Hours before flying back to Lima, Peruvian Defense Minister Luis Alberto Otárola Peñaranda took a break to talk to Diálogo.
That same day, at the Pentagon, he signed a Memorandum of Understanding with U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, and later on, in Miami, he met with General Douglas Fraser, commander of the U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM).
During the interview with Diálogo, Minister Otárola Peñaranda spoke about the results of his first official visit to the United States, the current state of the Shining Path rebel group, “a terrorist organization that has sunk to the lowest depths,” he said, and his country’s commitment to the fight against drug trafficking.
Diálogo: Minister Otárola Peñaranda, what is your most important challenge as Peruvian Defense Minister?
Peruvian Defense Minister Luis Alberto Otárola Peñaranda: For us, the most important challenge is dismantling organized criminal organizations, especially those dedicated to drug trafficking and terrorism.
In that context, the priority for President Humala’s administration is reestablishing stability and security conditions in the area of the Apurimac and Ene River Valley (VRAE) in southern Peru.
Peru has four major priorities:
• Dismantling organized criminal organizations, whether they are terrorist groups, drug traffickers, or involved in other forms of organized crime, and recovering the VRAE.
• Improving our capacity to respond to any external or internal threat to peace, security, and the defense of the country’s interests and the Peruvian population.
• Participating actively in Peru’s operations to maintain international peace and security.
• Finally, participating actively in the country’s economic and social development and in civil defense.
Diálogo: What is your view of the current state of the Shining Path terrorist group, and what is happening with the Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA)?
Minister Otárola Peñaranda: Shining Path is a terrorist organization that has sunk to the lowest depths, because it has not only rented its ideology to organized crime, but is in open alliance with drug traffickers. During President Humala’s administration, we’ve struck a telling blow against this organization, because we’ve arrested its last historical leader, Artemio, thanks to a joint operation by the police and the Armed Forces. This administration’s objective is to pacify the country and forcefully and definitively defeat a terrorist organization that at this time does not represent an ideological threat to the country.
In the case of MRTA, it’s an organization that makes an appearance in pamphlet form, but that in reality has been defeated by Peruvian democracy. What we’re more concerned about than these terrorist movements is the presence of drug traffickers in South America, which is an issue that should attract the interest of all countries.
Diálogo: What more could be done to combat illicit trafficking in Peru?
Minister Otárola Peñaranda: Illicit drug trafficking should be understood as a global phenomenon, encompassing the participation of multiple countries: producing countries, transit countries, and consuming countries. In that context, the fight should be comprehensive and based on the principle of shared responsibility.
In Peru’s case, a strategy is being implemented to dismantle drug-trafficking organizations on all fronts: interdiction of illegal crops and chemical raw materials, state presence in affected areas, prevention of use, alternative development, and social inclusion. Related crimes, such as money laundering and human trafficking, are being confronted at the same time.
Obviously, international cooperation plays an important role in achieving our objectives.
Diálogo: What are the advantages of working with the United States and other nations to confront these and other regional threats?
Minister Otárola Peñaranda: Working jointly with other countries brings a series of benefits, such as exchange of experiences, acquisition and handling of financial resources, technical, logistical, and human-resources support, and joint operations, among others.
We should remember that threats such as terrorism and drug trafficking don’t recognize borders and affect our nations transversally, so a joint and coordinated fight with our regional partners enables us to face those threats on a broader front.
Diálogo: Will Peru continue to participate in peace missions in Haiti and other countries?
Minister Otárola Peñaranda: In effect, we will continue to participate actively in Haiti and in any other country where Peruvian support is needed in order to maintain international peace and security.
Moreover, Peru has a Peace Operations Joint Training Center, which even offers training at the regional level for tasks of this kind.
Diálogo: What do you consider the most important results of this visit to the United States?
Minister Otárola Peñaranda: Definitely, my meetings with Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns, and the head of the Southern Command, Douglas Fraser.
We’re very satisfied, because we’ve fulfilled a very important agenda, with three elements that we’ve achieved amply.
In the context of my official visit to the United States, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed in order to strengthen the political-military relationship. That memorandum institutionalizes regular consultation between the United States and Peru on this subject. Likewise, it extends and strengthens bilateral cooperation and dialogue on a wide variety of issues, which will make a positive contribution to achieving the two countries’ shared objectives in the security arena.
The memorandum reflects the diversity and strength of the bilateral relationship, as well as the progress of this key regional alliance between the United States and Peru.
Second, we’ve updated a pending agenda of collaboration with the U.S. government in the areas of training, capacity development, and common and converging areas of focus in the fight against international illicit activities, with special emphasis on drug trafficking. We’ve fully agreed on the need to have shared points of contact that can help us combat what we consider a threat to the security and peace of South America. Drug trafficking and its different variables affect our economy and degrade our environment.
We’ve participated very actively in the programs that the United States has in Peru: humanitarian-aid programs, joint military exercises such as Unitas… and we’ve coordinated the dates of these events, the levels of cooperation, and above all, we’ve recovered what is a very important legacy of this meeting for us: the will of our governments to work hand-in-hand on shared objectives in the defense arena.