Peru will install ten new military bases to wrest control of the VRAE river valley from the Shining Path’s remaining guerilla faction, highlighting the country’s growing reliance on the armed forces to combat drug trafficking.
The military bases, set to begin operations in December, would be situated at key points throughout the mountainous Apurimac and Ene River Valley (VRAE) region, the last stronghold of Peru’s Shining Path guerilla group. The impoverished area is also heavily influenced by drug trafficking networks — as one of Peru’s main regions of coca production it is estimated to yield some 80 tons of cocaine each year.
As such, Defense Minister Pedro Cateriano said Peru faced two enemies in the region: The Shining Path guerillas, and the drug groups who allegedly finance them. In an interview with AFP news agency, analyst Jaime Antezana described the Shining Path as having a “military structure totally anchored in the drug business.”
AFP reported the government would also begin using satellite technology to track remaining Shining Path guerillas, thought to number about 500 soldiers, and strengthen military checkpoints that already exist in the area.
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Though the VRAE has been under a state of emergency since May 2003, the government has little gains to show for it, with a rash of Shining Path ambushes demonstrating Peru’s continued lack of control in the region.
In June 2012, Peru announced it would implement series of development initiatives intended to address the root causes of VRAE’s lawlessness — poverty, the lack of infrastructure and educational opportunities, and a minimal state presence in small villages among them. Overall, however, Peru’s main approach to confronting drug trafficking has been through the military. Though military troops may be better equipped to confront what can be violent resistence to the government’s coca eradication efforts, former interior minister Fernando Rospiglioso expressed concern about the armed forces’ history of cooperation with drug groups, telling the AFP, “there are bad experiences from the 1990s, when there was rampant corruption among the military due to the influence of narcotrafficking.”