After Shining Path leader Felix Huachaca Tincopa, alias “Roberto,” was captured in late 2010, he provided authorities with a nearly unmatched amount of detail about the rebels’ secretive drug trafficking operations. IDL Reporteros examines what this account reveals about the state of Peru’s cocaine trade.
Roberto, as his story goes, was originally deployed to Peru’s Upper Huallaga region to wrest control of the area from a rival Shining Path group, led by Florindo Eleuterio Flores Hala, alias “Comrade Artemio.”
Tincopa’s group, based further south in the Apurimac and Ene River Valley (known as the VRAE), is thought to be an apolitical faction of the Shining Path more heavily involved in the drug trade, although its leadership disputes this claim. However, Roberto’s detailed testimony paints a picture more of a group focused on economic survival, rather than the Shining Path’s traditional Maoist values.
The following is InSight Crime’s translation of extracts from IDL-Reporteros’ two-part series on Peru’s drug trade, “The Cocaine Clans“:
It was an exceptional circumstance. Since the capture of “Feliciano” in July 1999, a Shining Path leader of this level had not been interrogated. And “Roberto” was ready to talk, and he did, with thoroughness and detail.
Huachaca was forcibly recruited by the Shining Path in 1987 but was quickly incorporated as an active member in the organization and ascended both in position and responsibility.
For four years (from 2003), he collected extortion fees for the Shining Path from wood trafficking in the Vizcatan zone. In 2007 he led the attacks against the Ocobamba police station and on a patrol on the Luricocha-Huanta highway.
One of the most important questions [during Roberto’s interrogation with police] was about how the VRAE faction of the Shining Path financed itself.
Between 2003 and 2006 — Huachaca Tincopa says — “the principal source of financing of the organization was the collection of ‘war taxes’ from formal and informal loggers who collected wood in the zone of Vizcatan and the Ene Valley.” Each formal business payed 5,000 soles a month [about $2,000 today] to the VRAE faction. Huachaca Tincopa was also in charge of extorting the informal miners: 50 cents [about 20 US cents today] per foot of mahogany. In this way, he generally collected about 5,000 soles a month.
“Starting in 2006,” Huachaca Tincopa says, “the source of financing for our organization was drug trafficking.” This does not mean they stopped extorting loggers, but that, as will be seen, the amount provided by drug trafficking was greater.
How did the VRAE faction receive money from drug trafficking? “First, by allowing passage to the smugglers who had to move through Vizcatan … The leader of each group of smugglers had to give to the comrade responsible a sum of $4 per kilo of drugs, whether cocaine paste or chlorhydrate.”
While he was there he observed that “every day four or five groups of some ten “backpackers,” [also known in Spanish as “cargachos”], passed through, each of whom carried between 10 and 15 kilograms of drugs, in the prevailing method of “ant smuggling” [moving drugs in very small amounts] cocaine from the valley. The Shining Path gave them lodging and food in Bidon, where they had to surrender their arms and their cargo, which were kept as deposits. Both were returned to them before they left. But the Shining Path charged an extortion fee for each kilo of drugs, as it had also done for each log felled in its sector.”
This, what’s more, was not the only way the Shining Path made money from drug trafficking. As “Robert” said, “We, as members of the ‘Party’, transported drug shipments from the zone of Bidon heading toward Huachocolpa or Tintay Puncu or through Huanta. For each shipment of drugs one received a sum of $30 per kilo, be it cocaine paste of chlorhydrate.”
The route through Bidon-Vizcatan closed in 2008 after the intervention of the armed forces, as “Roberto” remembers.
According to other trusted sources that IDL-R has consulted, the Shining Path’s route moved to the north of the VRAE. According to these sources, the VRAE faction now guards shipments of more than half a ton, that generally have multiple owners. The cost of protection has grown and now fluctuates between $50 and $60 per kilogram. Every shipment of a half ton represents a maximum income of $30,000 for the VRAE faction.
What other drug-related income has the Shining Path had?
Between 2005 and 2006, “Roberto” said, the VRAE faction had four hectares of coca leaf cultivation in Parhua and Nazangaro [sic], even a drug processing laboratory. They were, as “Roberto” Huachaca indicates, minor operations. “I have understood that in the two cases drugs were obtained, in each process they obtained five kilos. The laboratory stopped working when we destroyed it” because “by applying the wrong dose of medicine we thus made a bad investment and the Directorate decided that guarding and transporting drug shipments was more cost-effective,” Roberto said…
According to this information, which has been corroborated by other witnesses and also by National Police officials, the VRAE faction has had (and probably mantains) drug trafficking income that fluctuate between $50,000 and $100,000 a month.
A qualified source indicated to IDL-R that although a good percentage of the VRAE faction’s income is sustained by drug trafficking, “Not all the drugs that leave the VRAE are controlled by the Shining Path. They only control 30 percent of the drug exports.” Another source confirms this affirmation.
According to [the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, UNODC]’s most recent monitoring of coca cultivation, the VRAE has the highest concentration of coca production in the country with 19,723 hectares of coca, that represent 32.2 percent of the nation’s 61,200 hectares.
In the last two years there has been an apparent regression in the type of drug exported from the VRAE. Now less chlorhydrate, and more cocaine paste, is exported than in the past.
This seems paradoxical, as cocaine chlorhydrate sells for a higher price. The explanation for this is that various bosses of the family clans of the VRAE have extended their operations to Bolivia.
Now, the initial part of the process (up to the processing of cocaine paste) is performed in the VRAE and the rest in Bolivia, where the paste is refined to chlorhydrate, saving on the cost of precursor chemicals and fetching a higher price for the cocaine.
This occurred because, according to a qualified source of IDL-Reporteros, “Bolivia is a sieve. There’s no control, it’s a no man’s land. The precursor chemicals are cheaper and of better quality in Bolivia, where there are many small cocaine chlorhydrate laboratories.” Other sources confirmed this affirmation.
The clans gain much in the process of internationalization: they lower costs and reduce risks. Diverse expert sources indicated that now around 70 percent of the drugs produced in the VRAE goes south, as cocaine paste. “There are mixed organizations. There are Peruvians who have associated with Bolivians,” another source told IDL-R.