Peru interior minister again insists before Congress that policeman not responsible for gunning down campesinos during farmers strike

Peru’s interior minister stuck to his guns Wednesday as he reiterated in a second appearance before Congress that a policeman indicted for the deaths of two campesinos during a farmers strike in February did not gun down the demonstrators and that the likely culprits were fellow protesters armed with homemade shotguns.

“I said it and will say it again,” Luis Alva Castro told lawmakers, “the bullets that killed Emiliano Garcia and Rubén Pariona were not fired by Peruvian police.”

Alva Castro’s statement was almost identical to his earlier explanation to Congress on Alva Castro Feb. 27.
Lawmakers were for the most part satisfied with his declaration until a month later, when Prosecutor Hugo Martínez Mamani from the district attorney’s office in the Andean provincial capital of Ayacucho filed murder charges against police officer Carlos Alberto Huamaní.

The officer had initially denied that he had fired his police-issue 12-gauge shotgun at the crowd, saying he merely fired a non-lethal shotgun blast into the air from a safe distance to frighten and disperse the demonstrators.

But in his second statement, Officer Huamaní allegedly acknowledged opening fire from a closer distance into the demonstration on Feb. 17 from a kneeling position, albeit with rubber pellets, not the fatal lead buckshot that struck the two men both in head. The weapon was not immediately turned over to investigators for examination, and when it was finally handed over, it showed signs that it had been cleaned.

Local media incorrectly reported in April that Officer Huamaní had confessed to the killings, a fact that President Alan Garcia’s administration has seized on to discredit any suggestion of a police cover-up.

“There is no proof,” Alva Castro told lawmakers Wednesday, “that ties Huamaní to the death of the two victims. He has never made such declarations.” The charges filed by Mamani, he added, present “inconsistencies.”

The only type of ammunition Peruvian police use, Castro said in his presentation, “is non-lethal rubber buckshot.”

Accompanying Castro in his congressional appearance was Police Col. Pablo Rodriguez, a ballistics expert, who cited a police report that concluded “the types of wounds found on the victims’ bodies indicate that they were caused by lead bullets fired by a homemade weapon.”

“I have never lied,” Castro concluded. Opposition lawmakers seeking a vote of censure against Alva Castro said he failed to address the possibility that Huamaní could have loaded his police-issue shotgun with live ammo.

Note: Posted copies of the prosecutor’s indictment and police ballistics report are available on the Citizen Security page of the Institute for Legal Defense, a Peruvian human rights NGO and think tank.

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