Body of Slain American Identified as Missing U.S. Journalist
LIMA, Peru (AP) _ The body of an American found Tuesday near a jungle town has been tentatively identified as that of a reporter for The Tampa (Fla.) Tribune who had been missing five days.
Todd Smith, a Tribune reporter who was researching stories on cocaine traffickers and leftist guerrillas, was last seen Friday as he left for the airport outside Uchiza, 245 miles northeast of Lima.
At least 15 Peruvian journalists have been killed in Peru’s guerrilla and drug trafficking violence but no Americans had been slain.
Tribune managing editor Lawrence McConnell said in Tampa late Tuesday, ″We have confirmed through the U.S. Embassy in Lima and other independent sources, such as journalists down there, that the body has been tentatively identified as that of Todd Smith.″
He said a representative from the U.S. Embassy accompanied the body to a military base at Uchiza and the body would be flown to Lima Wednesday.
The U.S. Embassy had received a report Tuesday from a U.N. development office in Uchiza that the body of a slain American was found along the road to the Uchiza airstrip, an embassy official said.
The U.N. office said the driver of Smith’s car reported being stopped Friday on the way to the airport by a group of men gathered on the road. The driver said he left Smith with the men and returned to town, according to the report. The airport is three miles from Uchiza.
The U.N. office sent the message by radio to its Lima headquarters, which relayed it to the embassy. Uchiza, a town of 25,000 inhabitants, has no telephones.
An embassy official said H. Doyle Harvill, executive editor of the Tribune, and Robert Smith, the reporter’s father, were flying to Lima. But Tribune metro editor Carl Crothers said late Tuesday that Robert Smith flew back to Tallahassee to be with his family while Harvill continued on to Lima.
Todd Smith, 28, arrived in Peru two weeks ago. He was scheduled to leave Lima for Tampa on Sunday.
McConnell said Smith was in Peru on vacation and was due back at work Monday.
″I think it was his intent to come back and write about what he found there, but we didn’t assign him,″ McConnell said.
Gen. Alberto Arciniega, the army commander in charge of troops headquartered in Uchiza, recently told a group of visiting journalists that the road from the town to the airstrip was dangerous and not under military control.
No police or army troops patrol the airstrip and U.S. narcotics officials have said drug smugglers in small planes frequently use the airport to pick up supplies of semirefined cocaine.
Smith had traveled to Huancayo, 140 miles east of Lima, to cover the Nov. 12 municipal elections. Guerrillas of the Maoist Shining Path movement had tried to disrupt the balloting with assassinations and threats.
On Nov. 15, Smith flew to Tarapoto and then to Tocache and Uchiza.
Uchiza is in the heart of the coca-growing Upper Huallaga valley. Both drug-trafficking gangs and Shining Path guerrillas operate in the region.
Smith told an Associated Press reporter before he left Lima that he planned to avoid areas not controlled by the police or military.
Sally Bowen, a British journalist, who also was in Huancayo, said, ″Todd was not looking for danger. He was cautious, not foolish.″
Smith, a Latin American scholar, had reported previously on jungle warfare in Central America.
In 1981 he studied at the Instituto Fenix language school in Cuernavaca, Mexico, and in 1983 he won the Lee Scholarship for Latin America Research at the Library of Congress.
After three years with the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times, he left in May 1987 to become a freelance reporter in Central America.
He traveled extensively, compiling a series on 10 weeks he spent with the Nicaraguan rebels. He reported their 200-mile treks from rebel bases in Honduras to combat zones in northern Nicaragua. The series was published in the St. Petersburg Times and the San Francisco Chronicle.
Smith, born in Jacksonville, Fla., was hired by the Tribune in April 1988 after his return from Central America.