Peru helps farmers discard cultivation of coca
By Dialogo October 21, 2013
Governments throughout Latin America are launching various initiatives to respond to the formation of self-defense groups formed by citizens to fight organized crime.
Authorities throughout Latin America do not recognize these self-defense groups as real security forces. The people who join self-defense groups typically do not have any law enforcement training, and they do not have the authority to make arrests or conduct criminal investigations. Authorities encourage residents to notify official security forces of organized crime activity.
“Self-defense forces are not police or community guards. Arming citizens is inadmissible under the rule of law,” according to Óscar Naranjo, the former director of the National Police of Colombia and currently a security adviser for Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto.
Recognizing that citizen self-defense groups are not the best way to combat gangs and transnational criminal organizations, officials throughout Latin America are working to attack the root causes which allow gangs and organized crime groups to flourish in certain regions.
Gangs and drug cartels often operate in regions where there are high levels of poverty. Organized crime groups often recruit people who feel they have no other options to make a living.
Officials are working to alleviate such poverty. For example, in Peru, drug traffickers pay famers to produce coca crops, which organized crime operatives refine into cocaine.
In recent years, officials have established government programs to officials help farmers cultivate other crops. For example, Peruvian authorities have provided farmers with seeds to grow cocoa, coffee, and soy plants.
In 2011 and 2012, Peruvian security forces destroyed more than 60,000 hectares of farmland which was used to produce coca.
Peruvian authorities allow the formation of “self-defense committees” only if such groups have more than two-dozen members. Such groups also must coordinate their efforts with military forces. The coordination means military officials can provide training and, if necessary, protection to the self-defense groups, authorities said.
In remote jungle and rural areas, some Peruvians have formed self-defense militias, also known as “peasant patrols,” to protect themselves against organized crime groups and Shining Path guerillas.
“There are 248 self-defense committees in the region. In order to form one, there must be a minimum of 30 members,” Army Maj. Mirko Vidal told Agence France-Press. Vidal has led military operations into the area known as VRAEM, which includes the coca-growing river valleys of the Apurímac, Mantaro, and Ene rivers.
In Mexico, self-defense militias have formed in the state of Michoacan to battle the Knights Templar, a violent drug cartel which also engages in extortion, kidnapping, and other criminal enterprises. Citizens began forming the self-defense groups in late 2012 and early 2013.
In May 2013, the administration of Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto responded to security concerns by sending 3,000 Army troops to the state. The soldiers man checkpoints along highways and major roads.
Pena Nieto’s administration is increasing spending on job training and social programs for young people to discourage them from joining organized crime groups.
His long-term security plan calls for a national military police force, known as the National Gendarmerie, to eventually take the lead from the Armed Forces in the battle against the Knights Templar, the Sinaloa Cartel, Los Zetas, La Familia Michoacana and other transnational criminal organizations.
Under the leadership of Pena Nieto, Mexico’s security forces are relying on intelligence to capture or kill organized crime leaders. During a three-month period beginning in July 2013, Mexican security forces captured three drug cartel kingpins, including Miguel Angel Trevino Morales, the Los Zetas leader who is known as “40” and “Commander 40.” Each of the kingpins was captured without a fight.
While people who form self-defense militias may have good intentions, they may not always achieve positive results, said José Antonio Crespo, a security analyst at the Center for Economics Research and Teaching (CIDE) in Mexico City.
Members of self-defense groups are not law enforcement professionals trained in the gathering and use of intelligence, Crespo said. They may not know the best ways to ensure public safety and conduct criminal investigations, Crespo said. Also, some militia members may abuse their authority.
“They can be undermined and go from defending the community to engaging in other types of abuse or rivalries against other armed (militias),” the security analyst said.