“Camarada Olga” is apparently the new military commander of the Shining Path guerrillas, the first woman to hold the post, amid questions on the military capacity of the last faction of the Peruvian rebel group.
The 46-year-old — real name Tarcela Loya Vilchez — is a veteran of over 20 years’ service, whom Peruvian President Ollanta Humala last month predicted would take over the group’s military operations, following the killing of previous leader Orlando Borda Casafranca, alias “Camarada Alipio.”
Olga has long been a key member of the Shining Path ruling committee, as well as overseeing the group’s finances, the collection of protection money from drug traffickers, and the education of “pioneros” — children indoctrinated into the insurgency, who initially serve the group in a non-military capacity until they are of fighting age, reported La Republica.
She is believed to have taken part in the 2008 Tintay Puncu ambush, which resulted in the death of 13 soldiers and two civilians, where she allegedly instructed young fighters to finish off wounded soldiers with a headshot.
She is now apparently in charge of military operations in the Apurimac, Ene and Mantaro River Valleys (VRAEM) — a densely vegetated collection of river basins which is home to much of the country’s illegal coca crop and the Shining Path’s last stronghold, after the capture in February last year of Florindo Eleuterio Flores Hala, alias “Artemio.”
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The appointment of Olga to the top military position challenges Humala’s proclamation last month that the deaths of Alipio and fellow military commander Martin Quispe Palomino, alias “Camarada Gabriel,” had destroyed the military arm of the group in the VRAEM. However it remains to be seen if Olga can maintain the initiative that Alipio was able to exercise over the Peruvian army, staging ambushes and melting away into the jungles of the VRAEM, seemingly at will.
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While the 2012 capture of Artemio has crippled, if not ended, Shining Path military activity in their other previous stronghold in the Upper Huallaga Valley, the VRAEM faction, estimated to number 130 active fighters, is still strong. It has a strong financial base taxing the drug trade and illegal logging in the VRAEM.