Peru’s Reinstatement of Military Draft Triggers Debate

The Peruvian government’s controversial decision to bring back the military draft has stirred up debate over the implications of the law.

The law itself (D.L. 1146) was enacted in December last year, when Congress gave legislative powers to the Executive to revamp the country’s police and military systems, but although there were criticisms on the draft clause at the time they were lost in the larger debate over other aspects in the new legislation package, particularly on reorganization of the police force.

Last week, however, the Ministry of Defense issued a decree to act on the clause that allows the military to call a draft when the number of volunteers entering the services is too low.  Congress has since requested the Defense minister, Pedro Cateriano, to explain the decision.

The strongest criticism of the measure is because, besides the usual exemptions of the handicapped, university students or those financially responsible for their families —if they are not informal workers and can prove their status — the draftees can get out of doing military service by paying a fine of 1,850 soles ($720), which is 50 percent of the current Tax Unit.

Some of the harshest critics are former military officers.

The law is discrimination disguised as patriotism, according to former Defense minister Roberto Chiabra. “When I joined the army it was to serve my country. Here they’re asking for patriotism and a civic conscience from those who don’t have the money,” he said.

That discrimination is, in effect, a return to the old system in which the young in the middle and upper class have always managed to evade the draft either by paying their way out or even paying someone else to serve for them.  In the poorer sections of cities and the provinces, the army would carry out dreaded levees, sweeping up young men off the street or from the countryside to serve for two years in the army.   

Young men and women throughout Peru are required to register with the army, navy or air force when they reach the age of 17, and prior to 2000 were expected to train on several weekends a year as reserves. The draft, however, was eliminated in 2000 at the end of President Fujimori’s administration.

The volunteer service was then instated, but President Ollanta Humala, a former military officer himself, said late last year that the volunteer military service has failed.

The volunteer service was a farce, according to  retired General Gustavo Bobbio. “It was never for everybody.  It was for the poor, for those who speak Quechua, for the peasant, the person who had no influential contacts.  Whenever did anyone rich volunteer? Those who died in the Cenepa [the war with Ecuador in 1995] and those who were mutilated are not from Miraflores. They are people from Comas, Carabayllo, Huanuco, Ayacucho,” Bobbio said.

According to Congressman Daniel Mora, Defense minister in the Toledo administration, the failure of the volunteer service is due to the lack of incentives and real benefits for joining the forces.

A monthly pay of maybe S/.365 ($140), frequently much less, appalling food, and a history of abuse of newly enlisted soldiers makes the volunteer service very unattractive, according to Mora.  And there is no real training to provide the soldier with a technical trade when he or she leaves the military.

Nevertheless, Admiral Jorge Montoya, former head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Armed Forces, believes the draft is important to cover positions in the military. Montoya told daily El Comercio that the military requires about 60,000 youths joining each year, but that they are not reaching that number.   

Since 2009, the army has only been able to recruit some 35 percent of the troops it needs every year to ensure it has trained reserves in the event of a war.  

Montoya estimated that the military will need to draft some 20,000 men and women every year, mainly be for the Army. He said that positions in the Navy and the Air Force are usually covered.

“I think it’s healthy that the government does this when it’s needed and at this moment it is needed,” he said.

In an interview with Ideeleradio, Montoya said that individuals who don’t comply with the obligatory military service should not only be fined, but also thrown in jail. “Those citizens should be sentenced because they are committing a crime,” he said.

Peru’s ombudsman, the Defensor del Pueblo, agrees with critics and said  the decree is illegal and discriminatory.  Like other countries that have used the draft, it would mainly affect lower-income individuals, said Eduardo Vega, the head of the Defensoria.

“From the Defensoria del Pueblo, we want to express our concern because to incorporate the draft as a mechanism for recruitment means dissolving the voluntary military service and drafting those youths who cannot pay the fine,” Vega said.

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  1. Just as when the draft ended in the United States of America, the crime rate and gang activity among young people has soared since 2000 in Peru.

    Young men need an outlet for their energy, and to learn a trade. Running around in the woods or the jungle, shooting at things and blowing things up is a great outlet for this energy, IF PROPERLY IMPLEMENTED. Young people also learn that they are capable of doing ANYTHING, and that NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE.

    Learning a Military Occupation such as vehicle mechanic, electronics technician, etc., provides trained people for the country’s growing infrastructure.

    In short, if implemented FAIRLY, whith persons from ALL backgrounds included, and with it ILLEGAL TO BUY EXEMPTIONS, the Draft will be a GOOD thing for Peru.

  2. If the government could only divert some of the monies lost through corruption, and raise the pay scale of the military personal , then the problem would be solved. The military would have 3 or 4 times the require applications to join the military. By looking at the math on this article, the military monthly payroll for grunts is about 44,000,000 soles. Raise the pay check to 1500 soles per month and have a monthly payroll of 180,000,000 soles (32,200,000 dollars.) That is small change for a fast growing economy like Peru. At 365 soles per month, a farmer’s kid can make more money selling pumpkins on the local streets. With the present day Peruvian military filled with poor farmers’ kids, the military would only last 2 or 3 days if any larger country wanted to invade Peru, for the resources of Peru.

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