Political murder betrays violence, corruption in Peruvian state's 'mini-dictatorship'

The Associated Press

In this Nov. 26, 2013 photo, Ancash Gov. Cesar Alvarez talks on his cell phone in Lima, Peru. Alvarez ran a “mini-dictatorship” in a state plagued by political murder where the courts and prosecutor’s office were "taken over by criminals," Peru’s anti-corruption prosecutor alleges. A judge has barred him from leaving the country while more than 100 shelved corruption cases are revived. (AP Photo/Edwin Julca)

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"If people keep getting killed, I'm going to be blamed," said Alvarez. He suggested a political rival could be "orchestrating everything here."

For his part, Salas is focusing on the clandestine former command post called "La Centralita" from which Alvarez allegedly ran a shadow underground state, with nearly $1 million a month in bribes doled out.

Four prosecutors who tried to search "La Centralita" in 2012 weren't just fired.

They were accused of abuse of authority by the man who was elected Peru's chief prosecutor on Wednesday, Carlos Ramos, when he headed the office's internal discipline unit.

Ramos' predecessor, Jose Pelaez, shelved a probe into the governor's finances last year, saying Alvarez did not own a single piece of property.

"I've always lived austerely," Alvarez told the AP. He said doesn't even own his home. His in-laws do.

Nolasco's lone political ally in Lima, highlands congressman Modesto Julca, clamored last July for a state of emergency to be called in Ancash. He counted nearly a dozen political murders — including that of a mayor, a former mayor, a prosecutor, a journalist and the key witness in the Nolasco case.

"I told each and every minister, 'Listen, people are getting death threats. People are getting killed,'" he said. "But nobody paid any attention."

That month, a 9-year-old boy handed local anti-corruption prosecutor Nancy Moreno a manila envelope with a bullet inside. "Knock it off," the accompanying note read.

One of a handful of public officials who has refused to bow to Alvarez, Moreno has been a prisoner in her own home ever since.

Constantly accompanied by bodyguards, she has been advised not to spend more than an hour in any one place.

"She takes pills so she can sleep," said her husband, Ismael Garcia.

Moreno's fearlessness has won her admiration, and she was celebrated with chants of "Nancy! Nancy!" at Monday's congressional hearing, which was held a block from the harbor where Chimbote's fishing fleet anchors.

She sat in the auditorium with the very congressional committee that voted in July not to investigate Alvarez.

The Rev. Luis Palmino, former mayor of the highlands town of Yungay, was among the more than 130 witnesses who told the panel of contract murders, judges obstructing justice, police thuggery and local media submission.

Thugs beat him and broke some teeth in 2010, he said, and three gunmen later tried to kill him. He's since gone into hiding.

"I am constantly on the move," he said. "I am followed and my phone is tapped."

Palomino didn't go to police, he said, because the local police chief was in Alvarez's pocket.

Like others, he had been emboldened to speak after the media spectacle unleashed by Nolasco's murder.

"My father always said, 'The day I die, the mafia falls,'" Fiorela Nolasco told the AP.

The president of the local economists association, Luis Luna, said the toll from all the corruption has been devastating. Ancash has only just $5 million in its treasury after an orgy of public works spending that included phantom and unfinished projects.

Among the latter is Chimbote's $11 million sports coliseum.

Construction was halted more than two years ago for reasons that have not been explained to Moreno's satisfaction.

The project is now a solitary wasteland of partially poured concrete and rusting rebar, rising spindly out of the sand like a sickly Stonehenge.

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