PERU: Minister Tried to Promote Police Investigated for Massacre

  • by Ángel Páez (lima)
  • Tuesday, June 30, 2009
  • Inter Press Service

But the officials are still under investigation for their responsibility in the deaths of at least nine civilian protesters and 24 police officers.

IPS had access to the ministerial resolution dated Jun. 18 - just two weeks after the police crackdown that ended in bloodshed - in which Cabanillas rewarded the police officials for their 'distinguished service' in the Jun. 5 operation near the town of Bagua in the country’s northern Amazon jungle region.

A source at the Interior Ministry’s Office of Social Communication initially denied and later confirmed the authenticity of the ministerial resolution promoting the officials who are the focus of an internal police probe as well as an investigation by the office of the public prosecutor.

A high-ranking police source told IPS that the promotion was authorised without first consulting with the national police force’s Office of the Inspector General, which is investigating the officials who took part in the operation against native demonstrators protesting the decrees that undermined indigenous rights, two of which have since been overturned by Congress.

'An officer or non-commissioned officer involved in an ongoing investigation cannot be promoted,' the source told IPS. 'Internal rules require that the Office of the Inspector General must first be asked whether or not the officer is subject to investigation, and what the result was, before he can be promoted.'

But after confirming that the minister had given the order for the promotions, the Ministry’s Office of Social Communication informed IPS that the decision had been suspended until the Office of the Inspector General completed its probe.

'A procedural error has been detected, and as a result the promotion of the 11 officers has been suspended,' said the Office. 'The suspension has been made effective by means of another ministerial resolution, dated Jun. 20.'

But the suspension was also carried out in an irregular manner. 'No one is promoted before the Office of the Inspector General’s opinion is sought. It is done the other way around. The aim here is to conceal one irregularity with another,' said the police source.

The officers are under investigation to determine whether they ordered the police to open fire on the native protesters who had been blocking the strategic Fernando Belaúnde Terry highway near Bagua off and on for 55 days, demanding the repeal of the government decrees.

According to the demonstrators, at the time the police began to shoot at the crowd in the predawn attack, the protesters were already getting ready to pull out, as a result of an agreement reached the day before with the commander in charge of the police deployed to the area.

Under the agreement, the local commander had given the protesters until 10:00 AM to head back to their jungle villages. But the attack began before 6:00 AM.

When the police opened fire on them, some of the indigenous people responded with violence, seizing members of a police contingency guarding a nearby natural gas pipeline, who had reportedly not been informed of the attack on the roadblock, and killing a number of them out of vengeance for the police‘s failure to honour the non-violence agreement.

Indigenous organisations and local eyewitnesses said a number of bodies of protesters were dumped into a river from a police helicopter with the aim of concealing the real number of civilians killed.

The bloody incident has complicated matters for Minister Cabanillas, who denies that she gave the order for the operation.

Cabanillas claims that on Jun. 4, police chief General José Sánchez reported to her that the next day the roadblock would be broken up.

The interior minister and Prime Minister Yehude Simon were questioned by parliament on Thursday, Jun. 25. 'Political authorities do not intervene in the operations carried out by the police,' Cabanillas argued. 'The how and the when are not decided on by the ministers; they are decided on at the site of the operation.'

Cabanillas, the most powerful female politician in the governing Aprista party, continues to blame the killings on supposed 'agents' from the left-wing governments of Venezuela and Bolivia, who allegedly infiltrated the native protests in the Amazon jungle. But she has provided no proof supporting such allegations.

'That is called meddling because they are exporting to Peru propaganda from a model of chaos and anarchy, whose final aim is to topple the democratic government,' said Cabanillas.

The legislative blocs of the opposition Nationalist Party, National Unity party and lawmakers allied with former president Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000) said they were disappointed with the minister’s explanations and presented a censure motion against her and Simon, which will be debated this week.

'The minister tried to buy the silence of the police implicated in the massacre,' said the head of the Nationalist Party legislators, Freddy Otárola.

'It was unethical on her part to promote officials who are under investigation. That is an irregularity, and we are going to investigate it,' he added.

Fernando Rospigliosi, interior minister under president Alejandro Toledo (2001-2006), expressed a similar view.

'What happened in Bagua was not ‘distinguished service,’ but a disastrous operation any way you look at it,' Rospigliosi remarked to IPS. 'The idea was to keep these officials from telling the truth about what really happened on Jun. 5, especially the role played by Cabanillas.'

According to the accounts given by different sources in the investigation, the police chiefs received the order to break up the traffic blockade directly from Cabanillas, who in turn had received instructions from President Alan García.

'Those who ordered the police to control a much larger group of people are responsible for what happened,' Susana Villarán, a former head of the Defensoría del Policía, told IPS.

The Defensoría del Policía is dedicated to protecting the human rights of Interior Ministry personnel and agents.

According to the autopsy of the nine civilians whose bodies were acknowledged by the authorities on Jun. 5, all of them had been shot to death, at least several by AKM assault rifles, which are used by the police.

© Inter Press Service (2009) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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