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Peru Table of Contents


Chapter 5. National Security


Mochican warrior art found on a ceramic vase

THE MILITARY AND THE HISTORY of Peru are inextricably intertwined. From 1821, when José de San Martín declared independence from Spain, through 1991, military officials have served in the top political office more often than civilians, that is, fifty-two out of eighty-one heads of state, for ninety- eight out of 171 years.) Furthermore, the military has been instrumental in helping to bring to power by force almost half of the twenty-nine civilian presidents.

The constitution of 1979 was approved by an elected civilian Constituent Assembly during Peru's longest sustained period of institutionalized military rule (1968-80); however, the constitution could not have been promulgated or put into effect on July 28, 1980, when power passed to an elected civilian president, without the acquiescence of the Peruvian Armed Forces (Fuerzas Armadas--FF.AA.). The receipt of the presidential sash by Alberto K. Fujimori on July 28, 1990, represented the first time since 1903 that three elected civilians in succession had become head of state without interruption by military action. Put another way, the 1980-91 period represented the longest sustained era of electoral politics in Peru since that of 1895-1914, the country's only other time of continuing civilian rule through regular elections. It was ended by President Fujimori's self-coup (autogolpe) on April 5, 1992, in a manner reminiscent of Augusto B. Leguía y Salcedo (1908-12, 1919-30) when, after being elected president in 1919, he made himself dictator by declaration.

In many ways, nevertheless, this most recent period of elected civilian rule, with the military serving as protectors and defenders of democracy, was even more difficult to sustain. The problems faced by the government of Peru during the 1980-91 period were viewed by some observers to be the most daunting in the Western Hemisphere. These problems included a decline in the gross national product (GNP--see Glossary) of about 40 percent through 1991; an inflation rate of over 100 percent per year in the early 1980s that increased to between 1,600 percent and 7,600 percent per year from 1988 through 1990; a government that increased its employment rolls by over 60 percent from 1985 to 1990, while its taxation capacity declined by over 75 percent and thus sharply reduced its delivery of basic services; narcotics production and trafficking, along with substantial corruption, violence, and addiction; and guerrilla insurgencies by the Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso--SL) since 1980 and the Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (Movimiento Revolucionario Túpac Amaru--MRTA) since 1985 that resulted in over 25,000 deaths, more than 3,000 disappearances, and some US$22 billion in direct and indirect property damage through 1992.

After great initial reluctance, Peru's elected presidents increasingly used the state of emergency decree to try to cope with the country's difficulties, primarily the insurgency. Under the constitution of 1979, the president may declare states of emergency to deal with threats to public order. These presidential decrees permitted military authorities to temporarily assume political as well as military control of the district(s), province(s), department(s), or region(s) specified. Constitutional guarantees of sanctity of domicile, free movement and residence, public meetings, and freedom from arrest without a written court order would be suspended. From five provinces declared to be in a state of emergency in December 1982, the number steadily increased to thirteen in 1984, twenty-three in June 1987, fifty-six in July 1989, sixty-three in July 1990, and eighty-seven by May 1991. As of mid-1991, over 47 percent of Peru's 183 provinces, which included some 56 percent of the country's population of more than 22.3 million, were part of emergency military zones (EMZs) under military control. Although some critics called this de facto military government, the armed forces insisted that they were only fulfilling their constitutional mandate to protect civilian rule and had no interest in carrying out another coup.

Between 1980 and 1990, the size of the FF.AA. increased by some 30 percent, from about 92,000 to about 120,000, with close to two-thirds made up of conscripts. In 1992 the total figure was 112,000. The Peruvian Army (Ejército Peruano--EP) remained by far the largest service, growing from 70,000 in 1980 to around 80,000 in 1990, but declining to 75,000 in 1992. The Peruvian Navy (Marina de Guerra del Perú--MGP) more than doubled in size during the decade, from 12,000 to 25,000, but declined to 22,000 in 1992. The Peruvian Air Force (Fuerza Aérea del Perú--FAP) increased by about 50 percent, from 10,000 to 15,000 (its strength in 1992). Peru's unprecedented economic crisis of the late 1980s and early 1990s substantially reduced military salaries and maintenance capacity and began to threaten the excellent training and strong professionalism at all levels--officer, technician, and noncommissioned officer (NCO)--that had been gradually built up during the post-World War II period.

The FF.AA.'s close relationship with United States counterparts from the 1940s well into the 1960s contributed significantly to this professional and material development. Between 1947 and 1975, the United States military trained 930 Peruvian military personnel in the United States, 2,455 in facilities in the Canal Zone of Panama, and 3,349 in Peru. The United States military mission in Peru peaked at sixty-six members in the mid-1960s, with military sales and assistance from 1955 to 1979 totaling some US$261 million. For a variety of political and military reasons, the Peruvian military regime expelled the United States military mission in July 1969 and began to diversify its training and supply relationships from the late 1960s onward. Beginning in 1973, the EP and FAP, but not the navy, undertook what was to become a substantial relationship with the Soviet Union that included the purchase of equipment totaling between US$1.2 and US$1.5 billion, a sizable training component in the Soviet Union (between 100 and 400 Peruvian officers), and a significant Soviet military mission in Peru (between 25 and 100). Peru's was the only Latin American military besides Cuba's to equip its forces with Soviet matériel. At the same time, the FF.AA. received substantial equipment from other supplying countries to become, by the end of the 1980s, the most diversified in the region in terms of foreign sources of arms and equipment.

Despite the substantial domestic insurgency, the FF.AA. in 1992 continued to focus on potential external problems with Ecuador and Chile, and based the bulk of their forces (80 percent) in these border areas. The Peruvian military was concerned about Chile's rapid military expansion beginning in the mid-1970s and its efforts at that time to give Bolivia an outlet to the sea through former Peruvian territory, lost in the War of the Pacific (1879-83) with Chile. The FF.AA. were also concerned about Ecuador's unwillingness since the 1960s to accept the Protocol of Rio de Janeiro of 1942 (Rio Protocol), which defined a border between Peru and Ecuador that gave Peru most of the previously disputed Amazon territory. In 1981 Ecuadorian forces, using Paquisha as a base, attempted to secretly regain access to the Amazon through a seventy-eight-kilometer border zone, erroneously demarcated for the 1942 Rio Protocol (see fig. 4). Although the Ecuadorian forces were rebuffed militarily by Peru with loss of life on both sides, border problems with Ecuador have continued to surface from time to time. By mid-1992, however, the proportion of Peruvian forces deployed in the border areas had declined to about two-thirds.

The Peruvian Police Forces (Fuerzas Policiales--FF.PP.) faced new and unexpected challenges in the 1980s, chief among them the insurgencies, the substantial and increasing drug production and trafficking, and the rapid deterioration of public order, with its attendant increase in criminal activity. The political violence claimed 1,464 victims among police and military forces through 1990; most occurred between 1985 and 1990--794 police deaths and 492 military deaths. The excessive force used to quell coordinated SL prisoner riots in El Frontón, Lurigancho, and Santa Bárbara prisons in the Lima area in June 1986, with close to 300 deaths among the inmates, contributed to a crisis of confidence among the police and military services. That crisis was one of the factors in the decision of President Alan García Pérez (1985-90) to combine the EP, navy, and FAP into a single Ministry of Defense; to coordinate the intelligence-gathering efforts of hitherto separate agencies; and to join the various police forces into the National Police (Policía Nacional--PN). Because Peru grew between 60 percent and 70 percent of all the coca leaf used worldwide in the manufacture of cocaine, the United States government provided increasing support to the police forces during the 1980s to assist in the effort to reduce drug production and trafficking. Deteriorating economic conditions during most of the 1980s undoubtedly contributed to the escalation of criminal activity (almost 3 percent of Peru's population was arrested for various crimes between 1985 and 1988).

For Peru's military and police forces, the most serious continuing national security challenge was the domestic insurgency, in which the SL accounted for over 80 percent of the 9,184 terrorist incidents from 1985 through 1990, and the MRTA for most of the rest. The political violence between 1980 and the end of 1990 claimed about 18,000 lives by the most conservative calculation and property damage of US$18 billion, almost half of Peru's 1990 GNP in current dollars. Peru's accelerating economic deterioration between 1988 and 1990 exacerbated the national security problem among the increasingly impoverished population and sharply reduced the resources available to the military and police to deal with this mounting challenge. Although Peru did not appear to be in danger of imminent collapse in late 1992, the country entered the decade in the midst of the worst national security crisis that it had had to face in over 100 years, since the War of the Pacific. The capture of SL founder Abimáel Guzmán Reynoso in September 1992 gave the beleaguered government a major victory, but did not presage the end of the political violence.

Data as of September 1992

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