Peru: old crimes catch up with ex-officers

According to a report in the Peruvian daily La RepĂșblica on March 5, JesĂșs Sosa Saavedra, a former agent of Peru’s Army Intelligence Service (SIE), has confessed to prosecutor Alicia Chamorro BermĂșdez that he participated in the 1988 “Operation Lucero,” in which the SIE captured and executed alleged Ecuadorian spy Enrique Duchicela and Lt. Marco Barrantes, a Peruvian officer also accused of espionage. Sosa Saavedra said Col. Oswaldo Hanke Velasco, then the head of the SIE, ordered the operation. According to La RepĂșblica, this testimony may bring Hanke Velasco to trial; he had avoided prosecution in the past.

Sosa Saavedra—nicknamed “Kerosene” because he used the fuel to kill his victims—was already in prison as a former member of the Colina Group, a death squad organized by military intelligence and allegedly reporting to former president Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000). Fujimori was sentenced in 2009 to 25 years in prison for causing deaths and serious injuries while in office. (Los Tiempos, Cochabamba, Bolivia, March 5 from EFE)

On the night of March 11 Peruvian judicial police captured another former SIE agent, army captain VĂ­ctor Penas Sandoval, who had been in hiding. The First Special Tribunal of Lima has accused Penas Sandoval of carrying out terrorist acts on the orders of Vladimiro Montesinos, Fujimori’s intelligence adviser and the founder of the Colina Group; Montesinos too is now a prisoner.

Penas Sandoval allegedly made and sent at least five letter bombs in 1991, while he was stationed in Lima. Attorney Augusto ZĂșñiga Paz, of the Human Rights Commission (COMISEDH), lost an arm when he opened the first of these letter bombs on March 15; VĂ­ctor Ruiz LeĂłn was killed on June 21 when he opened the second, which was intended for a neighbor, the director of Cambio, a magazine supporting the rebel Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA); on June 28 the third blew off the arm of a caretaker at El Diario, a publication supporting the rebel Communist Party of Peru (PCP, Sendero Luminoso); the fourth killed Cambio editor Melissa Alfaro MĂ©ndez on Oct. 10. Penas Sandoval was moved out of Lima after he failed in an effort to assassinate leftist legislative deputy Ricardo Letts Colmenares by letter bomb.

In 1993 a military court charged Penas Sandoval with the October 1992 murder of eight drug traffickers and the theft of 300 kilos of drugs in Balsayacu, Alto Huallaga. Penas Sandoval decided to respond by exposing military crimes, and he arranged to meet with officials at the US embassy in Lima on June 30, 1994. He is apparently the unnamed officer cited in a declassified document released by the National Security Archives, a Washington, DC-based nongovernmental organization; the document reports on a lengthy conversation in which a Peruvian intelligence officer admitted to making the letter bombs and said they were ordered by Montesinos. The officer also told the officials about the army’s routine practice of torturing, raping and murdering captives during military operations against rebels during the 1980s. He sometimes chuckled while describing torture techniques.

Penas Sandoval reportedly asked to be admitted to the US. The embassy officials recommended against admitting him, but it is not clear what action the US took, if any, in response to his revelations of terrorist acts by the Peruvian government, a US ally. (AFP, March 12; La RepĂșblica, March 13; “The Search for Truth: The Declassified Record on Human Rights Abuses in Peru,” Document 26, National Security Archives, Aug. 28, 2003)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, March 16

See our last post on Peru.