Peru's newly appointed defense minister, Jorge Nieto Montesinos, announced that he will focus on wiping out remnant Shining Path guerilla rebels who continue to operate in the Apurímac-Ene-Mantaro Valley (VRAEM), the country's main coca-producing region. Nieto, formerly culture minister, was named defense minister in a reshuffling of President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski‘s four-month-old cabinet. The VREAM is considered by the UN to be the world's most prolific coca cultivation zone, accounting for a third of Peru's annual production. It is also the country's last significant guerilla stronghold. The integrated counter-narcotics and counterinsurgency effort in the VREAM was dealt a setback in October, when Lt. Wilmer Delgado, commander of an army outpost in the valley, was arrested on charges of collaborating with traffickers and receiving payments of allowing drug flights to operate in the area. (Peru Reports, Dec. 7; La República, Dec. 5; La República, Oct. 23)
Lima was treated to the spectacle of topless women being tear-gassed by police at a protest outside the Congress building against a new law to toughen strictures on abortion. Riot police broke up the semi-nude sit-in organized by feminist groups to oppose the pending legislation, which would impose penalties of 50 days community service on women who seek an abortion. Many of the women wrote "KEIKO NO VA" (Stop Keiko) on their torsos—a reference to right-wing presidential candidate Keiko Fujimori, who has recently taken a hard line on abortion, now opposing it even in cases of rape. Protesters also recalled her intransigent support for her father, imprisoned ex-dictator Alberto Fujimori, who carried out a campaign of forced sterilization of peasant women during his period in power in the 1990s. (Now This, StarMedia, May 20; El Comercio, May 19; La República, May 3)
Reuters takes relief that Peruvian markets jumped on April 11 as results showed two "free-market candidates" emerging victorious from the previous day's first-round presidential race. "Conservative" Keiko Fujimori, with an estimated 40% of the vote, will now face "centrist" Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, with some 22%, in a June run-off. Markets evidently reacted favorably to the failure of "nationalist" Veronika Mendoza to make the second round, winning only some 18%. As the headline put it: "Two pro-business candidates make Peru runoff, markets rise." The BBC News calls Fujimori "centre-right." New York Times also calls Kuczynski "centrist" and (more accurately) Keiko "right-wing." These labels reveal illusions, and the degree to which what used to be the right is now considered the "center." Kuczynski (known by his initials PPK) is a former World Bank economist and veteran cabinet minister under the presidency of Alejandro Toledo. He is the one who is actually the "conservative" of the "center-right"—a standard neoliberal technocrat. Fujimori's intransigent and unapologetic defense of her father Alberto Fujimori—who ruled as a dictator in the '90s and is now imprisoned for assassinations and human rights abuses—clearly places her on the far right.
Peru's army on July 30 announced that it had rescued 39 people—the majority indigenous Asháninka and 26 of them underage—who were being held captive in Sendero Luminoso camps in the Apurímac-Ene River Valley (VRAE). Some had apparently been held for up to 30 years. The children, aged 4 to 13, were reportedly malnourished and suffered from skin diseases. Reports said soliders were led to the camps by two youths who had been born in capitivity and deserted. But reports also said that some of those "rescued" were reluctant to leave, and even "resisted." No shots were fired in the raids, which were carried out along the Rio Tambo in Sector Five of Pangoa district, Satipo province, Junín region. One of the "rescued" women was pregnant, and may have been held in sexual slavery. The children and adults alike worked cultivating coca leaf. Anti-terrorism police commander Gen. Jose Baella said that some of the adults were abducted between 20 and 30 years ago from Puerto Ocopa and nearby towns in Junín, back when the rebel movement was still strong. Deputy defense minister Iván Vega said Sendero is believed to hold at least 200 more captive in the VRAE. (El Correo, Aug. 6; AP, AFP, Aug. 1; La Rioja, July 30; El Comercio, July 28)
Peru's authorities can't seem to put out the last flicker of the Sendero Luminoso insurgency. A generation ago, the Maoist guerillas seemed capable of toppling the government but are now largely confined to a remote pocket of jungle known as the Apurímac-Ene-Mantaro River Valley (VRAEM). But that happens to be a top coca cultivation zone, affording the insurgency access to funds. Now, authorities claim to have uncovered evidence that the neo-Senderistas are in league with one of the re-organized Colombian cocaine cartels, ironically known as the "Cafeteros" (coffee-producers). "For the first time in an objective and concrete manner, the state can corroborate the link between drug trafficking and terrorism in the VRAEM," Ayacucho regional anti-drug prosecutor Mery Zuzunaga told Cuarto Poder TV.
It has been making practically no headlines outside Peru, and hardly any within, but a force of US Marines has apparently been mobilized to the Andean country—specifically to the conflicted coca-growing jungle region known as the VRAE, or Valley of the Apurímac and Ene Rivers. Peru's Congress quietly approved the deployment in a resolution Jan. 29. The first contingent of 58 soldiers arrived on Feb. 1, and a second of 67 troops on Feb. 15. They are to stay for a year on what is being called a "training" mission. A much larger contingent is to arrive in September, a total to 3,200 Marines, for a six-day joint exercise with Peruvian forces. (Defensa.com, Feb. 19)
Authorities in Peru Feb. 4 announced the declaration of a no-fly zone over the conflicted coca-producing region known as the VRAEM, for the Valley of the Apurimac, Ene and Mantaro rivers, in the country's southeast jungles. The head of Peru's anti-drug agency DEVIDA, Alberto Otarola (a former defense minister), spoke in blunt terms at a Lima press conference: "Any flight that is not reported to the aviation authority will be considered hostile and illegal. Peru must exercise the full sovereignty and jurisdiction of its airspace."
Gregorio Santos, the populist president of Peru's Cajamarca region, was comfortably re-elected Oct. 5—despite being imprisoned as corruption charges are pending against him. The biggest issue in the race by far was the unpopular Conga gold mine project, majority-owned by US-based Newmont Mining. Peru's central government said it would recognize the victory, while his supporters marched in Lima to demand his freedom. Environment Minister Manuel Pulgar-Vidal called for a "political dialogue with all the actors" to resolve the crisis in Cajamarca. But Jorge Vergara Quiroz, president of the Cajamarca Chamber of Commerce, said that Santos' re-election created a climate of "uncertainty" that would discourage investment, and called on him not to take office. Segundo Mendoza, spokesman for Santos' Social Affirmation Movement (MAS), responded that the party respects private investment. He called on authorities to free Santos, saying he posed no flight risk.