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.
- 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.
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