Authorities Monday launched an investigation into allegations that Peru’s police command operated a death squad that is reponsible for the extrajudicial killings of more than two dozen civilians since 2011, a revelation that is reminiscent of the country’s brutal dirty war under its former dictator.
A total of 96 members of various divisions of Peru’s national police force — including 16 high-ranking officials — are suspected of carrying out the murders of 27 Peruvian civilians between 2011 and 2015 in the cities of Lima, Ica, and Chiclayo, according to Peru’s La Republica.
The Inspector General’s office will spearhead the probe with a specially-formed commission and present a preliminary report after 10 days.
Minister of Interior Carlos Basombrio, newly-appointed under President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, inaugurated last Thursday, said during an announcement of the investigation that authorities are treating the case with utmost seriousness and will have zero tolerance for the police abuses that have been called extrajudicial killings.
Basombrio applauded the members of the force that brought the issue to light with complaints about misconduct and added that the incidents should not be treated as vigilante killings given that the suspects in question are paid police staff, Prensa Latina reported.
A months-long internal police investigation — in which the Investigator General recently intervened — has already found evidence that police agents infiltrated gangs and criminal organizations to carry out kidnappings with the goal of killing the captives.
Forensics indicate that many of the victims were shot at a downward trajectory, suggesting execution-style slayings. The probe also found that at least two officers were promoted during the period in which they are suspected of participating in the death squad. Authorities believe the 27 victims were reportedly police nuisances, or common criminals.
The investigation targets four units of the police force: intelligence, robbery investigation, and anti-terrorism divisions, and what is most similar to SWAT in the United States.
The suspected extrajudicial killing operations recall a dark history of death squads run by state security forces in the South American country that were aimed at wiping out armed left-wing guerrilla movements particularly under the reign of strongman Alberto Fujimori.
In the early years of Fujimori’s authoritarian presidency, which later morphed into a dictatorship, the anti-communist military death squad known as Grupo Colima was responsible for various massacres — allegedly targeting members of the notorious Maoist rebel army the Shining Path — and other widespread human rights abuses.
Fujimori, currently serving a 20 year jail sentence for charges of corruption and human rights abuses, was convicted for ordering Grupo Colima to carry out two high-profile massacres in Lima the early 1990’s in the Barrios Altos neighborhood and at La Cantuta University that killed a total of 25 people.
The former dictator’s legacy shot into the national and international spotlight again this year as his daughter, Keiko Fujimori, led the polls for months as the favored presidential candidate, though she ultimately lost in a runoff to Kuczynski.
Popular protests under the banner “Fujimori Never Again” repeatedly filled the streets of Lima with thousands of people rejecting Keiko’s candidacy and highlighting the brutal human rights abuses of the Fujimori dictatorship, including death squad killings, forced sterilization of nearly 300,000 mostly Indigenous women, and widespread oppression of civil and political rights.