Peru: The Murderers Makeover

U.S. Intrigue Surrounds Montesinos Affair

Revolutionary Worker #1078, November 13, 2000, posted at

We received this article from the Committee to Support the Revoltuion in Peru.

The U.S. is scrambling to change the face of its brutal puppet regime in Peru and keep it from falling further into disarray and instability. On September 16, Peru's President Fujimori unexpectedly announced that he will step down from power and dismantle the notorious secret police (known as the National Intelligence Service or SIN). The announcement came on the heels of new scandals involving Vladimiro Montesinos, Fujimori's right-hand man and de facto head of SIN (see RW #1072). Since then, things in Peru have moved from one crisis to another, as different forces within the power structure contend over who will replace Fujimori and under what conditions.

On September 24, Montesinos left Peru amidst widespread protests calling for his arrest and trial for corruption and other crimes. On October 23, after less than a month in Panama, he returned to Peru under the protection of key elements in the Armed Forces. Montesinos's return prompted renewed street demonstrations. The regime's vice president, known as a close ally of Fujimori, resigned from the government and criticized Fujimori for not really going after Montesinos.

One week later, under pressure from the U.S. and the Organization of American States (OAS), Fujimori dismissed the heads of the Army, Navy, and Air Force. All three had been appointed by Montesinos. This move was not enough to quiet the protests and demands for the arrest of Montesinos. The next day a lieutenant colonel in the Peruvian Army led a group of soldiers in a mutiny, seized control of a copper mine near the Chilean border, and demanded that Fujimori arrest Montesinos.

The events of the recent weeks have highlighted the role of the U.S. as the puppet master in Peru. At various junctures, Washington has stepped in to give direct orders and "advice" to their lackeys. At the same time, the U.S. imperialists have run into difficulties and complications in their attempt to do a face-lift on their puppet regime. The U.S.--the main imperialist power dominating Peru--is finding it not so easy to disassociate itself from its widely exposed henchmen.

Montesinos's Short Exile in Panama

The Montesinos scandal was sparked by a video which caught Montesinos in a blatant act of corruption. The video, which aired on TV in Peru and other countries, showed Montesinos handing $15,000 in cash to a Peruvian congressman in exchange for the congressman changing parties to maintain Fujimori's congressional majority. Montesinos, Peru's top spy master and key CIA contact, is rumored to have a huge library of incriminating videos that he uses in his shady dealings. But this time, he was caught with his own pants down, and he was soon forced to flee the country.

At first nobody wanted Montesinos: Argentina, Brazil, Panama, and a number of other countries refused Montesinos's request for political asylum. But Washington officials made a few phone calls. Virtually overnight, the government of Panama changed its mind and allowed the butcher Montesinos to enter Panama on a tourist visa.

Benjamin Ziff, spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Peru, revealed that "the government of Panama agreed to receive Mr. Montesinos following strong endorsement of this action by the OAS secretary general, supported by countries in the hemisphere, including the United States."

Once again, the U.S. was using Panama to stow one of its hit men. In the past, Panama has also been home to Raoul Cedras, head of the death squads in Haiti; Guatemalan dictator Jorge Serrano; Ecuadorian President Abdala Bucaram; and the Shah of Iran. When Montesinos arrived, protests broke out in the streets of Panama. Even a former advisor to Panama's current president was quoted as saying, "Once again, Panama has been used as a garbage dump and latrine for this type of rat."

The U.S. Cover-up in Peru

One of the reasons that Washington facilitated Montesinos's exit is that his presence in Peru posed big problems for U.S. imperialism. Peruvian opposition forces have been demanding that Montesinos be put on trial for some of his many atrocities. But an airing of Montesinos's sordid history was sure to bring the U.S. into the picture because of Montesinos's close ties to the U.S.

A recent article in the Washington Post reported that U.S. officials repeatedly helped protect Montesinos from well-founded accusations that he was involved with narco-traffickers and death squads. The article noted that "Montesinos had come to be seen by many U.S. officials, even outside the CIA, as indispensable." According to the Post, whenever the U.S. had problems in getting anything done in Peru, "U.S. officials would ask the CIA station in Lima to seek the assistance of the man they called 'the doctor' and the problems would disappear."

An October 1 article in the Los Angeles Times revealed that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) had found evidence linking Montesinos to the laundering of millions of dollars probably obtained from narco-traffickers. According to the Times, money transfers of up to $200 million "moved through Europe while being converted into different currencies" in "a textbook money-laundering pattern." DEA officials admitted that they "felt the SIN or Montesinos was orchestrating it." But, according to the report, the investigation "bogged down"--just like the investigation of Peruvian drug lord Demetrios Chavez, who testified in his 1996 trial that he paid Montesinos $50,000 a month in protection fees.

But there is much more to Montesinos's criminal record than just collecting bribes from narco-traffickers. He played a major role in a reign of terror involving mass arrests, torture, false confessions, secret military tribunals, and outright murder and disappearances--mainly targeted at the Maoist People's War led by the Communist Party of Peru (PCP) and the masses who support the PCP.

In April 1992, Montesinos helped organize a military coup that gave Fujimori dictatorial powers, allowing his regime to act with more impunity against the people and the Maoist-led revolution. Less than a month after the coup, the Army invaded Canto Grande prison and massacred 40 political prisoners--mostly PCP members and supporters.

Today, there are over 5,000 political prisoners in Peru. Most were convicted on charges of being PCP members or supporting the People's War. Political prisoners suffer starvation, extreme exposure to the elements, and all manner of deprivation and torture. Comrade Gonzalo, Chairman of the PCP, has been held in isolation and has been submitted to brutal treatment since his capture in 1992. Almost all the political prisoners were tried in secret by hooded judges handpicked by Fujimori and Montesinos. Confessions and false accusations obtained through threats and torture and a complete lack of any right to a defense are routine features of these secret tribunals.

Under Montesinos, the SIN organized a death squad within the military, known as Colina, that carried out many grisly crimes. In 1992, the Colina unit kidnapped, tortured, and murdered nine students and a professor at La Cantuta teacher's college. La Cantuta was known to have many students who supported or were sympathetic to the People's War.

Summing up the CIA's long-time relationship with Montesinos, a CIA spokesperson told the Los Angeles Times: "If there is a questionable human rights record, that's factored in.... If we just hang out with Boy Scouts, we couldn't do our job." In the same article, a retired CIA official talked about those like Montesinos that the U.S. relies on to do its dirty work around the world: "You're working on the assumption that they are subornable, that they're corrupt.... By definition, they're not honest. We deal in a world of slimeballs."

Until recently, the U.S. ignored or helped cover up the many crimes of Fujimori and Montesinos. After the 1992 coup, the U.S. made a few token complaints about "democracy"--and then continued supporting the Fujimori regime. In 1995, the Fujimori-controlled Congress passed a law giving general amnesty to all police and military that had been convicted of human rights abuses committed as part of suppressing the Maoist People's War. All this was considered acceptable and within the strategic interests of the U.S.

U.S. Turns Against Their Hit Men

More recently, however, the U.S. has been trying to carry out a housecleaning of the Peruvian regime and a change in the lineup of their puppets. U.S. officials were already maneuvering behind the scenes toward this end when the Montesinos bribery scandal broke.

The tide against Montesinos and the Fujimori regime started to turn when they targeted members of Peru's ruling elite who opposed Fujimori's run for a third term in the presidential elections earlier this year. For example, Fujimori and Montesinos sent in the troops to take over a TV station owned by the millionaire Baruch Ivcher. The station had aired stories about Montesinos's involvement in the La Cantuta massacre. Ivcher, an Israeli who had obtained Peruvian citizenship, was forced out of the country when the Fujimori-controlled courts revoked his citizenship.

Other mainstream journalists and newspapers were also threatened or shut down for publishing reports harmful to the regime. Fujimori even dismissed three members of the Supreme Court after they ruled that his run for a third term was unconstitutional.

According to the Washington Post, as the elections approached U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright and National Security Advisor Sandy Berger signed a directive ordering a sharp reduction of U.S. ties with Montesinos. The U.S. thought it was fine for Fujimori and Montesinos to attack the poor and disenfranchised of Peru. But they crossed the line when they used their brutal and corrupt secret police to go after anyone who opposed them, including some of Peru's rich and powerful elite.

Fujimori won the election through widespread and open fraud. In July, as Fujimori began his new term, angry protesters took to the streets. They clashed with the military and police and torched five government buildings, burning down the National Bank. The U.S. imperialists worried that the instability and turmoil endangered their interests in Peru and elsewhere in Latin America.

International investors became concerned that "the rule of law" might no longer protect their property and investments in Peru. Last month the Wall Street Journal reported a 50 percent decline in private foreign investments in Peru since 1995.

Arms Deal Scandal

In August reports surfaced in the Peruvian media of a crooked arms deal, said to have been masterminded by Montesinos. According to the news reports, Peruvian Army officers bought AK-47 rifles from the Jordanian government and sold 10,000 of these rifles to anti-government guerrillas in Colombia.

The arms deal scandal came at a moment when the U.S. was launching "Plan Colombia"--a $1.3 billion intervention to back the Colombian regime with Green Beret advisors, combat helicopters, and other forms of military aid. The U.S. government claims that the purpose of the heightened military assistance is to "defend democracy" and fight "the scourge of narco-traffickers." So it was not good timing for the U.S. imperialists that in Peru, right next door to Colombia, another U.S.-dominated regime faced mounting scandals involving drugs, death squads, and corruption.

On September 8, Fujimori visited New York for a UN gathering and met with Albright and Berger. According to the Washington Post, Berger and Albright did not use "the M word" with Fujimori. But, as the Post commented, Fujimori "would have to have been blind, deaf and stupid not to understand their message." And the message was that it was time for Montesinos to go.

U.S. Scrambles to Manage Crisis

When Montesinos was allowed to enter Panama at the end of September, rumors flew that the Peruvian military was threatening to carry out a coup if he was not granted formal political asylum. The U.S. again stepped in. On September 26, Fujimori received a visit from Lieutenant General Peter Pace, head of the U.S. Southern Command. Pace also met with Peru's top Armed Forces commanders, advising them "to work constructively with the OAS." According to the NY Times, "Senior American military officials have let the Peruvian Army know a coup is unacceptable."

Four days later, Fujimori made another trip to the U.S., this time meeting with top officials in Washington, D.C. Fujimori also met with the head of the International Development Bank to try to reassure international capitalists that Peru was still a place to make big profits. After the visit, a State Department spokesperson said the U.S. was pleased with the steps taken by Fujimori and had told him, "You've done the right thing."

In the past, Fujimori and Montesinos (with the CIA's advice) had made the key decisions. With Montesinos in Panama and Fujimori in a shaky position, the U.S. tried to stay on top of the situation in Peru through its tool, the OAS. For a while, it looked like the U.S. had the situation under control. An OAS commission brokered negotiations between Fujimori and the bourgeois opposition. Critical issues were being sorted out: Who will be in charge of the elections for Fujimori's replacement? Who will succeed top commanders of the Army who are set to retire this December?

The OAS commission announced that it had gotten Fujimori and the opposition parties to agree on a plan to hold presidential and congressional elections next April, with the new president to take power in July. But the negotiations suddenly broke off on October 20 when the Fujimori forces insisted that, under the new government, police and military be guaranteed general amnesty from prosecution for human rights atrocities. The bourgeois opposition refused to agree to a blanket amnesty.

Montesinos Reappears

The standoff over the issue of amnesty set the stage for Montesinos's sudden and unexpected return on October 23. He landed on an Air Force-controlled airfield in Pisco, accompanied by an armed escort.

Fujimori claimed that Montesinos's whereabouts were "unknown." Perhaps in an effort to show that he is still in charge and that he is not collaborating with Montesinos, Fujimori staged a made-for-TV spectacle in which he personally led a police contingent on a jeep and helicopter search for Montesinos in a Lima suburb. At the same time, Fujimori ordered the whole military to "stand down" and remain in their barracks during this "search."

Meanwhile, the U.S. again rushed in to try to control the situation. The U.S. ambassador to Peru, John Hamilton, met with Fujimori. Cesar Gaviria, the secretary general of the OAS, was summoned to Lima to take charge of mediating the renewed negotiations between Fujimori and the bourgeois opposition.

The exact motives behind Montesinos's return are unclear at this point. In a surprise radio interview from an undisclosed location, Montesinos declared that he returned because he failed to get political asylum in Panama and his tourist visa was about to expire. He also claimed to be afraid of being a target of Peruvian revolutionaries while in Panama.

There is a swirl of rumor and speculation surrounding Montesinos's return. Some political analysts think that Fujimori and Montesinos are still working together. Others say that the return was a desperate move by a former spy master who was running out of options.

One point to note is that Montesinos's return coincided with the impasse in the OAS-brokered negotiations over the Army's demand for amnesty. Some analysts speculate that Montesinos's return was meant to demonstrate that he and his allies in the Armed Forces still have much power--and in this way pressure the bourgeois opposition to accept the demand for amnesty. In his radio interview, Montesinos cynically denied responsibility for atrocities such as the La Cantuta massacre--which everyone in Peru knows is a shameless lie.

Since the return of Montesinos, the negotiations between Fujimori and opposition groups have resumed, and the question of amnesty for the Armed Forces remains a major point of contention.

An Unsettled Situation

The situation in Peru continues to be in flux, as different forces within the bourgeoisie struggle for control. It's unclear what will happen to Montesinos. Even the question of whether Fujimori will really step aside seems up in the air. He appears to be maneuvering to get one of his stooges elected in April, and he has gotten the Congress to approve a law allowing him to run again in 2006. And there are reports of intense infighting within the Armed Forces. The Army is still overwhelmingly under the control of commanders loyal to Montesinos. But according to some reports, the Navy and Air Force are opposed to Montesinos and wavering in their support of Fujimori.

One incident indicated how sharp these rifts might be. Immediately after the bribery video was shown on TV, Montesinos tried to arrest Captain Jorge Castañeda, assistant to Navy Admiral Humberto Rosas. Rosas is the titular head of the SIN. Montesinos accused Castañeda of making the video public. Top Navy commanders, however, rallied in defense of Castañeda and prevented Montesinos from arresting him. The Naval commanders reportedly told a contingent of police from SIN that if they wanted to arrest Castañeda, they would first have to fight the Navy special police.

Such infighting is compelling the U.S. and OAS to take a more direct hand in Peru as power brokers--trying to hold things together for the reactionary system in Peru.

Waiting in the wings is Washington's favorite to replace Fujimori--U.S.-trained economist Alejandro Toledo. Toledo poses as "a man of the people" from "humble origins." But, like Fujimori, he is an operative for U.S. imperialist interests in Peru. Trained at Stanford and Harvard, he went on to work for the World Bank and start his own business advising international investors on how to get the best return for their dollar in Peru. On the day that Fujimori announced he was stepping down, Toledo was in Washington, D.C., meeting with OAS officials. The next day he returned triumphantly to Lima--and one of his first announcements was to express love and admiration for the Peruvian Armed Forces. Such statements make it clear that Toledo has no intention of making any fundamental changes in the reactionary system in Peru.

As the power struggle goes on among Peru's rulers, a hole has been ripped wide open in the façade of "invincibility" and "stability" that the Fujimori regime--and its U.S. masters--had enjoyed. In the countryside of Peru, the PCP continues to lead the oppressed in the People's War--on the path of a revolutionary alternative to the rotten system that now rules. In the streets of Lima and other cities, and in villages and towns across the country, the masses of people in Peru are thirsting for justice for all the bloody crimes committed by the imperialist-backed rulers.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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