By Carla Samon Ros
Valle de los Ríos Apurímac, Ene and Mantaro, Peru, Jul 4 (EFE).- A massacre in one of Peru’s main cocaine-producing valleys just over a year ago is the latest bloody crime to be attributed a breakaway faction of the Shining Path terror group, which continues to pose a security threat through its obscure and lucrative ties to drug-trafficking gangs.
Sixteen people were murdered during the San Miguel del Ene attack in May 2021, making it one of the worst atrocities in Peru’s recent history.
Fingers were pointed at the Militarized Communist Party of Peru (MPCP), a dissident faction of the Shining Path Moaist militant group that between 1980-2000 was involved in an internal conflict that claimed 69,000 lives, according to Peru’s truth and reconciliation commission.
The MPCP has replaced its old ideological roots with a thirst for money, with which it has seized control over the machinery of cocaine trafficking out of the region known as Valle de los Ríos Apurímac, Ene and Mantaro, or VRAEM for short.
Following the capture of the Shining Path’s leader Abimael Guzmán in 1992, the VRAEM, which produces roughly half of Peru’s cocaine, fell into the hands of the Quispe Palomino brothers.
The death of Jorge Quispe Palomino, confirmed in March 2021, left his brother Víctor — alias José — in charge.
José is likely to lead at least a dozen commanders and another dozen deputy commanders, according to the hierarchical list posted on one of the walls of the Pichari military base, the main outpost of the Peruvian army’s VRAEM Special Command (CEVRAEM) in the region.
“‘José’ has a real, communist-style organization — he has his different commissaries, he has heads of military apparatus, political apparatus (…) he has the support of some of the farmers in the area,” Manuel Gómez de la Torre, head of the joint command of the armed forces, tells Efe.
These “radical terrorists,” he adds, manage the cocaine supply chain, from the rudimentary processing laboratories to the transport of the drug in exchange for payment from trafficking networks.
This chain begins with coca cultivation, which extends over some 28,000 hectares in the VRAEM and accounts for 45% of Peru’s coca agriculture.
Coca plantations grew at an unprecedented rate in 2020 to an area of 61,777 hectares across Peru, according to the national commission for development and life without drugs (Devida).
The commission found that 90% of the 146,360 tons of coca produced that year was destined for the cocaine trade rather than traditional and industrial use.
In the VRAEM, where poverty affects some 65% of the population, hundreds if not thousands of farmers have turned to coca cultivation.
In recent years, the Peruvian armed forces have reduced their number of bases in the crisis-stricken VRAEM region from 78 to 46, according to General Gómez.
The commander of CEVRAEM special command, who remains anonymous for security reasons, tells Efe that the unit has so far this year seized 6,300 kilograms of cocaine hydrochloride, 27kg of cocaine base paste and destroyed 23 maceration pits, 56 laboratories and 12 clandestine landing strips.
The commander said those operations had dealt a $76 million-blow to drug trafficking groups who were cash-strapped at the time due to a drop in the price of coca leaves and other equipment.
“Now that prices are on the floor, the state needs to act.”
However, until now, the presence of the state in the VRAEM has been something of an illusion. For decades, the region has been left to plunge into poverty and neglect.
“The issue, more than military, is socio-economic,” General Gómez says. “The economy is fed by illegal drug trafficking.”EFE