Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Military Draft in Peru Sparks Controversy

Peru’s military has announced that a military draft in the country will be reinstated in order to meet the needs of its armed forces, but many Peruvians see it as an unfair policy which favors the rich, who can pay a fine to avoid service.

On Friday, Vice-Admiral Jose Ernesto Cueto, head of the military’s Joint Command, announced that the armed forces were short 30,000 recruits. To make up for the loss, he said the military would be implementing a draft in May, in which all 18- to 25-year-old men in Peru would be eligible to be chosen by lottery. El Comercio points out that the legal basis for this lies in an executive order issued in December by President Ollanta Humala, which received almost no publicity at the time.

The decree (.pdf) authorizes the reinstatement of the draft for the first time since 1998, to be used in the event that the number of volunteer recruits “falls below the personnel requirements” of the armed forces. It does not, however, provide a minimum number of necessary recruits, essentially leaving this decision to the military command.

University students and parents are exempt from the draft, and those whose names are selected have the option of paying a fine of 1,850 soles, which is roughly equivalent to $715. Because the fee is prohibitively expensive for most young Peruvians (government statistics put the average monthly income for Lima residents between 14-24 years old at 857 soles, or $331), and only a small, largely elite section of the population attends university, the burden of the draft will fall largely on the country’s poor.

The move has understandably met resistance. Ombudsman Eduardo Vega criticized the draft system for being “discriminatory” to those Peruvians who cannot afford the fine. Human rights activist Wilfredo Ardito expressed similar concerns to La Republica, and also argued that it undermines the push to professionalize the Peruvian armed forces.

In response to such criticism, Vice-Admiral Cueto appeared to modify the announcement somewhat. On Monday he “clarified” that conscripts would not be sent to the Apurimac and Ene River Valley (known in Spanish as the VRAEM), home to the last remaining faction of the Shining Path insurgency. But this was contradicted by Deputy Defense Minister Mario Cesar Sanchez de Bernardi, who said that some draftees would inevitably be deployed to violent areas after six months of training.

News Briefs
  • The Miami Herald reports that Venezuela’s interim president Nicolas Maduro has ordered the arrest of the creators of a website used by thousands of Venezuelans to check currency exchange levels in the unofficial market. Maduro claims that the move is part of an ongoing effort to crack down on currency speculation.
  • El Universal reports that Mexican Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam eliminated an oversight commission yesterday which has evaluated the office’s activities for more than a decade. Karam announced that a new monitoring body would be created in its place, but an editorial by La Jornada is skeptical that it will promote transparency any more than its predecessor did.
  • Mexico’s Animal Politico explains key legislation passed by the Mexican Senate last week, intended to support Mexico’s Victims’ Law. The bill organizes victims into different categories depending on the degree to which they have been impacted by violence, and asserts that victims of disappearances have a “right to be located.”
  • In an interview with El Tiempo, Colombia’s national police director has said that Medellin, the country’s second-largest city, is in “crisis” due to an increase in violent crime.  Earlier this month he was ordered to take direct command of law enforcement in the city.
  • In an illustration of the varied nature of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas’ income, Colombia’s prosecutor general's office said yesterday that in 2012 alone it had seized 56,000 hectares of land (215 square miles) owned by the FARC. To put this into perspective: the island country of Grenada consists of just 132.8 square miles of territory.
  • The government of Rio de Janeiro has “indefinitely closed” a stadium intended for use in the 2016 Olympics due to structural problems. The BBC notes that this raises questions about the city’s ability to adequately prepare itself for both the Olympics as well as the 2014 World Cup.
  • Guatemala’s Plaza Publica has an entire special dedicated to the trial of former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt, which is currently in recess and will resume on April 1. Especially noteworthy is this piece by Jesuit priest and anthropologist Ricardo Falla on the accusations of genocide against Rios Montt, which looks at whether the charges fit under the UN definition of the crime.
  • On Monday, a Chilean court rejected a request to indict former President Michelle Bachelet -- who has returned to the country ahead of November elections -- for allegedly mishandling the government’s response to a tsunami in 2010 which caused 526 deaths.

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