Authorities have arrested a woman they claim is the girlfriend of rebel leader ‘Comrade Artemio,’ the most senior Shining Path commander still at large.
According to El Comercio, Peruvian intelligence had been tracking Elisa Monica Culantres Cordova, alias ‘Evelyn,’ for some time before they raided the slum outside of Lima where she was staying on July 2. Officials say the Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso) member was seven months pregnant, and had likely come to the capital in order to give birth. Allegedly, the father of the child is Florindo Eleuterio Flores Hala, alias ‘Comrade Artemio,’ who commands the Shining Path’s activities in the Upper Huallaga Valley.
At a July 4 press conference, Peruvian counterterrorism official Tomas Guibert Sagastegui claimed that Culantres herself has been involved in several guerrilla attacks between December 2005 and June 2007, and is wanted in connection with the murder of 11 police officers and two government employees. The official also claimed that police recovered extensive amounts of electronic evidence in the raid, including three phones, two USB drives, and two digital camera memory cards full of photos of other guerrillas.
If the claims about Culantres’s relationship to Artemio are correct, then it could mean that Peruvian authorities may be closing in on the guerrilla leader, who has been the most public face of the Shining Path in recent years. Artemio has been with the guerrilla movement since their peak in the mid 1990s, and is believed to be the only member of the group’s original directorate still active today.
However, Artemio’s public profile got a boost in August 2005, after Peru’s La Republica published an interview in which the rebel leader admitted that the group had extensive support amongst coca growers, or ‘cocaleros’ in the department of Huanuco. This link was confirmed in December, when Peruvian TV aired secret intelligence footage of a March meeting between Artemio and three leaders of legal coca growers’ unions in the region. As a result of a related investigation, 30 cocaleros were arrested on charges of collaboration with terrorism, drug trafficking and money laundering.
Artemio’s “Proseguir” (Spanish for “to continue”) wing of the Shining Path has a reputation for being more political than other factions of the group, and is more closely linked to the imprisoned Shining Path founder, Abimael Guzman, than those operating in the Apurimac and Ene River Valley (VRAE). In a 2009 interview with La Republica, Guzman denounced the VRAE-based faction of the guerrillas as mere “mercenaries,” citing their involvement in drug trafficking.
As InSight Crime has reported, the Shining Path have been enjoying a resurgence in recent years, due mostly to increased revenue from drug trafficking. Increasingly Peruvian forces find themselves confronting better armed insurgents operating along newer fronts. According to the UNODC 2011 World Drug Report, Peru is on the verge of surpassing Colombia as the world’s largest producer of illicit coca, a fact which can only be seen as positive news for the guerrillas.
With the election a new President in June, however, this momentum could potentially reverse significantly. As AFP reports, President-elect Ollanta Humala has promised to crack down on drugs and crime in the country, and has spoken in favor of the creation of the creation of a central authority to coordinate national drug strategy. Still, many analysts are skeptical of this, considering the fact that coca growers’ unions are a major support base of his Nationalist Party.