The CIA Hitman in Peru

Revolutionary Worker #1110, July 15, 2001, posted at

Montesinos played a central role in Peruís reactionary rule but has remained largely in the shadows. The following article examines some of the background and history of this CIA hitman in Peru.

When Chairman Gonzalo (Abimael Guzmán), the leader of the Communist Party of Peru, was captured on September 12, 1992, the official credit for the arrest was given to the Peruvian "anti-terrorist" police--known as DINCOTE. The world media reported that the arrest of the top leader of the revolution in Peru was the culmination of a long, intensive and complicated operation. The U.S. Senate passed a unanimous resolution praising Peruís Fujimori government for the capture. But strangely, on the day that the biggest event in recent Peruvian history was taking place, President Fujimori was on a fishing trip in the remote Amazon, and his Interior Minister was also absent from the scene.

Who was in charge of the DINCOTE raid that day? And who had such authority in the Peruvian regime that the arrest of Chairman Gonzalo could go down while the President and Interior Minister of the government were not even on hand?

The DINCOTE is responsible to the Armed Forces Joint Command, and the National Intelligence Services (SIN) directly oversees it. And, at that time, the man known to have effective control of the Armed Forces and SIN was a shadowy figure named Vladimiro Montesinos.

Montesinos was Fujimoriís closest "advisor," with well-known links to the CIA. Some even called him the real power in the regime. As the International Committee to Defend the Life of Dr. Abimael Guzmán (IEC) has pointed out: "No country is ruled by a single person. Rather, personalities who make up a government generally fit the needs of a government to maintain its rule at given times, and often different people play very different roles. Montesinos is just one person in the Fujimori regime. However, the part played by Montesinos in maintaining power in Peru reveals much about the regime--its reliance on death squads and repression, complicity with drug traffickers and especially its relationship to the U.S."

The CIAís Man in Peru

From the time he was a young Army officer in the late 1960s, Montesinos displayed a talent for exercising influence by attaching himself to powerful figures in Peruís ruling circles. In 1973, Montesinos became the personal aide and advisor to General Mercado, who was prime minister, minister of war and Armed Forces commander-in-chief in the Velasco regime. The U.S. government had some contradictions with General Velascoís military regime, which expelled the U.S. military mission and bought weapons from the U.S.ís main imperialist rival at the time, the Soviet Union.

According to the autobiography of a Peruvian army major, it was during this time that the CIA recruited Montesinos as an agent. The weekly presidential agenda arrived at the U.S. Embassy almost as soon as it was approved by Velasco. And an important document missing from Mercadoís private safe was discovered in Montesinosís hands. Some fellow military officers were convinced that Montesinos was feeding military and government secrets to the CIA, but they were unable to remove him from the Armed Forces.

In 1976, Montesinos was transferred to a remote post near the Ecuador border. Two days after the transfer, Montesinos returned to Lima and visited the U.S. Embassy, where he received an official invitation to go to the U.S. This was a clear indication that the U.S. saw him as an important operative. In the U.S., Montesinos falsely presented himself as an aide to Peruís prime minister. He met with State Department and CIA officials and lectured at the Inter-American Defense College. When Montesinos returned to Peru, he was arrested and charged with "treason," a charge which carried a mandatory death sentence. The charge was eventually dropped. But in 1977 he was convicted of lying and desertion, kicked out the army and sentenced to a year in jail.

Frontman for Drug Kingpins

Within a short time after his stint in jail, Montesinos emerged as a key frontman for major drug traffickers, who valued his wide contacts within the government and military and his knowledge of corrupt police and judges. Montesinos not only defended the drug traffickers in court. He also rented homes for them, advised them about when they should go into hiding and arranged for the disappearance of files in order to prevent extradition moves. But he made enemies with certain army officers and was again charged with treason.

After spending a few years in exile in Ecuador and Argentina, Montesinos returned to Peru and resumed his climb into higher levels of power. He continued to defend top drug traffickers, while becoming an unofficial advisor to the Peruvian attorney general. According to Peruvian journalist Gustavo Gorriti, "By 1988, many of the important members of the drug trafficking organization were guaranteed impunity. Montesinos now had the run of the attorney generalís office, and that fact alone tremendously strengthened his position in the police and the judiciary."

Montesinos next moved to renew his influence in the military by helping to arrange the coverup of the armyís Cayara massacre. In May 1988, army patrols axed to death 24 peasants in the Cayara district of southern Ayacucho. The savage mass murder was in retaliation for an ambush of an army convoy by Maoist guerrillas. There was a major public outcry about the massacre, and a prosecutor began uncovering damaging evidence about General Valdivia, who had ordered the killings. The army high command was desperate for a coverup, and they tapped Montesinos as the man to arrange it. Four witnesses to the massacre were assassinated. The prosecutor pursuing the case was harassed into exile. The new prosecutor conducted a review of the case and declared it closed. General Valdivia, thanks to Montesinos, continued his rise in the military.

Hooking Up with Fujimori

In 1989, Montesinos extended his reach into the intelligence services. He persuaded SIN that he was invaluable by bringing them detailed files he had gathered from the attorney generalís office. These were files on thousands of people who had at some time been accused of "subversion" or were victims of abuses by the military. Montesinos would eventually become the unofficial but actual head of SIN.

In the 1990 presidential elections, an obscure candidate named Alberto Fujimori ended up being in a run-off election with the favorite, novelist Mario Vargas Llosa. Although important sections of Peruís ruling class backed Fujimori, they realized that he had many embarrassing problems in his background that could blow up into major scandals. During the previous regime, Fujimori was illegally given a large farm which was supposed to be given to peasants as part of the governmentís "land reform" measures. And he was involved in many cases of business fraud and tax cheating.

Montesinos took charge of "cleaning up the files" and "persuading" witnesses not to testify against Fujimori. Charges against Fujimori were cleared.

When Fujimori became president, Montesinos became his personal advisor. From this powerful position, Montesinos was able to name people close to him to crucial posts in the army, the police and key ministries. Montesinos also renewed his close contacts with the CIA--if it had ever been interrupted. He regularly visited the CIA station chief in Lima, and he was invited and went to the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia.

"War on Drugs"
and Intervention Against Peopleís War

Fujimoriís election was at a time when the advances in the peopleís war led by the Communist Party of Peru were profoundly shaking the Peruvian regime and the U.S. imperialists. Counterinsurgency experts warned about the possibility of the victory of the peopleís war. And the U.S. moved to increase intervention in Peru--much of it under the cover of a "war on drugs."

In 1991 a secret "anti-drug" arm of SIN was organized. Gorriti wrote, "The outfitís creation wasnít even discussed, much less decided in Peru. It was decided in Washington through inter-agency meetings." The outfit received funding, training and equipment provided by the CIA. According to Gorriti, the secret unit was never used for anti-drug operations but was used for attacking opponents of the Fujimori government. And Maximo San Roman--Fujimoriís original vice-president who was later sacked--accused Montesinos and the SIN of directly organizing the drug trade.

All this was known by the U.S. government. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) wrote in a 1991 internal report: "Montesinos has gained the presidentís unconditional confidence, and using that position he arranges the appointment of ministers and advisers as well as transfers of Army officers... always with the aim of supporting narcotics trafficking."

Some DEA officials were upset that the CIA was diminishing the DEAís role in Peru, and they tried to expose Montesinosís ties with drug traffickers in order to regain their position. But a U.S. embassy official told them, "If you have a son, are you going to be looking for his defects?"

The U.S. imperialists also knew that the Peruvian government was very dependent on "narco-dollars"--income from the drug trade--to prevent economic collapse and to sustain the war against the Maoist revolution. J.K. Marga, a supporter of the IEC, wrote: "It appears that the drug trade is part of the financial and organizational structure that the United States government has erected to serve its interests in Peru. There has never been the slightest pressure against Montesinos by the U.S. government. And given the relationship between Montesinos and the CIA, on the one hand, and Montesinos and Fujimori on the other, it seems that the drug trade is a key part of the mechanism by which the U.S. has usurped Peruís national sovereignty."

The U.S.-Backed "Self-Coup"

On April 5, 1992, the Fujimori regime --beset by dissension within Peruís ruling circles and parliament--staged a "self-coup." Fujimori and his generals took all power into their hands--they dissolved the parliament and suspended the constitution, issued fascist decrees, dismissed 75 percent of the judges and arrested hundreds of opponents.

Montesinos was the behind-the-scenes mastermind of the coup, and General Valdivia was in charge of the military aspects. Gorriti described one of the first acts taken after the coup: "Army intelligence officers had ransacked archives in the judiciary and in the prosecutorís offices mainly to get hold of all the cases in which Montesinos...was involved as a lawyer for drug traffickers and perhaps other documents that Fujimori does not want the public to know."

According to Gorriti, there was open talk at diplomatic cocktail parties in Lima before the coup that the Fujimori regime was preparing such a step. And U.S. officials must have been aware that Montesinos was meeting all but openly with Armed Forces officers in the days before it was launched. But the U.S. Ambassador in Peru at the time, Anthony Quainton, conspicuously made no public statements on these coup preparations. On the very day of the coup, Bernard Aronson, a high-level U.S. State Department official, was in Lima talking with top officials of the Fujimori regime. Less than a month later Aronson was back in Lima for talks with Fujimori and his generals--just days before the regime sent troops to murder dozens of revolutionary prisoners of war at Canto Grande prison.

The U.S. government made a few public statements after the coup criticizing Fujimori and announced a cutoff of some aid. But the U.S. blocked proposals in the Organization of American States for sanctions against Peru. And U.S. backing for the vicious counterinsurgency against the peopleís war saw no interruption. As an important part of this backing, the CIA and Pentagon directed and assisted the manhunt by Peruís secret police for Chairman Gonzalo and other PCP leaders.

The Death Squad Connection

The coup did not stop the infighting within Peruís reactionary ruling class. A dramatic indication of this was the public exposure by a top-ranking general of a government-led death squad named the Colina Group. In May 1993 General Robles--the third highest ranking officer in the army--told reporters of the existence of the death squad which operated under direct orders from Montesinos and General Hermoza Ríos, the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. Two of the most infamous atrocities pinned on the Colina Group were the Barrios Altos and La Cantuta massacres.

In November 1991, hooded men--armed with silencer-equipped machine guns and driving cars belonging to Fujimoriís brother and vice-minister of the interior--raided a party in Barrios Altos, a poor neighborhood in central Lima. Fifteen people, including an eight-year-old, were murdered in less than a minute.

La Cantuta is a university in Lima with a history of political activism, including support for the Maoist Peopleís War. In 1992, nine students and a professor were abducted by masked government troops and never heard from again. Following the exposure by General Robles, the remains of the La Cantuta victims were found in two secret graves around Lima. This discovery forced the Fujimori regime to attempt a coverup to take the heat off top government and military officials. A secret military court sentenced several army officers to jail terms and declared the case closed.

As horrible as these two massacres are, they are only a part of the long and bloody list of crimes against the people committed by the Fujimori dictatorship.

In 1992, shortly after Fujimoriís self-coup, some U.S. Congressmen questioned the State Department about the U.S. relationship with Montesinos. They worried that the situation in Peru might turn out badly for U.S. imperialists, similar to Manuel Noriega in Panama. A congressional investigation concluded: "The CIA has a relationship with him. He is a very valuable asset."

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