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8/29/08

Death in Peru

Panorama of the District of Sanagorán

Tonight we bring you a story from "The Other Peru". Extrajudicial killings and cover-ups, corrupt government officials, death by poisonings, police corruption, mob rule and drug trafficking. All the ingredients that would make for international headlines in any Latin American country not deemed "investor friendly" by the North.

This is the Peru that long-suffering Peruvians want stamped out, and this story of complicity between government officials, police and large amounts of drug money is one that is quietly repeated up and down the country. This particular sordid tale has only unraveled because one man went too far and was denounced by locals demanding justice in the face of official indifference, and they had to literally riot before anyone from the National gov't took notice.

The cast of characters


1) Santos Ruíz Guerra, aged 35.....
.... the Mayor of Sanagorán, a district of La Libertad region, Peru. Suspected of murder, illegal financial activities and narcotrafficking.

Location of Sanagorán

2) Santos Sabino Cerna, aged 19, hired assassin.
Now dead, presumed murdered by poisoning. The local police force are strongly suspected of his death.

3) Marcelino Yupanqui Pacheco, aged 45, typist or topograph (depending on conflicting reports in local and national media), native of the nearby town of Huamachuco. Murdered by being shot to death and decapitated, his body dumped in a ravine.

4) César Silva Urbizagastegui, Police Commander. Suspected of leading a corrupt local police force.

5) One angry mob

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The events

5th June 2008: Marcelino Yupanqui Pacheco, a local of the region, is reported dead in a ravine. The police state he died in a motorcycle accident and fell into a deep ravine.

16th June: Yupanqui's body is recovered from the ravine where it fell. The body had been decapitated (head still not found) and its arms cut off. A bullet wound was found in the torso .The autopsy fiscal later stated "I do not have the slightest doubt that this was a murder."

6th June to 5th August: Time passes. The police seem to do nothing and get nowhere with the investigation. The local population get agitated.

6th August: Locals capture and hand in to the local police Santos Sabino Cerna, aged 19.

Santos Sabino Cerna is handed in by locals

Santos then calmly confesses to helping murder Yupanqui by taking him to the scene of the crime on motorcycle. He also states that Santos Ruíz Guerra, the Mayor of Sanagorán, was the person who killed Yupanqui by shooting him twice in the head and once in the back. Two other people (as yet uncaptured) were at the crime scene, and between them the Mayor gave them between S/30,000 (about U$11,000) and S/35,000. Santos's share was S/15,000.

The motive of the crime was apparently to silence Yupanqui about the Mayor's financial dealings, almost certainly cocaine-related. Yupanqui had often complained to his wife (now widow) that he was hated by the Mayor and entourage because he refused to join in with his criminal activity.

An order for the arrest of Mayor Ruíz Guerra is issued. The mayor takes refuge with some 300 loyal locals in Sanagorán. The police do not execute the arrest order.

26th August: A mob congregates in Huamachuco town plaza and demands the arrest of the mayor as well as the arrest of the second in command at the municipality building, who they accuse of also being guilty of the murder. They also demand the resignation of the local police force commander, César Silva Urbizagastegui, alleging he is part of the corrupt gang. A 24 hour deadline is announced.

27th August: The mayor arrives from next door Sanagorán and hands himself in to the police at Huamachuco. The mayor is accompanied by a large crowd of Sanagorán supporters who protest his innocence. Local Huamachuco dwellers arrive, and fighting breaks out between the two groups. The Huamachuco locals then sack the police station and try to capture Mayor Ruíz Guerra in order to linch him.

Mayor Ruíz Guerra escapes along with the seven police officers on duty. The police station is destroyed and three police vehicles set on fire as well as the contents of the police station. Nineteen prisoners escape from jail, including Sabino Cerna. National police arrive the next morning to restore calm.

29th August (yesterday): Santos Sabino Cerna, the confessed assassin hired by Mayor Ruíz Guerra is allowed home after being recaptured. He complains of having been beaten and threatened by police, who want him to retract his confession. He shows his father two needle marks on his arm and says the police injected him with something. Minutes later he begins to feel unwell. Four hours later he is dead, showing all symptoms of having been poisoned. The autopsy is currently underway.

The case against the Mayor relied solely on the confession of the now dead Sabino Cerna. The mayor is currently being held in the coastal city of Trujillo while investigations continue.

UPDATE SATURDAY 30th: Cover up, what cover up? The official autopsy has said that Santos Sabino Cerna did not die of poisoning, but of pulmonary edema. I'm no doctor, but here's the wikipedia page to give a general idea, and it does say that the causes are "either due to direct damage to the tissue or a result of inadequate functioning of the heart or circulatory system." So what's a 19 year old doing with a suddenly inadequate heart? I mean, would you be suspicious of this diagnosis?

At the funeral procession, the 1,000 people attending gave authorities 10 days to bring some justice to this case, and included the reiterated demand for the resignation of the local police chief as one of their demands. So far there haven't been any more violent episodes, but you can bet money on there being further trouble if the Peruvian authorities continue sweeping this scandal under the carpet. It's not just Denmark that stinks sometimes.