The Militarization of the Peruvian Countryside

Source: NACLA Report on the Americas

On December 30, Peruvian Defense Minister Rafael Rey stated that the acquisition of military equipment to be used in the Apurimac and Ene River Valley (VRAE) against the armed group the Shining Path would be the first priority in 2010 for Peru’s defense budget. Increased military spending is part of a governmental effort to strengthen the country’s domestic security forces, a process that includes plans to purchase new tanks from China and several war planes from Brazil, France, and the Netherlands. Peruvian President Alan Garcia also has budgeted resources to improve coordination between police and military forces during operations against insurgent targets, as well as the training of special operation forces dedicated to that task. Although Peru also receives substantial military support from the United States, any equipment received under that agreement is currently authorized to only combat drug trafficking.

Despite the re-emergence of guerrilla warfare in the VRAE, many rights groups fear that Peru’s increased counter-insurgency presence could have far-reaching consequences beyond the policing of armed groups like the Shining Path. Since taking office in 2006, Garcia has initiated an aggressive economic development strategy focused on opening up Peru’s natural resources to international extraction corporations, often in the face of large-scale protests and organized campaigns. The administration has responded with efforts designed to criminalize the opposition’s actions via newly enacted legislation, while simultaneously beefing up the country’s private security sector and authorizing the wider deployment of Peru’s military forces. The government has coupled these efforts with an aggressive propaganda campaign that links protestors to armed groups as a justification for increasing the national security presence in regions that are attractive to foreign investors.

Garcia’s efforts to construct a legal infrastructure to criminalize lawful protest began on April 28, 2007, when Congress passed Law 29009, delegating legislative authority to the executive branch to regulate organized criminal activity including drug trafficking, money laundering, kidnapping, extortion, human trafficking, and gang activity.

The delegation of legislative authority has been a favorite tool for Peru’s party in power. It allows the legislative branch to abdicate its role to the presidency in order to facilitate the passage of controversial or politically difficult legislation. Once the power to legislate in a particular area has been delegated, the executive branch can then unilaterally act by decree, allowing leaders in Lima to avoid having to defend a potentially unpopular policy during an exhaustive and public congressional debate. Former President Alberto Fujimori used this process to enact several legislative decrees to help the government combat “aggravated terrorism,” decrees that many human rights groups argued threatened civil liberties.

The Garcia administration has used its authority under Law 29009 to issue several legislative decrees that have severely curtailed the right to protest. The decrees were enacted after massive strikes rocked the country, cutting across several sectors of Peru’s economy.

Legislative Decree 982 expanded the legal definition of extortion to include actions broadly associated with public protest. These included the obstruction of roads and the disturbance of government functions for any particular reason, both of which became punishable by up to 25 years in prison. Public officials became guilty of extortion for participating in protests that led to the benefit of third parties. In addition, any police or military official acting under official orders whose actions resulted in lethal harm became immune from prosecution.

Other legislative decrees made it easier for the police to detain individuals accused of criminal activity. Legislative Decree 989 allowed an individual to be held in custody for 24 hours without a warrant, even if that individual was detained far from the alleged criminal act. Legislative Decree 988 stated that individuals detained with a warrant could be held incommunicado for up to ten days regardless of the crime. And finally, Legislative Decree 983 permitted preventative detention of up to 36 months for “complicated cases” while the criminal investigation proceeded.

The Garcia administration has also enacted new legal instruments to expand the government’s domestic use of the military. In 2008, the administration used its executive authority to issue Supreme Decree 012-2008-DE/CFFAA, which regulates Law 29166, a statute that governs the activities of Peru’s military forces. Prior to its enactment, the Department of Defense could only deploy the military after officially declaring a state of emergency. Now the government can deploy troops in support of the Peruvian National Police regardless of whether or not a state of emergency has been declared. The decree also expanded the circumstances under which the military could use deadly force to include the protection of public and private property.

The purpose behind this effort is clear: It justifies the deployment of the country’s security apparatus into resource-rich zones to serve as protection for corporate interests. Several officials of the Garcia administration have given interviews to the media in which they linked indigenous groups protesting the government’s development strategies to armed groups like the Shining Path. In a January television interview, Garcia referred to these indigenous protestors as members of a paramilitary group.

The communities of Ayabaca province in the northwestern coastal department of Piura provide a strong example of this paradigm. Community groups and environmental activists have engaged in a long struggle against the granting of mining concessions in the Ayabaca mountain range, home to a cloud forest that runs along the border between Ecuador and Peru, that serves as a vital source of water for the entire department. Since the struggle began in 2003, nearly 300 leaders of local communities and environmental activists have faced criminal prosecutions and have been linked by government officials and the press to terrorism or drug trafficking.

The Garcia administration appears intent on ratcheting up the pressure by using those criminal allegations against activists and community members as a pretext to establish a military base in the region, a prospect widely rejected by the surrounding communities. If successful, local activists fear that this would serve as a pilot project for similar activities based in other areas facing social conflict over resource extraction activities.

Rights groups have also warned about private security companies. Across Peru, extraction firms are privately contracting these forces, and part of the security they provide appears to be the conducting of espionage operations on groups opposing resource development projects. In the Cajamarca department, the Yanacocha gold mining project that is majority owned by the Newmont Mining Corporation headquartered in Denver, Colorado, the largest gold mining company in the world, hired two private security firms, Forza and Andrick Service, to provide security for their gold mining operations. Forza has been linked to the espionage operation known as “Operación el Diablo,” in which several activists opposing Yanacocha were video taped and photographed. Andrick Service has also been implicated in illegal wire-tapping operations. Both firms also have strong ties to Peru’s Navy and are suspected of having received intelligence from the Navy’s intelligence arm.

The Garcia administration is intent on continuing its extraction-based development strategy. Government officials recently urged Congress to approve a bill that would facilitate the removal of whole communities in resource-rich areas when a particular project was deemed fundamental to the public interest. The passage of this bill will have an impact on hundreds of communities across the country, which will organize themselves in opposition to the government’s plans to take their homes and harm their environment. The increase in social strife will likely be met by greater efforts to militarize Peru’s countryside.

Kristina Aiello is a NACLA Research Associate.