What are the Self-Defense Committees, the “parallel police” that regains power in Peru

In Peru, security is not only a matter of the Police.

The Army carries out citizen security tasks in the areas declared in emergency and there are non-police security forces, such as the peasant patrols, which abound in rural Peru, and the Self Defense Committees (CAD).

Emerged in the 1980s as a defense mechanism for the most isolated communities in the country against criminal incursions by far-left armed movements Shining Path and MRTAthe CAD continue to operate in the so-called emergency zone of the Vraem (Valley of the Apurimac, Ene and Mantaro Rivers).

After the defeat of the insurgents, they passed into a secondary role, but the recent approval of a law reinforces them by incorporating them into the citizen security system and giving them facilities to acquire weapons, which generates controversy.

Several experts have warned that the law opens the door to the proliferation of weapons in the country and to potential paramilitarization.

The government of peter castle opposed the law and the defense minister, Walter Gavidiaexpressed his concern, shared, he said, by the military high command: “The Self-Defense Committees are probably paramilitary groups with very dangerous consequences in the future.”

Some peasant patrols have also been against it, and the Ombudsman’s Office, in a communication sent to Congress, described the rule as “unacceptable”, because it means “granting them powers that are proper to the Police and the Armed Forces”.

For Ricardo Valdés, a security expert and former Vice Minister of the Interior of Peru, “a parallel police force is being created and that is extremely dangerous in a country where numerous criminal groups operate.”

Despite criticism, the law passed with little opposition in Congress.

The bill that was approved cites in its explanatory memorandum that the withdrawal of state support and the demobilization of the CAD left the communities furthest from any police or military presence “defenseless against the remnants of terrorists and drug trafficking.”

Some organizations that work in isolated areas of the country with indigenous people who face the threat of drug trafficking and illegal logging and mining, have indicated that the law will favor their self-protection against what they consider inaction by state security forces.

The issue is particularly thorny in a country where polls show growing concern about crime and the government seems unable to find a clear path to combat it.

Castillo recently named his sixth interior minister in the less than 11 months he has been president.

Musuk Nolte / CARE
Committee members in the Vraem say that because of the poor condition of their weapons they have to use their arrows.

Keiko Fujimori, Castillo’s rival in the last elections, has accused the government of having ties to the Shining Path, one of the possible reasons for Fujimori’s support for the controversial Law of the Committees.

Juan Carlos Ruiz, a lawyer for the civil organization IDL, told BBC Mundo that “Fujimorism tends to feed fear and appeal to a strong hand because it knows that the memory of terrorism is a very sensitive issue in Peru.”

BBC Mundo requested comments from the Fuerza Popular (Fujimorismo) and Avanza País benches, two parliamentary forces that promoted the law in Congress, but both declined to respond. Perhaps because of the wave of criticism it has provoked, not even the congressmen who voted in favor have publicly explained the reasons for their support.

How the Self-Defense Committees were born

The new law defines the Committees for Self-Defense and Rural Development (CAD) as “organizations of the population that emerged spontaneously and freely to carry out self-defense activities for their community against infiltration and terrorist attacks, violence generated by illicit drug trafficking and crimes linked to citizen insecurity.

Its function is to “support the National Police of Peru and the Armed Forces in the tasks of pacification and security.”

Its origin dates back to the 1980s, when Peru was experiencing the “years of terrorism” and indigenous communities in isolated places in the Ayacucho region, where there was no state presence, were the object of massacres, rapes and other outrages perpetrated by militants. Senderistas and MRTA (of the MRTA).

The communities were organizing their own defense groups, and the Army began to provide them with weapons with which to face the attacks.

In 1991 the plan was expanded to other regions and finally the then president Alberto Fujimori promoted its institutionalization with a decree that established the entity of the different groups that emerged and regulated their operation, which remained under the supervision of the Joint Command of the Armed Forces.

Two armed men in formation.

Getty Images

The most prominent self-defense was that of the Ashaninka indigenous people, who took up arms to resist the Shining Path’s attempts to reduce them to slavery.

In 1992, the Peruvian Police captured Abimael Guzman and the rest of the dome luminous pathand the organization began a rapid decline after which only minority groups remained in some areas of the Vraem dedicated to providing armed protection to the drug trafficking networks that operate there.

The persistence of these groups has meant that the area remains in a state of emergency, but with the decline of Shining Path, most of the committees were deactivated and the Army began to recover the weapons it had supplied.

According to Irupé Cañari, legal adviser to several Asháninka communities in the Vraem, “with the disappearance of Sendero, the role of the committees has evolved, but they continue to face threats such as drug trafficking groups that enter their territory.”



Américo Viscado, a farmer who is in charge of the 25 committees that operate in the area of ​​the Ene River, in the Vraem, told BBC Mundo that “currently each committee has about seven members between 18 and 40 years old; we are people from the community who work for the community without any support from the State”.

Cañari explains that “when Sendero’s main threat disappeared, many committees felt the abandonment of the Joint Command” and believes that the new law will help correct the problem.

What the law says and why it causes alarm

The law refers in letter and spirit to the years of the fight against the armed insurgency in Peru.

Former Fuerza Popular congresswoman Valeria Valer, who first introduced the bill, is the daughter of Colonel Juan Valer, a member of the Peruvian special forces killed in 1997 during the operation to free the hostages that the MRTA held for more than four months in the Japanese embassy in Lima.

And the deputy Alejandro Muñante, of the conservative Popular Renovation formation, said in his defense of the law in Congress that “it is a way of vindicating the former committees that fought for the country.”

But the lawyer Juan Carlos Ruiz, from the civil organization IDL, suspects that there may be other reasons: “This Congress has shown signs of having become a mere manager of private interests.”

Although the law refers to a regulation that has not yet been drawn up, several points have caused concern.

In the first place, the door is opened so that the State is not the only supplier of weapons to the Committees, which can now also buy them or receive them as a donation.

Former Vice Minister Valdés stresses that “when an attempt was made to recover the weapons that had been delivered to the committees that had fought against Sendero, only between 30 and 40% were delivered,” and that now the situation may worsen.

Ruiz indicates that “giving weapons to civilians without prior preparation is very dangerous” and warns that criminal groups may find it attractive to arm the committees in exchange for their loyalty.

Peasants from a Self-Defense Committee, trained in their community.

Today there are only Self-Defense Committees left in the VRAEM area, but the law allows them to spread throughout the country.

Ruiz recalls that in Peru there have already been deadly clashes between groups dedicated to mining and he fears that his country will end up being the victim of paramilitarism similar to the one that has hit Colombia for decades.

One of the most recent and bloody was the one that left 14 dead in June in the province of Caravelí, in the south of the country.

The law also makes it possible to establish Self-Defense Committees also outside the Vraem emergency zone.

Valdés sees this as especially worrying because “any district mayor is going to be able to have an armed force at his service,” which would aggravate the risk of confrontations over resources such as water or minerals, especially at a time when conflicts have intensified. social in the country.

In addition, the supervision of the Committees outside the Vraem emergency zone now passes from the Joint Command of the Armed Forces to the stations of the National Police of Peru, but Valdés points out that “there will not be enough surveillance because in Peru there are some 1,400 police stations. and almost 95,000 population centers”.

Indeed, in the Ene area, which is part of the Vraem, there are communities separated by more than four hours of river navigation from the nearest police or military post.

But for Viscado, commander of the committees that operate in the Ene River area, this is precisely an argument in favor of the law and the need to strengthen the committees, at least in this region of Peru.

Arrested against the wall next to a soldier.

Experts warn that abuses like those committed in the Shining Path years can occur.

“In the community of Upa we recently captured some people with 500 kilos of cocaine, but nobody came to take care of them when we asked the Police and the Army for support, so in the end we had to release them.”

According to him, this causes great concern in his Asháninka community, where many families fear that the young people will end up joining the ranks of the armed groups dedicated to drug trafficking. He denounces that the police and military refuse to respond to his calls due to the isolation of the environment in which they live and the fear of being ambushed.

“Our weapons are from the 1980s or 1990s and we are facing groups with more modern weapons. We don’t have boots, communication equipment, or vehicles,” complains Viscado.

“Coca crops are advancing in our territory and we can only defend ourselves with our artisan dates. because the other weapons are in poor condition.”

He, who says that he suffered threats from drug traffickers after his committees signed an agreement with Devida, the Peruvian anti-drug agency, thinks that the law will be “magnificent” because now they will feel “much more supported.”

According to Juan Carlos Ruiz, however, it is far from being a solution: “The State washes its hands and lets everyone take care of their own security.”

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