LIMA, Peru (AP) — A Peruvian judge convicted retired military general and conservative politician Daniel Uresti and sentenced him to 12 years on Thursday for his role 35 years ago in the murder of a journalist who covered abuses during Peru’s civil war. Sentenced to jail.
Hailed by advocates as an overdue but important decision in upholding accountability and press freedom in Peru, the sentence represents a marked change for Urresti, who has been serving as interior minister, congressman and presidential candidate. Along with this, he has also been a frequent political commentator.
Urresti was a military intelligence officer in November 1988 when journalist Hugo Bustios was machine gunned and initially blown up with dynamite in an assassination by the communist militant group Shining Path. A fellow journalist of Bastios narrowly escaped the attack.
Members of the military were later convicted of ambushing a plainclothes patrol in Huanta province to prevent a journalist from covering news of military abuses against civilians in largely indigenous territory. The man, who had been a local military commander, was convicted of an attack in 2007, and had implicated Uresti as a member of that patrol in 2011.
Judge Juan Santillan handed down the sentence in Lima on Thursday as Uresti listened with his wife and daughter, whom he hugged before being taken into custody by police. Prosecutors had requested 25 years, but said they were satisfied with the sentence. Urresti indicated he would appeal.
Sharmilee Busteos, daughter of the slain journalist and his late widow, told reporters that after 35 years, “I can say to my parents that they can finally rest in peace.”
The National Association of Journalists said in statements on social media that the decision was restorative for both Bastios’ family and journalism. “This is an important step towards protecting justice and freedom of the press in Peru,” the group said.
Urresti was a popular interior minister under President Ollanta Humala in 2014-15, with a reputation for being outspoken and taking tough measures against crime. He served in the Congress of Peru in 2020–21.
Only after the second trial was there a conviction against the politician. He was initially acquitted in a decision that was overturned in 2019 by the Supreme Court, which ordered a new trial, saying the previous process was riddled with errors.
The capital of Huanta province, also called Huanta, about 370 miles (600 km) southeast of Lima, was one of the most violent cities during the war between the Peruvian military and the Shining Path from 1980 to 2000.
Herminia Ore, who represents the missing and tortured in that city, told a reporter for The Associated Press in 2015 that there was paranoia in the Huanta during the conflict. “The night a candle was lit in your house, because of which the army arrested you,” she said.
The civil war killed an estimated 70,000 people, most of them in rural areas where the dominant languages were Quechua and Ashaninka