LIMA, Peru – The government has recommitted its efforts to wipe out the Shining Path after the terrorist group killed eight military and police officers during ambushes in the coca leaf-growing valleys of the Apurimac and Ene rivers (VRAE), between April and May this year.
“Through intelligence-driven operations and military deployment, we have undermined these subversives’ initial geographic position, with the results that they are now dispersed,” said retired Adm. and former Chief of the Armed Forces Joint Command Jorge Montoya.
It’s imperative the government stops Shining Path, an ultra leftist-thinking criminal band that funds itself through narco-trafficking and kidnappings and attacks police and military forces in the VRAE, Montoya said.
“If it weren’t because they pursue an ideology, they’d be enjoying their money elsewhere [in Peru or some other part of the world],” Montoya said. “But they’d rather stay in a strategic area, creating fear and remaining a permanent threat to the country.”
The VRAE and surrounding area in the country’s central jungle houses about 17,297,376 acres of mostly dense terrain, which the Shining Path uses to provide cover for the drug operations and the stashing of kidnapping victims.
Coca leaf plantations occupied 48,376 acres of the VRAE in 2010 – representing 32.2% of all coca leaf fields nationally – according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report.
“Along the trail used by the terrorist columns there are 32 districts, which means their contact with the [local] population often results in coexistence and the Shining Path’s forcing local residents to help them in the crimes,” Montoya said.
About 70,000 people were killed between 1980 and 2000 as the government crushed the Shining Path and a rival leftist guerrilla group, the Túpac Amaru movement, according to Peru’s independent Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
The Shining Path is under the control of the Quispe Palomino brothers, who are believed to command some 500 combatants, composed of men, women and children familiar with the VRAE’s topography, according to the Peruvian police Counter-Terrorism Directorate (DIRCOTE).
The terrorist organization is made up of 10 columns, each containing 50 soldiers. Five of these are dedicated to military actions, while the remaining five are considered “production” units and provide logistical support, according to DIRCOTE.
The highest-ranking leaders of Shining Path are: Víctor Quispe Palomino, known as “José;” Jorge Quispe Palomino, known as “Raúl;” and Martín Quispe Palomino, who’s also known as “Gabriel.”
The Quispe Palomino brothers took over after Florindo Eleuterio Flores Hala, known as “Comrade Artemio,” was apprehended in February. He is suspected of being responsible for more than 500 terrorist acts and 1,000 deaths, among soldiers, police officers and civilians, according to DIRCOTE.
“[This terrorist group], though not having the real possibility of taking power into its own hands, is waiting to take some action to spread terror, and that’s why they stay in a hard-to-reach area where they have partial control of the terrain,” Montoya said.
The government is offering a US$500,000 reward for information leading to the apprehension of Víctor Quispe Palomino. For information leading to the capture or surrender of any logistical or terrorist commanders, the reward can reach US$100,000.
Those with information can use the police hotline – 0800-100-14 – and callers’ names will be kept confidential.
Héctor Jhon Caro, an analyst on security and terrorism, said it’s very difficult to track the Shining Path’s movements because the terrorists are aided by local residents, who are often forced to traffic narcotics on behalf of the criminals.
Montoya said investing in infrastructure in the VRAE, which would include building roads and housing and implementing food and health care programs, would increase the government’s chances in its fight against the Shining Path.
“The government hasn’t cared adequately for the residents along the coca-leaf growing valleys, who practically live together with the terrorist columns,” Montoya said.
The strategy currently used by the government in its fight against terrorism consists of applying operational intelligence to identify and apprehend the Shining Path’s top leaders, which is what happened when security forces captured Comrade Artemio.
Fernando Rospigliosi Capurro, a sociologist and expert on security, agrees with the government’s strategy to combat the Shining Path.
“The Shining Path is a terrorist group that lives off drug trafficking,” he said. “It acts as hired assassins for traffickers, but they don’t act exclusively for those ends.”