Revolutionary Worker #918, Aug. 10, 1997
Over the past several months a series of scandals has shaken the U.S.-backed Fujimori regime in Peru. The scandals have involved exposures of various intrigues by President Alberto Fujimori and his clique, including widespread government wiretapping, torture and murder of the government's own intelligence agents, drug payments to top officials and efforts to strong-arm the Supreme Court so Fujimori could run for a third term in office. These events are sharpening up in-fighting within Peru's ruling classes. These rival forces at the top are biting and snapping at each other like dogs fighting over a piece of meat.
Meanwhile, this situation has created openings for expressions of broader discontent and protest against the regime among the masses of Peruvian people in the capital city of Lima. On June 5, Reuters wire service reported: "Protesters hurled stones and used heavy sticks to beat police, who responded with tear gas, dogs and horse charges... A coffin with the names of Fujimori and his intelligence chief, Montesinos, was kicked to pieces." Many other protests have taken place in the last two months in Lima and other cities around the country.
On July 17, one of the largest demonstrations in a decade took place in downtown Lima. An estimated 10,000 people--including workers, students and professionals chanting "Down with dictatorship"--fought with police in the main square across from the Presidential Palace. "I came because I want to tell the president that he cannot think about getting away with the disregard for people he is showing," a fruit seller told the press, as blood dripped from his forehead.
The immediate spark for this protest was the attempt by the Fujimori regime to silence Channel 2 (Frecuencia Latina), an establishment TV station. Channel 2 reported that Fujimori's political police was secretly tapping the telephones of about 200 mainstream journalists, politicians and businessmen. In retaliation, the regime revoked the Peruvian citizenship of Baruch Ivcher, Channel 2's Israeli-born owner. Peruvian law prohibits non-citizens from owning a TV station, so this was a blatant move by Fujimori to punish Ivcher and possibly take direct control of the station. Thousands of people began keeping watch outside Channel 2 to prevent the military from storming the station and taking it over.
The Peruvian state represents the interests of the big capitalist and landowning classes which are closely tied to imperialism--especially U.S. imperialism. The class interests of these exploiters and oppressors are directly opposed to the interests of the vast majority of Peruvian people.
Fujimori became the head of the state in 1990. In 1992 Fujimori and the clique around him staged a coup by dissolving the Congress and dismantling the existing legal system. A ruling "triumvirate" emerged from the coup, made up of Fujimori; General Nicholas Hermoza Rios, the head of the Armed Forces; and Montesinos, the head of the National Intelligence Service (SIN). Montesinos, a long-time CIA agent, is a key channel for U.S. direction and domination of the Peruvian state.
The coup was a response to the advances being made by the Maoist people's war led by the Communist Party of Peru--called Shining Path in the media. The goal was to tighten the military's grip on power so they would be freer to carry out repression against the revolutionary movement, the Peruvian masses and various critics of the government. The U.S. backed Fujimori's coup, as part of the overall support for the counter-insurgency against the people's war.
For the oppressed peasants and workers, Fujimori's reign has meant nothing but extreme brutality and poverty. Vast areas of the countryside are under martial law, where all constitutional rights are suspended. A system of secret military tribunals presided over by hooded judges have railroaded thousands of people for political "crimes." In a recent 18-month period, half a million people were detained for suspicion that they support the people's war or otherwise oppose the government. The regime has become notorious around the world for torture and massacres of political prisoners.
Fujimori's imperialist-directed economic program, supposedly aimed at "stabilizing" the economy, has been a vicious assault on the living standards of millions of Peruvians, especially working people and peasants. According to a recent report in a Peruvian financial paper, nearly 1 in 5 Peruvians--or 4.5 million people--live in extreme poverty, without sanitation, water, electricity or gas. Half the population live below the poverty line--practically double the 1985 poverty level. The mainstream press reports that "ragged street beggars are everywhere."
Among the ruling classes of Peru, there were some complaints from forces who were iced out of central power by the Fujimori coup. But overall, there was unity within the Peruvian bourgeoisie around the Fujimori regime. They applauded the gains against the people's war--such as the 1992 arrest of Chairman Gonzalo and other Communist Party of Peru leaders through a massive CIA-directed operation. The big capitalists, and some sections of better-off Peruvians, have benefited economically from Fujimori's program of "privatizing" state-owned companies and selling off industries and resources to foreign investors.
Fujimori was also able to gain some support among the middle classes by taking advantage of petty bourgeois illusions about "stability" and promising them economic gains.
But in the recent period, the basis of support for the regime has visibly eroded. There has been increasing dissatisfaction among elements of Peru's upper classes who have had little say in the running of the government because of the monopoly on political power by the "triumvirate." The recent actions by the regime have exacerbated this contradiction. For example, Channel 2 used to be known as a close ally of the government and the intelligence services. But the clampdown on the TV station has turned large sections of the bourgeois media in Peru and other forces against Fujimori.
At the same time, Fujimori's economic program has benefited only a small section of Peruvian society, and this is causing widespread discontent. Economic growth in 1996 was half what it was the year before. Many in the middle class have suffered tremendously and are losing hope that things will get better anytime soon. And life continues to be hell for the masses of Peruvians. One soup kitchen worker told a reporter, "We're still poor and you can't eat promises."
In this situation, the struggles at the top have opened up some breathing space for the common people to openly protest. One teacher, demonstrating recently at the Presidential Palace, told reporters, "A few weeks ago I would have been afraid to march against the government, because people who protest are often killed and tortured. But Fujimori has gone too far this time. There is no hope for our children."
Only a few months ago, the bourgeois media in Peru was reporting that Fujimori was scoring very high in the opinion polls. This was in the immediate aftermath of the April 22 storming of the Japanese ambassador's residence in Lima by the armed forces after a four-month takeover by members of the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA). All of the MRTA members were killed in the raid, including some who were executed on the spot after surrendering.
Despite the reported rise in Fujimori's popularity, in reality many people were shocked and disgusted that the regime had ordered this deadly assault--after pretending for months to be negotiating for a "peaceful" solution. In just a few months, Fujimori's opinion poll numbers reached all-time lows. According to one poll in July, 92 percent of Lima residents surveyed supported the anti-Fujimori demonstrations.
The anti-Fujimori surge actually began before the April 22 raid. In late March, the body of Mariella Barreto Riofano was found in an isolated area outside Lima. Her head and hands had been hacked off, her spine snapped in half.
This gruesome discovery was not unusual in Peru--death squads have run rampant there for years. But what made it a huge story in the media was that Barreto had been an army intelligence agent. She was also identified as the lover of Major Santiago Martin Rivas who was linked to the Grupo Colina--a death squad involved in the 1992 La Cantuta massacre of eight students and a professor and other crimes.
Grupo Colina is directed from the highest levels of the Peruvian government--by SIN and its head, Montesinos, and the intelligence services of the Peruvian military. Its existence was revealed by a 1993 article in the Lima magazine Sí. Contrary to claims by the government, Grupo Colina has never been disbanded. In fact, the regime stepped up its efforts to protect its death-squad assassins by searching for the source of leaks to the press. Barreto became a suspect, and she ended up being tortured and murdered.
On April 6 another SIN agent, Leonor La Rosa Bustamante, was interviewed on Channel 2 TV. Barely able to stand and trembling convulsively, she said she was tortured by fellow agents on suspicion of having leaked information on the military's plans to tap the phones of government opponents. La Rosa said she was jolted with electricity and repeatedly beaten until she suffered spinal injury.
SIN has tortured and murdered many Communist Party of Peru guerrillas and supporters--and Peru's bourgeois press never made a big deal out of this. But when it turned out that SIN's own agents had been tortured, this became a big scandal. La Rosa told the press, "I always knew the cells were used for the interrogation of criminal terrorists. But I never thought they would use them against us."
More revelations about Peru's secret police have followed. Caretas magazine reported on July 20 that the intelligence services have the ability to simultaneously record about 5,000 phone lines, and that they regularly use half of this capacity.
Channel 2 also broadcast the 1996 tax returns of top intelligence chief Montesinos--showing an income of $600,000. Montesinos' official government salary is only $18,000 a year. The obvious conclusion: the money came from payoffs by drug dealers. Last August, one of Peru's most notorious drug traffickers, El Vaticano, revealed that he paid Montesinos $50,000/month in 1991. Vaticano later retracted his statement after he was tortured. And Fujimori blocked efforts to investigate the charges against Montesinos.
Once the story of the torture of the intelligence agents was reported in the media, the government responded with strong-arm tactics. Tax inspectors were sent to Channel 2, and its owner was forced to flee the country after he was stripped of his citizenship and receiving death threats. Senior executives of the opposition newspaper La Republica came under SIN surveillance. The Peruvian military took out a newspaper ad charging La Republica with "discrediting" the armed forces--a charge that could pave the way for a military seizure of the paper. The offices of SUR--a group of opposition intellectuals--were broken into. Two members of Congress were attacked by SIN agents. Both had been hostages during the MRTA takeover of the Japanese ambassador's residence, and they had called for a peaceful settlement.
There have been reports that another intelligence agent was murdered, and yet another SIN agent said she was tortured. A former member of Grupo Colina was sentenced to life imprisonment on terrorism charges--because he wrote a letter detailing the death squad's operations which was read on Peruvian TV.
In addition to these scandals and intrigues, there has been major controversy over Fujimori's attempts to stay in office through the year 2005.
On May 28, Fujimori's rubber stamp Congress fired three Supreme Court judges because they ruled that Fujimori could not run for office again in 2000. Under the Constitution in place when Fujimori first took office in 1990, the president could only serve one term. But following the 1992 coup, Fujimori pushed through a new constitution allowing the president to serve two terms in a row. Now he wants to go for three-- using the excuse that the two-term limit doesn't count because his first term was served under the old constitution. When the Supreme Court judges rejected this legal double-talk, Fujimori just canned them.
This action infuriated ruling class forces who were looking toward the end of Fujimori's term as an opportunity to gain more power in the central government. The firing of the Supreme Court judges also touched off mass protests. Thousands of people protested for three straight nights outside the Congress, forcing it to shut down for the first time since 1992.
After Fujimori's clampdown on Channel 2, a U.S. State Department spokesman said, "This is an issue of concern to us... These actions raise fundamental questions of freedom of the press, and freedom of expression."
Where was the U.S. government's concern when the Peruvian government and police repeatedly attacked the revolutionary newspaper El Diario in Lima by arresting staff members and shutting down their offices? Where is the U.S. government's outrage about the secret military tribunals which regularly sentence people to long jail terms on charges of expressing support for the revolution?
Clearly, the U.S. imperialists do not have a problem with savage brutality and repression directed against the Peruvian masses, especially against the people's war and the Communist Party of Peru. Their worry is that the Fujimori clique's moves against other ruling class forces will further narrow their already thin base of support, and that the regime will become more fragile and unstable. The New York Times even wrote that Fujimori's "troubled" government may be "on the verge of collapse."
Adding to the concerns of the U.S. imperialists and reactionaries in Peru is the continuation of the people's war. Fujimori has claimed many times that the regime was about to deal a final defeat to the PCP. But it is clear that the Central Committee of the PCP is persevering in leading the people's war--in the face of the bloody counter-revolutionary war by Fujimori and his U.S. backers, as well as a right opportunist line of seeking a peace accord with the government which emerged from within the PCP in 1993. A major document from the PCP Central Committee, dated September 1995, declared: "Overcome the Bend in the Road, Developing the People's War." The revolutionary newspaper El Diario has reappeared in the streets of Lima. Reports of battles between the People's Liberation Army and the government forces sometimes filter out through the media censorship.
The fact that the PCP is continuing the people's war is tremendously inspiring for the people of the world. And it is tremendously threatening to the imperialists and their frontmen.
The intrigues and infighting within the Peruvian ruling classes are continuing to unfold and intensify. Following Fujimori's attacks on the owner of Channel 2, five of his cabinet ministers resigned--including the ministers of defense, foreign affairs, the interior, justice and fisheries.
The opposition hit back against the regime by producing documents suggesting that Fujimori himself is a naturalized citizen--that he was born outside Peru like Ivcher, the owner of Channel 2. If confirmed, this would mean that Fujimori would not be eligible to be president under Peruvian laws.
Fujimori is trying to hold firm. In a move widely interpreted as an effort to maintain his ties with Peru's military, he recently presided over the purchase of some $300 million in advanced fighter jets. (But this move generated further controversy when it was revealed that the Peruvian government has no service contract for the planes, which might never actually fly.) He also appointed military generals to several vacant cabinet posts, further strengthening the military's hold on the government.
In his annual address to Congress in July, Fujimori ignored the political turmoil shaking Peru--except to make the ridiculous claim that Peru "exercises complete press freedom." And he refused to fire or even criticize Montesinos or Hermoza as the opposition demands. He made an attempt to bribe a section of the people with a 15 percent pay hike for state workers, some tax reductions, credit for small businesses, and a new $1.3 billion mutual fund for state workers and retirees.
But there are worries among capitalists about the economic and political impact of Fujimori's actions. One prominent economist and former presidential candidate told the New York Times, "The absolutely stupid mistake of stripping Ivcher of his citizenship has created an environment of political and economic instability."
Various rumors are in the air. A July 25 meeting of military officials in the southern town of Arequipa sparked rumors of an impending military coup. There is speculation that Montesinos, Hermoza and the military high command are planning to dump Fujimori--and may have played a part in leaking damaging information to the press. Other reports talk of tensions between the "triumvirate" and the military command, or splits between the military and the intelligence services.
Whatever the real situation behind the scenes, there is no doubt that the ruling class dogs in Peru are increasingly at each others' throats.
It is unclear at the moment how all this will play out. But these events have revealed the reality behind the Peruvian government's thin "democratic" mask. Behind such things as the elections and "freedom of the press" is the truth that real political power grows out of the barrel of the gun. The Peruvian rulers maintain their power through armed force--mainly directed against the masses of people. The current controversy within the ruling class in Peru comes from the exposure that the Fujimori clique is using some of the same methods--murder, torture, outright suppression of rights--against bourgeois opponents.
The bourgeois opponents of the Fujimori regime claim that they have the answer for the people--that things will get better, if only the dictator Fujimori was ousted from power and they stepped into his place. But what the recent events actually show is that the whole ruling system in Peru is corrupt, rotten to the core and needs to be overthrown. And the dog-eat-dog infighting within the ruling classes points to the deep strategic weaknesses and faultlines existing within Peruvian society.
Replacing Fujimori with some other tired face from the Peruvian bourgeoisie can only bring more poverty, brutality and imperialist domination. The Communist Party of Peru has a very deep and insightful slogan: "Without power all is illusion!" The only real road to liberation for the oppressed masses of Peru is to overthrow the reactionary rulers and their imperialist backers through people's war, and seize power for themselves.
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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