A group of Shining Path guerrillas temporarily held over a dozen gas workers hostage in central Peru, which may have been intended to pressure the company to enter into a “co-existence” agreement with the rebels.
On June 6 some 30 armed rebels invaded a Transportadora de Gas del Peru (TGP) encampment, holding 19 workers and a helicopter pilot for over an hour, reported La Republica. The rebels warned the workers that they would be forced out of the zone if they cooperated with the security forces.
The Shining Path group also painted a company helicopter with revolutionary slogans, and took the workers’ communication equipment saying it was to prevent them from contacting the authorities, according to reports.
The incursion took place some six kilometers from Kepashiato, the village where 36 other gas workers were kidnapped in April. Both cases involved companies working on the Camisea gas pipeline.
National newspaper Correo reported that a hand-written letter left by the rebels, addressed to the Camisea consortium, which operates the pipeline, said that the Shining Path respected investment projects, whether foreign or Peruvian. It asked the consortium for respect and “mutual help” to reach agreements, and said that if they “militarized” the pipeline there would be consequences. It also called on the companies to respect agreements with indigenous peoples.
The workers reported that the rebels were headed by Martin Quispe Palomino, alias “Comrade Gabriel.”
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The language used in the letter indicates the group’s determination to identify themselves as a political movement, and not a mere drug trafficking organization as the government claims. They call on the gas companies not to stand in the way of the “armed revolution” and refer to themselves as “communist revolutionaries,” calling government forces representatives of a “narco-state.”
Since the Quispe brothers took command of the Apurimac and Ene River Valley (VRAE) branch of the Shining Path in 1999, they have broken with imprisoned founder Abimal Guzman and tried to create a new image for the group. In interviews given over the last decade they have repeatedly said they are in favor of investment in the region. In a 2009 interview Víctor Quispe Palomino, alias “Comrade Jose,” told reporters that the group no longer attacked public infrastructure or killed civilians, and that his forces had gone from village to village explaining this new policy.
When they kidnapped the large group of gas workers in April, the Shining Path left a message stating that they respected the work of the companies involved, and cited recent protests by workers as an excuse for launching the attack. Although they denied it publicly, the companies were suspected of paying a ransom in exchange for the release of their workers.
It seems likely then that the incursion into the TGP camp may be part of an effort to force the company to pay protection fees and refrain from cooperating with the security forces. IDL-Reporteros noted that Techint, a company working in the area which suffered a mass kidnapping in 2003, likely made a “coexistence agreement” with the rebels afterwards, keeping its workers safe. It is possible that the rebels are trying to pressure TGP into adhering to the same type of agreement. If the Shining Path are able to pull off these kinds of deals, giving them both income and stronger territorial control, their power in the VRAE could be very hard to break.