Thursday, July 3, 2014

Peru's New Interior Minister Facing Murder Charges

Little more than a week after he took office, news has surfaced that Peruvian Interior Minister Daniel Urresti is facing murder charges linked to the 1988 killing of a journalist who was investigating the country’s armed conflict. The incident is the latest in a series of scandals to plague President Ollanta Humala’s cabinet and could ultimately force him to find a replacement Urresti, which would make him the sixth interior minister to be sacked since Humala took office in in July 2011.

The story was broken yesterday by Ideele Radio of the Lima-based Legal Defense Institute (IDL), which also obtained a copy of Urresti’s indictment, filed in June 2013. The document asserts that public prosecutors have formally charged the minister with involvement in the murder of journalist Hugo Bustios, and the attempted murder of one of his colleagues, in 1988.

Bustio and fellow reporter Eduardo Arce were researching a story on killings related to the conflict in the south-central Ayacucho region. During the course of their investigation they were ambushed by security forces allegedly under the command of Urresti, who was a military intelligence officer at the time. While Arce managed to escape, Bustios was killed. Two officers have already been tried and convicted for the crime, and the indictment claims that one of them linked Urresti to the murder as well.

The report made immediate waves in Peru yesterday. El Comercio reports that a number of opposition lawmakers have called for him to leave office. In a press conference yesterday evening, Urresti denied any responsibility for the crime, and said he would not step down. He also told reporters that President Humala knew about the charges against him, as did cabinet chief Rene Cornejo.

Human rights organizations have been especially vocal in their response to the news. The head of the National Coordinator of Human Rights (CNDDHH) -- an umbrella group of 81 NGOs working on human rights issues in Peru -- released a statement directly demanding Urreti’s resignation.  The CNDDHH’s communiqué cites the fact that more than one military official has implicated him as proof of the “unquestionable” legitimacy of the indictment.

The human rights group also points out that the charges raise questions about Urresti’s record at the head of a commission tasked with stopping illegal mining. In April, he oversaw a police response to a demonstration by informal miners in the Made de Dios region, in which one protester was shot and killed and at least 17 others were injured.

News Briefs
  • In other Peru news, The Guardian reports on a law passed in January which exempts security forces from criminal liability for killing or injuring individuals in the line of duty. The IDL’s Juan José Quispe describes the reform as a “license to kill,” and the paper notes that it seriously jeopardizes the safety of those participating in environmental and social protests in Peru.
  • Mexico’s proposed telecommunications reforms were approved in committee yesterday in the Senate, and are expected to face a full vote on Friday. The bill, which has been delayed for the past six months, has been criticized by digital rights activists concerned that it authorizes officials to gather and study personal information, Animal Politico reports.
  • An appellate court ruling in Florida yesterday has paved the way for the Ecuadorean government to sue fugitive bankers Roberto and William Isaias in the United States, both of whom are wanted in their home country on embezzlement charges. As a NYT investigation reported in March, the brothers’ large political donations recently have been interpreted as an effort to stave off their extradition.
  • Bolivian lawmakers yesterday voted to pass a law which establishes a minimum working age of 14, but would authorize social workers to authorize children to work for pay starting at age 12 in exceptional cases, so long as they still have access to education, La Razon reports.  While the measure has been criticized by some, the debate over the bill has focused media attention (see BBC Mundo and the AFP) on the tough realities of poverty in Bolivia, where many children have to work in order to keep their families afloat.
  • According to technology analysts hired by Venezuelan opposition members accused of plotting to assassinate President Nicolas Maduro, the government fabricated at least three emails presented as evidence against one of those accused of orchestrating the plot. The Wall Street Journal reports that a search of Google’s records revealed no record of three of the emails, and indicated that a forth had been edited. Reuters notes that the San Francisco-based Kivu Consulting firm also claimed that photos of other emails presented by Venezuelan officials showed "many indications of user manipulation."  
  • InSight Crime looks at an internal police investigation into reports of extrajudicial killings in El Salvador, which adds fuel to claims that ununiformed police make up “death squads” to target alleged gang members.
  • El Pais’ Guatemala correspondent, Jose Elias, looks at the legacy of ousted President Jacobo Arbenz some 60 years after the coup that brought a military government to power in the Central American country. While the anniversary of Arbenz’s resignation went unmarked by the government and he remains a controversial figure in Guatemalan politics, Elias notes that invoking his administration’s accomplishments is no longer a social taboo.
  • The Associated Press profiles the alarming spread of the chikungunya virus in Haiti since it was first documented there in May.  While domestic and international health officials have been running a massive public health campaign to educate the public about the virus, the AP notes that rumors are flying in the country that the disease “was intentionally brought to Haiti by businessmen” and is a form of political or social control.