Sunday, November 29, 2009

PERU: General security situation, considerations from my Risk Security Assessment

I visited Peru in February and March 2007 while conducting a Risk Security Assessment mission. The materials used to prepare this blog post have been updated and carefully reviewed in order to provide an idea about the actual security context in Peru.

Peru is suffering from an increase in crime from simple muggings through to violent kidnapping; mostly confined to urban areas and within the poorer districts during the day but widespread after dark. The current government is slowly becoming increasingly popular, despite of the economic situation declining and local crime rising. Regarding the terrorism groups who used to frighten Peru, Shining Path and Tupac Amaru, both have been almost successfully fought in the Eighties and right now some old militants are trying to reorganize themselves. Those trends are channeling themselves towards the big drug traffic ants as the military-like expertise they can offer is very useful to protect illegal cocaine laboratories and the transportation of the final product. It has to be borne in mind that Peru is the second largest coca producer in South America, after Colombia. Urban driving conditions are appalling and at present they are assessed of being probably the greatest threat to staff in Peru. One of the most common security challenges to personal security is related to the use of taxis. There are almost no road regulations and police is literally not “visible” on the streets. Often illegal taxi drivers put on their car a Taxi sign. It has been reported that a massive quantity of false circulation documents as well as driving permits are fake and easy to obtain, since there is a flourishing market for false documents in Lima.
Furthermore, driving schools often “sell” driving license without performing any practical exams or oral/written tests.
Kidnapping can be considered a high risk factor in Peru, above all for foreigners travelling in Peru.
Often the victim is forced to withdraw money from ATM machines, usually before and after midnight so that the cash amount is double as it refers to two days. The phenomenon is popularly called Millionaire Walking (Paseo Milionario). It is recommended to use secure taxi company before arriving in country. Local staff is required to attend to a specialized security awareness training in addition to the basic security training. This is primarily due to deal with the threat of kidnapping and being involved in a car accident in very remote areas with no communication and close medical facilities.

President Alan Garcia is at his second mandate as president of Peru. People are slowly but steadily increasing their support of his administration since he is giving clear signs that he wants to do something concrete to help the poor conditions of his country. For example, he is the author of a law which will ask the major mine companies to pay a “volunteer contribute” (several million of dollars) to organizations involved in fighting hunger in Peru since the State program organizations waist up to 40% of the available resources. If those political actions will help Peru to improve or if this will be a barely cosmetic political move it is not clear.
There are still concerns over renewed insurgency activity from the Shining Path (SL) guerrilla group having them join the drug traffickers with their support in security.
Peru is the second largest producer of cocaine in South America after Colombia. Here coca plantations are not illegal, but coca farmers must accept to sell part of the production to a State owned company. The quantity to be sold is minimal so that the great majority of it is then illegally purchased by drug dealers. The system does not help the fight against drug smugglers as the cultivations are not illegal and it is very difficult to define the line between legality and illegality.
The areas of biggest concern are, however, the common criminality and road accidents. Common criminality is widespread in the country with a peak level in the periphery of Lima. Law enforcement agents are not visible, and according to the official data, are not doing enough to fight this phenomenon. The second area of concern is related to car traffic and accidents. As said, there is a high risk of becoming a victim of a car accident, since there is little order and respect of road regulations. In Peru public transportation managed by government or local authorities does not exist, but it has been left to private companies and individuals. There is little control on authorizations and documents so that virtually anybody who owns a car or a minibus can be a taxi or public bus driver. Furthermore, a long time passes between vehicle technical inspections increasing the risk of mechanical breakdowns and incidents due to the lack of maintenance. The parliament has recently approved a law which forbids the importation of used cars older than five years. The high taxes to buy a new vehicle (50% of the price) have created a stagnant situation which do not facilitate the replacement of older models.

Author posing with a local community involved in an agriculture based project in the Handahuaylas area.

Peru has a working relationship with Brazil, although this has been strained by US aid packages to Lima. However, Peru is a member of MERCOSOR trade region, which is dominated by Brazil, bringing the countries closer together. Bolivia is a close partner, largely due to mutual concerns over Chile. Whilst Peru and Chile have been historic rivals, the current relationship is reasonably amicable, although the dispute over maritime borders is still alive. The two countries are working together on border security and anti-terrorist operations. Border disputes with Ecuador remain a source of tension, although outright combat seems unlikely.
The once special relationship with Japan has been strained, following the flight of Garcia predecessor, Alberto Fujimori, to Japan in 2000 and the associated international pressure on Japan to extradite him for murder. Fujimori undergone a trial, has been accused of several imputations and is now in prison. His daughter Keiko, actual Peruvian politician, is planning to run for President of Peru in 2011. How this element could change the feeling of the Peruvians about a possible return of the former President remains to be seen.
Peru’s relationship with the US has had a rocky past but is now close, particularly with large US funding for narcotics and security operations. However, many in Peru are critical of the US for failing to address fundamental trade and social problems within the country through their funding packages. There appears to be some credible information that international terrorists are present in the country but it is not known to which organization they belong; their activities seem to be linked with drugs, financing and false documentation.
The wave of internal terrorism, which Peru suffered in the 1980s and 1990s, has largely passed, but it has not completely disappeared. Remnants of the Shining Path (SP) movement (estimated at around 300 fighters and an unknown number of political activists) are still active in the Apurimac, Ene and Lower Huallaga Valleys. SP was responsible for the US embassy bombing in 2002. A group of terrorists also abducted gas pipeline workers near Toccate in the Ayacucho Department on 9th June 2003. In addition, the Garcia government, despite of his increasing popularity, remains disliked on basic reforms, which gives the potential for protests and strikes if the economic and social situation worsens. There have been recent protests by coca farmers over crop eradication by US-funded anti-narcotics operations and there are signs that the farmers are becoming increasingly militant in their opposition to the government’s support for US actions. In fact the project of restructuring coca plantations with other cultivations has given low results in terms of production and prices. The United Nations are also seen as a threat by the coca farmers and the SP who have an interest in coca production being the major security provider.
Off road trip on the Andean Mountains to Huancavelica.


andy said...

thank you for the service you have provided in writing this report. it means more to me than i am allowed to say. smiles.

Risk Security Assessment Consulting said...

Andy, thanks! Let's keep in touch on Twitter rocsecurity and FB Generoso Roca, Cheers