President Garcia backs interior minister over shooting deaths of campesinos during farmers strike

President Alan Garcia sprang to the defense Friday of Interior Minister Luis Alva Castro and Peru’s national police force, saying murder charges filed against a policeman for allegedly shooting down two campesinos during a nationwide farmer’s strike in February are trumped up.

“It was absolutey clear from the autopsy — which I was practically a witness to from a televised broadcast that was provided to me — what caused the death of these two people,” Garcia told Radioprogramas radio.

“In no way was it from a bullet. In no way was it from rubber buckshot, the only thing the police utilize,” he said. “There was another weapon, homemade, that was used and it fired metal projectiles.”

Opposition lawmakers renewed calls for Alva Castro’s resignation late Thursday, a day after Prosecutor Hugo Martínez Mamani filed homicide charges against Patrolman Carlos Alberto Rodríguez Huamaní. Local media reports said the officer had confessed to opening fire on the protesters and that a test showed he had gunpowder residue on his hands.

But Garcia and leading members of his ruling Aprista party charged Friday that those reports represented gross misstatements of the facts and that Officer Rodríguez’s statement hardly constituted a confession.

“It seems to me that yesterday there was a twisting of reality to say that a policeman in Ayacucho said something he didn’t say, accepting that he fired shots, when today we see immediately that it was a deformation of what he said in his declaration,” Garcia insisted. “I take this to be politics, a search for a five-legged cat in Alva Castro, who has plenty of lives.”

Congressman Mauricio Mulder, general secretary of Garcia’s Aprista party, charged that Prosecutor Martínez was under siege from protesters in Ayacucho, who demonstrated outside his house, and that he caved under the pressure when he filed the homicide charges.

Still, local media coverage suggested a police cover-up of the Feb. 19 shooting deaths of the campesinos, Rubén Pariona and Emiliano García.

Daily El Comercio on Friday laid bare a list of contradictions and changes in the official version of the shooting.

Alva Castro declared before Congress Feb. 27 that, “No bullet from the National Police of Peru caused the deaths of the campesinos,” and that “as has been demonstrated by scientific method, the deaths were — I repeat — caused by shotguns or homemade weapons. The National Police do not carry shotguns that fire buckshot or slugs.”

Police a statement released Thursday acknowledged that Officer Rodríguez was carrying 12-gauge Savage shotgun.

El Comercio reported that according to the criminal complaint, Rodriguez initially admitted to firing rubber buckshot into the air to frighten and disperse the crowd of protesters, who were 100 meters away. But then in a statement to prosecutors, the officer, “referred to having shot into the demonstration when the crowd was at a distance of 25 meters, in the direction where the two shot people fell.”

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