Borders are not Barriers
Interview with Admiral José Cueto Aservi, Chief of the Joint Command of the Armed Forces of Peru
In an exclusive interview with Diálogo, during the IV South American Defense Conference (SOUTHDEC 2012), held in Bogotá, Colombia, from July 24 – 26, Admiral José Cueto, Chief of the Joint Command of the Peruvian Armed Forces, discussed issues of national security and the need to create a regional body to fight drug trafficking, among other topics.
Diálogo: What is the main challenge that Peru is presently facing, as it relates to national security?
Admiral José Cueto: We support public safety during events, such as social or pro environmental movements that unfold every day in more complex ways around the countrydue. More directly, our Armed Forces are bound to providing a solution to a targeted area called the Valley of the Apurimac, Ene and Mantaro river valley (VRAEM), in the center of the country, where some remnants of terrorists groups remain, and who have been associated with drug traffickers. If you take into account the difficult geography of the area, our operations there have great magnitude and complexitynot only of the military but all levels of the state.
Diálogo: But is there an exception in the constitution, like in other countries, such as Brazil and El Salvador, that allows the Armed Forces to assist the police in certain cases, if the president requires it?
Adm. Cueto: Yes, our constitution provides that only with the authorization and request of the president, will the Armed Forces act in support of the police. Or if it totally exceeds or surpasses the Police Force, which for example is happening in the VRAEM, where the Armed Forces are already taking complete control and the police are coming to support them, which in this case, are handled by the Joint Command of the Armed Forces.
Diálogo: You said in your presentation that you believed it is important to have a regional body to combat drug trafficking. Can you relate to this issue?
Adm. Cueto: I have tried to make it understood, that in the same way as those involved in drug trafficking and transnational organized crime recognize no boundaries, we should have one single body that could be integrated with the goal to establish policies, and thereby have real mechanisms of action against this organized struggle. It is not just, for example, in the case of Peru, where we are fighting against drug trafficking, illegal logging, and illegal mining, which is devastating the environment, but these crimes, have no borders, and they should be dealt with by the entities comprised of all the involved countries, working side by side, without looking at “borders”, and always respecting the sovereignty of every nation. But this has to be well articulated, so that borders are not a barrier to combat these transnational crimes, terrorism, drug trafficking, illegal mining, illegal logging and others which now are in collusion, not only here but also in Colombia and Bolivia, etc. Now, this not only requires that the military establishments think alike, but also that the political classes basically think alike, I know it’s hard, but at some point it has to happen.
Diálogo: Would it be something like the Joint Interagency Task Force – South (JIATF-S)?
Adm. Cueto: I mentioned to General Fraser [Douglas Fraser, Commander of the U.S. Southern Command] that it would be a type of JIATF-S, which could take the lead, or any other interrelating mechanism, such as the ones we are now managing in South America, through UNASUR, CARSI, CARICOM. Let there be a convergence of views in a possible meeting, where the only common theme is the fight against organized crime. I don’t think this is difficult, and no one in their right mind would object to that, but this then allows an operational level to create a great information reception center in an automated, digital form, allowing different organizations to activate, whether local, a particular country, or transnational, against such scourge. I see no other way, but we will still carry on with what we have, each country will try to do things in its own way. I’ve been impressed with the pictures presented by General Fraser on the amount of illegal movements. Sure, there are results, but they are few, because if there was a movement of 120,000 tons of drugs and only 20,000 tons have been caught, we still have a lot of work to do.
Diálogo: The Peruvian Armed Forces conducted amazing humanitarian work in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. Can you talk a little about this humanitarian “gift” that Peru has?
Adm. Cueto: It’s not only Peru that is doing it, we are doing it reciprocally. We also have had natural disasters. We are part of the Pacific chain where earthquakes visit us from time to time, and we’ve had disasters where we’ve received help from other countries. Similarly, within the limitations of a country like Peru, which is still in development, it provides help when it is feasible, and not just to countries that are in South America. We may provide aid by air or, as in the case of Haiti, even send some ships that can carry this type of humanitarian aid. Peru has always responded.
Diálogo: Why not also create a regional organism for this type of assistance, to prevent the disorganization of the early days?
Adm. Cueto: When there is a natural disaster, the first days are very hectic, although there are mechanisms to support multinational natural disasters. The chaos in the early days starts with communication problems. The first thing to do is agree to have a single system of communication, so the communication is not lost. If there is no communication, then yes, there is a disaster! We were there in the flesh during the last earthquake, the communication systems went away and it was difficult to re-establish a network that would allow us to manage the media to support the disaster area.