From July to September 2018, the Peruvian Armed Forces neutralized more than five terrorists, destroyed several guerrilla camps, and seized firearms and ammunition in the Apurímac, Ene, and Mantaro Rivers Valley (VRAEM, in Spanish), a hotbed for crime. Service members also carried out joint operations with the Peruvian National Police (PNP) to fight narcotrafficking. Under a new law, the Armed Forces can conduct law enforcement duties against narcotrafficking in areas of the VRAEM under a state of emergency.
Law No. 30796 of June 21, 2018, authorizes the Armed Forces to intervene in VRAEM by land, water, and air to counter narcotrafficking. The law amends Legislative Decree No. 1241 of 2015, which strengthens the fight against narcotrafficking. Under the new law, the military will be able to arrest narcotraffickers and seize drugs to then bring detainees and illicit goods to PNP.
The law “makes collaboration with PNP more flexible in its constitutional mission to counter narcotrafficking, as we can carry out operations to counter this crime without depending on police,” said Peruvian Army Major General Manuel Gómez de la Torre, commander of the VRAEM Special Command and commander of the Army’s Fourth Division. “However, I think it’s important to continue the comprehensive work that would allow us to add the capabilities of each state institution in our quest to reduce or remove threats to security and development in Peru,” he told Díalogo.
The role of the Armed Forces against narcotrafficking in VRAEM was limited to joint patrols with PNP, when they requested it, and providing logistics support to neutralize illicit trafficking in the area. Service members also participated in territorial and riverine control operations jointly with PNP, and generated intelligence through air monitoring. However in the absence of police, service members couldn’t take action.
“I think it’s completely illogical that an Army officer, a captain in charge of a base, cannot conduct an interdiction with their personnel if someone comes and informs them that some narcotrafficking will happen near their base,” Peruvian Congressman Carlos Tubino Arias Schreiber told Diálogo. “No, the narcotrafficking happens just under their noses, because they have to call PNP to take action. And in the end, narcotrafficking happens. So, any observer might think that this captain is involved with narcotrafficking, because they were informed and narcotrafficking happened.”
Although support of the Armed Forces to PNP has been crucial, Tubino, who presented the law, believed that drug interdiction needed further attention. “Colombia, with the National Police and the Armed Forces under the Ministry of Defense, acts directly against narcotrafficking, and its interdiction percentage is about 40 percent, and here we can’t even reach 12 percent,” he said.
Involving the Armed Forces
Although Congress passed the law, it’s pending presidential approval to take effect. The legislation isn’t the first to grant law enforcement duties to the Armed Forces in the fight against narcotrafficking. In 1993, Law No. 26247 authorized military participation to capture people involved in narcotrafficking in areas lacking PNP’s presence.
In April 1996, the act was repealed. Tubino, a retired Navy vice admiral, introduced the current law based on the former one for its effectiveness against narcotrafficking.
“Back then, we put narcotraffickers up against the wall,” said Tubino, who was a political military chief in VRAEM at the time. “That experience led me to always keep in mind that it is possible to involve the Armed Forces, well-trained and prepared, to conduct interdictions, although they cannot replace PNP in their constitutional crime investigation and follow-up role.”
The Armed Forces and PNP welcomed the law for the most part, but certain groups in both institutions have shown some resistance. Some people are also concerned with granting too much power to the military.
“We are talking about inhospitable areas in a state of emergency, areas of complex military operations, where we tell the Armed Forces they have to fight not only against terrorism, but also against these groups’ logistics, to commit to conduct interdiction,” Tubino said. “If there is no real commitment to this, peacekeeping efforts in VRAEM won’t be successful.”
To balance the knowledge between service members and PNP, the new law takes into account the need to train units and implement programs and specialized courses in schools of both institutions. Tubino ponders the creation of a school with military and police instructors, both active and retired. According to the congressman, the exchange of information and experience will be highly beneficial.
Maj. Gen. Gómez de la Torre highlighted the achievements of his units. “The VRAEM Special Command conducted an ongoing, sustained effort—before and after the law was passed—in the fight against narcotrafficking with the joint and integrated use of land, air, police, and special forces components,” the officer said. “The success achieved attests to this, as we commit ourselves to continue these accomplishments in tasks assigned, with the obvious positive impact the Peruvian state expects.”