Peruvian Minister of Defense José Luis Gavidia Arrascue took office on February 1, 2022. As minister, his focus is on managing, coordinating, executing, and evaluating his country’s security and defense policy.
Diálogo visited the Ministry of Defense in Lima to talk with Minister Gavidia about his defense policy and progress in the fight against crime.
Diálogo: You said that “we have to be completely done with insurgency within five years.” What is the strategy that will be implemented to achieve this objective?
Peruvian Defense Minister José Luis Gavidia Arrascue: The challenge we’ve set ourselves as a government is to end this scourge of insurgent terrorism by 2026. The strategy has been developing for many years, consisting of four phases. The first phase has already been implemented, which is the displacement and implementation of counter-insurgency bases. We currently have about 44 counter-insurgency bases. Then came the military action phase that reduced insurgent activities in the VRAEM [Apurimac, Ene, and Mantaro Rivers Valley]. And we are currently in the consolidation phase, which has allowed us to reduce insurgent activities in the territory, since we’ve gone down from 73 to 43 districts and now insurgent activities are confined to about five districts. We want to end the strategy with the normalization phase that we hope to start in 2026, in which insurgent elements should be totally neutralized in order to transfer the internal order responsibility to local authorities, or to the National Police itself, and leading to the progressive withdrawal of the Armed Forces.
We want these large bases, which have required some much effort and cost so much money to the State, to become large centers of productivity and development. We consider the VRAEM more of an opportunity than a problem because it is an area with incredible biodiversity, both in terms of territories and climates. There is an opportunity for very diverse crops and the idea is, with the help of the Engineering Battalions, to start opening local roads and bridges with the possibility that the farmer — with the assistance of the State, of the Ministry of Agriculture — can grow a variety of alternative crops that are profitable and allow them to live with dignity. The farmer will be able to take his products to the production centers, and we hope that these bases will become development centers where the Ministry of Production can transform coffee, cocoa, pineapple, and a variety of products into preserves and give them an added value that will allow them to be commercialized, not only in the country but also abroad. And that is where the fourth player comes in, the Ministry of Foreign Trade, which will have to help us place these products, which I am sure will be of the highest quality, into national and international markets. This is going to allow the people who are currently planting coca to carry out voluntary eradication, that is to say, to decide on their own that it is better to plant cacao or coffee than to plant coca.
Diálogo: What kind of interagency work do the Armed Forces and the National Police carry out to attack and confront transnational crimes such as narcotrafficking?
Minister Gavidia: Narcotrafficking, human trafficking, and smuggling are illicit activities that are becoming more severe in the world, and Peru is no stranger to this. We work with a lot of intelligence from the National Intelligence Directorate, which is the governing body that coordinates the intelligence of the Army, the Air Force, and the Navy, and also the intelligence of the Police and the Ministry of the Interior. These five coordinated elements position themselves, process the information, and set up operations to combat organized gangs, above all.
Diálogo: What projects is the Ministry of Defense handling in terms of support for security forces against environmental crime and deforestation?
Minister Gavidia: We have quite complicated environmental problems in the border area with Colombia, in Putumayo, where there is not only narcotrafficking, but also a lot of illegal mining, as well as in Madre de Dios between Bolivia and Brazil. Illegal mining is among the most depredatory activities; they use chemicals that destroy rivers and forests. So, we carry out ongoing operations with the National Police; we essentially find dredges, large illegal machinery and we put explosives on them and blow them up, since it isn’t possible to seize them because they are located in inaccessible areas. We hit illegal miners nearly daily and we destroy the machinery that they use to extract minerals from rivers where they use mercury and other chemical precursors that contaminate the water, as well as the wildlife and fauna.
Diálogo: What progress has been made on human rights in the defense sector?
Minister Gavidia: Human rights organizations have a very close relationship with almost all of our agencies; we have a human rights office and we are always working with international organizations to receive training. No soldier enters an area of operations without previous human rights courses to clearly understand the things or the extent to which [things] can or cannot be done when operating in missions and what the margins and limitations are. The doors of barracks and military bases are always open so that international organizations can continuously interact, ask for information, respond to any complaint about any type of violation, etc. We’ve made a lot of progress in the last 20 years and we have to keep improving and learning from our mistakes, and these [international] organizations have helped us a lot.
Diálogo: What technological innovations does Peru’s military industry have to offer?
Minister Gavidia: In the defense sector we have three major services for industrial development. One is the Naval Industrial Service, where in recent years, for example, we built the BAP Unión, which is a training ship, one of the largest sailing ships in the world. We built two multipurpose landing platform dock ships with logistics support and troop transfer capacity, including vehicles to operate with helicopters. And we also built an oceanographic ship with polar capacity, the BAP Carrasco — all of them with agreements with international shipyards. The naval industry has a large bridge building department to solve the need to interconnect the country’s different regions.
We have the Army ammunition and armament factory, where interesting projects are being developed, especially in the manufacture of weapons, rifles, and small arms in agreements with some international companies. And we have the Air Force maintenance service, which carries out maintenance on aircraft and air components, not only for military use but also for commercial use, among others.
Diálogo: How are you strengthening your capabilities in information operations to counter disinformation and fake news that delegitimize the actions of the public forces?
Minister Gavidia: In the ministry there is an information directorate, just like in the Armed Forces, which are under an officer, general or admiral, who interacts directly by order of the general commander of the institution, where strategies are designed to confront these great threats that we have from disinformation. Through the networks different messages are launched to misinform people, confuse, and many times even generate panic and terror with fake news and that is why we have tools that are better over time to counter and face this threat.
To see the full interview with Peruvian Minister of Defense José Luis Gavidia Arrascue, please click on the following link: https://dialogo-americas.com/articles/a-conversation-with-jose-luis-gavidia-arrascue-minister-of-defense-of-peru/#.YqJa0S-B2Fw