Interview with Lt. Gen. Leonel Cabrera Pino, of the Joint Special Operations Command of Peru
By Dialogo August 17, 2011
Lt. General Leonel Cabrera Pino, Commander of the Intelligence and Joint Special Operations Command (CIOEC) of Peru recently met with Dialogo to talk about Peru’s ongoing counter-terrorism operations against the Shining Path in the region of the Apuricam and Ene River Valley (VRAE) , and his own experiences as the VRAE Commander.
Diálogo: What can you tell us about your experience in the Valley of the Apurímac and Ene Rivers (VRAE)?
Gen. Cabrera: Speaking about the VRAE is a topic in itself. I’ve had the opportunity to serve as the second-ranking commander and as the commandant-general in the VRAE. I believe that it’s important to emphasize that while drug trafficking and some other factors exist, such as illegal lumber harvesting, this is always going to favor the development of terrorism, that situation in which there is a nexus among these crimes is always going to persist, and logically, it’s more difficult for us to combat terrorism, since it’s joined together…it’s narco-terrorism now. Shining Path is one group, I believe fairly well-known on the national and international levels. The most hard-line faction persisted as a remnant for a while, and we moved in starting in 2007, when we began to take control of the situation in the VRAE again. For ten years, more or less, terrorism was not combated, for various reasons, but starting from that date, the Armed Forces have returned to the fight against terrorism, and drug trafficking, logically, is immersed in that.
Diálogo: What is the strategy of the Armed Forces for combating the terrorists?
Gen. Cabrera: We have quite a number of objectives, although many of them are intangible, that is, the population does not see them. Often, the fight against terrorism is not measured by the number of dead, either on the terrorists’ side or on our side, but rather in terms of the state of the process. We found a group that was spread fairly widely across the area, with a fair degree of control over the area, and today, as of last year, their activities have been reduced tremendously. Now this year, the same policy of combating terrorism is being continued. Nevertheless, I believe that we have to press a bit harder in the fight, because if we give them breathing room, they’ll start to expand again. It’s natural [that there may be] occasional isolated acts, due to the difficulty of the terrain, due to the distance we have to cover to work in that area. I believe that while the leaders are there and terrorism has not been eliminated, the state has to continue combating the terrorists. You can’t live without concern when there is a rattlesnake in your yard.
Diálogo: Is there a difference between the Shining Path of today and the group’s ideology during the 1980s and 1990s?
Gen. Cabrera: I believe that there has been a shift both in their activities and in the activities of the forces of order. In the case of this armed group, in the period from the 1980s to the 1990s and 2000, they induced more terror. At that time, they killed many people, executed many people. They saw the state’s absence in part of the territory, and then they killed the local authorities, the forces of order, any citizen who represented the government. They’ve realized that this, logically, has an entirely negative side, since if they want to win over the population, they can’t go against the population. They’ve understood that, and now they’ve changed their strategy and aren’t going against the population. I believe that this has had some results for them, because at times, in places where the state doesn’t have a presence, the population sees itself as protected by the subversives themselves. Then, one way or another, the terrorists live together with them and are accepted … that’s what we’re trying to avoid, and we’ve also changed our strategy a bit, one way or another, with the difference that in the 1980s and 1990s, we had other laws, we had greater legal protection, we had a more favorable legal framework than we have now.
That doesn’t mean, however, that we’ve pulled back; we continue working, with much greater caution in order to avoid all the problems there were with human rights in the 1980s and 1990s. No one wants to be involved in this kind of a problem, and the terrorists also take advantage of that, because they violate human rights, and we don’t; then we have to conduct surgical operations to avoid any abuses against the population and at the same time, try to capture the terrorists. As of right now, however, all the larger population centers where they are directing their efforts are under the control of the forces of order, and logically, this is an extensive territory, and the only thing they have left are some smaller population centers where the state doesn’t have a presence, which are minimal. They have to preach their ideology to very few people. Previously, they had all the larger towns and population centers, where they gathered people and everyone listened to them, but not now. For this reason, the progress of their strategic offensive has been quite limited; the expansion of their support committees has been tremendously limited. So long as the forces of order maintain control of the area, I believe that it’s going to be very difficult for them. I know that they haven’t made progress. That has limited them tremendously, especially with regard to logistics.
Diálogo: What measures are the Armed Forces taking to combat drug trafficking?
Gen. Cabrera: We’re paying much more attention to the problem of drug trafficking; we’re conducting operations against drug trafficking in integrated operations with the police and prosecutors, where this hadn’t normally been done in the past. Since last year, we’ve begun to fight almost with a frontal attack, but we’re still lacking a legal framework to support us; we lack resources to combat drug trafficking directly, to be able to have the legal arms with which to combat them. I believe that a comprehensive policy is required. Apart from that, in the military aspect, I believe that we’re doing well, and I’m convinced that we can roll back this process. We can win again. We won the war against Shining Path in the 1980s and 1990s, and we’re going to win it again. In the end, however, if all the sectors of government don’t join in to work together, the necessary means to continue in this inequality that there is now are going to present themselves once again.
The work of the FF.AA. will not have any results because its the bigger states that should decide to eliminate the drugâ€™s financial experts. No drugs would be produced if there werenâ€™t any economic power wielding groups willing to gain money by selling drugs. Eliminating the main drug agents would be the first step, but this will be difficult, because there are interests in the rulers themselves. The problem of VRAE is being faced only in part, Military Forcesâ€™ activity in the zone has improved, this as a product of the experience of their continuous actions and clashes in which they have participated, in which sadly there have been a loss of lives pertaining to law enforcement, but is needed a more solid strategy, in which other sectors (agencies) of the State may begin working in zones that are already controlled by the Government (through their FF.AA.), there is lack the contest of the Environmental, Health, and Education sectors, among others, so that they may use their budgets that should already be formulated with the aid of the Office of the Multi sector Work Group Secretariat which was created for this, but of whose results, as well as the results of the diverse Sectors (agencies) are being developed in the area, are not known. And that it is another pending point, the publicity of the actions that is carried out by the state in the area, lacking this there wonâ€™t be the necessary political support to resolve the problem, because political parties are not saying much either on the matter, and there should be political consensus in order to face drug trafficking and terrorism, because without the perception of legitimacy on behalf of the inhabitants of the VRAE area, it will be very difficult to gather the populationâ€™s support as is required in these cases. In my own line of thinking, the State, or the Government should win the people over, not only by presence alone but by making the people feel that we are all Peru without so many differences, the way for them to achieve this is by the government being held accountable, by having civil servants that want real development for the people, not a development of their pockets and then to look at the rest of the citizens in disdain who are just like them. This has a beginning, families are part of this society that is sick. Â¿How are you?