June 9, 2009 | WebMemo on Latin America
In the 1960s, leftist philosophy professor Abimael Guzman started a Maoist guerilla group at the University of San Cristobal de Huamanga in Ayacucho, Peru. Guzman named this organization in honor of the most celebrated phrase ever turned by an early Peruvian Communist and journalist, Jose Carlos Mariategui, who wrote that "Marxism-Leninism will open the shining path to the revolution."
Little did Peruvians realize then that the path would turn into a river of blood. Dried up for a time by Alberto Fujimori, the river has unfortunately begun to rise again.
Shining Path, the Sequel: Starring Hugo Chávez, FARC, and Narco-Terrorism
On April 9, just days after Fujimori was sentenced to 25 years in prison for being the intellectual author of two kidnappings and the assassinations of 25 persons by the paramilitary group Colina, 14 soldiers were ambushed and killed by terrorists in Peru's southern Ayacucho region. The attack was led by "Comrade Olga," who is close to one of the current leaders of the Shining Path, Victor Quispe Palomino ("Comrade Jose"). The attack occurred in an area of deep jungle known as the VRAE (Valley of the Apurimac and Ene Rivers). Most of the dead Peruvian soldiers were 18 and 19 years old. One young man was just 17.
Shining Path is active again in the area, providing the locals with such practical help as dental and barber services, distribution of food, and teaching women manual skills to help their husbands. The group no longer tries to impose its beliefs at gunpoint. They have learned from the methods employed by the sinister former head of Peruvian intelligence services Vladimiro Montesinos and the Peruvian army.
The problem now, in addition to Shining Path's long-term goal of overthrowing market-based democracy in Peru, is the narco-terrorism that funds the group. In the 1990s Shining Path demanded protection payments from narcotics traffickers operating in areas it controlled. Now the tables are turned, and Shining Path is dependent financially on the narcos, even doing contract killings for them. Shining Path has gone into the "business" itself, producing its own coca crops and operating maceration "pits" where the coca leaves are mashed, as well as clandestine labs where the mashed leaves are processed into cocaine.
The transformation of Shining Path into a subsidiary of narco-terrorist groups is similar to the evolution of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a violent narco-terrorist guerrilla group and long-time enemy of Colombian democracy. Indeed, the two groups are now operating together. The FARC has strong bonds with Peru, a source of new recruits, weapons, and coca.
Ollanta Humala, the leader of Peru's nationalist party and a favorite of Hugo Chávez, has said the Peruvian army should leave the VRAE and turn over security to the local police. About 400 Shinning Path operatives in the VRAE provide security to the "backpackers" who take the drugs to the coast. More than 50 percent of the cocaine in Peru--152 tons--comes from this area.
Of course, the narco-terrorists want the army out of the VRAE as well. The same arguments are made by leftists and narco groups in northern Mexico, where the local police are either bought off or terrified. So far, fortunately, Mexican President Calderon has ignored those requests and sent in the Mexican army with help from the U.S. through the Merida Initiative.
Courting International Support
Like the FARC, Shinning Path has NGOs throughout the world devoted to protecting their "human rights" and projecting a positive image of the group. Both groups also have "ambassadors" in Europe and North America who are constantly seeking to raise money so that the groups can continue the "class struggle."
Some of the pro-Shining Path groups include:
There are many other groups in Denmark, France, Germany, Sweden, and Spain.
Indeed, Monica Feria, a prominent former terrorist and active Shining Path "ambassador" in Britain, was given an award by Georgetown University in 2007, demonstrating the university's leftist/elitist credentials while serving as an example of academia's support for groups like Shining Path.
The U.S. Must Launch a Peruvian Partnership
Peruvian President Alan Garcia's government must take immediate steps to defeat the terrorists and narcos in the VRAE. First and foremost, the Peruvian government must stop the flow of an estimated 2 million gallons of kerosene per year into the VRAE. Kerosene is the main chemical used to produce cocaine. This would increase the groups' production costs and thus increase the street price of cocaine in the U.S. and Europe.
Just as Colombia (which benefits from the U.S.-funded Plan Colombia) and Mexico (which has the U.S.-funded Merida Initiative), Peru is a good friend of the United States and needs U.S. help to defeat this new challenge. Consequently, President Obama should direct the establishment of a U.S.-Peru partnership. Congress should provide emergency funding for this partnership and also help Peru by approving pending U.S. free trade agreements with Colombia and Panama, which, along with the recently approved agreement with Peru, will strengthen U.S. ties to--and the economy of--the Andean region.
The U.S. and Peruvian governments should not underestimate the problems posed by the re-emergence of Shining Path. The two governments must take the fight against terrorism to the VRAE.
James M. Roberts is Research Fellow for Economic Freedom and Growth in the Center for International Trade and Economics at The Heritage Foundation. Edwar Enrique Escalante is the Executive Director of ANDES LIBRES in Cuzco, Peru.
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