U.S. Hands Off Peru!

Revolutionary Worker #895, February 23, 1997

Last year there was widespread exposure about how the U.S. government and its agents were responsible for bringing tons of cocaine into L.A. during the 1980s, helping to fuel the so-called "crack epidemic." Now, this same government claims to be intensifying its efforts to "stop cocaine at its source"--by stepping up military aid to the government of Peru.

In early February, during Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori's visit to Washington, D.C., U.S. officials announced a major new military program to send tens of millions of dollars in additional U.S. funds and equipment, as well as more U.S. troops, to Peru. This expanded U.S. military role in Peru is being promoted in the name of the "war on drugs." The U.S. government claims the aid will help the Fujimori regime fight the drug traffic in Peru, where much of the coca leaf--the raw material for cocaine--is grown.

People in the ghettos and barrios of the U.S. know first hand what the "war on drugs" has meant for them. This "war" has not stopped drugs--instead, the government and the police have used the "war on drugs" as justification to brutalize the people and criminalize a whole generation of youth.

And the U.S. "war on drugs" in Peru is not going to "stop cocaine at its source." In fact, the recipients of U.S. military aid-- the government and military of Peru--are known to be neck deep in the drug trade themselves. For example, it was recently revealed that a top drug kingpin had paid protection money to Vladimiro Montesinos, Fujimori's right-hand man and the head of Peru's intelligence services.

Since the mid-1980s, the U.S. has carried out "low-intensity warfare" in Peru in the name of "fighting drugs." The real target of the U.S. military intervention in Peru is the Maoist people's war, led by the Communist Party of Peru (PCP, usually called the Shining Path or Sendero Luminoso in the media).

High-Tech Counterrevolution

The U.S. already sends 175 military "trainers" to Peru each year and has built counter-insurgency bases in several parts of the country. The Peruvian government is provided with classified photos of Peru's remote countryside taken by U.S. spy satellites. Detailed maps based on these satellite photos are used by the Peruvian Armed Forces in operations against the PCP guerrilla fighters. The Fujimori regime also receives information gathered by U.S. Awacs radar planes and radar stations in the Andes mountains.

The details of the new military aid program are not yet clear. But according to reports in the media, the program is apparently aimed at stepping up counter-insurgency operations in the Huallaga river valley in northeastern Peru and on other rivers that flow from the Andes into the Amazon River in the jungle regions of Peru.

The New York Times (Feb. 3) wrote that the new U.S. "anti-drug" program in Peru could "eventually bring a significant expansion of U.S. military involvement." According to the Times: "The Defense Department's preliminary plans include regular visits to the Peruvian jungle by scores of Navy Seal and Green Beret trainers. They also call for supplying Peru with more than 100 patrol boats outfitted with M-60 machine guns, VHF radios, and satellite-linked tracking and communications gear."

The Times also noted: "United States personnel would operate a dozen or more low-flying propeller planes to guide Peruvian National Police and Navy forces plying the muddy waters below. United States Customs Service, Drug Enforcement Administration and Coast Guard personnel would join in the effort, officials said."

The Huallaga river region and other river valleys are among the areas in Peru where the Maoist people's war is being waged. A U.S. State Department official quoted by the Times gave a hint of the real target of the military operations: "There are no apparent choke points on the rivers, and you still have to deal with the insurgency at night. What you are talking about is imposing control over areas that the central government has never controlled."

Drug Traffickers in the Peruvian Government and Military

The announcement of this new military aid program follows a series of exposures in the last two years which have shown--once again--how deeply the U.S.-backed government and military in Peru are hooked up with drugs. Here are some of those incidents:

<195>In 1995, Army Captain Gilmar Vadivieso Rejas told the Peruvian Congress that the former army commander of the Huallaga region, General Eduardo Bellido, provided cover for drug traffickers. He also revealed that in 1992 a lieutenant colonel had government engineers build a secret landing strip, presumably for drug flights, and that Peruvian army helicopters were sometimes used to transport drugs.

  • In January 1995, General Jaime Araico, commander of the Huallaga region in 1991-92, was found guilty of allowing cocaine to be transported to Colombia from Peruvian airstrips under his control.
  • A report from the Andean Commission of Jurists said: "The Jan. 12, 1995 discovery of the largest shipment of cocaine in Peruvian history uncovered the possibility of connections between the traffickers and corrupt elements within several government institutions." A diary belonging to one of the arrested traffickers detailed meetings with top Peruvian military and police officials. Other evidence linked the traffickers to the Vice Minister of Interior and the brother of General Nicolas Hermoza Ríos, the Armed Forces commander-in-chief.
  • In December 1995, Fujimori said that he was putting the police in charge of "anti-drug" operations because of corruption in the military. But then the head of the police, General Victor Alva Plascencia, was himself publicly accused of running a racket with properties seized in cocaine arrests. He was replaced by another general, Antonio Ketin Vidal, who has also been linked to the drug trade.
  • May 10, 1996: 160 kilos of cocaine were found in Fujimori's personal plane. Piloting the plane was Air Commander Alfredo Ichikawa, Fujimori's military attaché.
  • July 3, 1996: 120 kilos of cocaine were seized from the Peruvian Navy ship Matarani while it was docked in Vancouver, Canada.
  • July 11, 1996: 62 kilos of cocaine were discovered on the Peruvian Navy warship Ilo.
  • Montesinos and the Drug Connection

    Then came the uproar around Vladimiro Montesinos, Fujimori's top aide, the head of the National Intelligence Service (SIN), and a man with a connection to the CIA dating back to the 1970s. He was also a lawyer for top drug traffickers in the 1970s.

    The charges against Montesinos came from Demetrio Chavez Peñaherrera ("el Vaticano"), reputed to be the top kingpin of the drug trade in the Huallaga. El Vaticano had been arrested in 1994, but he was charged with "treason," not drug trafficking, so that his trial could be held in a secret military court and any damning information kept from the public.

    In August of last year, El Vaticano sent the media evidence backing up his claim that he had operated his business with the backing of the Armed Forces, and that he had paid Montesinos $50,000 a month in 1991-92 in exchange for information about drug raids. In fact, El Vaticano operated an airstrip for drug flights right near one of the U.S.-Peruvian "anti-drug" bases in the jungle. El Vaticano "retracted" his allegation a short while later, in a public appearance where he showed clear signs of having been tortured.

    The Peruvian government moved to squash any investigation into the serious charges against Montesinos. The Attorney General said that the Public Ministry would not look into the allegations, and the Peruvian Congress followed the same line.

    Then came strong support from the Peruvian regime's most powerful backer--the U.S. In September, a State Department spokesman stated that the U.S. government believes "no senior official" in Peru is involved in drug trafficking.

    And in October Gen. Barry McCaffrey--the Clinton administration's "drug czar"--went to Lima to meet with Montesinos and other top officials of the Fujimori regime. News photographers caught Montesinos, who almost never shows his face in public, attending the meeting. The pictures were splashed widely over the Peruvian press, sending a public message of the U.S. stamp of approval for Fujimori and Montesinos. A day after the meeting, McCaffrey issued a public statement that the U.S. has "confidence in the Fujimori government" and declaring that there is no drug corruption among top Peruvian officials.

    The Real Target of the U.S.-Backed Counterinsurgency

    There are at times armed conflicts that flare up between the Peruvian government and the "private" drug lords. A number of small aircraft carrying drugs from Peru to Colombia and Brazil have been shot down by Peruvian Armed Forces in the last couple of years. But these conflicts can be compared to fights over "territory" between competing Mafia families. (There have also been shoot-outs between the government army and police in Peru over drugs.) And both the government and "private" drug dealers share a common enemy--the Communist Party of Peru and the people's war.

    The Peruvian government's and the military's links to drugs are not just a matter of corrupt officials. These links are based on the key role that the drug trade plays in Peru's economy. Coca leaf production in Peru equals about 40 percent of the country's legal exports. In recent years, coca's share in Peru's economy has dropped somewhat because of a rush of imperialist investments to buy up industries that are being sold on the cheap by the Fujimori regime. But according to Latin America Weekly Report, overseas drug profits coming into Peruvian banks still amount to $1 billion a year--without including the profits in Peru itself. (Banking laws in Peru are set up so that drug profits could be exchanged for local currency without any questions asked.)

    The U.S. praises Fujimori for "turning Peru's economy around" from the deep crisis of the 1980s. But without the continuing flow of drug money, this junkie economy could not survive.

    It is the PCP and the people's war it is leading that offer the only real solution to the drug problem in Peru. The PCP recognizes that the imperialist-dominated economy and the semifeudal conditions in the countryside have forced many peasants into coca farming in order to survive (see sidebar). And the Peruvian revolutionaries see that the solution to this problem can only come through the New Democratic Revolution, which aims to overthrow the reactionary system in Peru and defeat the imperialists.

    In the revolutionary base areas in the countryside, there have already been glimpses of the future when the drug problem will be completely eliminated with the countrywide seizure of power. Journalists visiting a base area in the Huallaga in 1991 reported that peasants were being encouraged to grow different crops and make other changes in the economy in order to reduce the dependence on coca farming. Even the bourgeois Peruvian magazine Si had to admit: "Sendero has accomplished in a few years what the government has not done for many decades: changing the cultivation habits among peasants, as a beginning to doing away with drug trafficking."


    The Maoist revolution led by the PCP presents a fundamental challenge to the reactionary rulers in Peru and their imperialist backers. These are our people, our sisters and brothers, who are fighting to end the rule of the big-time exploiters and oppressors.

    After repeated exposures about the Peruvian government and military's role in the drug trade, the U.S. government has now decided on a significant increase in the military aid to the Fujimori regime.

    Anyone who believes that sending military aid to the Peruvian regime will help stop the drug problem is being played for a fool. And when the U.S. government claims to be fighting a "war on drugs" in Peru, they are lying through their teeth.

    This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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