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Latin America: Peru's Shining Path Making a Comeback?

In the 1980s, the Maoist Shining Path guerrilla organization conducted a bloody uprising against the Peruvian state in which nearly 70,000 people were killed. Defeated in the early 1990s, its leaders imprisoned, the group was reduced to a remnant of its former self. But now, fueled by profits from the black market trade in coca and cocaine, the Shining Path is back.

And it killed more soldiers this year than any year since the insurgency was crushed, the Peruvian military said on Monday. Defense Minister Ántero Flores reported that 25 police and soldiers died at the hands of the Shining Path this year, most in a series of brazen ambushes, including a military convoy blown up in a dynamite attack. The group is blamed for about 50 killings of soldiers, police, anti-drug workers, and civilians since President Alan García took office in July 2006.

The pace of killings has quickened since August, when García started sending soldiers into coca-growing zones to try to exterminate the Shining Path, which appears to by now have largely abandoned its earlier Maoist ideology. While the group now consisted of only about 300 fighters, it is better armed than ever thanks to profits from the illicit drug trade.

Defense Minister Flores said the military was prepared to take more casualties to regain control over Vizcatán, as well as the coca-growing regions of the Ene and Apurímac Rivers. "If you let Vizcatán become no man's land, or turn it over to the narco-terrorists, then there won't be deaths," said Flores. "But with combat there is always the risk of losses."

But Shining Path expert Carlos Tapia said the government was headed down the wrong path. Instead of launching military raids, the government should emphasize providing basic services in poor communities. Otherwise, the Shining Path, flush with prohibition-derived coca and cocaine profits, can simply buy friends.

"They have misdiagnosed the problem, which has resulted in a flawed strategy," Tapia said of the García government. "In these places, everybody is aligned with drug trafficking: vigilante groups, mayors, judges and even investigators," Tapia said.

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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