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Urban Peasant Patrols in Peru

Antonio Peña Jumpa

Professor at the Pontifica Universidad Católica del Perú and the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos.

Lawyer, master's in social sciences and PhD. in Laws.

Following the presidential message of July 28, 2021, in Peru, the possibility of extending the role of the “rondas campesinas” or peasant patrols from the countryside to the city, from the rural to the urban areas, has been put into debate, strengthening them to cope with citizen insecurity and the control of bad officials and businessmen. Is the initiative constitutional? What problems does it face?

The initiative has no limitations of constitutionality or legality. Peru's legal system allows the constitution of urban peasant patrols in accordance with the multicultural reality of the country. To do this, it is important to first understand and distinguish between two types of peasant patrols: peasant patrols integrated into a peasant or native community, and peasant patrols that take place in a hamlet, annex, or small rural county.

The first type of peasant patrols, those that are integrated into a community, have their main constitutional foundation in Article 149 of the Political Constitution. According to this article, the peasant patrols are empowered to support the jurisdictional work of the Peasant Communities and the Native Communities. The norm does not distinguish whether the work of the communities and the patrols is in the rural area or in the urban area. A community can be settled in a city, or it can have its historical territory in an urban area. Accordingly, if there are urban peasant communities and urban native communities, there would be no problem for the “rondas” or patrols to appear at their side and support their work.

This perspective of recognition of the community and the urban peasant patrols, in turn, is complemented by the constitutional right of citizen and neighbourhood participation regulated in article 31 of the Political Constitution. A citizen or neighbourhood group of migrants, for example, can form a communal organization in the city or in an urban area, and be complemented with the support of an urban peasant patrol. In the same sense, the council of an Andean or Amazonian city can promote the organization of communities and patrols for the neighbourhood’s development and protection.

The second group of peasant patrols of the hamlets, annexes, and small rural counties, refers to the so-called "autonomous" patrols. These are peasant patrols that have been developed in the Cajamarca region, where although there are peasant communities and native communities, the most common organizational forms are the hamlets, annexes, and small rural counties. The autonomous peasant patrols have developed in these rural areas, distinguishing themselves particularly from the paramilitary patrols promoted in the Ayacucho region to confront subversion in the 1980s, and from the peasant patrols integrated into the community where communal organization prevails.

The autonomous peasant patrol has a supporting law: Law No. 27908 of 2003. This law regulates the functions of the peasant patrols without impeding their work in urban areas. In fact, even the peasant patrols have already been operating in the urban area of ​​Cajamarca. But these autonomous rounds also have a constitutional basis: Article 2, in its 19th and 23rd paragraphs, regulates the rights to cultural identity and legitimate defence that guarantee their actions. Likewise, Article 149 of the Political Constitution gives it legitimacy based on a factual situation: the hamlets, annexes and small rural counties are non-registered peasant or native communities, which also require the support of the peasant patrols, particularly when the authority of the State is absent.

This means that the central government initiative is constitutionally and legally viable. However, there are other problems that go beyond the constitutional and legal aspects of the current government initiative. In this regard, we highlight two problems: the possibility of a political control and the interest in an economic manipulation of the urban peasant patrols.

The possibility of a political control means the threat of intervention by a political party or some state institution under the slogan of the same political party to assimilate and lead the urban peasant patrols. This possibility of control contradicts the communal and autonomous nature of the peasant patrols. A political control is unfavourable to the development of the peasant patrols and can produce their deformation and destruction.

Economic manipulation, on the other hand, means the interest of the government itself or some public or private institution to use funds or money to manage the organization and direction of the peasant patrols. Paying to patrol emulating a dependent salary relationship undermines the voluntary, supportive, and committed nature of each patrol member, and that can easily lead to acts of corruption. If the funds disappear or they are used by an interested group of leaders, the urban peasant patrol also disappears.

Both forms of control and manipulation are unconstitutional.

What to do?

The current context of the country, in which peasant patrols have been included as an alternative to urban citizen insecurity, can materialize if we understand the following:

  1. The peasant patrols are social organizations that have constitutional and material legitimacy to act in rural areas and extend into urban areas.

  2. The peasant patrols have a social first principle that is based on communal organization (if it is integrated into a peasant or native community) or on its autonomy (if it is part of a hamlet, annex, or small rural county). If the urban peasant patrol loses its social first principle, it loses its existence.

  3. The peasant patrols are outside of political control or economic interest. This type of control or interest affects the social first principle of their organization and, with this, leads to the destruction of the peasant patrol.

By understanding these three statements, we will be able to implement the transfer of knowledge from rural peasant patrols to urban spaces. But let's not lose the perspective of change and development: the peasant patrols can alleviate the problem of crime or corruption, but not the causes of these. It is urgent to initiate a proposal that transforms urban and rural inequality and poverty into collective progress focused on the population that suffers the most. For this, another experience helps a lot: the experience of organization, government, and justice of the historic communities of Peru.

Lima, August 10 and 11, 2021.


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