Counterinsurgency War: US Bioresearch Labs, Bases and Troops in Peru
Stella Calloni, Orinoco Tribune, January 6, 2023 — Peru has been experiencing a dramatic crisis since December 7, 2022. This crisis was caused by the illegal dismissal of President Pedro Castillo, imposed by the parliament under the control of the Peruvian ultra-right wing, which ordered his arrest the day of the president’s message to the nation. He was condemned to 18 months in prison a week later by the Permanent Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court, which provoked a popular uprising in several regions, repressed by the police from the first moments and later by the army when the coup perpetrators imposed a state of emergency and other dictatorial measures.
The government of Dina Boluarte and the parliament are responsible for the massacres that have taken place, and the repression that continues. Boluarte, Castillo’s vice-president, had been “co-opted,” betraying those who voted for her. Imposed by the ultra-right as president, she thought that she could win over some of the sectors that supported the detained president. She did not succeed, and militarization continues to spread over the regions where the population survives under the terror of a military occupation by Peruvian special forces and US troops which have been in Peru for years and occupy a very large area of the country’s territory.
The silence on this presence became open complicity, in addition to ignoring that this parliamentary, media, judicial and political coup of the right wing under Washington’s control is part of the geostrategic project of recolonization of Latin America, publicly admitted by the US leadership. How long will the complicit silence last?
In reality the coup was being prepared since before Castillo took office on July 28, 2021, and since then the pro-US right wing obstructed every measure of that government. The government’s own weakness is not a valid argument if one considers what was taking place since the years of the dictator Alberto Fujimori (July 1990 – November 2000) who, in 1992, dissolved the Congress, intervened in the judiciary, took control of all the media, and gave free hand to unlimited repression and death squads. In 1993 he imposed a constitution similar to that left by dictator Augusto Pinochet in Chile.
Fujimori is now serving a 25 year sentence in prison for the scandalous corruption that continues to burden the country, and for crimes against humanity committed during his government. We still do not have all the necessary data that would reveal the number of massacres in peasant areas, in addition to the murders and disappearances committed in those years.
Uruguayan journalist Carlos Fazio, who lives in Mexico, states in an article published in La Jornada that “the main operator of the coup plot in the parliament was its current president, retired General José Williams Zapata, former head of the Joint Command of the Armed Forces of Peru and representative of the conservative group Avanza País, who during the second round of the 2021 elections supported the ultra-right Keiko Fujimori, against her opponent Pedro Castillo, who was elected.“
In 2006 Williams Zapata was the head of the Joint Command of the Armed Forces of Peru, and was accused of serious corruption. In 2021, he was also accused of cover-up in the massacre of Accomarca (1985), where 69 members of a peasant community were killed. He has a dreadful background, as noted by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) of the United States, during the time he was head of the Northern Military Region of Piura (from 2004 to 2005) and has been linked to some of the most infamous drug cartels in Mexico.
A character like Williams Zapata is undoubtedly someone who can be given the carpetazos when they are under Pentagon control. This is the main reason why the general, now a two-time parliamentarian, “was one of the main coordinators of the coup plan from Congress against Castillo, coordinating with the Peruvian military high command and the US ambassador in Lima, Lisa Kenna, a former agent of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA),“ who “relied on the military attaché of the US diplomatic mission in Peru, Mariano Alvarado, an operations officer of the Pentagon’s Military Advisory and Assistance Group (MAAG), who maintains close contact with the Peruvian generals.“
It is incredible that it was argued that Castillo was going to establish a government of emergency and exception, which according to the “democratic” parliamentarians “would alter the constitutional order and public peace,” and that “the deposed president could flee due to his attempt to take refuge in the Mexican embassy in Lima.”
Precisely the first thing Boluarte ordered, by orders of the central command, was to install the State of Exception and other dictatorial measures on December 15, in order to allow the “experts” combating “subversion and terrorism” a free rein in the country.
This aggravated the people’s rebellion that had arisen in several regions of the country demanding the immediate freedom of the former president, the dissolution of the parliament, and the call for a Constituent Assembly, given that the people had endured six presidents in six years.
To all this is added the existence of a number of US military bases and establishments, and the presence of US troops in strategic places. Nobody talks about this, as if a growing foreign military occupation of a nation were not a factor of utmost importance.
According to sources linked to the hierarchies of transnational corporations in Lima, the coup plot had been hatched since last September as part of a sophisticated intelligence operation.
Since Congress did not have the necessary votes to remove President Castillo from office, they tricked him into believing “that he had the support of the armed forces and the police and induced him to dissolve the Parliament (so that he would deliberately break the constitutional order). For that purpose they forged polls (which they only showed him) and made him believe that he had more than 40% of popular support and the Congress only 8%, so that it would be very easy to dissolve parliament and he would be praised by the people,” writes Fazio.
“In addition to the army and the police, the plan involved the attorney general’s office, the comptroller’s office, ministers, congressmen and Vice President Boluarte,” according to Fazio. “After the president read his message to the nation dissolving Congress and installing a ‘government of exception,’ several ministers resigned in series. Castillo then sought the support of the armed forces through his military aides-de-camp and got no response. Then he realized that he had been set up, but it was too late. State security even held him in the palace while they waited for the congressional vote to strip him of his immunity. He was then told that a supposed plan B had been agreed upon: to seek asylum in the Mexican embassy. By then, one of the plotters had arranged for Castillo’s diplomatic asylum in the Mexican mission. But moments after Congress declared the presidential vacancy, accusing him of alleged rebellion, Castillo was arrested by a SWAT commando of the national police. He was taken to the Comptroller’s Office and the Attorney General immediately appeared, while Boluarte was waiting at home to be called to assume as President of the Republic.”
“The only one who was not involved in the coup plot was the general commander of the army, Walter Córdova, who, according to the newspaper La República, on December 5 had been pressured by the head of Parliament, José Williams, to leave his post because there were ‘serious accusations’ against him that affected the ‘institutionality’ of the army,“ a typical extortion.
Also, on the eve of the coup, US Ambassador Lisa Kenna met with Defense Minister Gustavo Bobbio, who, like Córdova, resigned on December 7. According to La República, the last phone call Castillo took before leaving the presidential palace came from the US embassy. The US Secretary of State Antony Blinken had blessed the coup and recognized Boluarte as president.
The United States was also behind the appointment of the new head of the Peruvian National Intelligence Directorate, retired Colonel Juan Carlos Liendo O’Connor, former liaison officer in the Pentagon’s Southern Command, closely linked to the dictatorship of Alberto Fujimori and his alter ego, Vladimiro Montesinos, both imprisoned for crimes against humanity. Liendo guarantees the ongoing repression and militarization in Peru, emphasizes Fazio.
The impressive rebellion of the Peruvian people, which sociologist and professor Héctor Béjar, a highly respected man in all of Peru, who had been appointed as foreign minister in the first days of Castillo’s government but quickly dismissed due to the pressure of the parliament, considers “an authentic rebellion of the Peruvian people,” has been joined by students from several universities in the country.
The Peruvian army, trained for years by the United States, is acting to “eliminate subversion, [supposedly] fight drug trafficking and terrorism,” to which “communism” has been added. High-ranking officials declared to the media that they are “working intensely” to combat terrorism, which according to them is behind these popular demonstrations of peasants, workers, trade unionists, communities, miners and others.
The most serious thing is that the statements to the media, that are also under US control, are aimed at terrorizing the Peruvian people, with the supposed fight “against the remnants of terrorism.” The people already know what this means, they have memories of what they have lived through, and they continue to mourn the dead and disappeared, throughout the last few years. But there are sectors of the population that are still terrified by what the disinformation media write.
Peruvians are preparing to suffer a fierce political persecution by the armed forces and police forces that have declared the “anti-terrorist war” with the support of the “parliament” of justice and the media, local and foreign.
The VAREM is a zone of valleys of Apurimac, Ene and Mantaro rivers, a strategic place for military exercises and a military base zone. The existence of the US Navy laboratory, called NAMRU-6, with facilities in Lima and Iquitos, has also been condemned for supposedly researching infectious diseases. This has been decried by numerous social organizations. Peruvian Congressman Richard Arce submitted a questionnaire to the US Ministry of Defense about this, but no one answered.
Peruvian analyst Ricardo Soberón states that there is a series of doubts regarding the operations and activities of the laboratory NAMRU 6 established by the United States Navy in Peru in 1983 (Bioweapons Production in Iquitos Research Laboratory).
Soberón warns that 21st century war technology “is accompanied by the development of pathological agents, endemic agents and chemical and biological agents that are used for military purposes. We have seen this in various recent scenarios.” Taking this concern into account, “it is striking that a tropical medicine facility has been built that works with biosafety level 3, which is recognized in the use of pathogenic agents.”
“Congressman Richard Arce prepared a questionnaire for the Ministry of Defense during his 2018-2019 legislature, as a member of the Defense and Internal Order Committee, through Dispatch No. 0504/2018/2019-ADP-R/CR of May 3, 2019,” he adds. “It was a questionnaire of 10 questions on NAMRU 6, made to the Minister of Defense at the time, Gen. José Huerta Torres, which were half-answered… eight months later. Among the most important questions, the following stand out: What is the cost for the State to be part of NAMRU 6? What security measures are taken to neutralize the biological risks that can endanger human health in our territory (biological contamination, leakage of microorganisms, viruses, bacteria, toxins)? Are there experiments with human lives, have new pathogens been created or developed, how is compliance with Peruvian legislation on health and biological safety guaranteed in the development of this program?”
He also points out that effectively, the fact that there are American military personnel in Peru being a strictly military mechanism, should lead us to ask two questions:
- What jurisdiction do they obey; do they have diplomatic status?
- When serving within a Peruvian military installation, is the chain of command directed towards their military liaison or towards the Peruvian military?
Finally, and this question was not answered either, what certainty do the Peruvian military have that the results of the investigations are not directed for military purposes?” (Article published in the magazine El Derecho de Vivir en Paz, No. 14).
On April 19, 2022, the Minister of Defense José Luis Gavidia publicly announced the surprising news of the closure of 40 military bases in the VRAEM, which was done in the presence of Pedro Castillo. The minister said that this objective was to be achieved by 2026. And of course experts insisted that this measure will increase the illegal growth of coca leaf plantation and drug trafficking in that area, with US troops inside, as in Colombia this will increase, but under their control.
As was said before, the VRAEM covers the valley of the Apurimac, Ene and Mantaro rivers and it is one of the most violent areas of the country due to the presence of terrorist groups and drug trafficking gangs, as well as the lack of State presence. What is the truth in all of this?
These supposed terrorist groups are, at this moment, nothing more and nothing less than the uprising of the people, as has been happening in the last few days.
In this situation, when it became known that 40 military bases would be transformed into entities to promote legal economic activities in the area, the news aroused not only enormous concern in Peru, but also among experts in military matters who were astonished because it is in that area where most counterinsurgency and antiterrorist military exercises by Peruvian troops with the “special” forces of the United States have been carried out and continue to be carried out.
The Castillo government had set as an objective that before 2026, the VRAEM valley zone “will cease to be an emergency zone and we are working intensely so that these forty counter-subversive bases that we have there become forty production centers,” as announced by Minister Gavidia in April 2022. He added that the zone in question (VRAEM) is in a consolidation stage, a phase in which the authorities are trying to annihilate the terrorist and subversive remnants.
“Everything that is done in the VRAEM and the border areas is controlled by the United States, and everything that is done there has the authorization and diplomatic, military and ideological support of the United States,” Soberon stated.
“As for the war on drugs, it has very little to do with reducing drug consumption in the United States and has no effect on it either,” the expert continues. “It consists fundamentally of a chemical warfare against the peasants of the VRAEM that destroys their crops (as already seen in the Monzon Valley) and drives them off their lands into the suburbs of the cities, leading to human trafficking, prostitution and other crimes. I gathered testimony from the peasants and natives of the VRAEM.”
“The government has destroyed their lives by destroying their land with chemical agents, forcing them to move, many of their children are in prisons in Ayacucho, Andahuaylas, Cusco and Lima,” he adds. “In fact, according to the penitentiary census, most of the inmates of the prisons in question are poor youths, backpackers or cargachos from all over the territory surrounding the VRAEM.”
“The coca route is full of dead adolescents,” Soberon states. As an interview in the newspaper La República (Arrieros de la Cocaina) points out, “unlike the disappeared of the internal war, the inhabitants of the VRAEM and surrounding areas do not claim those who disappeared on the coca route,” and “if the intention was to reduce drug consumption in the United States, it would be much cheaper to resort to prevention and treatment.“
“The same would be true if the intention was to eradicate terrorism,” says Soberón. “But no. Police and military measures are much more expensive and less effective. And even more expensive and less effective are military operations outside the country violating sovereignty, and under a state of emergency destroying crops, which means chemical and psychological warfare. The gringo military does not come to learn from Peruvian soldiers, nor to reduce drug consumption or combat the remnants of terrorism.”
The lack of monitoring of what Peru has been experiencing for years conceals the real military occupation of the country, strategically located as part of the sea surface of the Pacific Ocean (Sea of Grau) and with land borders with Ecuador and Colombia in the north, in the east with Brazil, southeast with Bolivia and Chile. It also has maritime borders with Chile.
According to SOA Watch, in March 2018, the US Southern Command published information about its strategy for this region in the next ten years, warning about the main “dangers” or “threats” identified and the way to confront them.
In 2017 Peru became a key region for US military deployment, with the installation of new bases in the Peruvian jungle and the Regional Emergency Operations Centers (COER).
“These bases are not only military, although all of them are in their essence,” says Cuban analyst Raúl Capote Fernández. “There are bases that function as centers for media warfare and cyberwarfare. From this point of view, the Armed Forces of each country should be retrained to face these heterogeneous issues, which in most cases are complex socioeconomic phenomena.“
Peru is today, together with Colombia, the country with the largest number of foreign military bases. Moreover, the principal Peruvian ports (Callao, Salaverry, Paita, Chimbote and Ilo), from where the oil, gas and minerals that the country exports are shipped and the regions of high social conflict and protest, such as the Apurimac and Ene River Valleys and others known as VRAEM, are under US control.
For years the US Navy has been using Peruvian ports as an operational center on the Pacific coast of South America, to supply its ships and to rest its troops.
In addition to the strategic decision to re-impose the Monroe Doctrine, another threat is “what the economic and commercial presence of China and Russia represents for the US ‘democratic’ values in the region,” although Russia and China never been interested in colonial domination in any part of the world, but instead offer investments and commercial relations on respectful terms, which allow setting the conditions of the agreements to the countries themselves. A non-colonial relationship that the US evidently wants to eradicate definitively. It needs to ensure its hegemonic interests in the hemisphere, and perpetuate its domination over the immense economic resources of Latin America and the Caribbean.
Between military bases and Special Operations Centers (COER) to (allegedly) attend to “humanitarian” issues with the presence of thousands of US soldiers and officers, the US has been controlling the Amazonian zone for years with bases such as Iquito and Santa Lucia.
On December 28, 2021, the Peruvian Congress authorized the entry of US military troops in several regions of Peru for a period of one year. The surprising thing about the initiative is that it was approved and published very quickly at night. The plenary of the Congress enacted Legislative Resolution N° 31102 on December 29, and on December 30 it was published in the newspaper El Peruano.
The resolution authorizes the entry into Peruvian territory of military personnel with weapons of war (M4 rifles, short cannons, pistols, machine guns, grenade launchers, mortars, high-precision rifles and shotguns), and troops who had already arrived from January 1 to December 31, 2021.
Moreover, the government was asked to modify the execution of military activities “when unforeseen causes exist.” The entry of US military personnel is intended to develop training activities with the Armed Forces and National Police of Peru (in Lima, Callao, Loreto, San Martin, Santa Lucia, Huanuco, Ucayali, Paseo, Junin, Huancavelica, Cusco, Ayacucho, lquitos, Pucusana and Apurimac).
“Every year, military troops enter Peruvian territory on at least three occasions,” according to SOA Watch. “It is justified that it is for protocol purposes of training and combined operations, day and night, contributing to the interoperability of the Special Forces with NATO systems and doctrine, among them, terrorism and defense against possible attacks against energy resources.”
In Peruvian territory, as SOA Watch reports, a total of 87,516 US military personnel have entered between 2003 and 2010; between 2011 and 2018, 23,122 U.S. military personnel entered for military training exercises in sea, on land and in rivers, for anti-subversive and intelligence training in conjunction with the armed forces and police of Peru.
In summary, Peru pays millions of dollars to the special troops of the United States, who on the one hand train supposedly to act against terrorism and subversion, and on the other hand to reduce the cultivation of coca and other drugs, in a “special project” of the combined special forces (Peru-USA) for strategies and operations. The”fight against drugs and terrorism” has received an annual investment of around $232 million for 10 consecutive years.
In 2021, the US military that entered with weapons of war, were subsidized by the Peruvian State and will use the entire military apparatus (helicopters, vehicles, infrastructure, etc. which includes fuel and other expenses) with the Peruvian State’s budget. This and much more is behind the events in Peru. The cost is nothing more and nothing less than independence, sovereignty and freedom. The number of people killed in different massacres, the wounded and the disappeared are incalculable at this moment. The true history of Peru is also written in the mass graves that remain in the shadows and silence of impunity.
Author’s Note: The research on these topics is lengthy and requires a book. I thank researchers such as Raul Capote Fernández, Cuban analyst, essayist, researcher and editor; Ricardo Soberón, Peruvian lawyer, specialist in drug and drug trafficking policies and international politics; Telma Luzzani, Argentine journalist, writer and researcher, author of the book Territorios Vigilados, about US military bases; Carlos Fazio, Uruguayan-Mexican journalist, writer and analyst of international politics.