Losing the War on Terrorism in Peru

The U.S. government has undermined the war on terrorism in Peru

By Dave Kopel & Mike Krause, of the Independence Institute. Krause is a U.S. Coast Guard veteran who served as boat coxswain for drug patrols in the Caribbean Sea.

National Review Online. March 22, 2002 9:05 a.m. More by Kopel on Peru.

On Saturday, President Bush will visit Peru, to bolster the war on drugs and the war on terrorism. Congress has tripled antidrug aid to Peru this year, providing $156 million. Yet Peru's past and present troubles demonstrate how the war on drugs has undermined the war on terrorism and will continue to do so. The drug war has created an environment ripe for narco-terrorism, enriched insurgent guerillas, and hindered rather than helped Andean government anti-insurgency efforts.

In Peru, the Maoist "Shining Path" (Sendero Luminoso) terrorists, perpetrators of thousands of murders in the 1980s and 90s, are making a comeback in the coca-rich Upper Huallaga Valley and in Lima. The Shining Path is being joined there by the far-left FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) terrorists. The FARC and Shining Path come bearing gifts of poppy seeds, money, and protection to recruit Peruvian farmer into their drug-running racket.

Peru is also in the midst of a government-corruption scandal uncovering decades of misdeeds by some of our closest drug-war partners — including bribery, drug running, arms dealing, and death squads. This corruption has bolstered the image of anti-government guerillas.

Over the last two decades, Peru fought a bloody and brutal war against the Shining Path guerilla terrorists, with 30,000 Peruvians killed by one side or the other. The goal of Shining Path was the destruction of the existing government and replacing it with a totalitarian socialist utopia; being Maoist, the Shining Path had no hesitation about slaughtering peasants who got in the way.

The war culminated in the 1990s during the early days of the presidency of Alberto Fujimori, when thousands of suspected Shining Path were captured, including, with CIA help, Shining Path leader Abimael Guzman.

The success against Shining Path was accompanied by the destruction of Peru's constitutional democracy. In 1992 Fujimori launched a coup, dissolved the courts and Congress, erased constitutional protections, and instituted military tribunals. The results were what one would expect in a country with a tradition of corrupt and brutal government. Of the over 3,900 Peruvians convicted in the secret courts, more than 600 have since been released by a review commission.

The Fujimori government proved to be as vicious as the Shining Path. The U.S. State Department's human-rights reports on Peru explained:

the military and the police continue to be responsible for numerous extra-judicial killings, arbitrary detentions, torture, rape and disappearances… Besides beatings, common methods of torture include electric shock, water torture and asphyxiation…credible reports indicate the total number of female detainees raped in the past few years (by police and military forces) to be in the hundreds… Violence against women and children….are continuing problems.

At the time, Fujimori enjoyed popular support for his extreme measures, as Peru was under siege from the Shining Path. But he continued to abuse dictatorial power; he was eventually forced from office, and has fled to Japan to avoid being put on trial in Peru.

Another prong of Fujimori's war on Shining Path was to call off U.S.-backed coca-eradication programs. The Shining Path was thus deprived of income from drug-trade protection rackets and deprived of peasant support.

Fujimori had learned the lessons of the previous decade in Peru. As a 1991 Cato Institute report details, counter-insurgency efforts against the Shining Path in the 1980s were undermined by the U.S.-driven counter-narcotics efforts:

In 1984, President Belaunde Terry declared the Upper Huallaga Valley an emergency zone and dispatched the military with the mission not to fight drugs but to fight Shining Path…With no reason to oppose security personnel and no need for guerilla protection, coca growers withdrew their support and even revealed the identity of Shining Path members. The guerillas retreated and the coca industry in the valley boomed (ironically enough resulting in a lowering of coca prices, a goal of U.S. drug strategy)…

From 1985-1989 the new (leftist and populist) government of President Garcia cooperated closely with U.S. DEA officials to carry out successive eradication and interdiction campaigns, and Shining Path gained control of as much as 90% of the Huallaga Valley.

The resurgence of Shining Path prompted President Garcia to prioritize counter-insurgency over counter-narcotics. He left coca farmers unhindered and even promoted a coca-growers cooperative.

At the same time, the Peru military "conducted at least 320 offenses against Shining Path Guerillas, killing 700 guerillas (more than half the number killed nationwide that year) and greatly improved security in the towns of the upper Huallaga Valley. But U.S. officials, concerned that (General Alberto Arciniega) had done nothing to fight coca cultivation, pressed the Peruvian government for his transfer."

In other words, the U.S. government under the first Bush administration pressured Peru to get rid of the general who was smashing the Shining Path terrorists.

Stated another way, in order to protect foolish Americans from putting the wrong substance up their noses, the American government undermined the war on terrorism in Peru.

In recent years, Peru has acceded American demands to prioritize coca eradication. A flood of American money has attempted to convince Peruvians not to cultivate coca. From 1995-2001, USAID alone provided $107 million to Peru in alternative development funding.

Yet these efforts are hindered by the laws of economics. The Americans have provided alternative crop subsidies for coffee, a crop whose production costs exceed market value. In contrast, the price farmers get for coca leaves is at an all time high of $3.50 per kilo compared to 40 cents per kilo in 1995. (The Economist, "Spectres stir in Peru", Feb. 14, 2002.)

Half the population of Peru lives in poverty. Not the American "below the poverty level" lifestyle of color television and so much food that obesity is a serious problem. Peru has Third World poverty, with starvation and abject desperation.

The hard reality is that farmers in Peru are being starved out by a militarized anti-narcotics strategy. They can't see why they should be prevented from growing an export crop that feeds their families. In Peru, coca consumption dates back to the days of the Incas, with coca consumed by chewing coca leaves. The effect is not all that different from caffeine consumption. In the United States, though, the illegality of coca forces sellers to sell the product in a much more concentrated (and, therefore, much more concealable) forms: powder cocaine and crack cocaine. The psychoactive effects and dangers are much greater, of course. Similarly, American prohibition of alcohol caused a consumption shift away from beer (large volume, low "kick") to gin (low volume, high "kick").

It is unrealistic to expect that Peruvian farmers trying to feed their families are going to care much about how American drug laws change the way that coca in consumed in North America. The farmers are ideal targets for terrorists who offer to protect the coca crop and to buy it. Now, the terrorists are convincing the farmers to plant poppy seeds too.

The "starve a Peruvian peasant to save an American coke-head" strategy has been largely unsuccessful. According to the U.S. State Department, from 1995 to 2000, coca cultivation in Peru was reduced from over 100,000 hectares to around 34,000 hectares. The Peruvian Center for Social Studies disputes this, claiming about 70,000 hectares under cultivation in 2001. Peru's new drug czar, Ricardo Vega Llona, suggests that the previous estimates of acres under production may have been far too low. In any case, it is undisputed that coca production is thriving, partly because producers have learned how to plant more crop per acre.

As has been the case for decades, prohibition makes cocaine amazingly profitable, which in turn allows narco-traffickers to move their operations with relative ease in response to eradication and interdiction efforts.

Why on earth, then, would we continue with policies that virtually guarantee income for the narco-traffickers and the terrorists who tax them, while eradicating and fumigating the incomes of farmers who then have to turn to those same terrorists for protection?

And if starving farmers in a country full of narco-dollars and insurgents seems ripe ground for recruitment, a country where farmers starve for the drug war while corrupt government officials use the drug war to line their pockets is even riper.

The U.S. State Department's 1999 narcotics report on Peru claimed:

The government of Peru has denounced all forms of public corruption…There have been no known cases of systemic institutional, narcotics related corruption within government entities in the last few years, nor are there any senior level government officials known to be engaged in drug production, distribution or money laundering.

Apparently someone forgot to tell this to our longtime drug war partner Vladimiro Montesinos, the de facto head of the Peruvian National Intelligence Service (SIN) and the director of his own anti-narcotics division (DIN).

While a panel of judges views hundreds of videotapes (or vladitapesas they are known in Peru) of Montesinos bribing government officials and politicians, Montesinos currently sits in a Lima jail cell charged with over 80 crimes ranging from money laundering, organizing death squads, protecting drug traffickers, and illegal-arms trafficking (selling ten thousand AK-47s to the Colombian FARC terrorists). So far over $200 million (including over $50 million in U.S. banks) of Montesinos's illicit fortune has been tracked down and seized.

Among the more than 70 high-ranking military and intelligence officials arrested in association with the scandal is retired General Nicolas Hermoza, Chief of the Armed Forces Joint Command through most of the nineties. Hermoza has pled guilty to profiting from illegal arms deals, and is fighting charges of running a drug-flight protection racket.

General Hermoza was America's partner in "Airbridge Denial" — the program to shoot down planes suspected to be carrying drugs. It turns out that General Hermoza was making sure that his favored traffickers got through unhindered. Not so fortunate was an airplane full of American missionaries, who were killed in a shootdown last summer. Although bad publicity from killing a plane of innocent Americans led to a cessation of the shootdown program, resumption is being planned.

What about Mr. Montesinos, the man who shipped AK-47s to the FARC terrorists? He was the cornerstone of the American drug war in Peru. He was also the prime support keeping Fujimori's dictatorship in power long after it had lost popular support. In January, at the request of the new Peruvian government, the U.S. released a decade's worth of diplomatic cables on the relationship between the U.S. and Montesinos:

Like it or not, he is the go to guy, short of the president himself, on any key issue, particularly any counter-narcotics issue (1999)
"Nothing that the government does on intelligence, enforcement and security issues occurs without his blessing"

It has been reported that the CIA gave $10 million to Montesinos for his Narcotics Intelligence Division (DIN) from 1990-2000.

Yet as the declassified documents show, Washington was aware as far back as ten years that our "go to" guy might be working both sides of the street as a narco-trafficker and a supporter of the "Colina" death squads in the nineties. A 1991 embassy cable acknowledged, Fujimori's "senior advisor on national security matters (Montesinos) is however linked to past narcotics corruption."

A 1993 document details a Peruvian army officer who could "identify officers who belonged to the special group (an army intelligence/SIN death squad) testify about the group's killings and link (Montesinos) to the Barrios Altos (in which 15 people were murdered) and other killings."

U.S. officials have justified the ongoing relationship with the known murder, drug smuggler, and terrorist gunrunner on the grounds that although "Montesinos carries a significant amount of baggage with him," he is "A valued ally in the drug fight."

But of course, he was only valuable insomuch as Washington, D.C., made the drug war in Peru a priority over human rights and antiterrorism.

Fujimori was ousted by the Congress in 2000 for "moral incapacity." Peru's new president, Alejandro Toledo, is a Stanford-educated economist who worked for both the World Bank and the United Nations. Mr. Toledo will have to deal not just with homegrown Peruvian guerillas but migrating Colombian insurgents as well.

On March 13, the Senate Judiciary Committee held hearings on "Narco-Terror: The worldwide connection between drugs and terrorism." At the hearings, America's top drug warriors emphasized the relationship between drug trafficking and terrorism.

Rand Beers, Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, testified that Shining Path's ability to "cut a brutal swath" through Peru in the past was "largely funded by levies it imposed on cocaine trafficking." He continued: "in 2001 the SL (Shining Path) had a slight resurgence in areas like the Huallaga and Apurimac Valleys, where cocaine is cultivated and processed, indicating that the remnants of the group are probably financing operations with drug profits from security and taxation services."

A February 8 STRATFOR Intelligence brief reports that, thanks to an expanding alliance with Colombian drug traffickers and the FARC, "Shining Path is trying to re-build its numbers and weaponry by working in the heroin trade. Peru is poised to become one of the world's heroin producers."

STRATFOR continues: "Although it is a shadow of its former self and does not present a major threat to the Peruvian armed forces or government, Shining Path is starting to build up its capacity to carry out low intensity urban bomb attacks, kidnappings and political assassinations."

If history is any indication, a further expansion of U.S. law enforcement and military anti-narcotics in Peru will only drive traffickers and growers under the wing of both the Shining Path and FARC, allowing them the resources to become a major threat again in Peru. A vicious cycle requiring more and more U.S. involvement appears very possible.

Terrorists in the United States cannot overthrow our government, but they are far stronger in South America. The drug war in the United States attempts to protect American consumers from the consequences of their own bad choices, but the effect of this effort to protect North American fools is to put fragile South American governments in danger of being destroyed by terrorists.

After September 11, it is time for the destruction of terrorism to be America's foreign policy. No other goal should be allowed to interfere. It is time to stop letting the drug war hinder the war on terrorism.

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