At a regional meeting of defense ministers, Peru’s Defense Minister Pedro Cateriano stated that drug trafficking and terrorism are a “criminal union,” highlighting the growing push by governments in the region to conflate the two spheres of criminal activity.
Cateriano’s remarks came at the 11th Conference of Defense Ministers of the Americas — which took place in Peru between October 12 and 14 — in which 34 defense ministers signed the Arequipa Declaration, agreeing to work together to fight common security issues, reported La Republica.
At the conference, Peruvian President Ollanta Humala identified drug trafficking and organized crime as two of the most serious security threats facing the region, reported La Prensa. Atendees also discussed the dangers posed by illegal mining in Latin America, and agreed to develop joint strategies to combat the crime.
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Cateriano’s comments come off as another attempt to blur the line between drug trafficking organizations and terrorist groups in Latin America. Such assertions aren’t entirely without basis — the three Latin American armed groups on the US Department of State’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations — Colombia’s National Liberation Army (ELN), the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and Peru’s Shining Path guerrilla group — are all heavily involved in the drug trade. Meanwhile, Mexican drug cartels like the Zetas have controversially been described as “insurgent” groups because of their attacks on state security forces and innocent civilians.
Peruvian officials aren’t the only ones equating the activities of criminal groups with terrorism. In April 2014, El Salvador announced that attacks against police — by individuals as well as groups — would be subject to terrorism charges. Honduras’ Congress has also recently passed legislation that would define similar crimes as terrorism.
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However, labeling criminal groups as terrorists in Latin America has also been used as a ploy to secure funding and justify security crackdowns and human rights abuses. In Colombia, former President Alvaro Uribe frequently referred to guerrilla groups as “narco-terrorists,” and used the United States’ increased attention on terrorism following 9/11 to justify the use of foreign aid earmarked for the “war on drugs” in the government’s fight against the FARC. Former Mexican President Felipe Calderon has also used the term to justify tough security measures against criminal groups.