(IPS) – “It’s not surprising for the United States to cooperate with military or government officials in Peru about which it has information linking them to serious crimes,” said activist Ricardo Soberón, referring to contradictions revealed in cables released by the whistle-blowing website Wikileaks.
Soberón, with the non-governmental Centre for Research on Drugs and Human Rights (CIDDH), says “since 1987, the U.S. Department of State has been concerned about the risk of corruption among the Peruvian military in drug trafficking zones, but that concern has not been shared by the Pentagon (Department of Defence), which was more interested in expanding its missions in the Andes region, without regard to the costs.”
“The leaked cables reflect a deep political contradiction between Washington’s institutional diplomacy, and the military diplomacy characterised by the promotion of strategies like (the U.S.-financed counterinsurgency and anti-drug strategy) Plan Colombia, the Merida Initiative (a multi-billion dollar U.S. counter-drug assistance programme for Mexico and Central America), hot pursuit across borders, or the ‘hammer and anvil’ tactic in the Colombian armed conflict,” he told IPS.
“The revelations by the cables represent a continuity of these dichotomies in the discourse and practices of U.S. agencies with different objectives and interests in the region,” he said.
A Mar. 12, 2009 cable sent by then-U.S. Ambassador in Lima Michael McKinley, which was released by WikiLeaks and published by the El Pais newspaper in Spain, says army commanders fighting remnants of the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) Maoist rebels received “lucrative payoffs from drug traffickers.”
The sources cited by the document referred to drug traffickers operating in league with Sendero insurgents in the Apurimac and Ene River Valley (VRAE) region, and contended that “the army — for fear of disrupting these drug trafficking networks and losing access to payoffs — is unwilling to commit the large force needed to pacify the VRAE.”
But at the same time, the U.S. embassy has pressed for Washington to respond to requests by Peru’s army brass for increased military aid to squelch Sendero, according to seven confidential cables dated 2009, which were among the thousands of documents released by Wikileaks.
Despite McKinley’s serious allegations of drug corruption against Peruvian army officers fighting in the VRAE, Peru’s main cocaine-producing region, just eight months later, on Nov. 25, 2009, the ambassador himself asked the chief of the U.S. Southern Command for greater aid to the Peruvian army in its fight against Sendero.
The cable, addressed to Commander Douglas M. Fraser, who was preparing to visit Lima in the first week of December 2009, stated that “Your visit affords an opportunity to underscore USG (U.S. government) interest in supporting the GOP’s (government of Peru) efforts to combat these threats in the several discrete areas where we are best positioned to help.
“The key word, however, is ‘supporting’,” the ambassador stressed. “In this context, the GOP needs to develop a more effective political/military strategy for turning the tide against a reemerging SL (Sendero Luminoso) increasingly intertwined with drug trafficking.”
According to other cables from McKinley, the equipment sought by the Peruvian armed forces included helicopters with electronic surveillance system capabilities, technology to detect and destroy the insurgents’ home-made explosive devices, and infrared cameras and night vision equipment.
Peru received 56.4 million dollars in military and police aid in 2006, making it the second biggest recipient in Latin America after Colombia, which received nearly 582 million dollars, according to Just the Facts, a joint project of the Centre for International Policy, the Latin America Working Group Education Fund, and the Washington Office on Latin America that offers “a civilian’s guide to U.S. defence and security assistance to Latin America and the Caribbean”.
For the 2011 budget, Washington has set the aid for Peru at 44.7 million dollars, a substantial reduction. This South American country is now in third place for such funds in the region, after Colombia (351 million dollars) and Mexico (147.9 million dollars).
“We don’t tell the United States how it should fight in Afghanistan,” said retired admiral Jorge Montoya, a former commander of Peru’s joint chiefs of staff. “In any case, if the United States wants to intervene in the war against Sendero Luminoso, it should make that clear. They only cooperate in the fight against drug trafficking.
“The military combat Sendero Luminoso with all the available resources, which often fall short, and in terrible, adverse conditions, and we are going to defeat them with our own means. We don’t need intervention by the U.S. military,” he told IPS.
Montoya, who is now an adviser to Defence Minister Jaime Thorne, said he shared the U.S. concern for the results of the conflict.
“It is a very complicated war against a fanatical ideological organisation that operates in a remote geographical area with which it is highly familiar because it has been there for years. But as far as I know, the United States has not set a deadline, and shouldn’t, because we are a sovereign country.”
In the Mar. 12, 2009 cable, McKinley also notes that under the government of Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000), government officials cooperating with the United States in the fight against drugs at the same time received payoffs to cooperate with drug traffickers.
“Former President Alberto Fujimori’s (1990-2000) intelligence chief Vladimiro Montesinos, for example, collaborated with top army and other security officials to develop a web of protection for favoured drug traffickers while cooperating with U.S. officials to combat others,” McKinley wrote.
He did not mention that the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) financed an anti-narcotics unit organised by Montesinos in the notorious National Intelligence Service (SIN), despite reports of the involvement by Fujimori’s eminence grise in corruption, drug trafficking and human rights violations
One of the most powerful Peruvian druglords of the 1990s, Demetrio Chávez, testified in court that he paid 50,000 dollars a month in bribes to Montesinos and several army officers.
Nevertheless, the Peruvian courts have not yet managed to specifically find Montesinos — who is in prison on numerous human rights and corruption charges — guilty of drug trafficking. Nor has any member of the military high command from the years when Montesinos was the power behind the throne been sentenced.
“It is pitiable that Peruvian democracy has not yet been able to convict Montesinos for his ties with drug trafficking,” José Robles, a former army officer who is an analyst of military affairs at the non-governmental Freedom and Democracy Institute (IDL), told IPS.
“However, we cannot generalise about cases of corruption that may exist,” he added. “The majority of military personnel have returned to their roots, to the training they received. Those who believe that just because someone wears a uniform, he will behave in a ‘Montesinista’ fashion, are mistaken.”