Peru’s foreign minister resigns after controversial terrorism comments

Béjar blamed Peru’s navy for terrorism and claimed CIA responsible for insurgency

People hold signs that read ‘Béjar Out’. Minister’s resignation is the latest setback for new president Pedro Castillo, who faces a battle to have his cabinet approved by the opposition-dominated congress. Photograph: Gian Masko/AFP via Getty

People hold signs that read ‘Béjar Out’. Minister’s resignation is the latest setback for new president Pedro Castillo, who faces a battle to have his cabinet approved by the opposition-dominated congress. Photograph: Gian Masko/AFP via Getty

 

Peru’s new hard-left president Pedro Castillo saw his rocky start in office worsen this week when he lost his foreign minister after just 19 days to a controversy over terrorism.

Héctor Béjar resigned after a video emerged in which he blamed Peru’s navy for introducing terrorism into the country and claimed the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was behind the Maoist Shining Path insurgency, which terrorised the Andean nation in the 1980s and 1990s.

In an online talk for a regional left-wing group last year the 85-year-old academic said he was “convinced, though I cannot prove it, that the Shining Path was in large part the work of the CIA and the intelligence services”.

His remarks caused outrage in a country still scarred by the legacy of its internal conflict. A truth commission blamed the majority of the 69,000 deaths recorded during the bloodshed on the fanatical Shining Path group, which was unique among Latin American insurgencies for its brutality.

The commission also found the country’s security forces responsible for killing thousands of civilians during a vicious counter-insurgency campaign. After the footage emerged on Sunday night, the country’s navy issued a strongly worded rebuke, and was backed by the new defence minister. Unable to resist the mounting pressure, Mr Béjar resigned on Tuesday.

Disquiet

Mr Béjar’s initial appointment had caused disquiet among the military.

In the 1960s he had fought against the army with a Cuban-backed guerrilla group and was engineering a reorientation of Peru’s international relations towards support for the communist island and the chavista regime in Venezuela when he was forced out.

His resignation is the latest setback for Mr Castillo, who faces a battle to have his new cabinet approved by the opposition-dominated congress later this month. The teachers’ union leader came from nowhere to be the surprise winner of this year’s presidential election as the candidate of the fringe Marxist party, Free Peru.

Opponents have sought to undermine him by attempting to link the new administration to the now largely defunct Shining Path. Critics had already seized on Mr Castillo’s appointment of Guido Bellido as his prime minister. He has made several comments in the past deemed sympathetic to the Maoist group, leading to the opening of an investigation into him as a possible apologist for terrorism, a crime in Peru.

Questions

Mr Bellido is viewed as more loyal to Free Peru’s hardline founder Vladimir Cerrón than the new president, and his appointment heightened questions about who will exercise real power in the new administration. Mr Cerrón gave the political novice his party’s nomination only because he was barred from running because of a previous corruption conviction.

The new administration’s chaotic start in office and the possibility of a constitutional stand-off with congress has seen Mr Castillo’s popularity slide in opinion polls and caused a run on the country’s currency.