Major General Jorge Orlando Céliz Kuong, commander of the Peruvian Army’s 5th Division, is perhaps the best person to discuss the support the Armed Forces provide to civilians impacted by drug trafficking and terrorism in Peru. The 5th Division is headquartered in Loreto, Peru’s largest region. The region encompasses nearly 3,600 square kilometers, close to 30 percent of the Peruvian territory, and shares nearly 3,600 kilometers of border with Colombia, Ecuador, and Brazil, making it a strategic area appealing to drug traffickers. Maj. Gen. Céliz, a Peruvian Army intelligence officer, was also the commanding general of the Antiterrorism Brigade Great Combat Unit in the problematic Apurímac, Ene and Mantaro Rivers Valley (VRAEM, per its Spanish acronym), where the remaining members of the Shining Path and their sympathizers remain. Diálogo spoke with Maj. Gen. Céliz during the Humanitarian Logistics Symposium held September 26th–28th, in Manaus, capital of the state of Amazonas, Brazil. The event was a lead-up to the AMAZONLOG military exercise to be held in November in Tabatinga, in the Amazon jungle of Brazil.
Diálogo: What does Peru hope to contribute to AMAZONLOG, and what does it expect from the exercise?
Major General Jorge Orlando Céliz Kuong, commander of the Peruvian Army’s 5th Division: I think that, in the case of the three participating nations of the region — Brazil, Colombia and Peru — we have many things in common in this zone. A lot of citizens are Colombian and Peruvian at the same time; both have a Colombian identification card. The same happens on the Brazilian border; there are citizens from both countries. This is a way of life for people of the borders. These are remote places and our governments put in a lot of effort to reach out with health, education, and welfare services. As such, we believe that our participation consists of collecting the individual experiences of each nation that is the support afforded to the citizens through their armed forces as well as various state agencies to provide them with the development they need. That’s why I believe the greatest benefit we could have is an exchange of experiences. And we’re bringing our own We are participating with 50 service members —officers and non-commissioned officers— who will conduct traditional Army operations; such as patrolling in the jungle in addition to the military exercise, because the humanitarian aid in the area could be established through military logistics. I think it will be quite the learning experience for all of our nations to come together there with our armed forces… for some more than others. It is my understanding that Brazil, as host nation, will have the largest presence. Colombia will also have a larger participation than ours, but it’s the first time that Peru participates with forces of the Army in this area. And I’m sure we’ll learn a lot.
Diálogo: In early 2017, the coastal El Niño affected Peru, which caused several regions throughout the country to end up under water. The Peruvian Armed Forces played an active role in the humanitarian aid efforts following the natural disaster. Are there any lessons that AMAZONLOG can learn from that which can be shared with other countries?
Maj. Gen. Céliz: Of course. When a state of emergency was declared in Peru this summer , our nation had its hands full with the flood problem. We worried that the rivers would rise above their usual levels, and what we did was prepare people and prevent the consequences of these kinds of weather events. Working with regional governments, we decided to support the population, delivering wood using state provided funds so that they could secure their homes, and, combining forces with our soldiers, we went around collecting solid waste in the most heavily polluted areas. We also trained our personnel on the medical aspect, giving vaccinations and any other prevention necessary to avoid fatalities. But our efforts didn’t reach the expected scope. So, the experience we had in the north was sobering, because there truly was a greater degree of damage mitigation with the logistics available from the armed forces. As for the lessons learned, I think that in the future and any other area where a disaster might strike, we will be able to use what we learned, and certainly the damage will be less.
Diálogo: In 2017, Peru commemorates the 25th anniversary of Operation Chavín de Huántar. Why is it important to remember the military rescue operation for the hostages taken by the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA, per its Spanish acronym) at the Japanese Embassy in Lima, in April 1997?
Maj. Gen. Céliz: Because there are still issues to be addressed regarding terrorism, drug trafficking and other problems that threaten our regional security. When we speak of terrorism, we can’t keep from mentioning the bad times we’ve had here in Peru with terrorist movements. Discussing the circumstances of Chavín de Huántar allows us to see that it’s possible to keep other movements —which resort to dishonest means and evil acts, kill people or create terror— from cropping up in the future and achieving their aims. Chavín de Huántar represents the elimination of a movement that was quite substantial. We can say that the MRTA was wiped out then and there. That operation was also well designed. Only two hostages died. For the Armed Forces, it represents the degree of professionalism that we might show through such events, so that future generations might also be inspired and see that the state has a response; that our soldiers have a response so that our people can live in peace.