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.
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.
“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.