Peru's Shining Path Terrorists Open New Front in Drug War
Relentless atrocities intimidate farmers into shifting crops to coca
SHINING Path, Peru's Maoist guerrilla group, has found a new paradise in the central jungle province of Satipo. Moving north from the Apurimac River, a coca-growing area it has long controlled, Shining Path, or Sendero Luminoso, is turning the Ene Valley into a new battleground for drug trafficking and its revolution against the Peruvian state.
The option the guerrillas have given local coffee and fruit farmers is brutally clear - cultivate coca and take up arms for us, or die.
Daily incursions and atrocities, albeit poorly publicized, emphasize the need for the new government of Alberto Fujimori to develop a coherent countersubversive strategy, say security officials and church representatives in the region.
``The Ene Valley is a strategic zone,'' says Nemesjo Mejia, mayor of Satipo, a town of 30,000. ``It is a breeding ground and hatchery for subversion.''
Shining Path strategy in the eastern jungle appears to mimic its partly successful struggle to dominate the Upper Huallaga Valley, 300 miles farther north, where most of Peru's - and the world's - coca leaf crop is grown, say Peruvian antidrug police officials.
Since the guerrillas' big push into Santipo late last year, roughly 1,500 villagers are reported by locals to have been killed. Villagers tell of dozens of bodies floating in once-idyllic rivers.
President Fujimori's Sept. 26 rejection of a United States military aid package, worth $35.9 million, was received glumly by counterinsurgency officers. (A broader antidrug strategy was needed to support crop substitution and other forms of employment, Mr. Fujimori said. Officials also said clauses in the package would have breached Peruvian sovereignty.)
``Shining Path has to wipe out anything that opposes it,'' says a police intelligence officer. ``It was a tremendous stupidity not to sign the military agreement'' with the US.
Although the money had been specifically intended to equip six Army and marine battalions for antidrug operations in the Upper Huallaga Valley, police here worry that government rejection of US military assistance will endanger their own hoped-for $20 million US aid package.
With a broken economy and desperately under-funded security forces, Peruvians in emergency zones must largely protect themselves. In Satipo Province, as in many other regions, this means forming community defense groups, or rondas, often at police or Army insistence.
But ``how can we defend ourselves with only two old muskets and pitchforks against their machine guns and grenades,'' asks a villager, whose 30-family village was razed by the Shining Path.
Only the most atrocious Shining Path killings appear in Lima newspapers, much less the international press. The April 12 massacre at Naylam, an example of Shining Path revenge on a ronda, left behind 37 bodies, many mutilated. Smaller-scale murders are too commonplace to attract much attention. ``Six killed in one village yesterday, two elsewhere the day before. But no one counts, no one cares,'' says a Franciscan priest working in the Satipo area.
For locals, who include native Indians as well as more recent immigrants from the poorest regions of the high Andean sierra, Shining Path violence is incomprehensible. Victor, a local manager of a small cocoa-processing plant, comes originally from Ayacucho, the town where Manuel Abimael Guzman launched the Shining Path movement in 1980.
``When the subversion started, I said fine. There was a lot of oppression and poverty. The state did nothing,'' Victor says. ``But now I don't understand Shining Path's actions. They are all directed against the people.''
By some estimates, 80 percent of those who farmed fertile lands stretching 100 miles southeast of Satipo have fled in the past 18 months. Some seek safety in numbers in small townships, while the Ashaninka Indians withdraw further into the jungle.
Along the banks of the Ene, Shining Path controls rudimentary cocaine-paste laboratories and at least 65 airstrips from which the basic material is flown out, destined for further refinement in Colombia or Brazil, says an antidrug police official.
In this lawless frontier, government presence is minimal. Mazamari, 15 miles from Satipo, is home to the ``Sinchis,'' Peru's oldest elite antisubversive battalion. Notorious for tough antisubversive tactics and human rights abuses in the 1980s, the Sinchis now have terrorists in their own backyard.
``It's ironic,'' says a senior Sinchi officer. ``We're the main antisubversive base in Peru and now we are ourselves surrounded by terrorists.''
The Sinchis, whose Quechua Indian name means ``fierce warrior,'' are not paper tigers. Cadets on nightly training runs rhythmically chant ``Blood, blood, I want blood,'' while two old Israeli command cars crawl around town. But they have no air transport and the Ene River, where Shining Path has its permanent bases, is a dangerous five-day march away.
The Sinchis are essentially confined to barracks for lack of resources. An irregular fortnightly flight by the Narcotics Assistance Unit's Vietnam-era C-123 trundles in necessary supplies and takes training Sinchis out for practice parachute jumping.
During the first wave of guerrilla incursions in Satipo province, Ashaninka Indians also formed rondas and tried to resist with bows and poisoned arrows. Few such rondas remain. Instead, police intelligence officials report, Shining Path has forcibly recruited more than 250 Ashaninkas. Armed with automatic weapons, they move from one native community to another to persuade other to join them.
Faced with guerrilla-created power vacuums and continuing atrocities in emergency zones, Fujimori's government lacks the resources to fund an effective counterinsurgency or the alternative economic development programs he believes are the only long-term solution.
The rejection of US military aid was correct, says Diego Garc'ia Sayan, executive secretary of the Andean Commission of Jurists, a human rights organization. ``But the ball is firmly back in Peru's court now,'' Mr. Garc'ia says. ``We have to come up with some concrete proposals for the development assistance we need.''