June 19, 2010 [LINK / comment]
Peru recently grabbed newspaper headlines when the young man who is widely suspected of murdering American student Natalie Holloway in Aruba five years ago, evidently did the same thing in Lima. Joran van der Sloot was at a casino with young Peruvian woman named Stephany Flores, returned to his hotel room with her, and then fled to Chile after she died a violent death in that room. He was apprehended after a couple days, was returned by Chilean authorities to Peru, and has since confessed to killing Ms. Flores.
The facts of the case, and the parallels with the 2005 Natalie Holloway disappearance, leave little doubt that van der Sloot is a sociopathic serial murderer. Security videos from shortly after 5:00 A.M. on May 30 show van der Sloot entering the the hotel room with Flores, and more than three hours later, he left alone. The woman's poker winnings of more than $1,700 were not found in the room, leading to the obvious conclusion that he took the cash. After van der Sloot was formally charged, Peruvian police made a high-profile "showing" of him to journalists For a full report of the crime and the subsequent apprehension, see CNN.com reports that the Dutch Embassy "is not comfortable with" such publicity. That is how law enforcement works in Peru, however, as the authorities strive to justify themselves and give police officers credit for the work they do.
By his confession, van der Sloot has subjected himself to a legal system that is very harsh by U.S. standards, but is also unpredictable at times. For example, the convicted American terrorist Lori Berenson was released from prison for good behavior last month -- just before Stephany Flores was murdered, ironically. Criminal defendants in Peru do not enjoy the same rights as those in the United States, and convicts endure severe hardships in overcrowded prisons. For foreigners, prison life is especially rough, because they don't have the constant support of family members, who routinely enter and leave prison, bringing food and clothing. If you have never been in a Latin American prison, as I have ("just visiting"), you can't imagine what life there is like.
This case has dominated the headlines in Peru, of course, and from reading El Comercio I learned that van der Sloot is also suspected of killing two women who disappeared in Colombia last month. They were at a casino in Bogota, the same situation in which Stephany Flores found herself. So now law enforcement officers from the United States, the Netherlands, Aruba, Colombia, Chile, and Peru are trying to coordinate their investigation of this diabolical jet-setter. He will be interrogated this Monday, June 21. The big question is whether he will succeed in bargaining for a lighter sentence by divulging the location of the body of Natalie Holloway. That is not a high priority for Peru, however, and the very idea that he might be given leniency for another murder case is appalling. Another question is whether the FBI gave him "bait" money as part of a sting operation to get him to confess to the Holloway murder. Apparently, van der Sloot used that money to live the high life after leaving Aruba and heading to South America. For a complete list of news updates on the van der Sloot case (in Spanish), see elcomercio.pe.