Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Peruvian Ex-Spy Chief Cleared of Rebel Executions

Peruvian former intelligence chief Vladimiro Montesinos has been cleared of the murder of three rebels in a 1997 operation to free hostages being held in the Japanese ambassador’s residence.

Along with two other former high-ranking military officers, Montesinos was found not guilty of having ordered the death of the three rebels. The court ruled that one of the rebels, alias “Tito,” was killed after having surrendered, but did not find evidence that Montesinos and fellow defendants Nicolas Hermoza and Roberto Huaman had ordered this. Sentencing was postponed for a fourth defendant, who did not attend the hearing, reports the AFP.

In December 1996, members of the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) stormed the residence of the Japanese ambassador to Lima during an official party, and took 72 people hostage. Many of them were high-profile officials, diplomats, and business figures. The MRTA demanded the release of rebels from prison in exchange for the hostages.

The hostages were held for more than four months, until the Peruvian security forces launched a surprise rescue operation in April. They dug secret tunnels under the site, installed surveillance equipment to track the movements of the inhabitants, and then stormed the building. Many of the rebels died when the security forces exploded a bomb under a site where they were playing football, as the BBC sets out. The operation resulted in the deaths of one hostage, Supreme Court Judge Carlos Giusti Acuna, two soldiers, and all 14 rebels. President Alberto Fujimori ordered the operation without informing the Japanese government, and was much praised for managing to free most of the hostages.

Since the operation, there have been suspicions that the security forces summarily executed some rebels. The 14 bodies were exhumed in 1991 to investigate the circumstances of their deaths, and post mortems showed that some had been executed with a shot to the head. Witnesses said some were taken alive, and three had been seen tied up in the garden.

Montesinos was charged in connection with the killings in 2002. In December last year, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights decided to reopen the case on the grounds that Peru had shown itself incapable of administering justice, as the Associated Press reports.

Montesinos, a former right-hand man of Fujimori, is currently serving a prison sentence for conspiring to send arms to Colombian guerrillas, and for commanding death squads. A corruption case against him helped bring down the government of Fujimori.

His 25-year sentence for the 1991 killing of 15 suspected Shining Path members, one of them 8 years old, was reduced to 20 years in July, after a court ruled that it did not constitute a crime against humanity. However, this decision was itself reversed in September, after the intervention of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

Former head of the Public Ministry Avelino Guillen told El Comercio that this week's decision “enshrines impunity,” and demonstrates the "utter weakness" of Peru’s judicial system. For Guillen, it is contradictory for the court to find that there was an extrajudicial execution but that the commanders were not responsible for it. He said that his theory was that there was a parallel chain of command which ordered, after the operation had ended, that none of the terrorists be left alive.

Defense Ministry attorney Gustavo Adrianzen welcomed the ruling, and said that the SIN intelligence services should be investigated over Tito’s killing.


News Briefs

  • The NYT looks at Cuba’s moves towards dropping exit visa requirements, which it describes as “the restriction which many Cubans hate the most.” It points out that dissidents may still face the same obstacles to leaving, as there is a clause allowing the authorities to deny exit on grounds of “national security.” The Miami Herald reports that the new rules could mean an increase in Cubans going through Mexico and Canada in order to enter the US by land, with one academic telling the newspaper that “It could put the United States in quite a pickle.” Bloggings by Boz warns that Cuba “will also stop anyone from leaving who it wants and occasionally arbitrarily arrest people trying to leave, because that's how dictatorships work.” The Havana Note has more analysis on what the new rules could mean for US Cuba policy.
  • Human Rights Watch has called on the Colombian government to make sure that the rights of victims are at the center of peace talks with the FARC rebels, and that participants are not granted immunity for past atrocities. The organization says that “Holding out the prospect of a ‘get out of jail free card’ to those most responsible for Colombia’s worst crimes would invite an investigation by the International Criminal Court.” La Silla Vacia also looks at what could come after a peace deal, saying that the government could offer to set up more “Campesino Reserve Zones.” The website looks at the challenges of setting up these reserves in the Montes de Maria region of Colombia.
  • FARC commander “Ivan Marquez” has arrived in Cuba, and was set to leave for Oslo on Tuesday for the start of formal peace talks with the Colombian government, reports El Tiempo. Meanwhile the government negotiating team posed for photos before setting off on their flight, and told press that they were confident they would return with good news, while calling for discretion about proceedings, Semana reports.
  • Three former Argentine army officers have been sentence to life in prison for their roles in the 1972 Trelew massacre, when 16 rebel fighters were executed after an attempted jailbreak, reports the BBC. The men’s lawyers are planning to appeal on the grounds that the killings do not constitute a crime against humanity. The US has refused to extradite a fourth suspect, who lives in Miami, reports the AP, though Central American Politics comments that the US may deport him on immigration charges.
  • The Guardian’s Data Blog features an interactive map by a team from Stanford University which shows all Venezuelan election results for the last 14 years, down to parish level. The NYT looks at the struggle of Venezuela’s opposition to remain united after its election defeat, going into gubernatorial elections in December.
  • IPS reports on the process of granting land titles to communities in rural Peru.
  • The Washington Office on Latin America’s Border Fact Check blog asks if Border Patrol agents are justified in using lethal force against rock throwers, as with the case of the 16-year-old boy shot dead last week.
  • Mexican journalist Ramon Abel Lopez Aguilar, who edited a news website in Tijuana, was found dead after being abducted from his home, reports EFEReporters Without Borders called on incoming President Enrique Pe├▒a Nieto to protect freedom of the press in the wake of the killing, noting that more than 100 journalists had died or gone missing in the last decade.
  • At its conference in Brazil, the Inter American Press Association accused the governments of Venezuela, Argentina and Ecuador of “trying to silence” independent journalists, and named Jaime Mantilla, of Ecuadorian newspaper Hoy, as its new president, reports the AP.
  • At the WSJ, Mary Anastasia O’Grady comments that Venezuelan columnist Nelson Bocaranda’s repeated claims that Fidel Castro’s death is about to be announced are “a bold assertion from someone who has reason to care about his credibility.”