LIMA, Peru (AP) — Facing a shortage of recruits, Peru's government has reinstated selective, obligatory military service. But it can be avoided by paying a $700 fine, prompting accusations that what is really being imposed is a draft for the poor.
Military service had been voluntary since 1998, but meager wages, scant job training and a lack of other incentives amid an improving economy left Peru's armed forces short 30,000 recruits this year.
So the government of President Ollanta Humala, himself a former army officer and military attache, decided to re-impose the draft by decree.
Military chief Adm. Jose Cueto announced over the weekend that a draft would be held in May. It applies to all 18- to 25-year-old males chosen by lottery. Parents and university students are exempt. So is anyone who can afford the fine.
"It seems to me completely improvised with the aggravating factor that it directly affects the poor," said human rights activist Wilfredo Ardito.
Ardito called the draft discriminatory on several counts. The poor get hit twice — they cannot afford neither higher education nor the fine, he said.
Adm. Cueto defended the decree as necessary given recent low recruiting results.
He told The Associated Press that Peru's armed forces have long since left behind a past tarnished by human rights abuses in the 1980s and 1990s when it was fighting fanatical Shining Path rebels. "It's a different era," he said.
Cueto said two years of obligatory military service can be beneficial, especially for the poor.
"Military service has been stigmatized as something bad and the exact opposite is true, because it provides a series of benefits to young men, principally those of humble means. It offers instruction, trains them, creates values and, in addition, gives them a profession."
Cueto said draftees would not be sent as "cannon fodder" into Peru's southeastern hot zone, the Apurimac and Ene river valley region where more than 80 soldiers have been killed since 2008 as the military battles cocaine-funded vestiges of the Shining Path. He said only soldiers from elite troops are deployed there.