Shining Path Terrorist Attacks Could Endanger Peruvian Oil Pipelines
LIMA — A string of terrorist attacks in Peru’s southeast jungle has raised fears that Shining Path rebels could try to create economic chaos by targeting the country’s energy infrastructure – and the government is responding with strict anti-terrorism measures.
“The population should be calm, because we are going to win. It will take some time to acquire more assets needed, but this will be done,” said Humberto Speziani, president of Confiep, Peru’s largest business association. “We are talking about defense of democracy and national interest.”
Speziani spoke following an Oct. 12 meeting where Defense Minister Pedro Cateriano and Admiral José Cueto, head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, helped lower business leaders’ fears by laying out the government’s plans in response to the attacks.
Two police officers were killed and two others wounded in an ambush late that day near the town of Kepashiato. The ambush came less than one week after the rebel group — known in Spanish as Sendero Luminoso — (Shining Path) attacked an airstrip in the nearby town of Kiteni on Oct. 6, destroying infrastructure and torching three helicopters.
Fighting intensifies in VRAEM region
Both Kepashiato and Kiteni are located in the Echarate district, in Cusco, which is home to the Camisea gas fields and a 730-kilometer pipeline that provides gas which generates nearly half of Peru’s electricity. The destroyed choppers had been used by Camisea operator TGP to supervise the pipeline.
TGP announced after the incident that it would no longer maintain the pipeline for security reasons. Its personnel have since abandoned the zone.
Interior Minister Wilfredo Pedraza was blunt during an Oct. 9 presentation before the congressional security committee.
“Protecting the pipeline requires an enormous logistical undertaking,” Pedraza told lawmakers. “We are working to equip a special group of soldiers and police officers to reduce the possibility of an attack on the pipeline, but another incident could happen today or tomorrow.”
Legislation aims for stricter anti-terrorism measures
Recent polls revealed that Peruvians believe that terrorism could be creeping back — and that they want the government to do more. In a national survey released Oct. 14 by Ipsos Apoyo, 71 percent of respondents said recent incidents point to a resurgence of terrorism.
The Humala administration’s response is that measures are already underway, including the construction of new police stations in the Echarate district. In addition, 10 new anti-terrorism bases in the Apurímac, Ene and Mantaro River Valleys (VRAEM) will be completed by year’s end, and the Defense Ministry announced it would send 20 new helicopters for reinforce operations in the combat zone.
Humala has called on Congress to approve legislation submitted in August that would make it a crime to “approve, justify, deny or minimize the crimes committed by the members of terrorist organizations.” The new crime would carry jail sentences between four and eight years in prison. Congress has not started debate on the bill.
Congress passed in mid-October legislation that establishes much tougher penalties for anyone convicted of collecting money or involved in similar activities to support terrorism. The minimum jail time is now 20 years without parole.
Law expected to put MOVADEF on the defensive
Salazar said the legislation would help control terrorist activities and give the state more leverage to fight façade organizations, such as the Movement for Amnesty and Fundamental Rights (MOVADEF), a party founded by attorneys for the Shining Path’s jailed leadership.
Congress has granted the Humala government legislative powers to pass new laws in the areas of citizen security, national defense and drug trafficking. It has also allowed the administration to reform the defense and interior ministries, a process already underway.
The Humala government has until the end of November to produce the new legislation.
Echarate has been the scene of the most intense fighting between the Shining Path and security forces in months. More than 20 police officers and soldiers have been killed in terrorist attacks so far this year, most of them in Echarate and neighboring districts. The district has been under a state of emergency since April, while VRAEM was put under the state of emergency more than nine years ago
The Shining Path faction in the VRAEM has slowly upped the pressure in the zone where Camisea is located. Ruben Vargas, a researcher who studies terrorism in Peru, said the Shining Path faction has wanted to show the government that it could wreak havoc.
Energy infrastructure could be at risk
“The objective of recent attacks has been to show that they control the zone that is the heart of the country’s energy system,” said Vargas. He estimated that disruption of the Camisea pipeline would cripple gas-fired power plants that generated approximately 45 percent of the country’s electricity in September, and also stop production of nearly 80 percent of liquid petroleum gas (LPG) — the most widely used household fuel in Peru.
In addition nearly 300,000 vehicles in Peru, including Lima’s mass-transit bus system, run on either natural gas or LPG.
Peru’s Energy and Mines Ministry calculates that the country would lose roughly $500 million a day if the pipeline were knocked off-line. This takes into account energy generation, industry, vehicle use and liquid natural gas exports from a facility operated by Dallas-based Hunt Oil.
Apart from Peru’s existing energy system, continued attacks in the zone could block efforts by President Ollanta Humala to attract more than $20 billion worth of investment in new pipelines from Camisea to the southern coast and the construction of petrochemical plants using gas to make explosives, fertilizers and plastics.
Measure would authorize new pipelines, power plant in Echarate
Legislation now before Congress would authorize concessions for the construction of new pipelines from Camisea to the southern highlands, as well as a new thermal power plant in Echarate. Observers say it’s unlikely Congress would pass this legislation given the current situation in the zone.
The Shining Path faction, which numbers around 400 armed fighters and is led by Victor Quispe Palomino, initiated a new round of armed actions in Echarate in April, when a column kidnapped 36 contractors working on expansion of the Camisea pipeline. The victims were held for nearly a week before they were released unharmed.
A group of 18 pipeline workers were briefly grabbed in early June, and there have been numerous incidents involving sniper fire on anti-terrorism bases in the zone.