- The Washington Times - Monday, February 27, 2006

LIMA, Peru — Teresa Avila says she found her brother-in-law floating in the Huallaga River, a bullet in his forehead and knife wounds in his chest, a week after soldiers dragged him and his wife from their jungle home. Her sister’s body never turned up.

She had gone to the Madre Mia counterinsurgency base looking for them, Miss Avila said, but the commander, known as “Captain Carlos,” denied they were there.

“He told me, ‘Your family is a scourge and if they were in my hands I would kill them all,’” she recalled.

Nearly 14 years later, Miss Avila has identified Captain Carlos as Ollanta Humala, now a retired army lieutenant colonel with a fighting chance of becoming Peru’s next president.

Miss Avila is one of five persons who filed criminal complaints this month accusing Col. Humala and his soldiers of disappearances, torture and attempted murder during his 1992 command of the jungle base.

Human right groups say about 300 people disappeared that year in the Huallaga Valley, where inhabitants were caught in the crossfire of Maoist Shining Path rebels, cocaine traffickers and soldiers stationed in counterinsurgency bases.

Col. Humala, now 43, acknowledges using the pseudonym Captain Carlos to avoid rebel reprisals at the time, but denies any wrongdoing. He says he is being smeared to derail his presidential campaign.

“They want to destroy a soldier, but I will not permit it,” Col. Humala told a rally in a poor Lima neighborhood.

For the past month, the Peruvian press has aired accounts from jungle residents accusing Col. Humala of overseeing systematic abuses in the area.

Col. Humala, a strident nationalist who says he would exert state control over Peru’s economy and crack down on corruption, is running a strong second behind the establishment candidate, former Congresswoman Lourdes Flores Nano, in a field of 21 candidates. But he appears to have lost momentum since accusations of atrocities have surfaced.

A poll last week by Datum Internacional showed a sharp drop in the number of Peruvians who think Col. Humala will win the April 9 election.

Col. Humala’s spokesman, Daniel Abugattas, accused Mrs. Nano’s campaign of paying jungle dwellers to fabricate the accusations, and said Col. Humala won’t respond to any questions about “Captain Carlos.”

Peru is known for its rough-and-tumble political campaigns. President Alejandro Toledo was accused before the last election of partaking in a cocaine-stimulated tryst with three prostitutes in a Lima motel, while his main opponent, former President Alan Garcia, faced rumors that he took lithium for manic depression. Neither accusation was proved.

“It’s one thing to consume lithium and another cocaine,” Mr. Garcia said then. He is running again, a distant third in the race.

Peruvians also have fresh memories of the brutal guerrilla war and savage backlash by security forces between 1980 and 2000 that killed nearly 70,000 people and caused $22 billion in damage.

It was common then for military patrols to abuse people thought to be rebel sympathizers, said Carlos Tapia, a former member of Peru’s truth commission.

“They would kick in doors, kick the suspects, drag them out, beat them up and take them to the base,” Mr. Tapia said. “At the base, they would be interrogated, tortured, in many cases murdered and made to disappear.”

Miss Avila’s brother, Jorge Avila, said he too was taken captive, and beaten and tortured with electric shocks over eight days “in the presence of Captain Carlos.” He said that he escaped late one night by leaping into the Huallaga River after soldiers took several of the captives to a jungle spot known as “el matadero,” or “the slaughterhouse,” to be killed.

Not all of Col. Humala’s accusers were suspected of guerrilla involvement.

Zonia Luis, who ran a drugstore and small grocery in front of the Madre Mia base, told the newspaper La Republica that Col. Humala and a dozen soldiers broke into her home one night, stole her money, roughed her up and shaved her head in retribution for demanding that they settle unpaid bills. Col. Humala has denied that report as well.

The National Coordinator for Human Rights in Peru is providing legal representation to the jungle families. Spokesman Alejandro Silva says his group is simply trying to uncover the truth.

“It is important to clear this up,” Mr. Silva said. “We believe that those who aspire to be president should have stain-free records.”

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