Peru's President Alan Garcia has again faced questions as the country's highest court continues a judicial investigation into the killings of dozens of prisoners at El Fronton island prison during Garcia's first term as president (1985-1990). The court ordered the investigation in 2004 in an effort to determine responsibility for the incident in which more than 118 suspected leftist guerrillas died at El Fronton when marines were sent to put down their uprising. Garcia denies political responsibility for the killings, but lawyers for victims' families say they have evidence that Garcia ordered the massacre.
The killings happened when security forces stormed the maximum-security prison near Lima during a riot on July 19, 1986 (see NotiSur, 2003-09-12). The armed forces took control of the prison, but afterward numerous extrajudicial killings and other excesses were documented, according to Lima newspaper El Comercio.
Garcia and the nation then faced a brutal conflict with the Maoist rebel group Sendero Luminoso. Garcia, elected president for a second time in July 2006 (see NotiSur, 2006-06-16), has already been cleared of any wrongdoing.
Garcia a witness, not the accused
Garcia, appearing as a witness, told a hearing on Feb. 9 that he did not have any knowledge of the operation at the time. Judge Maria Leon Yarango invited Garcia to testify as a witness, not as an accused person. "I think it's an issue that is almost 21 years old and about which I have already testified 19 times and for which I have been exonerated numerous times," he told journalists after his testimony.
A lawyer for the victims' families, Carlos Rivera, said evidence showed that political and legal responsibility for the inmates' deaths lay with Garcia and other top officials. He says the investigation has revealed contradictions that, "from my point of view, are unresolvable."
And, some of the military chiefs involved in the operation say the president received regular updates on the events at the prison.
The incident was not only considered tragic but also as a black mark on the relatively new government of Garcia. The country was hosting a meeting of more than twenty heads of state at a summit of the Socialist International that day.
Ex-cabinet member denies having radio during killing
A leader in Garcia's Alianza Popular Revolucionaria Americana (APRA) and close friend of Garcia, Augustin Mantilla, then serving as vice minister of the interior, was the top government representative at El Fronton. He testified to Judge Leon on Feb. 27 that he …