Peru’s Interior Minister resigns, to be replaced by APRA Congresswoman Mercedes Cabanillas

Interior Minister Remigio Hernani Meloni has resigned, citing “personal reasons” and will be replaced by ruling APRA party Congresswoman Mercedes Cabanillas Bustamante, said Peru’s Premier Yehude Simon on Thursday.

“He has resigned for personal reasons,” said Simon Thursday during a work-related visit to the highland city of Huancavelica. “I express my gratitude on behalf of the Council of Ministers.”

“I am very grateful for the work he carried out in difficult and misunderstood circumstances,” added Simon in comments to Radio Nacional.

Hernani, 60, came under fire last January when two police officers were killed by snipers during the eviction of squatters at the Pomac Historical Forest Sanctuary in northern Peru.

When police moved inside the Pomac Forest in the early morning of Jan. 20 to forcibly remove squatters, a group of individuals armed with assault rifles suddenly opened fire. The unexpected attack set off a 10-minute shoot-out between police and residents, leaving officers Fernando Hidalgo and Carlos Peralta dead.

When questioned about the events, Hernani told reporters that there had been no improvisation, but that “then again, U.S. President Kennedy, with all the intelligence and all the super agents, was assassinated.”

Hernani’s comment immediately triggered a wave of criticism across Peru’s political spectrum, and opposition politicians demanded that he resign.

And, according to daily Peru21 — which reported that unnamed government sources confirmed the resignation days ago — Hernani may also have been forced to quit for disobeying Garcia, by claiming that an assault on Attorney General Gladys Echaíz early this month was a failed robbery, rather than an assassination attempt.

Cabanillas, 61, an APRA stalwart, is set to replace Hernani.  She was the first woman to become a member of the presidential cabinet, when she served as Education Minister from 1987-1989 during Garcia’s first administration.

Cabanillas has since been President of Congress  and is currently a member of Congress’ National Defense Commission.

In 1995, Cabanillas ran for the presidency of Peru under the APRA ticket, winning only 4.11 percent of the popular vote.

“APRA has obtained what it wanted: to take control of the Ministry of Interior once again,” said former Minister of Interior Fernando Rospligliosi, a staunch critic of Garcia’s administration and political party. “Cabanillas has no experience whatsoever in this sector, except for a short-lived stint in Congress’ Defense Commission.”

With Cabanillas at the head of the Ministry of Interior, critics say the governing APRA is regaining control of the cabinet, which is chaired by an independent, premier Yehude Simon.  However, Simon denies being pushed slightly to one side and said he was instrumental in choosing Cabanillas.

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