Peru's National Police force has stepped up operations against what the press in the South American nation calls narco-senderistas -- surviving remnants of the Shining Path guerilla movement that control cocaine production in two remote pockets of jungle. On July 19, the special Anti-Terrorist Directorate (DIRCOTE) announced the arrest of four members of Shining Path's Huallaga Regional Committee, the command body for the guerilla column in the coca-producing Upper Huallaga Valley. They were arrested at a market stall in the town of Ventanilla (Huánuco region), operated by one of the four, María Bautista Rojas, but DIRCOTE said they were part of the "platoon" led by the guerilla commander Juan Laguna Domínguez AKA "Comrade Piero," with responsibility for several caseríos (hamlets) in the nearby jungle.
But the Shining Path faction said to be stronger and more intransigent is in another pocket of jungle some 500 kilometers to the south, known as the Valley of the Apurímac, Ene and Mantaro Rivers (VRAEM). DIRCOTE, the Anti-Drug Directorate (DIRANDRO) and Peru's armed forces have established a joint VRAEM Special Command in an effort to pacify the valley. Special Command troops last month blew up three clandestine airstrips they discovered in the VRAEM -- specifically at the caseríos of Santa Rosa, Villa Virgen and Pueblo Nuevo, in Lllochegua district, Huanta province, Ayacucho region. The airstrips were said to be used by a Sendero-linked narco network to export "large volumes" of cocaine from the VRAEM. Another four airstrips were similarly destroyed days later by VRAEM Special Command troops in San Martín de Pangoa district, Satipo province, Junín region.
Special Command forces also claimed to have liberated three minors who were being held in captivity -- as slave labor, presumably -- by senderistas in San Martín de Pangoa district, Junín. The three were discovered when troops intercepted a guerilla column while on patrol in the jungle July 8. One of the minors was wounded in the ensuing fire-fight, and transfered to hospital in Lima. Reports did not indicate if there were any other casualties, although two members of column were captured -- both women.
On July 21, DIRANDRO forces announced the discovery of four giant maceration pits used in the processing of cocaine -- 25 meters deep, and six across -- near the hamlet of Marintari, Santa Rosa district, La Mar province, Ayacucho region.
A new commander for the army's VRAEM-based Division IV, César Augusto Astudillo Salcedo, assumed his post July 21, pledging to pursue the "struggle against narco-terrorism" and to work for "peace in the VRAEM."
But the mere fact that the term "VRAEM" has entered official parlance is evidence that things are going in the opposite direction. Just two years ago, the term was simply "VRAE." Inclusion of the Mantaro River in the acronym, a western tributary of the Apurímac, is an implicit acknowledgement that the insurgency is spreading.