Asia-Pacific Leaders to Meet in Former Torture Chamber

LIMA ~ Asia-Pacific leaders holding a summit this weekend in Peru will meet in a place with a dark history – the army headquarters once notorious as a torture center.

US President George W. Bush and 20 other leaders in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum will meet for two days starting Saturday with the perilous state of the global economy topping the agenda.

With Lima on the highest state of alert for the high-powered summit, the leaders are set to gather in the tightly guarded headquarters of the army opened in 1975 by dictator Juan Velasco Alvarado.

Stretching across a dusty 40 hectares in the heart of the coastal capital, the army base has been nicknamed the “Pentagonito” after the imposing US Defense Department headquarters near Washington.

But the site comes with a stigma. The army interrogated prisoners there during the campaign against the far-left Shining Path rebels, a conflict that claimed some 70,000 lives over two decades until 2000.

Prosecutors are pursuing some of the cases in the ongoing trial of former president Alberto Fujimori, who crushed the Shining Path during his 1990-2000 presidency.

The former leader is accused, among other cases, of authorizing the kidnapping and torture of a prominent businessman, Samuel Dyer, and the former correspondent of Spain’s El Pais newspaper, Gustavo Gorriti. Fujimori denies he was responsible.

The army has never commented on charges that it used the base as a center of torture and extrajudicial killings during the war on the Shining Path.

In the most prominent case, the army was accused of kidnapping and killing Enrique Duchicela, a military attache at the Ecuadorean embassy suspected of spying.

Journalist Ricardo Uceda, who published a book on the army base in 2004, said that troops were under orders to burn the bodies of tortured prisoners with kerosene to conceal the evidence.

Despite the dark past, the chief operating officer of the summit, Gonzalo Ansola Cabada, said that the site was the best for security.

Only 84 people – the presidents and prime ministers, their aides and security – will be allowed into the army base’s convention center.

Journalists will be working under a large tent set up outside, on the army grounds.

In another sign that Peru has changed, the army announced on Sunday that it would sell 19 undeveloped hectares at the headquarters in hopes of earning money.

Prior to the APEC summit, some 800 business leaders from the region also met in a place with a storied history.

They discussed ways to free up trade in the Real Felipe fortress, built by Spanish rulers in the 18th century to guard against pirates on the Pacific coast.

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