The Peruvian government has reinstated a military draft in order to counter a shortfall of 30,000 personnel, as the country militarizes its fight against drug traffickers and Shining Path guerrillas.
Armed forces commander Admiral Jose Cueto said a lottery system would be used to select men aged between 18 and 25 in May, reported the Associated Press. Parents and university students are exempt, and those selected can avoid service if they pay a $700 fine, sparking fierce criticism that the burden will fall almost entirely on the country's poor.
Cabinet chief Juan Jimenez initially denied that new recruits would be sent as "cannon fodder" to the VRAEM region -- the Apurimac and Ene River Valley, plus the Mantaro Valley -- a stronghold of Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso) guerrillas and Peru's biggest cocaine-producing region, reported RPP Noticias. But Vice-Defense Minister Mario Cesar Sanchez de Bernardi said some of them would have to fight in the zone, following six months of training, reported RPP.
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The draft announcement follows a year in which the Peruvian security forces have come under fire for shortages in equipment and numbers, and their failure to establish control over the VRAEM. A disastrous military operation last April, meant to free 36 gas workers captured by the Shining Path, ended in the death of eight members of the security forces. The ministers of defense and the interior were forced to resign in the ensuing scandal, blamed for sending in troops with poor weapons and communication equipment, and leaving soldiers in rebel territory when a helicopter came under attack.
In October, the government laid out plans to increase military and police budgets by 20 percent and double police numbers.
These measures to boost the security forces are part of the government's strategy to increase the fight against drug trafficking since the country was named the world's number one cocaine producer by the United States. Aside from strengthening the government's ability to fight the Shining Path, the troops could also come in useful as authorities implement a plan to increase coca eradication by 50 percent to a record 22,000 hectares this year. Eradication operations are sometimes met with violent resistance.