Skip to comments.Communist Shining Path rebels 'tax' logging in Brazil jungle
Posted on 10/14/2003 3:58:25 PM PDT by Tailgunner Joe
Peru's Shining Path rebels, who have begun launching attacks there again after lying low for years, are "taxing" illegal logging and drug-smuggling operations on the jungle border with Brazil to raise funds, a top Brazilian policeman said on Monday.
Members of the Maoist group also cross the isolated border into Brazilian jungle towns to get supplies or to find women, said Mauro Sposito, head of the Brazilian federal police's Amazon drugs squad.
One of Latin America's most ruthless rebel groups at the height of its struggle, Shining Path has been largely dormant since the capture of its leader Abimael Guzman in 1992.
But in recent months, it has staged new attacks and incursions. The Peruvian government said this month it was forming a battalion of troops to fight them.
Sposito said Brazil was worried the guerrillas were taking advantage of the absence of Peruvian authorities in the areas where Brazil's Amazon jungle borders Peru.
At least 60 armed Shining Path guerrillas operate in the border region, he estimated.
"There is a very serious logging problem," Sposito told Reuters from the Amazon border town of Tabatinga.
Peruvian loggers pay poor Brazilians to cut down precious tropical timbers. The wood is then hauled into Peru where Shining Path taxes the loggers in return for free passage to markets. The fee helps the group finance its activities, Sposito said.
The guerrillas also tax the drugs trade. Coca is the raw product used to make cocaine and Peru is the world's No. 2 producer.
There are a number of illegal jungle landing strips on the Brazilian side along the Peruvian border.
Farther north on Brazil's jungle border with Colombia, Colombia's Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, have slipped over into Brazil for supplies and to aid the passage of cocaine from Colombia.
The Brazilian army and police are opening several new posts along the border to combat threats along Brazil's vast Amazon frontiers.
Brazil police patrol river that supplies outlaws
Andrew Hay - 13 Oct 2003
Ignoring the shouts of Brazilian police agents, a launch roars through a river checkpoint in the Amazon jungle near the border with Colombia.
The police grab their rifles and tear off in pursuit. When the two men aboard the launch pull out handguns, an agent opens fire. The launch veers off towards the river bank.
The passenger throws himself overboard and scrambles off through the dense jungle, gun in hand. The river pilot is captured. Police suspect the Brazilian man of smuggling cheap gasoline from Venezuela.
The fugitive passenger could be a Colombian guerrilla, a Brazilian drug trafficker or a Venezuelan fuel smuggler. All roam this tri-border region known as the Dog's Head where passports aren't needed to travel from one country to the next.
"Confrontations aren't unusual around here," says agent Geraldo de Castro Neto, as he plays hopscotch with Indian children while waiting for the next boat coming down the cola-colored Rio Negro.
The agents are in the jungle as part of a new push by Brazil's federal police to cut off a key supply route for Colombia's cocaine industry and Marxist rebels who fund their guerrilla war by "taxing" the drugs trade.
Brazil's largest cities have become leading Latin American markets for cheap Colombian cocaine. Colombia's problems also create huge instability in South America at a time when Brazil is trying to forge free trade pacts with Andean nations.
FLIP-FLOPS FOR THE FARC
Control rivers in the Amazon and you control the supply chain for a drug industry thought to provide 80 percent of the world's cocaine from half a dozen laboratories in Colombia's Amazon region.
Control of the rivers also dictates control of the supply lines for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, guerrillas.
Unscrupulous Brazilian merchants have decades of experience providing the FARC and drug industry with their every need.
Police have found huge cargoes of everything from frozen chicken to sugar which can only have one destination -- the hungry mouths of 17,000 FARC rebels.
One recent shipment was filled with thousands of Brazilian Havaiana-brand flip-flops. It was enough to supply every man, woman and child in the tri-border region several times over.
It took police a while to realize shipments of cement were not being used for construction. Instead, it was a chemical substitute for cocaine laboratories. Brazil now bans the export of cement across its Amazon border.
Then there are the Colombian tourists coming across the Brazilian Amazon border by boat. Police have long suspected the FARC guerrillas shed their combat fatigues to vacation in Brazil.
The currency used around here can be dollars, drugs or munitions. One kilogram (2.2 pounds) of cocaine can go for $2,000, 2,000 rounds of assault rifle ammunition or 200 grenades for rifle-mounted launchers.
Police are aware of the money they could make if they joined the enemy and left others to sweat it out on the river.
Despite the millions of dollars changing hands around them, Brazil's federal police are considered the nation's least corrupt and are compared to the United States' Drug Enforcement Administration.
AMAZON'S SINGING DETECTIVE
The agents live for weeks in palm-thatched huts with no running water and only electricity from a noisy diesel generator. They are unable to contact family thousands of miles away.
Malaria is a rite of passage for agents on operations blowing up drug traffickers' jungle air strips.
One policeman more comfortable than most here is the head of Brazil's Amazon drugs squad, Mauro Sposito.
Speeding up river in a police launch, Sposito sings a sertaneja, or Brazilian country music tune, while his agents train their rifles towards the jungle banks.
Out of 38 years service, he has spent 23 in the Amazon. A native of Sao Paulo, he says he's become a "caipira" or backwoodsman.
"I prefer the jungle. The snakes aren't as poisonous as in the city," jokes Sposito, known as Dr Mauro to Indians and agents across the Amazon.
He has no sympathy for the FARC's four-decade-old fight for a socialist revolution and says the legalization of drugs would only create millions of new addicts.
"The FARC sells protection to those people who sell cocaine, it's a mafia," says Sposito.
As the blazing sun sets above the hamlet's palm and acai trees, Sposito takes a bath in the river's lukewarm water.
"We won't let them operate here in Brazil," said Sposito, before climbing into his hammock to get some rest.
LIMA, Peru, Oct 1 (Reuters) - Peru said on Wednesday it planned to form a battalion of troops to fight resurgent Shining Path guerrillas and said it would welcome some help from the United States in doing so.
The notorious Maoist rebels have staged sporadic attacks and incursions in recent months after remaining dormant for much of the past decade. The government has also vowed to arm peasant farmers to help stamp them out.
"We want to create a battalion to fight subversion, but I don't know if we will be able to count on help from the United States," Interior Minister Fernando Rospigliosi told reporters. "If there was (help), that would be excellent," he added.
Last year, the guerrillas killed 10 people in Lima with a car bomb just days before a high-profile visit by U.S. President George W. Bush. The rebels kidnapped and later released more than 70 workers building a gas pipeline in June, and killed five soldiers and two civilians in a July ambush.
Peru's Truth and Reconciliation Commission estimates up to 69,000 people were killed during during two decades of war between guerrillas and security forces.
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