WikiLeaks: Peru insurgency gains strength as defenses drop

With Peru’s armed forces facing leadership problems, a feared insurgent group is regaining power, diplomatic cables say.

MEXICO CITY — U.S. diplomats in Peru are keeping a close eye on the steady resurgence of the fanatical Shining Path insurgency, but find that corruption in Peru’s army stymies efforts to fight the Maoist group, U.S. diplomatic cables show.

A U.S. cable written in November 2009 and released by WikiLeaks said Lima urgently needed a better strategy “for turning the tide against a reemerging” Shining Path, also known as the Sendero Luminoso.

While the group may number only 2,000 members or so, many of them unarmed, cables indicated that Peru’s armed forces face serious equipment shortages and are plagued by generals seemingly more interested in enrichment than fighting leftist guerrillas.

Sendero Luminoso arose in the Peruvian Andes in the early 1980s, leading a fight that cost 69,000 lives before the insurgency was largely decimated in the 1990s.

As it rekindles strength in remote Andean areas, the insurgency has changed its tactics, although its overarching objectives remain obscure, cables said.

“There is no doubt that the [Sendero Luminoso] has adopted a `kindlier, gentler’ approach towards the local population,” an October 2009 cable said, adding that in the Apurimac Valley the insurgency “prefers to bribe peasants and local officials, rather than to terrorize them and even execute them, as they did in the past.”

Several of the leaked U.S. cables, released by the Madrid daily newspaper El Pais, referred to allegations of links between army officers and drug traffickers. One cable, dated March 12, 2009, and sent by then-U.S. Ambassador P. Michael McKinley, suggested that remnants of a “narco-corruption web” dating from more than a decade ago “still exist with the military.”

It cited a source, whose name was deleted, offering suspicions that army Gen. Paul da Silva, who is now Peru’s army chief, had met in 2004 with a fish exporter in the city of Piura in order to plan cocaine shipments.

The exporter was arrested in 2007 when authorities found nearly a ton of cocaine in a fish shipment.

An enraged Da Silva said Monday that he was considering suing McKinley, who’s now the U.S. ambassador to Colombia, because the cable was designed to “harm the prestige of the glorious army of Peru.”

Peru’s civilian defense minister, Jaime Thorne, was more measured, saying that any proven link between the army brass and traffickers “will be severely punished.”

The same cable cited sources who said army commanders posted in the Apurimac and Ene River Valley “receive lucrative payoffs from drug traffickers operating” there, in league with Sendero guerrillas, and don’t fight hard “for fear of disrupting these drug trafficking networks and losing access to payoffs.”

The failure of the armed forces to quell the Sendero insurgency led the government of President Alan Garcia to sign a $9 million contract with a retired Israeli brigadier general, Israel Baruch Ziv, who promised to help defeat the rebels in the valley “once and for all,” according to a Nov. 19, 2009, cable.

The cable said Ziv would help train elite special operations forces and would lead Peruvian joint forces on missions to kill or capture Sendero leaders.

Another cable from October 2009 said Sendero insurgents had planted more sophisticated mines and bombs in coca fields, which provide the raw material for cocaine, “to dissuade coca eradication.”

Some army experts told the U.S. Embassy that Sendero Luminoso “is increasingly resorting to electronic timers and triggering devices to actuate its IEDs (improvised explosive devices) and booby traps.”

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