LIMA (Reuters) - Peru’s embattled President Alan Garcia asked Congress on Monday to repeal a decree he issued two weeks ago that gave virtual amnesty to hundreds of people accused of atrocities during a civil war that killed 69,000.
Garcia backtracked only hours after acclaimed Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa harshly criticized him in a letter in which he resigned as head of a commission appointed to build a museum to honor victims of the 1980-2000 conflict, which was one of the bloodiest ever in Latin America.
Garcia’s decree said that defendants in trials for human rights crimes committed before 2003 must be sentenced within 36 months of the start of their trial.
As most of the hundreds of pending cases have been bogged down for years, Vargas Llosa called the measure an “amnesty in disguise.” Other critics have said the measure could violate the U.N. agreements on human rights signed by Peru.
Peru’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission found that widespread rights abuses occurred during the 1990-2000 presidency of Alberto Fujimori and, to a lesser extent, during Garcia’s first term in the 1980s.
Fujimori has been convicted for rights crimes, and activists say they want to put Garcia on trial, too.
"This is truly a disgrace that will revive political divisions in the country, precisely at a time of exceptional (economic) progress and during an election that should be used to reinforce our legal institutions and democracy," Vargas Llosa wrote in his letter made public by the human rights group Instituto de Defensa Legal (idl-reporteros.pe/).
Peru will elect a new president next year and Garcia is barred by the constitution from running for a second straight term. One of the frontrunners in the race is Keiko Fujimori, a popular lawmaker and the daughter of the former president.
In his letter, Vargas Llosa accused Garcia of capitulating to pressure from the military, which was accused of rights abuses in repressing a leftist guerrilla insurgency.
He also suggested Garcia may have issued the decree to shield himself from allegations of crimes that rights groups have said they want to charge him with in the future.
In his first term in 1986, Garcia, frustrated that the leftist Shining Path insurgency had taken over the El Fronton prison and two other jails, ordered the armed forces to attack. More than 200 prisoners were killed, many summarily executed.
Rights groups have said there is a precedent for bringing Garcia to trial — especially after Peru’s top court sentenced former President Fujimori to 25 years in prison last year for ordering two massacres in the 1990s, just as he was turning the tide in the war against leftist insurgents.
Vargas Llosa said the country still fails to recognize there were atrocities committed by both sides.
“There is an essential incompatibility between sponsoring the construction of a museum to remember the victims of violence unleashed by the Shining Path terrorists and giving liberty to those who, in the course of repressing fanatics, also committed horrendous crimes,” Vargas Llosa said.
Reporting by Marco Aquino and Patricia Velez; Writing by Terry Wade; Editing by Anthony Boadle and Paul Simao