Peru Table of Contents

The Military

The military in Peru has traditionally played an influential role in the nation's politics, whether directly or indirectly. Prior to the 1968 revolution, the military was seen as caretaker of the interests of conservative elites, and its involvement in politics usually entailed the repression of "radical" alternatives, particularly APRA. An APRA uprising and brutal military retaliation in Trujillo in 1932 initiated a long period of violence and strained relations between the two. As late as 1962, when General Ricardo Pérez Godoy led a military coup to prevent Haya de la Torre from becoming president, the military was willing to resort to extraconstitutional means to prevent APRA from coming to power.

By 1962, however, it was evident that the military was no longer solely the preserver of elite interests, and that it was increasingly influenced by a new military school of thought, the National Security Doctrine, which posited that development and social reform were integral to national security. The Advanced Military Studies Center (Centro de Altos Estudios Militares-- CAEM) in Lima was a proponent of this philosophy in the 1950s and 1960s. In addition, the Peruvian military's involvement in fighting guerrilla uprisings in the southern Sierra in the mid1960s gave many officers a first exposure to the destitute conditions of the rural poor, and to the potential unrest that those conditions could breed.

Thus, the military's 1968 intervention was far from a typical military coup. Rather, it was a military-led attempt at implementing far-reaching economic and social reforms, such as the Agrarian Reform Law of 1969 and the Industrial Community Law of 1970. The military's lack of understanding of civil society, demonstrated by its authoritarian attempts to control popular participation through a government-sponsored social mobilization agency, the National System for Supporting Social Mobilization (Sistema Nacional de Apoyo a la Mobilización Social--Sinamos), was largely responsible for the failure of its reforms. When the military left power in 1980, it left a legacy of economic mismanagement, incomplete reforms, and a society more radicalized and politicized than when it had taken over.

Yet, the military's revolutionary experiment changed the image of the institution, as well as its own views about the benefits of direct government control. It was, at least for the foreseeable future, immune from direct intervention in politics. It was no longer seen, however, and no longer perceived itself, as a monolithic conservative institution, but rather as the institution that had attempted to do what no political force had been able to do: radically transform the nation's economy and society. Its failure may have strengthened the voice of conservatives within its ranks, but it retained the awareness that social reform and economic development were critical to Peru's social stability and ultimately its national security. And as keeper of national security, it, more than any other force in the nation, was constantly reminded of this by the presence of the SL and other insurgent groups.

The large proportion of the country under state of emergency rule, coupled with the military's desire to fight against the SL unconstrained by civilian control, had understandably created tensions between successive civilian governments and the military. As in the case of several other transitions to democracy in Latin America, the Peruvian military took precautions to protect its institutional viability and to increase its strength vis-à-vis civilian government. From the outset, the Belaúnde government was forced to accept certain conditions set by the military pertaining to budgetary autonomy and states of emergency. Nineteen days before the surrender of power to the Belaúnde administration, the military passed the Mobilization Law, with minimum publicity in order to avoid civilian reaction. The law enabled the military to expropriate or requisition companies, services, labor, and materials from all Peruvians or foreigners in the country at times of national emergency. These times included cases of "internal subversion and internal disasters." In addition, because the Belaúnde government failed to take the SL seriously until it was too late, the government defaulted to the military in the design and implementation of a counterinsurgency strategy.

The García government began with a different approach. García fired three top generals responsible for civilian massacres in the emergency zones, and in a blow to traditional budgetary autonomy, halved an air force order for French Mirage jets. However, García's image suffered a major blow after he personally gave orders for the military to do whatever was necessary to put down a revolt of the SL inmates in Lima's prisons in June 1986, resulting in the massacre of 300 prisoners, most of whom had already surrendered. As the government lost coherence and as economic crisis and political stalemate set in, pressure on the military subsided, and its de facto control over the counterinsurgency campaign increased.

Because the Fujimori government had no organized institutional base, it was in a difficult position vis-à-vis the military. Although the military had no desire to take direct control of the government, it indicated the one scenario that would force it to intervene--if no one were running the state. Even at the height of the APRA government's crisis, when President García was in virtual hiding in the government palace, the military could rely on APRA to run the state. If a similar loss of control by President Fujimori occurred, there would be no such institution with a stake in running the state, a scenario that might force the military to act. Fujimori had clearly made a point of building strong support in one sector of the army and in return seemed to be backing increased independence for the military in the counterinsurgency war.

A good example of the military's independence was the passage of Decree Law 171, which stipulated that military personnel in emergency zones were on active duty full time and therefore could only be tried in military courts, which try only for neglect of duty and not for offenses, such as murder or torture. In addition, the government exacerbated tensions with some sectors of the military in September 1990 by refusing to sign a US$93- million aid agreement with the United States that included US$36 million in military aid. The Fujimori government felt the accord's coca eradication policy did not sufficiently take economic development into account. Some within the armed forces, which in general were desperately short of funds, felt that the government should take what it could get. In May 1991, Fujimori conceded to both United States and Peruvian military pressure and signed the accord.

In short, the situation under Fujimori was one of de facto military control, not just of the emergency zones, but of the areas of government that the military perceived to be its domain. Demonstrative of the military's increasing influence over certain areas of government was the fact that the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Interior were both headed by generals.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress