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Marxist Rebels, Drug Traffickers Spread New Chaos In Peruvian Andes

Overlooking the Vraem valley
Overlooking the Vraem valley

VIZCATÁN DEL ENE — Deep in the Peruvian Andes, a valley dominated by the drug trade now finds itself at the heart of a resurgent Marxist insurgency.

The valley of the Apurímac, Ene and Mantaro rivers, known as the Vraem, was the scene of an April 11 attack by the Shining Path that left eight soldiers and two civilians dead in the town of Santo Domingo de Acobamba. Lima-based daily El Comercio reports that the rebel group has thrived in the troubled region, already the country's hub for narcotics trafficking.

The Communist Party of Peru, better known as the Shining Path, waged a decades-long war against the Peruvian state until the group's leader was captured in 1992, and the conflict wound down by the end of the decade. Since then the rebels have executed a low-level insurgency, which picked up again in a recent spate of attacks across the Vraem.

The valley's lawless, rugged terrain makes it a perfect operating base for the country's growing cocaine industry, which is flourishing after crackdowns in neighboring Colombia. El Comercio writes that the Shining Path's control of pockets of territory enables drug traffickers to operate freely and access small runways scattered across the mountains, working in conjunction with the rebels to capture the profits of the lucrative coca leaf trade. Peru is the world's second-largest producer of coca leaf, but the Vraem produces more than any other region in the world.

The Peruvian military routinely launches operations against fighters and traffickers in the valley, but ambushes like the one in Santo Domingo prove the threat is difficult to eradicate. In a strategy shift to respond to the growing violence, the government recently tasked the armed forces with moving away from fighting drug trafficking to instead counter the terrorist threat, leaving the duty of cracking down on narcotics to the national police.

At the height of the Shining Path insurgency, it was said the party had "a thousand eyes and a thousand ears" to watch over its adherents. Today, residents of this restless valley say it has a thousand hideouts and bases it uses to reinvigorate a waning struggle.

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