Announcement of an aggressive new coca-eradication campaign in Peru was met with a deadly attack on security forces in the targeted production zone. Authorities said "narco-terrorists" attacked a National Police patrol in the Apurímac-Ene-Mantaro River Valley (VRAEM), leaving two troops dead. The VRAEM, a pocket of jungle on the eastern slopes of the Andes, is said to produce 75% of Peru's coca leaf, but the government has until now resisted US pressure to launch an eradication program there, for fear of enflaming the tense situation in the valley. A surviving remnant of the Shining Path insurgency remains active in the VRAEM, offering cocaleros protection from security forces in exchange for their loyalty.
Agents from Peru's National Superintendency of State Property (SBN), backed up by police troops, carried out an operation in the hills overlooking Lima over the past two weeks, seizing more than 36,000 square meters of land in the Lomas de Primavera green belt. This stretch of public land in the city's outlying Carabayllo district has been heavily subject to illegal appropriation and sale of plots in recent years—known locally as "land-trafficking." The land-traffickers exploit rural migrants seeking to start a life in Peru's capital, illegally "selling" plots they actually have no title to. Local media reports said the traffickers sold plots to some hundred families, but failed to say what provisions were made for the families settled on the plots. (Peru This Week, April 19; La República, April 9)
Some 70,000 are displaced and at least 70 dead as Peru's heaviest rains in two decades have unleashed flash-floods and landslides across the country. The National Civil Defense Institute (INDECI) is stretched to limit, with several communities left isolated by washed-out roads and bridges. The north coast has been hit the hardest, with the worst impacts in Lambayeque region, where some 40,000 are displaced. But the situation is grim both up and down the coast from there. INDECI is coordinating with the Defense Ministry to establish an "air bridge," bringing aid by helicopter to the stricken coastal cities of Ácash region. At least 15 pueblos outside Chimbote are cut off after the bridge over the Río Lacramarca was wiped out by a huayco (mudslide). Residents are also trapped in Huarmey district, and the town's hospital was destroyed. In all, 20 of Peru's 25 administrative regions are impacted.
A trial opened in Peru's Cajamarca region March 6 against 16 community leaders facing charges for their participation in a 2012 protest against the Conga mining project. According an indictment filed by the 2nd Provincial Criminal Prosecutor's Office of Celendín, the defendants—all local social leaders, including five women—may face up to 36 years in prison if convicted. The case stems from the July 2012 violence in the provinces of Celendín and Bambamarca, in which five protesters were killed by National Police troops. Among the accused is Milton Sánchez Cubas, secretary-general of the Inter-Institutional Platform of Celendín, for whom the Inter-American Court on Human Rights had recently issued "precuationary measures" due to threats on his life.
An international arbitration body, having ruled for Peru in a case brought by a US mineral interest under terms of the Free Trade Agreement, is now denying Lima recovery of its legal costs. New York-based Renco Group Inc brought the case before the UN Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) in 2011, charging Lima with violating investment protection provisions of the FTA, formally known as the US-Peru Trade Promotion Agreement. At issue was Lima's demand that Renco's affiliate Doe Run Peru clean up decades of toxic pollution linked to lead and zinc smelting at its facilty in La Oroya, which Renco said forced the subsidiary into bankruptcy. Renco sought $800 million in compensation. UNCITRAL turned down Renco's claim on jurisdictional grounds in July 2016, but subsequently decided to waive its usual "loser pays" principle, forcing Peru to pay half the legal costs in the case, some $3.8 million. UNCITRAL cited Peru's delay in raising its objections to the tribunal's jurisdiction. Renco says it will file the case again "in a manner that cures the technical legal defect that was the basis for the dismissal." Peru's new President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski has pledged to re-open the idled Oroya complex, and says its auction to new owners willing to address its financial and environmental problems will take place in March. (Lexology, Jan. 24; Gestión, Jan. 12; Law360, Nov. 14; Bloomberg, July 18; VOA, July 6)
Peru's prosecutor general Pablo Sánchez announced Feb. 7 that he is seeking the arrest of former president Alejandro Toledo on charges of laundering assets and influence trafficking. Prosecutors opened a formal investigation this week into allegations that Toledo took $20 million in bribes from Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht, with investigators raiding his home in Lima on Feb 4 and carting off boxes full of documents. Sánchez is now asking a judge to approve 10 months of "preventative detention" for Toledo while the case is under investigation. Toledo is currently believed to be in Paris, where he arrived for an OECD conference last week, and Sánchez argues that he poses a flight risk. Toledo is said to have received the money, laundered through offshore accounts, in exchange for giving the firm approval to complete a highway connecting Brazil with the Peruvian coast in 2006.
President-elect Donald Trump is reported to have named the former chief of the Pentagon's Southern Command, Gen. John Kelly, as his choice for secretary of Homeland Security. As SouthCom chief, Kelly oversaw counter-narcotics operations throughout Central and South America and the Caribbean from late 2012 until his retirement in January 2016. He was a notorious hardliner, which resulted in policy clashes with President Obama, the Washington Post tells us. As Homeland Security chief, he will oversee the 20,000-strong Border Patrol, with responsibility for drug interceptions along the 2,000-mile frontier with Mexico.
Peru's newly appointed defense minister, Jorge Nieto Montesinos, announced that he will focus on wiping out remnant Shining Path guerilla rebels who continue to operate in the Apurímac-Ene-Mantaro Valley (VRAEM), the country's main coca-producing region. Nieto, formerly culture minister, was named defense minister in a reshuffling of President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski‘s four-month-old cabinet. The VREAM is considered by the UN to be the world's most prolific coca cultivation zone, accounting for a third of Peru's annual production. It is also the country's last significant guerilla stronghold. The integrated counter-narcotics and counterinsurgency effort in the VREAM was dealt a setback in October, when Lt. Wilmer Delgado, commander of an army outpost in the valley, was arrested on charges of collaborating with traffickers and receiving payments of allowing drug flights to operate in the area. (Peru Reports, Dec. 7; La República, Dec. 5; La República, Oct. 23)