A resurgent Shining Path and a botched military operation have cost the Ministers of Defense and the Interior their jobs, as it becomes clear that the Peruvian government needs to revamp its strategy to deal with the potent mix of rebels and drug trafficking.
Defense Minister Alberto Otarola (pictured above) and Interior Minister Daniel Lozada presented their resignations, before Congress could demand them. Their resignations are not so much the result of the kidnapping of 36 gas pipeline workers by the Shining Path last month, but the military operation to free them. The workers were liberated by the rebels after what President Ollanta Humala initially described as an “impeccable” operation.
However interviews with victims showed that they had been released, unpressured, by the rebels, while “Operation Liberty” cost the lives of at least nine members of the security forces, and left two policemen abandoned in the jungle. One had to wander alone, wounded, for 17 days before he reached safety. The hunt for the second missing policeman was called off by the security forces, prompting his father, Dionisio Vilca, to set out on his own, eventually finding the corpse of his son. He was forced to load the body of his son into a taxi to get it out of the area.
All of this occurred around the Apurimac-Ene valley in southern Peru (known by its Spanish initials as the VRAE), the stronghold of the·most powerful remaining faction of the Shining Path. The rebels survive, and are indeed recruiting again, thanks to control of coca production in the area.
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What all this shows is that Peruvian government has little to no control over the VRAE. The fact that the Shining Path were able to take on helicopters (killing a pilot), ambush security force patrols with apparent impunity and take time to chat with journalists, shows how comfortable they are in their stronghold. That the Peruvian security forces left two of their own abandoned in the jungle reveals serious problems, not only in capacity, but in leadership.
There is also evidence that the Shining Path rebels have support from many of the local communities, allowing them to track and anticipate security force operations, and disappear into the local population when necessary.
What is clear is that President Humala, a former army lieutenant colonel, needs to make radical change to his strategy and win over the local population, as 62 percent of Peruvians think that the Shining Path are winning the war in the VRAE, according to a recent poll.