This has been a very special year for the Peruvian Armed Forces. Since the event originated in 2010, the country hosted the 2017 South American Defense Conference (SOUTHDEC), for the second time, along with U.S. Southern Command. The year 2017 marks the 20th anniversary of what is considered one of the most successful hostage-rescue operations in history – Operation Chavín de Huántar, in which hostages were taken by the terrorist group Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement. The year 2017 also marks the 60th anniversary of the creation of the Peruvian Armed Forces Joint Command (CCFFAA, per its Spanish acronym). To talk about this and other issues, Diálogo spoke with Navy Admiral José Luis Paredes Lora, the chief of CCFFAA in Peru.
Diálogo: What are your biggest challenges as chief of the Peruvian Armed Forces Joint Command?
Admiral José Luis Paredes Lora, the chief of CCFFAA: The threats that many call “new,” but which have been around for a long time, which have been evolving and changing their modus operandi. Threats that are transnational, in other words, that affect the region, not just our country. All the countries in the region have practically the same problems. They are shared problems, so dealing with these issues with SOUTHCOM and other partner nations in this important forum is good for us because we exchange certain experiences and we can create communication channels for mutual support. If there isn’t synergy among the region’s armed forces to be able to attack these criminal groups together, [they] really affect the stability of our people. We have the issue of drug trafficking, some remnants of terrorism which we still have in one area of the country, an area we call the Valley of the Apurímac, Ene and Mantaro rivers, or VRAEM. These remaining criminal groups, since they no longer have any type of terrorist ideologies, are now working for drug-trafficking enterprises and criminal organizations. Their way of surviving, the only thing they know how to do, is crime and illicit activites, supporting themselves through these drug cartels.
Diálogo: With respect to transnational crime, do you consider cocaine production to be Peru’s most serious problem?
Adm. Paredes: Yes, actually, that is the problem for us because here in Peru we haven’t detected any large drug-trafficking enterprises or criminal groups of the size that have been created in other countries in the region, but yes, there is coca production, which has been reduced this past year by approximately 16 percent. It is hard work, but it has been going down. So this is an input for the final product, and this is what leaves the country, and we know it goes to North America, Europe, and Brazil. This makes this area attractive for [criminal] groups because they have the input here, but we are doing a lot of work with neighboring countries like Brazil. Two weeks ago we had a meeting in Tabatinga, precisely to take a look at border issues with Brazil: to look at what measures, what fast and secure communication channels we can adopt which will allow us to take immediate action, to establish a system of surveillance over our shared borders, to effectively monitor border crossings. With Colombia, we also have a major plan for the Putumayo area. I believe that working together with border countries is important. There aren’t any major problems of this type with Ecuador. There is another illicit activity, such as illegal mining, for example, illegal logging, but around these kinds of crimes, vicious cycles are created which generate different illegal activities. We have the destruction of the environment in the southern zone, for example, with mining, which uses highly toxic inputs such as mercury; these areas in these towns are completely devastated. There is tremendous pollution. Recovery of these areas takes a lot of time, but around these crimes, another illicit activity is generated, such as human trafficking. It is a complex issue.
Diálogo: During your visit to Tabatinga, you discussed the transnational military exercise AMAZONLOG, which will take place in November. Will Peru be participating?
Adm. Paredes: Yes and yes. Peru will participate with its Army, but that day in Tabatinga, we also talked about having the next AMAZONLOG be an even more joint effort, because the Amazon region is not only land, there is also a lot of river activity, and so the Navy has an important role to play because the Navy, through the Directorate of Captaincy and Coast Guards, is fully in charge as the fluvial authority. We talked a bit about the legislation because Brazil has legislation that is important for us because we don’t have the authority to intervene as Armed Forces in the border zone. Illicit activity in this area is a police issue, but there is a complementary law set forth by Brazil that allows the Armed Forces to be at the 150- kilometer border and act with full authorization without the need for having the police there. We are working with our ministry on a proposal for changing the law to allow us to take action as the Armed Forces against all illicit activity in the border zone. I think that will be a tool that will allow us to act with greater speed. It is a long process, but we’ve discussed it with Brazil. They have begun with very good results, and we are going to propose this initiative to see if we can solve this problem.
Diálogo: The year 2017 is a year with two very important dates for the Peruvian Armed Forces, the 20th anniversary of Operation Chavín de Huántar and the 60th anniversary of the Joint Command. What is your perspective on these?
Adm. Paredes: On Chavín de Huántar, the work that our commandos did to rescue the hostages has been recognized internationally. They were decorated with the Medal of Honor for Combat, so it’s a special day for them, too, and I believe that in that ceremony their work was recognized and they were thanked for their intervention, which was the key. I would say this intervention was what buried terrorism once and for all in the country. That action was important, and every Peruvian recognizes it as such. The Joint Command is, really, still a young institution. We are making an effort to solidify our joint doctrine, to which we have really given a lot of emphasis these past few years. Recently, we approved the Joint Strategic Plan of the Armed Forces. This was a historic approval by the president and the National Security Council. We have submitted a plan for joint recovery capacities. This is so our assets are optimized, so there is no redundancy, so they are interoperable, multi-purpose, with everything a modern armed force should have. By 2030, we envision the Armed Forces as a highly mobile force using the latest technologies. New threats require us to be a highly mobile and technology-intensive force. There is no other way.
Diálogo: How did the Peruvian Armed Forces participate in the humanitarian aid and rescue efforts after flooding caused by El Niño Costero, and how did partner nations contribute?
Adm. Paredes: We began the year with an emergency caused by El Niño Costero, which is called that even though it doesn’t just affect the country’s coast, but also a few mountain and jungle towns later. It was four intense months of work. After January 15th, more or less, we had our first battering from nature, and it ended in the month of May. It is an ongoing situation because we still have shelters we have to take care of while we begin the first stage of reconstruction. Some temporary housing has already been built. The government installed temporary housing but the reconstruction phase began this year. The support of the armed forces of our partner nations was also important; they supported us with both air assets and humanitarian aid because the emergency extended to the whole country, and the resources we had were relatively tight to be able to handle the magnitude of the emergency, especially in terms of transport of people and cargo. Of course we made cargo transport ships available, as well as Armed Forces cargo planes and helicopters, but we didn’t have enough people to take care of so many places, from Arequipa in the south, the entire Sur Chico area, as we call it, Cañete, Chincha, to the north, Trujillo, Lambayeque, Piura, and Tumbes. In the mountains, the departments of Chimbote, Ancash, Huancavelica, Junín, in other words, practically the entire country. So you’ll understand that to take care of such a large population, so many needs, our resources became scarce. But thank God we had the support of our partner nations.