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
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
(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
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:
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
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
of income from drug-trade protection rackets and deprived of peasant
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
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)
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.
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
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.
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
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:
of Peru has denounced all forms of public corruption
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.
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
While a panel of judges views hundreds of videotapes (or vladitapes
as 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
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
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.
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
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
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
America's top drug warriors emphasized the relationship between
drug trafficking and terrorism.
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
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
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.
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.
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.