SANTA LUCIA, Peru — Unhappy and unstable marriages between drug traffickers and terrorists are washing South American cocaine trails with blood.
In Peru, fanatical Maoist guerrillas have built alliances with peasant growers of coca, the source of cocaine, and with the trafficker organizations. In neighboring Colombia, at different times and in different places, both leftist guerrillas and right-wing death squads have established opportunistic and lethal links with drug lords.
The combined narco-guerrilla challenge to government authority makes it doubly difficult for security forces to fight drug trafficking in South America's two most violent countries, which together supply most of the world's cocaine.
The United States, responding in part to this deadly mix of political and criminal interests, has resolved to commit more than $110 million in military aid this year as part of its anti-cocaine program in South America.
Some analysts wonder whether the emphasis on military and police efforts in Peru--rather than on aid for economic development--risks embroiling the United States in another nation's complex and largely home-grown conflict. But others see little choice but to face these risks as the cost of waging the war on drugs.
In April, the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) guerrillas staged a night raid on Santa Lucia, the main police base for Peruvian-American anti-drug units in the Upper Huallaga River valley. It was the first direct attack by the guerrillas against the anti-narcotics program in Peru.
Two U.S.-owned helicopters took off and strafed the guerrilla positions across the river with M-60 machine-gun fire, and thousands of rounds were exchanged. The rebels fired at least 11 rocket-propelled grenades, although none reached their targets: the fleet of helicopters used to attack cocaine labs.
There were no known casualties, but the shoot-out was evidence of the perils of murky and fluid narco-terrorist alliances in the cocaine war.
Ties between traffickers and leftist guerrillas also have added to the complexity of drug-related violence in Colombia, the home of powerful traffickers who dominate international cocaine trade.
In rural areas of Colombia in the 1980s, leftist guerrillas helped the infamous Medellin Cartel of traffickers to guard clandestine laboratories and coca plantations. U.S. and Colombian officials contend that the April 19 Movement, a guerrilla army known as M-19, staged its invasion of Colombia's Supreme Court headquarters in 1985 in cooperation with the cartel, destroying documents in drug trafficking cases.
But the Medellin-based drug lords also have helped conservative ranchers finance and direct scores of anti-leftist death squads called "paramilitaries" that have killed hundreds of people in rural Colombia. Many of the victims have been peasants, laborers and political activists accused of collaborating with guerrillas. But the paramilitaries have also been blamed for many other killings.
In addition to collaborating with terrorists of the left and right, Colombian traffickers have hired and trained their own squads of \o7 sicarios,\f7 hired killers who terrorize society with bombings and assassinations. Victims of this "narco-terrorism" have included presidential candidates, high government officials, judges, police officers, journalists and hundreds of ordinary Colombians.
The wanton campaign of killing has a quasi-political purpose: to intimidate government opponents of narcotics trafficking and to cow the Colombian public into acceptance of coexistence with drug traffickers.
A lethal example this month: Car bombs exploded in front of two shopping centers in the northern suburbs of Bogota, killing 17 people, and the same day a third bomb exploded in the city of Cali, home of a rival drug cartel, killing 10 more people.
In both Peru and Colombia, expanded U.S. military involvement could offer ammunition for the narco-terrorist alliances in their attempts to portray themselves as anti-imperialists.
"The announcement that the Marines or the Green Berets are going to come has stimulated the population with the theme of anti-imperialism," said Justo Silva, manager of a Peruvian farmers' cooperative whose members grow coca. "Now it is not Sendero against the government; now it is Sendero against the Yankees and the world."
As part of its anti-narcotics program for the drug-producing countries, the United States has offered to provide $35.9 million in equipment and training to the Peruvian army to combat the guerrillas in the valley. The United States insists that only a handful of U.S. Special Forces trainers will be involved, and no combat troops.
Peruvian experts acknowledge the dangerous implications of the symbiosis between guerrillas and traffickers. They question, however, whether the limited available resources should go into bullets and aircraft instead of development projects that would give farmers the financial independence to divorce both the guerrillas and the \o7 narcos.\f7