Peru is to construct a controversial new airfield and military base for anti-narcotics operations in the drug trade heartland, the VRAE, in what the authorities say is a response to the rising influence of the Shining Path guerrillas.
The new 476-hectare base will be located in the Pichari district in La Convencion province on the eastern edge of the Apurimac and Ene River Valley, known by its initials in Spanish as the VRAE.
According to a Ministry of Defense report cited in La Republica, the objective of the proposed base is “the improvement of logistical operations … in the face of the increase in terrorist activity in the CE-VRAE (VRAE Special Command).”
The VRAE is the site of an estimated third of Peru’s drug crops and home to the biggest remaining faction of Maoist guerrilla group the Shining Path, which is deeply involved in the drug trade and uses the region to mount attacks against security forces. The guerrilla group is reported to be increasingly shifting its operations east, further into La Convencion.
Plans for the base were developed with the support of US military aid advisers, the report said, although no mention was made of whether the United States is offering financial support.
The project is facing fierce opposition from the local authorities, non-governmental organizations and the 100 families whose land will be expropriated.
“In these lands we grow cacao and other legal products,” said local Councilor Nery Cuadros. “There is no coca, we reject terrorism and drug trafficking.”
Locals claim they have been misled about the plans, saying the idea was sold to them in 2011 as a civilian airbase, which would help them export produce and increase tourism.
InSight Crime Analysis
The difficulties in operating in the remote mountains and jungles of the VRAE have contributed to rising coca cultivation and the resurgence of the Shining Path — although the group remains a shadow of its former self — and a new US-backed military base would certainly help tackle these logistical constraints.
However, as InSight Crime has noted previously, isolation, under-development and poverty in the VRAE have left many residents with little option but to turn to coca cultivation, feeding support for the guerrillas, who capitalize on residents’ sense of being abandoned by the state.
Operating within this environment, the Peruvian authorities need to address local concerns, otherwise they leave open the possibility that gains from the improved security infrastructure may be undermined by the further alienation of the local population.