Peru Balks at US Military-Aid Offer

Article excerpt

A PLAN to send United States military advisers and weapons to bolster the Peruvian Army against cocaine traffickers and their Maoist guerrilla protectors has drawn sharp criticism from human rights activists and political leaders here.

Under the plan, the Peruvian Defense Ministry would get $35 million in US military aid this year, and the same amount in 1991. The aid would train and equip six Peruvian Army and Marine battalions in counterinsurgency tactics in Peru's Upper Huallaga Valley.

But the politically sensitive plan, set to be signed last week, was dealt a setback when Peruvian President Alan Garcia Perez suddenly announced April 25 that he would not endorse it.

"The war on drugs cannot be waged with military force alone," President Garcia said. "I will not sign any agreement if it does not include economic aid" for crop substitution and debt relief.

Garcia, however, leaves office July 28. A runoff presidential election is scheduled for early June between Alberto Fujimori and Mario Vargas Llosa. Both candidates have said they would accept US military advisers in Peru, though neither has specifically endorsed the aid plan.

Other Peruvian politicians say the presence of US special forces will infringe on their national sovereignty. "What we need in this country are greenbacks, not Green Berets," says Congressman Hector Vargas Haya, a member of Peru's American Popular Revolutionary Alliance (APRA).

At the heart of the problem is the Huallaga valley, which produces half of the world's coca leaves. The valley is a hotbed of violence by guerrilla groups, drug traffickers, paramilitary groups, and government forces.

In addition to the Maoist Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) guerrillas, a second Marxist guerrilla group, the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, also operates there. So does the Comando Rodrigo Franco, a right-wing death squad with alleged ties to the APRA.

Rights activists charge that given the valley's level of violence, a military aid pact would violate US foreign aid laws. "United States law says no arms can be sent to countries which systematically violate human rights," says Rudolf Wedel, a spokesman for the Lima-based Association for Human Rights. "Even the US State Department has shown documented proof that this is the case in Peru."

The State Department released its own report on Peruvian human rights in February. That report attributed more than 500 forced disappearances to government security forces in 1989, making Peru the nation with the most disappearances worldwide, a position it has occupied since 1987. The United Nations reported that 404 people disappeared in Peru last year.

Officials say 17,000 people have been killed since the Shining Path began its insurgency a decade ago. The US State Department report attributes assassinations, massacres, and terrorist attacks to the Shining Path guerrillas, but also blames Peruvian military and police forces. …

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