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Peru captures rebel leader. Is this the end of the Shining Path?

President Ollanta Humala declared the Maoist guerrilla group is no longer a threat after the capture of Comrade Artemio, reports guest blogger Hannah Stone.

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One possibility, then, is that Artemio’s followers could decide to join the VRAE-based group. Another possibility is that the VRAE “senderistas” could move north to take over the drug trafficking grounds of the Huallaga group. This is certainly important territory for the cocaine trade. The Huallaga Valley, where Artemio was based, is home to around a quarter of the country’s coca crops, according to 2010 figures from the UN. Although this has gone down by about a third since 2006, Huallaga remains a significant cultivation region.

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Artemio has categorically denied making money from drug traffickers, admitting only to charging taxes from coca growers. He claimed in December that “my army has never been lent to guard maceration pits [to process cocaine], to guard the transport of merchandise … I have never allowed it.” However, many say differently, including the US State Department, which asserts (in English) that Artemio not only charges taxes from traffickers for exactly those services, but that he himself “repeatedly invests his own and/or Sendero money in drug trafficking ventures with local drug traffickers.”

Either way, it seems likely that the absence of Artemio’s forces will leave a power gap in the cocaine trade in the Huallaga region, and the VRAE faction may be in line to fill it. Even before Artemio’s capture, when the news of his injuries was made known, ex-commander of the armed forces Jorge Montoya said that the military must increase security on the route between the two areas, to stop the VRAE group moving in. Indeed, there were reports in 2010 that Artemio was fighting to expel VRAE members from his territory, after a band of 10 men sent by the Quispe Palomino brothers pitched up in the region of Tocache, trying to win the confidence of local people.

It is less likely that Artemio’s fall will make any difference at all to Peru’s drug trade. The “balloon effect” of security efforts in different parts of the country have been well-documented by the UN -- as coca production has fallen in the Huallaga region over the past few years, it has risen in the country overall and particularly in the VRAE. Another factor is that the government will now turn its attention more forcefully on the VRAE faction. Artemio pointed out in his interview in December that the armed forces had decided to go after the Huallaga group first, saying “They consider it a priority to destroy me."  With this achieved, it could now be the turn of the Quispe brothers.

Hannah Stone is a writer for Insight – Organized Crime in the Americas, which provides research, analysis, and investigation of the criminal world throughout the region. Find all of her research here.

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