Erratic policies for dealing with social conflicts and the fight against narcoterrorism have led to two Cabinet shakeups in five months for the administration of Peru's President Ollanta Humala.
The first changes occurred in December, when a social conflict erupted in the department of Cajamarca, in the northern highlands, after residents opposed the development of the Conga mining project. The fallout resulted in the replacement of 10 Cabinet ministers and the designation of retired Lt. Col. Oscar Valdes Dancuart as prime minister (NotiSur, Jan. 20, 2012).
This time, the Cabinet changes were the result of errors by the armed forces and police in the operation (Operacion Libertad) to rescue 36 workers at the Coga and Skanska companies, which provide services to the Camisea gas consortium. The workers were kidnapped by narcoterrorists in the town of Kepashiato in the jungle province of La Convencion, Cusco region, on April 9.
Kepashiato is in the Valle de los Rios Apurimac y Ene (VRAE), an inhospitable jungle area where the remnants of the terrorist group Sendero Luminoso operate, under the leadership of the Quispe Palomino family clan and the drug mafias (NotiSur, March 23, 2012).
In a ransom note published in the local press, the captors demanded US$10 million, an annual "war tax" of US$1.2 million, and explosives. The government immediately declared a state of emergency in La Convencion province and sent in 1,500 troops.
On April 10, Capt. Nancy Flores of the Policia Nacional del Peru (PNP) was killed when terrorists shot down her helicopter as it flew over the area searching for the hostages.
Rescue operation questioned
Five days after they were kidnapped, the 36 workers were released by their captors and arrived on their own in a jungle village.
President Humala, who was in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia, attending the Sixth Summit of the Americas, called the rescue effort "an impeccable operation" resulting from joint police and military actions. "We have carried out an impeccable operation without any type of negotiation; we spoke very clearly with the companies involved and explained to them that the state's policy, and particularly that of the administration, is to not negotiate with terrorist criminals or kidnappers," said the president.
In a communique issued in Cartagena, Humala said that "the terrorists proceeded to free the hostages when they realized they were surrounded," and he repeated that the administration did not give in to blackmail....