Reward for ‘hero’ cop in Peru’s drug war: Neglect

By FRANK BAJAK

TALAVERA, Peru (AP) — Johnny Vega rarely carried his 9-mm pistol when he wasn’t on duty. He wishes he had that day.

The narcotics cop was chatting with a friend on a park bench, the Andean sun burning the dawn’s chill off this highlands town nearly 10,000 feet above sea level.

 On that morning of Aug. 20, 2014, Vega had dropped his son Juan at nursery school and then walked to Talavera’s main square. He noticed a tall young man strolling by and wondered if he knew him.

Vega was a rarity in this nation where cops, courts and congress are badly compromised by corruption . An earnest provincial narcotics officer, he had made a career of actually doing what he was trained for: locking up criminals.

Defying death threats from narcos, he led a hand-picked team of trusted officers who consistently scored trafficker arrests and record drug seizures even as Peru became the world’s No. 1 cocaine producer. In a country where police are as likely to take bribes as to make arrests, Vega was a hero. Three times, he had been named police officer of the year.

In this March 30, 2015 photo, narcotics police Sgt. Johnny Vega, poses for a portrait in Lima, Peru. Vega, 46, was shot during an attempt on his life in 2014 in what police called payback for taking down the region's biggest drug gang. He remains disabled and is struggling to mend. If he doesn't by August, he will be forced to retire. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

 Vega was deep in conversation when the young man walked by again, stopped and leveled a silencer-equipped Bersa at the cop’s head.

“What are you doing, dammit!” Vega shouted, jumping to his feet. The bullet ripped into him just below his solar plexus. Without hesitating, he dashed for a nearby taxi stand, leaning forward and zig-zagging to make himself a smaller target.

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Peru state a violent ‘mini-dictatorship’

By FRANK BAJAK

CHIMBOTE, Peru (AP) — One by one, the senior officials from the capital took the microphone and apologized to an auditorium packed with angry people who had long been living in fear. The officials admitted they had failed to prevent a political murder foretold by its victim. Their integrity was in doubt.

Peru’s chief prosecutor, comptroller and the head of Congress’ investigations committee, which was now holding a public hearing, had all ignored evidence that Ezequiel Nolasco, now murdered, had thrust in their faces for months.

In this Nov. 26, 2013 photo, Ancash Gov. Cesar Alvarez talks on his cell phone. 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)

In this Nov. 26, 2013 photo, Ancash Gov. Cesar Alvarez talks on his cell phone. 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)

Having survived a 2010 assassination attempt after he denounced government corruption, Nolasco had repeatedly warned that his home state, Ancash, was run by a criminal syndicate that plundered the treasury, killed people it couldn’t buy or intimidate, wiretapped foes and used police as spies and journalists as character assassins.

A gunman finished the job on March 14, pumping five bullets into the former construction union leader when he stopped for a beer heading home from Lima to this coastal city that is home to nearly half of Ancash’s 1.1 million people.

Ancash was living under the ironclad rule of a governor locals compared to U.S. mob legend Al Capone, his political machine allegedly greased by tens of millions in annual mining revenues that had made Ancash Peru’s richest state.

Read full story at AP’s Big Story site