent on slaughtering the wealthiest 10 per cent 
of Peru's population to create a new social order, went underground or into 

Only two Shining Path leaders remain at large, but with political 
transition under way in Peru, violent Maoists are resurfacing. Guerrillas 
killed four rural police officers in the summer, and after "Yanks out of 
Afghanistan" flyers and graffiti were spotted in October, intelligence 
agents claimed to have uncovered an alleged Shining Path plot to blow up 
the US embassy in Lima.

A hundred new police outposts will be manned next year in the former 
Shining Path strongholds. Luis Cruzado, an anti-narcotics officer, told The 
Washington Post: "The guerrillas are trying to capitalise on new strategies 
to expand the reach of their subversion. The Shining Path is at the very 
least maintaining its size and expanding its presence." Police say they see 
all the signs of a new narco-guerrilla organisation.

Poppy cultivation has increased sharply in central Peru - the narrow 
valleys and misty crags where the Shining Path's Commander Feliciano, also 
known as Oscar Ramirez Durand, hid until his capture in 1999. Since then, 
drug seizures have increased fivefold. Nine Colombians were arrested 
recently on drug charges. Police said two morphine laboratories found near 
the town of Tingo Maria last month, must have come from Colombia.

Because Colombian anti-drug troops concentrate on the coca crop, the number 
of opium poppies destroyed in 2001 was less than a quarter of the previous 
year. Demonstenes Garcia, the head of the police anti-narcotics base in 
Tingo Maria, says: "Peru has the capacity to be the heroin capital of Latin 

Coca cultivation, rife in the 1980s, was cut by the former government of 
Alberto Fujimori. Over the past 10 years crop substitution with palm oil 
plantations had gained ground. But farmers have balked at government limits 
on coca plants and want a promised pay-off before destroying them. Just 
three acres of coca are allowed per family, enough for a personal supply of 
traditional medicine, but poppy fields are now flourishing alongside.
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