Peru: interior minister linked to journalist’s murder

Press reports in Peru that judicial authorities have opened an investigation into Interior Minister Daniel Urresti in connection with the murder of a journalist have sparked calls for his resignation. The former army general is reportedly suspected of being "intellectual author" of the slaying of Hugo Bustíos, a writer for Caretas magazine, who was attacked Nov. 24, 1988 by what is presumed to have been a group of soldiers in civilian dress at the hamlet of Quinrapa, Huanta district, Ayacucho, where he was covering the war against the Shining Path guerillas. Peru's Press and Society Institute issued a statement calling it "rudely offensive to the values of a democratic state" that Urresti remain at his post while facing a murder probe. The National Association of Journalists also called for Urresti to step down. The National Coordinator of Human Rights added that Urresti's continuation as interior minister, overseeing the country's National Police, "constitutes a grave risk for the security of family members and witnesses" that will be called in the investigation. Urresti, who took office in late June, denies any involvement in the slaying. President Ollanta Humala has stood by him.

The investigation was opened in June 2013, but was only revealed in the press when Urresti became interior minister. Urresti is apparently accused of being the leader of a military patrol that ambushed Bustíos and his colleague Eduardo Rojas, who survived the attack. The area was at the time under a state of emergency, with journalists officially barred from entering. In October 2007, a criminal court found two officers guilty of murdering Bustíos. One of the convicted officers, Victor La Vera, served only four years of a 15-year sentence. Upon Urresti's appointment, La Vera applied for a position as an advisor in security matters to Peru's cabinet. His name has been reportedly dropped from consideration since the controvery over Urresti broke.

Four witnesses at La Vera's trial said that Urresti was one of the officers who fired on the journalists, but charges were never brought against him. Urresti was at the time of the attack an officer with an army intelligence unit. (Peruvian Times, July 8; La Mula blog, Lima, July 5; La Prensa, Lima, Peru21, Lima, July 4; Peru21, July 2)