LIMA — Peruvian President Ollanta Humala, a retired Army colonel now in the second year of his five-year term, has embarked on sweeping reforms to modernize the country’s Armed Forces and National Police.
Congress passed a series of measures on Aug. 9 allowing the Humala administration to implement new laws in the areas of national defense and citizen security. Two weeks later, Premier Juan Jiménez announced that Peru’s 2013 budget will include a 20 percent increase in defense spending. The changes are aimed at boosting the capacity of Peru’s security forces to deal with terrorism, drug trafficking and crime.
The new measures give the administration 90 days, or until mid-November, to pass new laws with respect to the military, including strengthening the career-track system within the Armed Forces, creating a centralized agency for military purchases and acquisitions, establishing the National Security and Defense Secretariat to design policy, creating mechanisms for soldiers to provide support to police officers in emergency situations, and increasing salaries for military personnel.
Jiménez said the defense budget for 2013, without including funds to boost salaries, would increase to about $2.85 billion.
Emergency decree expanded in wake of terrorist attacks
Recent months have seen a major upswing in violence at the hands of a breakaway faction of the Shining Path. The area affected is roughly the size of Belgium, and is formed by valleys of the Apurímac, Ene and Mantaro rivers, known as the VRAEM, in the south-central jungle.
The Shining Path faction there killed 14 soldiers in 2011 and nearly 20 soldiers and police officers this year, including five soldiers at an anti-terrorism base in the VRAEM, on Aug. 15. Most of the deaths have occurred since April, when a Shining Path column kidnapped 36 oil pipeline workers for nearly a week. The workers were released unharmed, but the action was a serious reversal for the administration — and one of the reasons for a sweep decline in the president’s popularity between May and July.
The VRAEM has been under state of emergency, with the Armed Forces in control of security, since mid-2003. It was expanded in April to include additional areas; by law, the government must renew the state of emergency every 60 days.
The administration has responded with a long-term development plan for the VRAEM, including major investments in infrastructure and basic services. Jiménez also said his government would invest $115 million through the end of the year in new equipment for the Armed Forces fighting in the VRAEM.
“We want to be clear on this point. We are going to strengthen the logistics and security systems for troops deployed in this part of the country,” Jiménez said during a presentation to Congress on Aug. 20.
The rebel actions in the VRAEM erased the administration’s success in virtually defeating another Shining Path faction in the northern Upper Huallaga Valley. Last February, the National Police’s anti-terrorism unit arrested the leader of that faction, Florindo Flores, and have systematically picked off most of his top lieutenants since then.
Talks on purchasing agency to continue
The creation of the centralized purchasing agency could prove tricky, due to opposition among military institutions. The Army, Navy and Air Force have long objected to a single agency, arguing that it would add additional bureaucracy to the acquisition process.
The Humala administration, while defending its plans, also recognizes that it was not given a blank check to pass legislative decrees. Congress debated for more than 10 hours before approving the request for legislative powers and did not vote on the package, but on each request individually. Five of its requests passed by the slimmest of margins, with Speaker Victor Isla having to break a tie on the issue of soldiers providing support for the National Police.
Jiménez said the legislative package will be prepared transparently and with inputs from all sectors.
Negotiations for the salary plan — which would double the amount earned by members of the Armed Forces over the next four years — were scheduled to start at the end of August.