Peru Intelligence Scandal Continues
Does It Again
By Louis Lingg
25 September 2000
In these shallow times, when the term 'investigative
journalism' refers to the paparazzi's attempts to disclose
of Madonna's underwear, it is indeed not surprising that
recent developments in Peru have been almost completely
ignored by the Western mainstream media. It seems that Peru
far away and its political culture is too complicated for
our well-paid hacks to bother with it.
Most news reports
that did bother with it mentioned that Alberto Fujimori,
Peru's President since 1990, has stepped
down and declared national elections after a videotape
was leaked to the media. The videotape showed Vladimiro
head of Peru's National Intelligence Service (NIS), bribing
a Congressman of the opposition so that he would abandon
his party and join Fujimori's gang of parliamentarians.
Fujimori was so shocked by the corruptive methods of
his NIS chief,
the argument goes, that he decided to quit and refused
to stand for elections ever again. At the same time,
Montesinos panicked and abandoned the country.
This is a very unconvincing
explanation, to say the least. First of all, Fujimori and
Montesinos have survived scandals
that make the present bribery allegations seem like a picnic
in the park. The former led a military coup against his own
government in 1992, threw his ministers in jail, installed
his own hand-picked Congress and Judiciary, and instituted
his own Constitution. During his presidency he has acquired
notoriety around the world for countless 'disappearances'
of activists, journalists and other critics of his regime,
mass arrests of thousands of people, mistrials by hooded
judges, State-sponsored death squads, and the imprisonment
of lawyers who attempted to defend political prisoners. Amnesty
International's latest Word Report notes that, during 1999, "[h]undreds
of Peruvian prisoners falsely charged with terrorism-related
offences remained incarcerated. Journalists, opposition leaders
and human rights defenders received threats in what appears
to be a pattern of systematic intimidation against those
critical of the authorities. Torture and ill-treatment remained
widespread. Civilians continued to be tried by military courts
for the terrorism-related offences of 'treason' and 'aggravated
In 1997, when three constitutional judges
ruled that, according to the Constitution, Fujimori could
not run again for President,
the latter had them dismissed. Later on that year, when
the three judges submitted their case before the Inter-American
Court, Fujimori simply withdrew Peru from the Court's jurisdiction.
Montesinos, who organized and led Fujimori's 1992 military
coup, has been the President's iron glove. Widely believed
to have directed the notorious 'la Canuta' murders where
hundreds of activists and their families were murdered
by masked paramilitaries, Montesinos has been the leader
the Colina death squads, the armed wing of the National
Intelligence Service. The Colina squads have been known
to perform summary
executions of left-wing activists. In 1992 he boasted that
he himself had tortured four generals who were arrested
after they staged a failed coup against Fujimori's regime.
when a national television station revealed gross human
rights violations by the country's intelligence services,
had the station closed down and its Israeli-born owner
stripped of his Peruvian nationality and sent to Israel.
all the above, it seems that Fujimori and Montesinos would
be acting out of character by choosing to simply abandon
power due to the disclosure of a minor bribery allegation.
What really happened?
Montesinos' career in intelligence did
not begin with Fujimori's rise to power. The young Montesinos
entered the Peruvian
military and, in 1965, graduated as a Cadet of the U.S.-based
and sponsored School of the Americas. He returned to Peru
and, in 1973, became personal advisor to General Mercado,
who was, among other things, Prime Minister, Minister of
the Armed Forces, and Commander-in-Chief of the Peruvian
military under the Velasco regime.
In 1974, Velasco, annoyed
by repeated attempts on the part of the U.S. to interfere
in the internal Peruvian affairs,
expelled the U.S. military representation in Lima and cancelled
all military cooperation with the Pentagon. He instead
bought arms from the Soviet Union.
It was then that Montesinos made
his move and approached officials of the U.S. Embassy in
Lima. He offered to subvert
the Velasco regime and try to win Peru back for the U.S.
The initial U.S. response is not known. What is known is
that, by 1976, Montesinos was indeed suspected by Velasco
of passing Peruvian classified documents to the C.I.A.
For that he was removed from the Ministry of Armed Forces
transferred to a remote military post, close to the Ecuadorian
Soon after the transfer, Montesinos received
an official invitation from the U.S. embassy to visit Washington
While there, he met with C.I.A. operatives and attended
the Inter-American Defense College for many months.
authorities traced his dealings in the U.S. and, upon his
return to Peru, Montesinos was arrested and
tried for treason. He was discharged from the military
and received a five-year jail sentence for passing over secrets
to the U.S.
Upon being released from prison, Montesino
went into self-exile in Argentina and then Equador, from
he assisted drug
barons through his governmental connections, especially
with the Attorney General. After his return to Peru, he even
defended some of them in the Peruvian courts.
By the time Fujimori staged his coup in 1992, Montesinos
had become a valuable NIS operative by providing the Service
with classified documents from the Attorney General's office.
He co-conspired with Fujimori and his generals and, after
the coup, was appointed as head of the NIS.
Ever since his
initial visit to Washington D.C. in 1976, the C.I.A. has
viewed Montesinos as a valuable operative
in Fujimori's government, and in South America at large.
This was primarily due to his role in exterminating a series
of armed leftist organizations, such as the once powerful
Shining Path and the FMLN.
Throughout the early 1990s, in numerous interagency reviews,
the C.I.A. repeatedly stressed Montesinos' importance as
a U.S. intelligence ally, while at the same time dismissing
as "unfounded" and "besides the issue" allegations
that he was behind serious human rights violations against
civilians and groups. In fact, Montesinos' promotion of U.S.
interests in Peru and neighboring countries was so successful
that many C.I.A. officials referred to him as "the Doctor",
or "Mr Fix It" (2).
Even in September 1996, when
the Human Rights Watch and the Washington Office on Latin
America wrote to Clinton's National
Security Adviser, Anthony Lake, requesting that he the
U.S. government immediately sever its relationship with Montesinos,
the C.I.A.'s Director, John Deutch, warned Lake not to
action. The same occurred later that year when two U.S.
Senators decided to write to Deutch himself, stressing to
the Agency guidelines prohibited any intelligence relationship
with a human rights violator, such as Montesinos. Deutch
replied that that was nobody's business but the C.I.A.'s.
things started to change in January of the following year.
It was then that a confessed drug lord, who was arrested
in a cooperative effort between American and Peruvian police,
told the authorities that he had paid Montesinos a total
sum of $1,800,000 over three years in return for freely
shipping cocaine from Peru to Colombia. U.S. officials started
suspect that Montesinos was deeply involved in drug trafficking.
The heads of the C.I.A.'s South American Offices started
to get flashbacks of Manuel Noriega, another of the Agency's
allies who used the Agency as a shield for global drug
Agency's fears were confirmed when, early last spring,
it emerged that Montesinos had played a major role in an
arms deal in which 50,000 Russian-made assault rifles were
bought from Jordan by the Peruvian government and then
sold to Colombian leftist rebels. As soon as the news reached
the State Department, C.I.A. Chief George Tenet received
a frantic phone call from Madeleine Albright, demanding
A few days later, Albright and National Security Adviser
Sandy Berger issued a directive to sharply reduce U.S.
intelligence ties with Montesinos and to ensure that his
were effectively and permanently hampered.
It was a few months
later that the videotape in question was leaked to the
media. Soon after the leak, the NIS did
interrogate Peruvian navy officers, who were in charge
of guarding Montesinos' office. But Montesinos wasted no
He suspected that the Americans were behind the taping
of his bribe discourse and the leak of the footage to the
Fearing for his life, he left the country and is still
on the run.
From then on, there are two things that could have caused
Fujimori's resignation: what is more probable is that the
Americans asked him to arrest Montesinos on drug and weapons
trafficking charges. But Fujimori, being aware of the fact
that the true rulers of Peru, the NIS and the military,
would not allow for such a development, he found himself
a cul-de-sac and chose to step down. The other possibility
is that he himself tasted the fruits of Montesinos' illegal
activities and was pressured by the Americans to abandon
office or face arrest, Noriega-style. Being a logical man,
he declared his resignation.
Undoubtedly, the details of the
Fujimori/Montesinos saga will emerge in the following months.
In the meanwhile those
gazing toward the direction of Lima in search of answers,
are missing the action. Washington would be a much safer
© The News Insider 2000Louis Lingg is a News Insider
(1) Amnesty International World Book 2000.
(2) De Young, C. (2000) CIA Defended Peru Spy Chief Whenever
Doubts Were Raised, The San Francisco Chronicle, 22 September.
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