Ministers Resign over Shining Path Operation

22 May 2012

Peru’s interior and defence ministers resigned this month amid criticism over their handling of a recent hostage rescue effort in the south of the country.

Interior Minister Daniel Lozada and Defence Minister Alberto Otarola faced allegations of incompetence from a number of politicians over the operation, which saw nine police and military officials killed by Shining Path (SP) rebels.

The officers were ambushed while attempting to rescue 36 natural gas workers kidnapped in early April from a site in the Apurimac-Ene valley (VRAE), where the remnants of the Maoist group retain a strong presence. All were later freed.

One policeman, who suffered a bullet wound in his leg and became separated from colleagues, was left in the jungle for 17 days before finally escaping to safety. Another incident – and one which caused particular outcry – saw authorities prematurely give up the search for the body of César Vilca, one of the officers who died in the rescue operation. His father Dionisio, who had campaigned for the search to continue, subsequently travelled independently to the site of the ambush and recovered his son’s remains. The controversy over the operation also led to renewed calls for a change in the government’s counter-insurgency strategy in the VRAE region. Critics assert that the Humala administration has never formulated a coherent plan of action for the area.

Buoyed by widespread criticism of Lozada and Otarola, opposition parties threatened to table a congressional vote of censure against the two ministers earlier this month. A defeat would have been highly damaging for the Humala administration and would have likely made the position of Prime Minister Oscar Valdés untenable.

To avoid further embarrassment, the ministers accordingly tended their resignation in advance of the vote. Shortly after, William Calle, a retired general, and former production minister Luis Urquizo, were appointed as interior and defence minister, respectively.

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