Peru: Morning News Roundup – Thursday March 6

Peru, Bolivia Defend Chewing Coca

Peru and Bolivia brushed off calls from a U.N.-affiliated drug watchdog to criminalize the chewing of coca leaves, a tradition among indigenous populations in the Andes. The International Narcotics Control Board released an annual report Wednesday that reminded the two governments that use and possession of coca leaves, the main ingredient in cocaine, are limited to medical and scientific purposes. The report said that "coca leaf chewing should have been abolished" in those countries 25 years ago. Representatives from Peru and Bolivia called the board’s report disrespectful of indigenous traditions. Coca leaves are still used in indigenous medicine and religious ceremonies. Andean people have chewed coca for thousands of years to stave off hunger and as a remedy for ailments from altitude sickness to stomach aches. Coca tea is served in offices in the Bolivian capital instead of coffee. (LA Times – click here to read complete article by Leslie Josephs)

Bolivia and Peru defend coca use

Bolivia and Peru have defended the continued, traditional use of coca leaves after they were criticised by a UN drugs agency report. The UN report concentrated on coca cultivation as the basis for cocaine production, they said. It failed to recognise that coca leaves had been used by indigenous peoples for medicinal and religious purposes for centuries, they added. Peru and Bolivia are second only to Colombia as world cocaine producers. Peru said a balance was needed between allowing cultivation for traditional uses while preventing it for cocaine production. "One of the principles of humanitarian law is the respect of traditional customs, recognised by the national constitution," said Jose Belaunde, Peru’s foreign relations minister. "The United Nations lacks respect for the indigenous people of Peru and Bolivia who have used the coca leaf since forever," said Peruvian Congresswoman Maria Sumire. (BBC News – click here to read complete article)

US Judge Awards $37M in Peru Massacre

A federal judge has ordered a former Peruvian army officer to pay $37 million for his role in a 1985 massacre in Peru in which 69 civilians were slain, including elderly people and infants. U.S. District Judge Adalberto Jordan ruled Tuesday in a lawsuit filed against former Maj. Telmo Hurtado by two women — Ochoa Lizarbe and Pulido Baldeon — who were 12 at the time and survived the attack. Jordan had previously found in the lawsuit that Hurtado was had committed torture, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Hurtado, 46, is in federal custody in Miami while fighting deportation to Peru, with a hearing set for March 26. He did not contest the lawsuit, did not have a lawyer and refused to testify last month when he was brought to court for a hearing on damages. Jordan said the money can be awarded under a 1991 U.S. law allowing torture victims to collect damages in this country for violations if a foreign government refuses to do so. Neither woman has received any compensation from Peru’s government. (AP – click here to read complete article by Curt Anderson)

Massacre Participant Unsuccessfully Seeking Asylum in US

In a desperate attempt to keep out of the reach of the Peruvian justice system, which is investigating a 1985 massacre of 69 highland villagers by the military, retired army captain David Castañeda is seeking — unsuccessfully so far — political asylum in the United States. Castañeda alleges that he cannot return to Peru because he has received death threats from the Maoist Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) guerrillas that he fought against in the second half of the 1980s. Officers Castañeda, Telmo Hurtado and Juan Rivera led the army units that killed 30 women, 23 children, and 16 mainly older men on Aug. 14, 1985 in the village of Accomarca in the southern highlands region of Ayacucho, where Sendero rebels were supposedly hiding. The legal investigation concluded that Hurtado commanded the massacre, Rivera posted troops around the houses where the rounded-up victims were locked up, shot, and burnt to death, so that no one could escape, and Castañeda cut off the road and paths into the village with his "Tigre" patrol unit. (IPS – click here to read complete article by Ángel Páez)

At least 19 killed in highway accident in Peru

At least 19 people were killed and 48 injured in a highway accident in Peru’s southern Andean region of Ayacucho, police said Wednesday. The accident occurred Tuesday night when an interprovincial bus turned over on the Puquio-Abancay road, some 500 kms southeast of Lima. Speeding, overload of passengers and cargo as well as bad road conditions affected by heavy rainfalls caused the accident, police said. The injured have been sent to local hospitals and five of those seriously injured have been transferred to hospitals in Ica and Lima. (Xinhua – click here to see article)