News broke this week that three high-ranking Peruvian police and army generals were given suspended prison sentences and fined by a military court, the result of findings that they were in charge of an operation to remove some 4,000 Native protesters who disagreed with the government promoted the continued opening of indigenous land to oil companies and others looking to exploit the Amazons resources, resulting in a fight that killed 34 people in June 2009.
According to a statement released on March 14 by the Peruvian military and police court and published by nearly all local media on March 15, the three were declared guilty of “omission in the compliance of duty while in an operating function” after an internal investigation.
Police general Elias Muguruza Luis Delgado was sentenced to a suspended 3-year prison term. In Peru only prison sentences of more than four years are enforced, while people with lesser sentences can walk free. Delgado was also fined 10,000 nuevo soles (U.S. $3,600), the statement added.
Luis Uribe Javier Altamirano, another police general, received a suspended sentence of 2 years and will have to pay 7,000 nuevo soles ($2,528). Raul Silverio Silva Alvanfue, an army general, received a 1-year suspension, as well as a fine of 4,000 nuevo soles ($1,440).
Dramatic change; skepticism remains
The sentencing and fines mark a dramatic change from a previous series of actions and statements by President Alan Garcia and his closest aides, including party colleague and former Interior Minister Mercedes Cabanillas.
On June 25, 2009, then minister Cabanillas pushed for the promotion of as many as six officers who were at the time under investigation by the state attorney’s office over responsibility for the killings on June 6 of that year.
Cabanillas had even proposed Medals of Honor for Muguruza and Uribe for their supposedly good management of the confrontations with the indigenous. Cabanillas, in exchange, received a police special medal, the Police Heart, in a 2009 ceremony that was broadcast live even as indigenous were being forced into exile or sought for arrest.
Natives have complained the past two years of intense judicial prosecution efforts. The president of the Inter-Ethnic Association for the Development of the Amazon (AIDESEP) Alberto Pizango, had to flee into exile for a year.
Garcia has consistently called Pizango a criminal in the past. A government-sponsored, supposedly independent investigative panel over the killings had also put all the blame on Natives when the report was issued December 2009. Pizango, in contrast, has only insisted on finding the truth.
Garcia has alleged as evidence of the Natives’ responsibility that 25 police died, while only nine Natives were killed in confrontations that also left 200 injured, half of them by bullet. He has said those numbers proved that Natives acted in “martyrdom.”
The first reaction by civilian state attorneys on March 15 was to question the competence of military-police court for a trial and investigation of 34 dead and 200 injured, mostly civilians.
According to La Republica newspaper on March 15, a state attorney for the Amazon region of Utcubamba, Olga Bobadilla, has said she will defend to the end the right of civilian courts to prosecute those generals because some civilians were killed and many wounded, and it was not just the military.
Other reactions included those skeptic with some posters of comments in local media warning the action may be a tactic to prevent any future attempt by civilian courts to try the cases as those three sentenced could claim they have already been tried and sentenced for that crime.
Yet AIDESEP immediately issued a statement saying the military decision is in sharp contrast to Garcia’s efforts to cover up for the guilty parties.
“Indigenous populations patiently await justice and for the punishment of those responsible for the death of Peruvians,” Pizango said according to an AIDESEP statement.
In Peru, where presidential elections will be held in April for a five-year term, the report received very little national. This is in sharp contrast to intense campaigns in June 2009, including television ads that clearly aimed to present Natives as savage, cruel killers and make them responsible for all the violence against supposedly heroic policemen.
The road blockade occurred as Natives were protesting a set of laws that Garcia had adamantly insisted on keeping even though he had faced two years of protests by Natives in the Amazon that had included multiple seizures of energy infrastructure. Natives were at the end successful, and Congress rejected those laws.