Peru Seeks to Increase Military’s Role in Fighting Drug Trafficking

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Peru’s Congress is considering a bill that would deepen the role of the armed forces in the fight against drug trafficking, giving them powers to detain and question suspects.

On October 9 Peru’s Congressional Commission on National Defense, Internal Order, Alternative Development and Drug Control approved a bill which would give the country’s armed forces a greater role in the fight against drug trafficking.

Currently, the military works jointly with the national police in areas where it has been deployed, and its role is limited to security patrols and counterinsurgency work. If passed by Congress, the law would allow the military to directly detain and question suspects and seize vehicles in areas where the government has declared a state of emergency, like the Apurimac and Ene River Valley (VRAE).

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Since taking office, President Ollanta Humala has increasingly militarized the fight against drug trafficking, stepping up the combat of the Shining Path rebels, who oversee a large portion of Peru’s narcotics trade. While the government has captured the leader of the guerrilla faction based in the Upper Huallaga Valley, the VRAE faction has remained a persistent threat despite repeated military operations there.

Increasing the military’s role in combating drug trafficking makes sense in light of the challenges law enforcement faces in confronting rebels and other drug traffickers. Police officials carrying out coca eradication efforts have been met with violent resistance, which military personnel may be better equipped to handle.

The use of the military in domestic security comes with risks, however. For one thing, the Peruvian army is not immune from corruption. High level military officials have been accused of collusion with organized crime and drug trafficking organizations. Some analysts also question whether areas of the country dominated by the drug trade would be better served by social programs and anti-poverty campaigns than by a heavy military presence.

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