The administration of Peru's recently-elected President Pedro Pablo Kuzcynski announced soldiers will not be used to combat street crime, a positive step that will nonetheless be undermined without greater investment in police reform.
During an August 11 press conference, Interior Minister Carlos Basombrío said the armed forces must have distinct responsibilities from the police, pushing back against the popular notion that the military should be involved in citizen security, reported El Comercio.
"Being a soldier and being a police officer are two different functions," Basombrío said. "If it were like what the people believe, and I do not share that [opinion], that the soldiers have nothing to do, we would simply have more police."
Basombrío added that the key to improving security lies in strengthening the police force.
President Kuzcynski, who was elected in June and took office in late July, criticized his opponents who supported a more militarized security approach during the hard-fought campaign.
"During the campaign there was talk of putting the army on the streets. How is the Peruvian army going to control the extortion of a shoe maker in [the city of] Trujillo?" he asked. "It is a different type of crime, it is much more complicated. It requires more equipment and sophistication."
Two of Kuzcynski's principal rivals for the presidency, Keiko Fujimori and Alan García, had proposed increasing the military's involvement in fighting crime, according to El Comercio.
InSight Crime Analysis
The comments indicate the Kuzcynski administration wants to clearly demarcate the respective roles of the police and military in providing security to the Peruvian people. This division has become increasingly blurred in countries across Latin America, from Argentina to Mexico to several points in between, since the military is often seen as a better alternative to police forces that are considered to be weak and corrupt. But militarized security strategies have led to concerns about greater human rights abuses by the security forces, and there is little evidence that such approaches result in sustained drops in violent crime.
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The administration's comments ring hollow, however, unless it is serious about its pledge to reform and strengthen the police. Almost 100 Peruvian police officers are currently under investigation for participating in a series of extrajudicial killings between 2011 and 2015. Police have also been accused of stealing illicit drug shipments, and some 200 officers were suspended in 2014 for their alleged links to a major criminal organization.
Without greater investment in police reform, officers will remain prone to violence and corruption. This in turn will put greater pressure on the authorities to do exactly what they said they wouldn't: deploy the military to do the police's job.