Pubdate: Sun, 13 Jan 2002
Source: Independent (UK)
Copyright: 2002 Independent Newspapers (UK) Ltd.
Author: Jan McGirk, Latin America


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 

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 

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 exile.

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 

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 America."

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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