Interview with Adm. Jorge Montoya, Former Commander of the Peruvian Joint Chief of Staff
By Dialogo November 02, 2012
In 1986, while Peru and Ecuador faced each other in a border dispute, retired Peruvian Admiral Jorge Montoya shared long and cordial discussions with his school mate, a military service member from Ecuador. In the mornings, they rode in the same vehicle to the Inter-American Defense College (IADC), and later on attended intense academic sessions with military and civilian members from a dozen other countries of the Western Hemisphere. This experience, he said, offered him new perspectives and allowed him to forge friendships that he still maintains with men and women from different visions and cultures.
More than a decade later, the Admiral, who served as Commander of the Joint Staff of the Peruvian Armed Forces, arrived in Washington, D.C. to participate in the College’s 50th Anniversary Symposium. During that opportunity, Montoya sat down with Diálogo to discuss the Shining Path, the fight against drug trafficking in the wild Apurimac, Ene and Mantaro Rivers valley (VRAEM), and about the role of the Armed Forces in the defense
and security of the nations of our side of the world, among other topics.
Diálogo: During one of the sessions at the symposium, I heard you refer to the Military as a warrior. How do you visualize that warrior participating in humanitarian assistance tasks and relief efforts in case of disaster?
Admiral Montoya: Oh! We are very efficient in these situations. When you enter a military institution, you do it to serve your homeland, and if you have to sacrifice your life, you just do it. In Peru, we provide relief efforts to disasters almost on a daily basis. During the Pisco earthquake, the last large one we had, I was in charge of the Joint Command, and I ordered the Armed Forces to provide relief assistance in the very early morning. We were helping in humanitarian tasks, from setting up emergency hospitals, to cleaning the streets, maintaining safety and security in the area, and removing debris.
Diálogo: What is your opinion on the new roles that the Armed Forces have?
Admiral Montoya: There are people who talk about the new roles of the Armed Forces, but in Peru, we have provided civic action in the Amazon since the 20th century. Activities are performed in coordination with the Ministry of Health … We participate in those kinds of activities, even though it is not our role. Preparing for combat is our role, while this is a secondary role. The problem comes when issues are distorted, when it is said that the Armed Forces has a new role and it’s as if we were replacing the Military’s main role, and everybody gets confused. This is clearly not the case.
Diálogo: In the particular case of Peru, the Armed Forces participate in the fight against terrorism and drug trafficking. How is this task performed?
Admiral Jorge Montoya: The problem our nation has is the geographical features; it’s very rugged. Our main cities are located by the coast, and we have two or three big cities in the mountains that are Andean population centers. Terrorism has concentrated in the VRAEM area, where the Shining Path operates. The VRAEM area is very vast and wild. You start an operation following a Shining Path column in the low area of the jungle; then the troops climb up the Andes, and the pursuit is not made by helicopter, but on foot, because from the helicopter it is not possible to make out the people, since it is a thick forest area. When you receive information to locate them, a 100, 200 or 500 meter shift is required above sea level, up to an altitude of 4,400 meters. What does this entail? Training and special logistics equipment, because the temperature is warm and humid in the low area, and it is cold in the high area: -5°C at night.
Diálogo: What about the cities? Does the Peruvian Military support the Police, as in the case of Guatemala, to cite one example mentioned at the symposium?
Admiral Jorge Montoya: Our laws forbid the use of the Armed Forces in counter drug trafficking operations in urban areas. In order to do so, laws would have to be modified. Particularly in the case of drug trafficking and terrorism, the support of specialized police organizations like the National Anti-Drug Directorate, must work in coordination with the Armed Forces. The Police have their own duties, while the Armed Forces have their own as well. The Police are not prepared for combat in wild areas, but are meant to operate in highly populated areas: in cities and towns. The Armed Forces are trained for combat, and their mindset is different, their equipment is different. They have a different way of operating. Peru is improving that system [of cooperation], even though it is not perfect. From my point of view, they should be directly under the Joint Command for operations that take place in the jungle, not in cities.
Diálogo: From your point of view, has the Shining Path weakened after the demise of Comrade Artemio?
Admiral Montoya: They are still dangerous. I mean, they have other leaders, because they operate in a cell-like manner. Artemio died, but it falls to another, so there is someone who takes over and continues the operation. They are moving forward, but slowly.
Diálogo: What do you think would be the best strategy to combat drug trafficking and narcoterrorism in Peru? Do you think that the Armed Forces and the Police can handle the situation against this scourge on their own?
Admiral Jorge Montoya: In reality, our drug trafficking problem is social, not military. If we deprive drug traffickers of laborers, they run out of coca. We have a very serious problem in the VRAEM area, where poverty affects people, whose only resource is to grow coca. They grow coffee and other crops, but it is not enough to make a living. We need to generate social support in an intelligent way, and create other economic sources. They are not felons; they are farmers. And we are talking about over 100,000 people. We must make an extra effort to drastically diminish the production of coca crops, but not eradicate them, since eradicators cannot reach the VRAEM due to the wilderness of the area; they [Shining Path members] kill them before they get there.
Diálogo: You have expressed that the IADC can exercise an important role in the Inter-American system of defense. Why do you trust the College to develop that task?
Admiral Montoya: Because it is an academic center, where most countries of the continent are represented. When I attended, there were 18 countries [in the class]. That is a true and real representation, with different ideas, with common problems among the countries. When I attended, we had just gone through the conflict with Ecuador. I was the president in my class, and an Ecuadoran and a Chilean service member were accompanying me. We are still friends. Our countries were in conflict, but at the College we were in class. The College is a lab [of mutual understanding], and it should be exploited as a hemispheric center of thought, even more than the Inter-American Defense Board.
I have always admired the great common sense and clarity with which Admiral Jorge Montoya answers questions of the interviewer without circumventing any topic.