Peru just offered amnesty to potential grenade attack plotters

GlobalPost
Peru grenades
Just a couple of the grenades found around the Peruvian capital.
National Police of Peru

LIMA, Peru — Adolfo Castellano was, by any measure, a police hero. 

The father of two and 29-year veteran of the service also had one of the riskiest jobs in the business: unexploded munitions expert.

Last month he paid the ultimate sacrifice after a grenade left outside a school detonated in his face as he attempted to deactivate it.

The explosion all but blew one of his hands off and Castellano, 51, died on his way to hospital. The horrific moment was captured by TV cameras and has been broadcast repeatedly — despite his family's appeals to stop.

Castellano’s death was just the latest in a string of grenade attacks in Peru that has forced the government to desperate measures: It has now announced a 90-day amnesty for people to anonymously hand in grenades and other illegal ordnance, including guns with the registration numbers filed off.

Peru is trying to come to grips with gangs preying on private businesses for money and frequently using grenades as their weapon of choice. Favorite targets include construction sites, restaurants and, particularly horrific, the country’s growing number of private schools.

Peru has some of the worst public education of any country in the upper-middle-income bracket. So private schools have been opening up, often in lower-income neighborhoods, and charging as little as $100 a month, like the one Castellano was protecting in the vast shantytown of Villa El Salvador. 

It subsequently emerged that the school’s owner had been paying the extortionists 20,000 Peruvian soles per month (around $6,000). But he had balked when the crooks began demanding 50,000 soles a month.

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Other businesses have not been immune either. In July, thugs detonated a grenade during a circus act in another troubled Lima neighborhood, San Juan de Lurigancho.

Eleven people, including at least one clown, were injured, most from shrapnel wounds, although a couple also had hearing problems following the blast. Cops later attributed the attack to crooks trying to extort the circus owner.

And the grenades keep turning up. One appeared in a tin can in another Villa El Salvador school just days after Castellano’s death. And then another was found near a fishing pier in a different part of Lima.

The attacks and discoveries have also prompted infighting within the government over the source of the grenades.

The police have blamed the armed forces for failing to keep tabs on their inventory and allowing corrupt service members to sell munitions to gangsters.

Defense Minister Jakke Valakivi initially denied that, before an investigation revealed that at least some of the grenades loose on Peru’s streets have come from the army.

Yet Peru’s police, frequently accused of corruption and ineptitude, have also come out of the saga looking bad, the courageous self-sacrifice of Castellano notwithstanding.

For many years, some police here were equipped with full military combat gear as they were sent to the country's remote corners to fight a ferocious civil war with Marxist revolutionaries from the Shining Path, often regarded as one of the world’s most vicious terrorist outfits.

Even today, cops gear up like soldiers specializing in jungle warfare and still engage with remnants of the group in the Valley of the Apurimac and Ene Rivers, the area that produces more coca — the key ingredient in cocaine — than any other on Earth.

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And that gear includes grenades. At least one former cop has now been accused of selling grenades at 200 soles ($60) each.

The new amnesty may now mean that some of those who turn in the munitions — if any do — may be corrupt current or former members of the armed forces or police, taking the perfect opportunity to anonymously unload hot grenades, no questions asked.