July 8, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Montesinos exculpates Fujimori

The trial of Peru's former President Alberto Fujimori has reached a critical stage, as various former top officials are taking the witness stand. Fujimori's one-time adviser Vladimiro Montesinos testified that Fujimori knew nothing about the Colina Group death squad that was responsible for the massacre at La Cantuta University in July 1992. Many experts in Peru believe that Montesinos and Fujimori cut a deal, which seems fairly obvious. It's hard to say what the payback would be, however, inasmuch as Montesinos is already serving a sentence of up to 20 years, and faces additional charges. As arrogant and manipulative as ever, Montesinos acted as though he were in charge of the proceedings, lecturing the judge on how to conduct the trial. See Washington Post.

On the other hand, the lawyer in the civil case against Fujimori contends that retired General Nicolas Hermoza Rios, who was armed forces commander at the time, had indicated that Fujimori found out about the massacre at Cantuta through Montesinos. See El Comercio, in Spanish. It's all one huge tangled Web of "he-said-she-said."

Fujimori took refuge in Japan in the midst of a huge corruption scandal during an overseas summit trip in October 2000, then flew to Chile in October 2005, in vain hopes of returning to Peru to run for president, and was finally extradited to Peru by Chilean authorities in September 2007. He convicted of lesser charges last December, and sentenced to six years in prison. For his part, Montesinos fled to Venezuela in 2000, but was caprured and returned to Peru a year later.

This testimony by Montesinos is a striking turn of events because the former partners (Fujimori and Montesinos) had become estranged in recent years, blaming each other for the past misdeeds. Fujimori still holds out hope of running for president in 2011, even though he will probably still be behind bars. See the Fuerza 2011 news blog. ("Fuerza" means "force.") It indicates that Retired General Pedro Villanueva Valdivia, who was Commanding General of the Army in 1991, claimed that Fujimori merely set policies but did not give orders to the military. So apparently, they are all getting their stories straight, that Fujimori was blissfully unaware of the sordid details about the anti-terrorist campaign. It's too bad, because a harsh crackdown was almost certainly necessary in order to prevail over the barbarians in the Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso) and the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA). The failure to keep a tight rein on security forces hurt the Peruvian government's image, however, and it probably ruined Fujimori, who resorted to repressive measures and coverups late in his term, and left office in disgrace. For millions of Peruvians, nevertheless, he remains a hero for bringing peace and prosperity back to the country, and it's easy to understand why.