Coca's Shining Path

September 25, 2007

JANUARY 19, 1988. THE ENTIRE POPULATION of Barranca is in the village square, along with resi- dents of 15 other towns visited by the column of Sen- dero Luminoso guerrillas. "Don't worry," the man in charge says. "No more injustices will be committed here....That L6pez will get his due." The villagers have just finished explaining that "Tito" L6pez, the valley's principal coca producer, pays his workers poorly and sponsors the worst sort of abuse. L6pez is not at home, but the senderistas are in no hurry. They spend the afternoon giving the usual speeches to the crowd, explaining how and why they must organize, how they should behave, and why the party has taken up armed struggle. At eight in the eve- ning, L6pez is apprehended as he arrives at his farm. He is brought to the plaza, where he is interrogated in front of the crowd: How much land do you have? To whom do you sell your crop? How much do you pay your work- ers? The people listen in silence, interrupting several times with applause. The final verdict is not surprising: L6pez must be put to death. Ten senderistas take him to an open field and oblige him to get down on his knees. He exhorts, cries and begs, but it is useless. Until it occurs to him to offer something in return: "I'm more useful to you alive than dead." The senderistas exchange glances, then the head of the column warns him that any trickery will bring him death. L6pez offers shoes, boots, pants, food, money...all the money they need. The deal is made. They give him a pick-up and send him off to the town of Picota to buy what he has promised. The money will be paid the next day: the price for staying alive. The senderistas vow to return to make sure that L6pez keeps his commitment to raise the pay of his workers and to not allow any abuse or extortion. And from that day on, that is what they do, nearly every week. ERU'S HUALLAGA VALLEY IN THE HEART of the Amazon is a bastion of Sendero Luminoso, the country's largest guerrilla movement, known for its ruthlessness.' Settlers arrived in the region in large num- bers in the 1960s when the government offered credit, services and roads, promises on which it never made good [see "El Dorado Gone Awry"]. Left on their own, the settlers opted for an easy solution: They planted coca, which in the Huallaga grows easily and abun- dantly. Not coincidentally, the cocaine industry took off at the same time. Everything began to change: The coca buyers who flew in from Colombia wanted restaurants, cars, discotheques, brothels...and workers. Towns sprang Guerrillas proliferate in Peru's Huallaga Valley 22 REPORT ON THE AMERICASup, banks set up branch offices to change the dollars brought by Colombian traffickers into national currency, intis, in which all of the operations linked to coca pro- duction are carried out. The Upper Huallaga did not remain Peru's El Dorado for long. In 1978 the military regime of Gen. Francisco Morales Bermfidez decided to prohibit coca cultivation and ordered that coca growers be prosecuted. Residents had to face continual attacks from a specialized anti- drug police force on the one hand, and the traffickers' bands of hired guns, known as sicarios, on the other. The sicarios set out to ensure that the producers would continue growing coca as before. Because coca buyers generally advance money well ahead of the harvest, farmers are obliged to defend their crop from the police if they wish to avoid reprisals against themselves or their families. The level of violence in the region became incredibly high. Contrary to what one might think, it was not the police who set off the spiral of violence. Simple bribery and lack of resources quickly neutralized them. It was rather the bands of sicarios who tell the farmers how many kilos of coca they have to sell, who mercilessly do away with intransigent or ambitious officials, who ap- pear at any place and any time to settle scores. T HE FIRST TO CONFRONT POLICE EXTOR- tion and the violence of the sicarios were members of one of the factions of the Revolutionary Left Move- ment (MIR), who worked among the coca and corn producers of the region of Tarapoto to organize Defense Committees. Their slogan: iCoca o muerte! iVencere- mos! From 1978 to the end of 1982 they encountered few obstacles, since the Committees responded to a real need, even though the farmers did not share the MIR's politics. Needless to say, the traffickers were not at all pleased with the prospect of collective bargaining in the coca fields. And the war was on. The MIR's work was sharpened by a radical group of leftist militants who broke away from the Revolutionary Socialist Party. Both organizations took part in the for- mation of the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA), which took up arms in 1983.2 A year later, the Peruvian government stepped up operations to eradicate coca cultivation, driving the producers to seek protec- tion from the MRTA and, in another part of the valley, from Sendero Luminoso. S OME LOCAL OBSERVERS MAINTAIN that Sendero's presence in the Huallaga dates from 1980 when a group of migrants from Ayacucho began the slow and patient organizing that led in a few short years to Sendero's domination of the region. Others claim Sendero arrived in 1982, when they realized that the MRTA had converted the Huallaga into its primary base of operations. Sendero first set about organizing in the areas un- touched by the MRTA, such as the territory between Tingo Maria and Tocache. Their military prowess im- pressed the farmers: Lucas Cachay, president of the San Martin Defense Front, explains, "The narcos often claim that the price of coca is low because of overproduction. They [the farmers] know that's not true, but they have no one to protect them. That is what Sendero offers: protection. Besides, in this region, since there is a lot of money, there is alcohol, partying, violence....Sendero puts an end to all that and puts everyone to work. And they close the discotheques, the brothels, they kill the homosexuals and they send the prostitutes packing." Later Sendero infiltrated the zone where the MRTA wielded influence, questioning the leadership of the ex- isting committees and accusing them of having cut deals with the traffickers on the price of coca-a very believ- able charge. Sendero could count on all the support they needed from the drug traffickers, since their real purpose was to destroy the MRTA-influenced organizations. According to one government official, "It is true that the narcos attacked the producers' organizations, but that was only in the beginning. Later on they reached some accord with the leaders, and even gave them guns. Once Sendero became strong enough, they [Sendero] turned on the traffickers and claimed the right to fix the price of coca." When the traffickers caught on to Sendero's game, they began to back the MRTA-sponsored organi- zations in some areas, while in others they allowed Sen- dero to move in to keep the police at bay. By the end of 1986, Sendero was moving freely in and out of towns in groups of no less than 30 heavily armed men, calling out the residents to hear their ha- rangues, judging the local authorities, in some cases killing sicarios, and finally "electing" leaders. DESPITE SENDERO'S ACTIVITY, MIDWAY through 1986, MRTA leaders believed they had achieved total and absolute control in their zone. They then called out five to ten young men from each town for military training. More than 100 volunteered, but the guerrillas lacked sufficient arms and trainers to prepare them all for battle. After much discussion, it is believed they requested assistance from Colombia's M-19 guer- rillas, who apparently provided it. In March 1987, some of those who received training were sent to attack the town of Tocache, where Sendero had begun to make its presence felt. The MRTA detachment carried automatic rifles and were armed to the teeth. Nevertheless, Sendero knew what was in the wind and had reached an agreement with the local narcos to keep the city from being taken. Dozens of sicarios and senderistas ambushed the MRTA on the outskirts of the town. Residents give conflicting accounts of how many tupacamaristas were killed, but the numbers fluctuate between 40 and 60. The MRTA VOLUME XXII, NO. 6 (MARCH 1989) 23RepCOCA4r Amei4ea COCA column retreated, and over the next few days Sendero pursued them to liquidate them. From that moment on, Sendero was free to do whatever it wished in the Hual- laga. In April 1987 Sendero began to take control of each town, evicting the police from wherever they were sta- tioned working with the narcos to wipe out all vestiges of "official" authority. They literally began to govern a zone which in the strictest sense of the word was "liber- ated." What is more, they turned on their erstwhile al- lies, the narcos, and insisted they dissolve the gangs of sicarios which had run roughshod over the zone. This won for Sendero the residents' appreciation and left the group virtually unchallenged as the de facto government of the Huallaga Valley. Then on July 15, the government stepped in with a series of operations led by the anti-drug police. Sendero and the traffickers were forced to flee or fade into the population. The remains of the MRTA guerrillas were sitting ducks, and they received the brunt of the police's fury. When the operations were finished at the end of the year, and the extra contingents of police returned to Lima, the zones that had been MRTA-influenced were wide open for Sendero, as was the rest of the valley. T HE DRIVER WHO TAKES PEOPLE BETWEEN Juanjuf and Tarapoto tells us not to worry. "The cumpas won't attack us. They're hidden among the people and you won't find them." The conversation con- tinues and the more the driver talks the less he seems Coca's Shining Path 1. Sendero Luminoso ("Shining Path") is one of several organi- zations which proclaim themselves to be the true "Communist Party of Peru." It separated from the original communist party as a result of the Chinese-Soviet split in the 1960s. While proclaiming itself to be the authentic carrier of the banner of orthodox Maoism, Sendero maintains that it is the founder of a fourth stage of Marx- ism: "the thought of Gonzalo," the name of Sendero's undisputed and undiscussed leader. They took up arms on May 17, 1980. 2. The Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement is made up of several small factions of the United Left (IU) coalition. They claim they plan to constitute the armed wing of that coalition once the current democratic conditions end, as they expect will happen.

Tags: Coca, Peru, Shining Path, drug trade, US drug war

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