Skip to comments.Shining Path back as FARC exports terror
Posted on 09/15/2003 10:00:37 AM PDT by Tailgunner Joe
Flush with drug money, rebels linked to IRA are stretching their tentacles across South America, reports Jeremy McDermott in Lima
Carlos agreed to meet in a hotel in central Lima. There was no question of a real name or any photographs.
"Carlos" joined the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or Farc, Colombia's Marxist rebels, more than 16 years ago and served four years on the front lines. Now he has moved to the Peruvian capital, but he is anything but retired.
Instead he is working clandestinely in Peru, as Farc builds up a support base and establishes relations with the remnants of its brutal Peruvian cousin, the Shining Path.
"We have now recruited 1,200 former members of the Shining Path to our organisation, led by a Peruvian woman known as The Czech," Carlos said.
The 17,000-strong Farc, the richest insurgent group in the world, flush with money from the drugs trade and kidnapping, is now looking to stretch its tentacles across South America.
It is thought to be not the first time Farc has had dealings with other terrorist groups.
Three alleged IRA members are awaiting verdicts on charges of training Farc in the use of explosives and urban terrorism, and security forces have long noted close similarities between Colombian rebel car bombs and those of the Basque separatist group Eta.
At its peak the Shining Path had 10,000 guerrillas under arms, controlled large areas of Peru and threatened to defeat the government.
But with its feared leader, Abimael Guzman, captured 11 years ago with most of the organisation's leaders, those elements still fighting have become little more than armed gangs, without direction or money.
Guzman is being held in Callao, a maximum-security prison on the Peruvian coast outside Lima.
In recent years the 500-odd remaining fighters he once led have been limited to the odd ambush on police patrols in remote highland areas, frequently without causing casualties. But that is changing.
"They have no ideology, these remnants of the Shining Path," said Col Benedicto Jimenez of the anti-terrorist police which captured Guzman. "But that does not mean they are not a threat."
There are growing signs that the Shining Path is no longer a spent force, but has acquired a new source of money and a new direction.
Three months ago, in an action all too common in Colombia but unprecedented in Peru, a Shining Path column kidnapped 71 workers employed by an Argentine company, Techint, that is building an oil pipeline in Peru. The hostages were released unharmed after the guerrillas had relieved them of weapons, dynamite and supplies, and amid rumours of a £125,000 ransom.
Techint admitted that there had been negotiations but insisted that no ransom had been delivered. In Colombia there is one kidnapping registered every four hours, most by the guerrillas who are estimated to earn more than £80 million a year from the trade.
A month after the Techint kidnapping, seven Peruvian security personnel were killed and 10 wounded in a well-planned attack on a military patrol in the rugged highlands of Huanta, central Peru.
It was the Shining Path's most successful operation in years, but Carlos insisted that Farc was not responsible.
"At the moment the work and the organisation is mainly political, not military," he said. "The people here know we are not a terrorist group as the gringos [Americans] like to portray us.
"There is a core group of 20 members of the Bolivarian Movement [Farc's political wing) working here," he added. "We also have cells in Argentina, Venezuela, Ecuador, Chile and Bolivia." He insisted that their activities were political, not military.
At the same time as the Colombian rebels spread across the border, so do drugs. In Colombia, most of Farc's £300 million-a-year income comes from taxing the drugs trade.
But an unprecedented eradication campaign has been mounted by America, involving spraying glyphosate chemicals, a relative of the Agent Orange defoliant used in Vietnam, over the vulnerable Amazon basin.
Fleeing the defoliant campaign, Farc is seeking to secure a cut from the growing drug cultivation in Peru, and has established 5,000 acres of coca plantations of its own along the border between the two countries.
"It is difficult to say how quickly drug cultivation is growing," said Patrice Vandenberghe of the United Nations office on drugs and crime in Lima. "But it is certainly increasing, both coca [the raw material for cocaine] and poppy [used to make heroin]. More than ever before we are seeing drug processing laboratories in Peru."
It is no coincidence that the remnants of Shining Path have more money than before. In another new parallel with Farc's modus operandi, they have taken to paying for food and supplies where once they simply stole them at gunpoint.
"They are shifting tactics," said Educardo Toche of the Peruvian think tank Desco. "They are now paying for food and giving political lectures to communities where before they used only terror."
President Alejandro Toledo of Peru, with an approval rating languishing at around 12 per cent, is concentrating all his efforts on simply clinging to power.
The Peruvian defence ministry declined interview requests to discuss the resurgence of the Shining Path or contacts with Farc. But a senior army officer agreed to meet on condition of complete anonymity.
"I believe these allegations of Farc involvement in Peru. I have seen enough evidence to support this," he said. "But the security forces have their heads buried in the sand, and there is not the political will to face the new insurgent threat."
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.