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A History of US-Peruvian Policy in Addressing the Relationship between Shining Path and the Cocaine Economy throughout the 1980s

Eddie Bejarano


After twelve years of military rule from 1968 until 1980, Peru finally held democratic elections with Fernando Belaunde Terry claiming the Presidency. At first it seemed as though Peru had begun a new chapter in its history but promises of a bright future would quickly dissipate in the face of a rising Maoist guerrilla insurgency known as Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path). Created by Abimael Guzman in 1970, Shining Path desired to spread its Maoist doctrine across Peru and ultimately dismantle the central government in Lima. The Shining Path initiated a bloody war against the Peruvian Government that would claim the lives of thousands of innocent Peruvians and completely restructure Peru's social, political, and economic apparatus.

The initial response of the Belaunde Government was timid at best, allowing Shining Path to expand its operations to other parts of the country, including the coca-growing region of the Upper Huallaga Valley (UHV). Almost in unison with the growing presence of Shining Path in the UHV, the illicit drug business began to consume the region because of the increased global demand for cocaine. The booming cocaine trade not only negatively affected the Peruvian government but also brought the United States into the picture because American officials believed that in order to address the mushrooming domestic drug issue, the problem needed to be stifled at its source. It was at this juncture that Shining Path and the cocaine economy would establish a poisonous relationship that deeply troubled officials both in Lima and Washington.

Officials in Lima and Washington were unable to orchestrate a consistent integrated policy from 1980 to 1989 that competently addressed the growing issues of a growing guerrilla insurgency and booming cocaine economy. The unholy alliance of guerrilla insurgents, poverty stricken coca farmers, and Colombian cocaine dealers challenged not only the Peruvian government but also the government of the United States. In this paper I will argue that throughout the 1980's, Shining Path used the cocaine economy to bolster its organization by taking advantage of an incoherent agenda advanced by Peruvian and American government officials.

Origins of Shining Path in the Upper Huallaga Valley (UHV)

Shining Path did not originally have its base of operations in the UHV; actually the organization was forced into that region of Peru due to the Belaunde's government crackdown in the department of Ayacucho. At first, the Belaunde administration had played down the threat of Shining Path at the onset of it's "people's war" in 1980. A 1982 cable back to Washington from the United States Embassy in Lima reported that Shining Path only constituted a "nascent guerrilla threat." Information provided by Peruvian bureaucrats to American officials in Peru made it very clear that the guerrilla insurgency was not a credible security issue.

Although the Peruvian government was informing its American counterparts that there was no threat posed by the Shining Path, the department of Ayacucho, which served as the base for the guerrillas, was falling into a state of unrest. In order to suppress Shining Path, the Peruvian government put the department of Ayacucho under a state of emergency. As a result of the state of emergency the government enforced a strict curfew in the departmental capital, discontinued constitutional protection against arbitrary arrest, and opened the way for the first concerted use of force against the guerrillas. However, the guerrillas were not the only people affected by this government crackdown. The citizens of Ayacucho were also repressed because the Belaunde administration believed that it needed to destroy any popular sentiment held towards the guerrillas. Through the use of repressive actions, the Peruvian Government was able to completely suppress the growing chaos that had consumed Ayacucho but Shining Path responded by simply moving its base of operations to the coca-growing region of the UHV.

Despite the setback of being forced out of its original region of Ayacucho, Shining Path encountered conditions in the UHV that were very favorable to the organization. Stretching from the northern part of the department of Huánuco into the department of San Martin, the UHV was the world's largest coca-producing region. This region of Peru is situated on the eastern slopes of the Peruvian Andes and is most commonly referred to as the selva alta (high rainforest). Densely populated by mountainous vegetation, the UHV provided an ideal location to grow coca because of the high levels of acidity in the soil, high seasonal amount of rainfall, high humidity, and weak state presence.

Before Shining Path arrived to the UHV the region was home to migrants from different mountainous regions of Peru who were searching for a new place to grow coca. After being expelled from the sierra regions of Cusco for farming coca, many coca farmers migrated north to the UHV in order to continue their practice. With an economy in recession and budding demand for coca, the farmers of the UHV turned to the cocaine industry to earn a living. Employment generated by the cocaine economy was an important source of income in a nation where about sixty-five percent of the population was either unemployed or underemployed. Coca leaf production provided the farmers with a cash crop that was easy to grow and yielded larger profits compared to other commercial crops. Also, Colombian drug traffickers viewed the UHV as a convenient region to demand coca leaf production because of the lack of an economic substitute for the peasants. In fact, by late 1981 the Peruvian government, with USAID (United States Agency for International Development) financial support, began the Special Project for the Upper Huallaga (PEAH), which sought to provide famers with alternative crop substitutes. Unfortunately for government officials, alternative crop substitutes were not nearly as profitable as was growing and selling coca. Peruvian farmers in the UHV were not willing to let go of a profitable market that provided them with the means of living better lives than they had previously known. In addition, it was much easier for coca farmers to sell coca to Colombian traffickers than having to transport alternative crops to markets that were usually situated far away from the UHV.

Origins of the Cocaine Economy in the UHV

The cocaine economy played a complex role in the lives of Peruvian farmers. At times it seemed heaven sent because of large profits gained from business, but becoming a part of an illicit drug industry also had its tribulations. Coca cultivation was also lucrative because it did not require farmers to travel large distances to sell the product. There were no major police or army bases in the region, and as a matter of fact prior to the large growth in coca cultivation, the Peruvian government rarely bothered to pay the region any attention. The UHV virtually became a no man's land where a lack of a government presence made it easy for an illicit economy to take root. Because of the region's isolation it became increasingly convenient for middlemen to go directly to the peasants' farms to purchase coca. By the early 1980s, the increase of coca production made local farmers deal with two different actors: Colombian drug dealers and U.S.-Peruvian government officials.

Beginning in the 1980s, Washington pressured Peru's government to begin sending coca eradication teams to the UHV. Therefore, coca farmers had to deal with a variety of issues that ranged from dealing with abusive drug dealers to having their livelihood sabotaged by US-Peruvian coca eradication units. Getting involved in an illicit drug industry brought farmers into a dangerous business world where it was impossible to keep their hands clean. Colombian drug traffickers and government officials held power over the locals because they possessed a larger spectrum of means to achieve their goals. Whereas the peasants only wanted to make a profit from their only viable source of capital, the other actors in this story had much larger ambitions in mind.

Peruvian coca farmers found themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place. If they did not participate in the cultivation of coca then an opportunity to make profits was being bypassed but if farmers did participate in the illicit economy then the dangers of dealing with drug dealers and government eradication contingents became a part of everyday life. It was in this environment that Shining Path was able to firmly establish itself in the UHV. A change in Shining Path's modus operandi pertaining to gaining popular support allowed it to fill the political void that was prevalent in the UHV and ultimately allowed the organization to solidify its position in the cocaine economy.

Change in Shining Path's Modus Operandi

Arguably one of the most fascinating components of the nature of Shining Path's involvement in the UHV concerns how the organization managed to adjust its modus operandi in order to gain support from locals. The social and economic environment in the UHV was completely different from any other that Shining Path had encountered before. It became evident from the start that if Shining Path was effectively going to gain control of the region and cocaine economy, it would need to adapt its strategy to present conditions. Shining Path altered its methodology in the UHV in two important manners: first, it established relationships with the farmers by addressing their grievances and second, Shining Path downplayed its Maoist rhetoric of anti-capitalism. "Its support among the general population was based more on local concern for protecting and expanding coca crop and coca paste production than on the political cause of orthodox Maoism that Shining Path offered."

Typically in other regions, Shining Path believed that indoctrinating its supporters was critical to it's "people's war" against the Peruvian government. In order to lead a true Maoist revolution, the guerrilla insurgents believed that its followers needed to understand and embrace the concepts of the movement. Shining Path became renowned for sending out death threats to opponents of their movement or even individuals who they believed were agents of capitalism. In a warning letter to a neighborhood committee leader, Shining Path stated it would unequivocally stamp out crime and that mass graves sites were ready for useless members of society. But this ruthless approach changed in the UHV because Shining Path realized that conditions in the region required the organization to act in a completely different manner. Instead of indoctrinating the coca farmers, Shining Path decided to address their grievances against drug traffickers and government forces. Coca farmers began to regard Shining Path as a partner against armed drug dealers and government forces seeking to eradicate coca. By assimilating into the communities of the UHV, Shining Path was able to intimately understand the issues that faced coca growers and as a result, create a tacit partnership.

Another extremely important adjustment of policy made by Shining Path dealt with changing its anti-capitalist approach towards the cocaine economy. This development is particularly telling of just how different the environment was in the UHV compared to other regions of Peru that Shining Path previously operated within. Moreover, this adjustment of methodology demonstrated that although Shining Path was a very ideological organization, it was able to be flexible and opportunistic in order to achieve its goals.

A major component of the organization's doctrine was its antipathy towards capitalist's economics, mainly because it contended that a capitalist economic system that abused disadvantaged individuals. When Shining Path arrived in the UHV, it still maintained its anti capitalist position but came to the realization that peasants in the region were relatively better off than peasants in other parts of Peru. The coca farmers not only needed the cocaine economy but they even faired pretty well from it. Thereby, Shining Path's anti capitalist rhetoric was unattractive to coca farmers in the UHV because it did not coincide with their economic realities. Shining Path realized that in order to establish a relationship with coca farmers it needed to accept the capitalist nature of the cocaine economy and protect the interests of farmers.

It was also in the interests of the Shining Path to accommodate the cocaine economy because of the profit that it could make from the business. Regardless of being ideologically opposed to the cocaine industry, leaders of Shining Path could not pass up on a chance to accumulate large sums of capital at a time when monetary resources were scant. Shining Path rationalized its participation in the cocaine economy by claiming that drugs debilitated the imperialists' enemy, the United States. It is very clear that Shining Path needed to change its modus operandi in order to fully function within the framework of the economic realities prevalent in the UHV. Shining Path took advantage of the opportunity that presented itself in the UHV, even if it meant making drastic adjustments to its methodology.

Shining Path's Relationship with Coca farmers

The political and social vacuum that Shining Path encountered in the UHV allowed it to create a strong symbiotic relationship with coca famers. Shining Path needed the coca farmers in order to gain a footing inside the cocaine economy whereas coca farmers needed Shining Path for protection from drug suppliers and government units. One of the first steps that Shining Path took to secure a relationship with coca growers involved providing them protection from the injustice perpetrated on them by Colombian drug dealers. Before Shining Path's involvement in the region, Colombian drug traffickers were the main power brokers in the area. The drug dealers set the quota for how many bundles of coca was needed and also decided how much coca farmers would get paid. "Prior to the intervention of the Shining Path, farmers risked being killed by drug traffickers if they failed to deliver a certain amount of coca leaves." Drug traffickers also underpaid farmers by paying them less despite the budding demand for cocaine. In terms of addressing the unbalanced payment of farmers, Shining Path took on "an intermediary role, acting as a kind of armed union for growers, forcing traffickers to pay higher prices for coca than farmers could negotiate for themselves." With Shining Path providing the needed protection against injustices committed by drug traffickers, coca farmers perceived the organization as a necessary ally that allowed them to prosper.

Although Shining Path did provide farmers sanctuary from abusive drug dealers, there were even more important actors from which farmers in the region needed protection: US and Peruvian government forces. By looking to dismantle the cocaine economy, US-Peruvian operations in the UHV were undermining the livelihood of many coca farmers in the region. Shining Path played a pivotal role in threatening and, at times, attacking government forces that were in the region attempting to eradicate coca cultivation. "The insurgency has also employed its well-practiced terrorist tactics to deal with UMOPAR (Mobile Rural Patrol Unit), the regional police, and CORAH (Control and Reduction of Coca in the Upper Huallaga), the primary eradication program." These eradication groups were constantly sabotaging coca growers and as a result created a sense of hostility towards government programs in the region. Government actions against the peasants only pushed the coca farmers to depend more and more on Shining Path for protection. Noticing how hostile the coca farmers were to UMOPAR and CORAH forces, Shining Path took on the responsibility of protecting the economic interests of the coca farmers. This act of defense against the government on behalf of the coca farmers solidified a relationship between Shining Path and the inhabitants of the UHV.

Shining Path's Relationship with Drug Traffickers

Another complex group with which Shining Path established a relationship consisted of Colombian drug traffickers who managed the cocaine economy. The Colombian drug traffickers used the UHV as a base of operations because of its remoteness and lack of a formidable government presence. Although at other points in Shining Path's history it would have been unlikely that the organization would establish ties with Colombian drug traffickers, the change of modus operandi drove the group to put its' ideological beliefs aside.

Shining Path was able to provide drug traffickers with three primary benefits: admittance to clandestine airstrips, protection and forewarning of police and military action, and the disturbance of counter-narcotics operations. Shining Path charged the Colombian drug traffickers substantial amounts of money for the services it provided, and the traffickers were willing to pay because those services made the cocaine economy a more fluid business. For each plane that landed on an airstrip under the control of Shining Path, the guerrillas charged drug traffickers from $3,000 to $10,000 per flight. Since Shining Path had infiltrated the communities of the UHV, it was able to establish an efficient warning system that would tip off the guerrillas as to whether government units were in the area. Whenever government squads did manage to get to areas where cocaine was being farmed or processed, Shining Path repelled eradication workers. "Shining Path used the opportunity to increase its harassment of the CORAH crews and the police." By using violence to disturb counter-narcotics operations Shining Path made it a risky decision for American and Peruvian officials to continue sending units to the region. "The insecurity presented to the individuals and equipment executing the eradication efforts of the Peruvian and U.S. governments was so great that all eradication, interdiction, and logistical efforts in the UHV were suspended between February and September 1989."

Colombian drug traffickers did not mind working in regions under control of the Shining Path as long as the organization continued to provide these three important functions. Protected by the Shining Path, drug traffickers were able to establish a strong base of power in the UHV through which it sustained the growing international demand for cocaine. Shining Path gained two important benefits from its relationship with drug traffickers: it was able to make a substantial profit from providing security services and it also undermined the government presence in the region. The relationship between Shining Path and Colombian drug traffickers was similar to the one that the insurgency held with coca growers in that these relationships were symbiotic. Arguably, the most important element in Shining Path's relationship with both coca farmers and drug traffickers was that they all shared a common enemy: US-Peruvian eradication teams that were designated with the job of destroying coca.

Shining Path's Relationship with Government forces in the UHV

The final actor in the UHV with which Shining Path interacted consisted of U.S-Peruvian government eradication units such as UMOPAR and CORAH. Contrary to the symbiotic relationships established with drug traffickers and coca farmers, Shining Path's relationship with government forces was one defined by confrontation. Shining Path's dealings with government forces such as UMOPAR and CORAH were bound to culminate in violence because the goals of both groups were inherently opposed. UMOPAR and CORAH units were in the UHV because U.S and Peruvian officials wanted to decimate the cocaine economy at its source. Whenever CORAH went out on eradication missions, they were usually accompanied by UMOPAR, Peruvian police forces, and sometimes American DEA agents helped by providing logistical support.

These various government forces were sent with CORAH workers in order to provide government workers protection from guerrilla attacks. As mentioned above, a major part of Shining Path's relationship with farmers and traffickers was founded on the protection of mutual economic interests. For Shining Path to continue prospering from the cocaine economy, it needed to drive government eradication forces out of the valley. When CORAH or UMOPAR forces embarked on eradication ventures, they were typically met with heavy resistance from local farmers as well as Shining Path insurgents. Unlike the local coca farmers, Shining Path possessed the necessary military means to kill eradication units in the valley. The increasing levels of violence as well as rising number of government casualties pushed officials to reconsider the kind of strategies that were being practiced to combat the production of coca.

Around the end of the 1980s, another interesting dynamic in the relationship between Shining Path and government entities in the region developed as the influence of the United States began to grow. The growing involvement of the United States in the war against the cocaine economy provided Shining Path an opportunity to produce a nationalist rhetoric that helped justify its attacks on eradication teams. Since the livelihood of farmers in the UHV was based on their capability to grow and sell coca, eradication programs inherently undermined the lives that they led. By the late 1980s Shining Path interpreted American intervention in the UHV as a direct attack on Peru's sovereignty, and in fact, this was an issue that the Peruvian government was trying to avoid. U.S participation in counter narcotics programs let Shining Path paint the issue as a war of national resistance. Increased American participation in eradication programs had the effect of brewing anti-American emotion along with encouraging support towards the guerrillas.

Shining Path was competently able to impede government forces such as UMOPAR and CORAH from successfully completing their goals. Ultimately, Shining Path's strategy of confrontation with government units forced American and Peruvian officials to rethink the approach they were taking to formulate counter narcotics operations. The ineffectiveness of eradication programs and growing strength of Shining Path displayed the incompetency with which government policy tackled the issue of destroying Shining Path's ties to the cocaine economy.

Benefits and Effects of the Cocaine Economy for Shining Path

Of all the actors involved in the cocaine economy, Shining Path benefited the most from its participation. The largest benefit that Shining Path procured from its involvement in the cocaine economy was the monetary gains that the organization was able to make. Prior to becoming an actor in the cocaine economy of the UHV, Shining Path did not have a steady source of income. Unlike other leftist guerrilla insurgencies, Shining Path did not seek the fiscal support of Soviet or Cuban communists to fund its movement. According to various estimates, the burgeoning cocaine economy in Peru was believed to produce anywhere between $500 million to $2 billion per year making it the most profitable industry in the country. Estimates state that Shining Path made about $30 million annually from the cocaine economy, making it the best-funded organization in Peru.

The biggest effect that this large source of income had on Shining Path was that it allowed the organization to expand its military capabilities. "The increase in the Shining Path's military capability fueled an increase in the number of attacks after 1986, from under 2,000 a year in 1983, when the group entered the Upper Huallaga Valley, to more than 3,500 by the end of the decade." Shining Path's increased operational capabilities allowed it to attack government forces with larger and stronger attacks than before 1983. Instead of executing low-level ambushes of army or police forces, Shining Path began to attack army barracks and police outposts, which dramatically increased the amount of casualties suffered by government forces. Ultimately, the benefits of the cocaine economy affected Shining Path by providing it with the fiscal means to destabilize and delegitimize the Peruvian government.

US and Peruvian Policies in the UHV: Crop Substitution, Eradication, and Interdiction

Initially, joint U.S.-Peruvian programs to disassemble the cocaine industry took the shape of eradication teams and alternative crop programs. CORAH workers and UMOPAR forces were composed of Peruvians and financed by USAID. The main task assigned to CORAH involved manually removing coca that was discovered in the UHV whereas UMOPAR forces were in charge of interdiction efforts. On the U.S. side, PEAH's purpose was to get coca farmers in the UHV to halt cultivation and take up farming legal crops. The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) provided logistical assistance to Peruvian CORAH and UMOPAR teams that ventured out on eradication missions in the UHV.

Crop substation, eradication, and, interdiction were the main three mechanisms that U.S. and Peruvian officials employed in the UHV to diminish the cultivation of coca. Crop substitution and manual eradication programs proved to be completely counterproductive to American and Peruvian goals. Since farming coca was such a lucrative business, government officials needed to find a legal crop that made practical sense for farmers to grow and that could also economically match the profitability of coca. The problem was that legal crops took too long to generate profits and a tumultuous crop market impoverished farmers who took on the initiatives of PEAH. Also, the climate, environment, and infrastructure in the UHV were not conducive to the growth of legal crops whereas coca grew rapidly and in large quantities. Crop substitution in the UHV was not a viable option for pragmatic, economic, and environmental reasons that reinforced the belief among coca farmers that continuing to farm coca was their optimal choice.

U.S. officials believed that the cocaine economy needed to be stymied at its roots. Thus the first proposed method of eliminating coca was manual eradication. Peruvian CORAH teams were the main group to carry out these eradication maneuvers and used various tactics to remove the coca plants such as burning, cutting, and digging up the roots. To shield the CORAH workers from local farmers and Shining Path guerrillas, the Peruvian government used UMOPAR teams to protect the eradication teams. The policy of manually eradicating coca was not very effective in decreasing the amount of cultivated coca. In 1986 alone, there were 12,000 hectares of coca cultivated of which only 5,000 hectares were eradicated by CORAH.

The main problem with CORAH's manual eradication strategy was that it put its workers into very hostile conditions. Local farmers were strongly opposed to CORAH units because once their coca crops were destroyed they were forced to settle for a less profitable alternative crop provided by PEAH. "Farmers who participated in PEAH's projects were unable to earn enough money to support their families and repay the debts that they had to incur in order to cultivate legal crops." PEAH's inability to satisfactorily compensate farmers for the coca plants that they lost directly affected the confrontational attitudes that coca farmers held towards CORAH workers. Although having UMOPAR units as protection, CORAH workers faced constant attack by Shining Path and independent coca farmers. Shining Path's superiority to UMOPAR teams let it inflict serious damage on eradication teams in the region. Increasing violence in the region perpetrated by Shining Path against CORAH workers brought eradication programs to a complete standstill by 1984 when nineteen workers were killed. As the amount of deaths related to Shining Path attacks on CORAH workers began to rise, Peruvian and American officials decided to adopt a different approach to destabilizing the cocaine economy at its source; interdiction.

After the unsuccessful campaign of manually eradicating coca from the UHV, government officials turned towards a policy of interdiction. Choosing the option of interdiction was premised around the idea that if U.S and Peruvian policy could hurt particular facets of the cocaine economy then the price of coca would dwindle enough to provoke farmers to stop cultivating it. Interdiction efforts targeted coca paste and cocaine laboratories, trafficker's airstrips, as well as prominent traffickers themselves. Contrary to manual eradication efforts that were executed by Peruvian forces, interdiction campaigns combined both Peruvian and American teams. Along with UMOPAR forces and members of Peru's Republican Guard, U.S. pilots and DEA officials helped the Peruvian government with interdiction operations. U.S pilots were particularly helpful in launching an aerial attack that bombed cocaine laboratories that were hidden within dense jungle areas of the UHV. The increase of aerial bombardments by 1988 made interdiction a more effective option than manual eradication but culminated in a standstill as coca farmers and drug traffickers found a way to preserve their business. Coca farmers and drug traffickers had the tactical advantage of being able to easily mobilize themselves into different parts of the UHV that were unaffected by interdiction operations.

Although Shining Path could not do much to deter the aerial campaign, it did have the ability to stave off ground operations led by UMOPAR. Coca farmers were especially affected by interdiction operations because as the price of coca dropped so did the quality of their livelihood. Shining Path played the role of protector for a marginalized people whose only source of capital was under attack by government programs. Instead of diminishing the strength of Shining Path's role in the cocaine economy, "attempts to destroy coca proved a valuable recruiting, mobilizing, and propaganda tool for the guerrillas." "The eradication programs had alienated the coca growers and so did the interdiction programs; soon an alliance between the growers and guerrilla groups greatly increased the security risks for anti-drug personnel in the area."

Corruption in Peruvian Police and Army forces

A major element that undermined government policies enforced in the UHV was the corruption within Peru's army and police forces. From 1985 to 1989 members of the U.S. embassy in Lima began receiving reports that Peruvian army and police units were collaborating with the guerrillas and traffickers in order to keep the cocaine economy alive. One reason that explains the decision of government forces to become complicit in the cocaine economy was the state of the Peruvian economy. Due to the need to make payments on foreign debt as well as rising inflation, the Peruvian government needed to make budget cuts that affected how much army and police personnel were getting paid. Towards the end of the 1980's the budget for Peruvian armed forces was slashed by fifty percent bringing monthly salaries of enlisted workers to ten dollars. Significant salary cuts across the board pushed army and police workers to collaborate with drug traffickers. Drug traffickers consistently bribed police officials to look the other way when shipments of coca paste went through local airports and guarantee that covert airstrips were not detected.

Accepting bribes from drug traffickers completely undermined the campaign to eradicate the cocaine economy, which in turn strengthened Shining Path. Peru's army also accepted bribes and came to an "understanding" with Colombian drug traffickers in the UHV. As late as 1991 a Peruvian army officer sent to the UHV to report on the relationship between Shining Path and drug traffickers discovered that the army would close off streets by local airstrips in order to establish a perimeter for drug traffickers to safely transport narcotics. The rampant corruption that existed among army and police forces in the UHV was counterproductive to the goal of suppressing the relationship between Shining Path and the cocaine economy.

Lack of a Unified Policy Goal Defined by American and Peruvian Officials

Of all the reasons discussed thus far, the most influential component that allowed Shining Path to establish a connection to the cocaine economy throughout the 1980s was the lack a unified policy goal defined by American and Peruvian officials. For the United States, the main goal in Peru was to destroy the cocaine economy in the UHV but the Peruvian government had a completely different objective in mind: destroying Shining Path's guerrilla insurgency.

Through USAID and other forms of contribution, the United States had considerable leverage over the Peruvian government in deciding what policy choices would be made. The United States was reluctant to involve itself in the Peruvian state's war against Shining Path and found it more significant to stamp out the ballooning cocaine trade. The Peruvian government wanted to dismantle the cocaine economy because they were aware of the effects that its profitability was having on Shining Path's military capabilities but combating narcotics always came secondary to repressing the guerrillas. Peruvian officials wanted the United States to fund its military venture against Shining Path but "Congress expressed its concern over military assistance due to the checkered human rights record of Peru's armed forces and police." As stated in a National Security Council meeting over counter-narcotics operations in Peru circa 1989, the U.S. would "only consider giving military aid to Peru if the GOP used the military to protect police forces tasked with the job of eradication from Shining Path attacks." In order to understand the lack of a unified policy between Lima and Washington it is useful to understand why each government believed their position was the most important.

The Peruvian government wanted to defeat Shining Path because the guerrillas posed a serious threat to the state's political institution. By the late 1980s Shining Path was attacking government infrastructure regularly and began to run operations in the country's capital of Lima. Although Shining Path had been conducting its war in the Peruvian highlands, its appearance in the capital served as a paradigm of the state's incompetency to adequately deal with the insurgency. Once Lima was attacked there was an imperative for Peruvian politicians to deal with Shining Path.

On the other hand, American officials wanted the Peruvian government to focus its policy on the cocaine economy in the UHV because of the domestic political pressure to stifle the cocaine trade at its genesis. The logic was that if coca cultivation could be stopped, then the flow of cocaine into the United States would be abrogated and countries such as Peru would be stabilized. According to officials in Washington, the cocaine economy was destabilizing the political situation in Peru and funding Shining Path's war against the state. The United States did view Shining Path as a threat but only to the extent that the insurgency challenged the political institutions of the Peruvian state, which were the same institutions Washington was using to conduct its counter-narcotics operations. This sentiment was reflected in a cable from the U.S. embassy in Lima that stated, "We are dependent on a government that is stable, democratic and capable of helping us meet our own program goals."

Throughout the 1980s, U.S and Peruvian officials attempted to address the issues that each party found more pressing. Every time U.S. policy makers pushed the Peruvians to adopt a policy that focused on counter-narcotics the insurgency grew in strength and when the Peruvian government made the counter insurgency its primary policy goal the cocaine business would make significant gains. Counter-narcotic programs proved to be especially unhelpful because not only did they manage to not eradicate any substantial amounts of coca, they also helped fuel support for Shining Path. Moreover, although the Peruvian government did help the U.S. carry out counter narcotics operations, it did so reluctantly.

As coca cultivation continued to increase, and Shining Path's war against the Peruvian government grew, officials in Washington reexamined their approach to formulating policy. It was at this juncture that officials in Washington realized that the best way to relinquish the cocaine economy was by helping the Peruvian state deal with its insurgency issue. The dissimilar goals of each government in the UHV resulted in a losing battle in both cases. Furthermore, as Shining Path's war against the state reached critical levels, Washington found Lima less and less willing to cooperate with its counter-narcotics programs. In a cable from the U.S. embassy in Lima to Washington, the country team acknowledged "the crux of the matter is that we are unlikely to get any more Peruvian support for counter narcotics activities until we help them solve their number one problem, which is subversion." American ambassador to Peru Anthony Quainton was instructed to tell Peruvian President Alan Garcia that the United States government would be willing to provide assistance to military and police forces in coca areas infiltrated by Shining Path. Unfortunately, these policy changes began to occur towards the end of the 1980's and by that time Shining Path had already substantially increased its operational capabilities. The earlier policies of U.S-Peruvian officials helped strengthen Shining Path's influence in the UHV and the inability to formulate a coherent policy until the end of the decade provided the guerrillas with plenty of time to amplify its "people's war" against the state.


All through the 1980s officials in Lima and Washington wasted precious time seeking to achieve the policy goals that they each had in mind. The Peruvian government was not able to effectively combat Shining Path or the cocaine economy in the UHV until both countries realized that they needed to formulate a unified policy that addressed overlapping goals. The government's inability to effectively combat Shining Path and the cocaine economy allowed for both of these groups to develop a symbiotic relationship. Shining Path used the UHV as a base of power but most importantly as a source of income that significantly augmented the insurgencies operational potential. The relationships that Shining Path established with coca farmers, drug traffickers, and even corrupt elements within the Peruvian army and police allowed the group to completely undermine any counter narcotics or counter insurgency programs in the region.

By the beginning of the 1990s Shining Path's ability to take advantage of the lack of unified policy between U.S. and Peruvian government officials in the UHV during the 1980s enabled the guerrillas to significantly challenge the democratic foundations of the Peruvian state. After the election of Alberto Fujimori to the Peruvian Presidency in 1990, the state began to severely weaken Shining Path and decrease the amount of coca production. The implementation of new laws and economic policies provided Fujimori with the ability to focus his attention on debilitating the cocaine economy, and more importantly, thwart the growing guerrilla insurgency.


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Last Updated: 8/12/16