Peruvian foreign minister quits amid criticism for comments

Aug 17, 2021, 4:45 AM | Updated: 7:25 pm
Peru's President Pedro Castillo, second from left, is followed by Prime Minister Guido Bellido and ...

Peru's President Pedro Castillo, second from left, is followed by Prime Minister Guido Bellido and Defense Minister Walter Ayala at a military parade in Lima, Peru, Friday, July 30, 2021. (AP Photo/Guadalupe Pardo)

(AP Photo/Guadalupe Pardo)

LIMA, Peru (AP) — Peru’s foreign secretary resigned Tuesday amid criticism for comments he made about terrorism in the country in the late 20th century, leaving the new government of President Pedro Castillo less than a month after it assumed power.

The presidency’s press office said in a statement that Foreign Affairs Secretary Héctor Béjar, 85, had handed in a letter of “irrevocable resignation” and the president accepted it.

The government didn’t cite any reason, but the opposition and some media have been criticizing the sociology professor and former guerilla member for saying that the Shining Path terrorist group was a CIA creation and that the Peruvian navy had been responsible for terrorist acts.

After departing, Béjar said on his Facebook account: “I am free again!!!”

Béjar was taken to task for not presenting any evidence to back up his comments, and some opposition members had called Monday for his resignation.

Jorge Montoya, a retired admiral and a current legislator for the conservative Popular Renewal oarty, said Béjar’s comments “are tremendously damaging the image of the Foreign Ministry and tarnishing the prestige of our armed forces.”

The navy disputed the comments, saying in a statement Monday that “the Peruvian Navy deplores statements of this nature that seek to distort the history of national pacification.”

Castillo, a leftist political novice who is the first Peruvian president of peasant origins, did not make any public comment. He met with chiefs of the army, navy and air force in the afternoon, but no statements were issued.

In late 2020, Béjar said at a news conference that terrorist acts in Peru were “started” by the navy. “That can be historically proved,” he said, referring to some incidents a few years before the appearance of Shining Path.

According to U.S. diplomatic cables from the 1970s released some years ago by Wikileaks, the U.S. Embassy said some dissidents or right-wing navy members might be behind a 1975 explosion at the navy minister’s home and two attacks in 1977 against two Cuban ships docked on the Peruvian coast.

The Maoist-inspired Shining Path began its fight to oust Peru’s government in 1980, setting off a conflict that lasted two decades. The 1992 capture of its top leader, Abimael Guzmán, and the loss of many other commanders severely weakened the group, which faded by 2000. A truth commission estimates more than 69,000 people, mostly peasants in the Andes and Amazonia areas, were killed in the conflict.

Béjar was not the only Cabinet member being criticized. Prime Minister Guido Bellido has been lambasted for homophobic and misogynists comments made some years ago in his social media accounts, and the opposition has asked for his resignation.

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Peruvian foreign minister quits amid criticism for comments