Peru’s authorities can’t seem to put out the last flicker of the Sendero Luminoso insurgency.
A generation ago, the Maoist guerillas seemed capable of toppling the government but are now largely confined to a remote pocket of jungle known as the Apurímac-Ene-Mantaro River Valley (VRAEM). But that happens to be a top coca cultivation zone, affording the insurgency access to funds. Now, authorities claim to have uncovered evidence that the neo-Senderistas are in league with one of the re-organized Colombian cocaine cartels, ironically known as the “Cafeteros” (coffee-producers).
“For the first time in an objective and concrete manner, the state can corroborate the link between drug trafficking and terrorism in the VRAEM,” Ayacucho regional anti-drug prosecutor Mery Zuzunaga told Cuarto Poder TV.
The investigation was led by the National Police Anti-Drug Directorate (DIRANDRO) and prosecutors from the attorney general’s office or Fiscalía. Intercepted phone conversations were released to the media on May 17, purported to be between a Cafetero kingpin known “Bellota” and Sendero commander Martín Quispe Palomino AKA “Comrade Gabriel”—who is believed to be leading the insurgency in the VRAEM.
Among the topics discussed is the killing of informants, referred to with the pejorative “soplones” (snitches). Authorities claim the Sendero-Cafetero alliance has resulted in the export of 500 kilos of processed cocaine from Peru to Colombia, although it was not clear how officials arrived at this figure. The VRAEM’s total annual cocaine production is estimated at 200 metric tons (or about 181,440 kilos).
The Sendero column in the VRAEM is certainly taxing coca production, as well as illegal logging operations. The new revelations constitute a coup in the government’s ongoing effort to portray the guerillas as “narco-terrorists” who have actually taken control of cocaine processing and export routes, making them part of a hemispheric threat and not just a local nuisance.