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Is fine to avoid military service fair? Debate surges in Peru

By Catherine E. Shoichet, CNN
April 2, 2013 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Authorities say Peru will likely hold a selective draft this May
  • Those who don't want to serve can pay a $715 fine
  • Critics say the measure allows the wealthy to avoid military service
  • Military leaders say the new measure is not discriminatory

(CNN) -- Is paying a fine to get out of military service fair?

The question is at the center of a debate surging in Peru this month as the South American country's government reveals new rules for a possible draft.

Authorities say if the government can't fill thousands of vacancies with volunteers, it will start a draft this May. Men and women 18 and over are eligible. But those called up who do not want to serve can pay a fine of 1,850 soles ($715).

Critics say the measure will allow the wealthy to avoid military service and leave the poor with no other choice than to join.

Military leaders say the new measure isn't discriminatory and that the draft is a necessary step to shore up dwindling ranks.

The option of paying a fine to avoid service has drawn sharp criticism from Peru's government ombudsman. And opposition lawmakers have said they will summon Peru's defense minister to testify over the matter.

An editorial in the El Comercio newspaper this week described the new policy as "discrimination against those who have the least."

"This is a hurdle designed so that only the people who have economic resources can jump over it," the editorial said.

Nearly a third of Peru's population lives below the poverty line, according to government statistics. A minimum wage salary is 750 soles ($290) per month.

The debate over who serves in the military, and why they join the ranks, resonates far beyond Peru's borders.

In Israel, thousands of demonstrators last year demanded an end to rules that make ultra-Orthodox Jews exempt from that country's military draft.

For more than a decade U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel has been pushing a controversial proposal to reinstate a draft in the United States.

"Currently the burden of defending our nation is carried by less than 1% of the American population," the New York Democrat wrote in an opinion column published on CNN.com in January. "The 2.2 million members of the armed forces in active duty, the National Guard and the Reserve have become a virtual military class that makes the ultimate sacrifice of laying down life and limb for our country."

Bringing back the draft, he argued, "would compel the American public to have a stake in the wars we fight as a nation."

Many countries around the world require military service. Colombia, which borders Peru, also fines those who refuse to serve after they're called up.

In Peru, officials say sheer numbers have forced them to consider a draft, more than a decade after the country passed a law eliminating obligatory military service.

Jose Cueto, chief of the joint command of Peru's armed forces, told the state-run Andina news agency that there has been a "drastic decrease" in the number of people who join the military since the country switched to a volunteer force.

Journalist Maria Elena Belaunde contributed to this report from Lima, Peru.

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