Pubdate: Wed, 09 May 2001
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Section: Front page
Copyright: 2001 The Washington Post Company
Author: Anthony Faiola, Washington Post Foreign Service
Note: Special correspondent Lucien Chauvin contributed to this report.


Arrests Of Peruvian Officials Expose Corruption, Deceit

LIMA, Peru -- Inside a dilapidated downtown prison, a gaggle of former 
president Alberto Fujimori's top generals sulked around a green cement jail 
yard on a hot afternoon. The recently arrested generals whittled away their 
recreation time halfheartedly, playing soccer and reminiscing about the 
days when Fujimori's finest could count on at least one steadfast friend: 
Uncle Sam.

Gen. Juan Miguel del Aguila, head of Peru's National Anti-terrorism Bureau 
until last year and, later, security chief of the National Police, recalled 
frequent meetings with U.S. intelligence agents right up to the moment when 
Fujimori abandoned the presidency and fled to Japan in November.

"The U.S. was our partner in every respect, giving us intelligence, 
training, equipment and working closely with us in the field," said del 
Aguila, who is now charged with conspiracy in the state-sponsored bombing 
last year of a bank in downtown Lima, an act meant to look like the 
handiwork of Fujimori opponents to portray them as radicals. "The United 
States was our best ally."

Less chatty, Gen. Nicolas Hermoza Rios, an honors graduate from the U.S. 
Army's School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Ga., shooed away a foreign 
journalist. The former head of Fujimori's joint chiefs during most of the 
1990s -- a decade when Peru vied with Colombia as the largest recipient of 
U.S. military aid in South America -- Hermoza had just pleaded guilty to 
taking $14 million in illicit gains from arms deals. He was still fighting 
more potent charges of taking protection money from the same drug lords the 
United States was paying Peru to fight.

The arrests of 18 generals in the six months since Fujimori's fall -- among 
more than 70 of his government's high ranking military and intelligence 
officials against whom criminal charges have been brought -- have lifted a 
curtain on the dark side of Washington's strategic partnership with Peru 
during the 1990s. Hailed as a model for U.S. military cooperation with 
Latin America, the tight alliance was part of a quest to crush leftist 
guerrillas and drug traffickers. To that end, the United States provided 
Peru not only cash, but also training, equipment, intelligence and manpower 
from the CIA, DEA and U.S. armed forces.

But a purge underway here since Fujimori's disgrace has shown that many of 
the people the United States worked with most closely to accomplish its 
goals -- especially in the drug war -- appear to have been working both 
sides of the street, forming a network of corruption right under the noses 
of their U.S. partners. For many Peruvians, this has raised the question 
whether U.S. officials working here were duped or just averted their gaze.

"The United States was working with people involved in massive criminal 
activity in Peru," said Anel Townsend, head of a Peruvian congressional 
subcommittee probing government links to drug trafficking in the 1990s. "If 
U.S. intelligence did not know what was going on, it certainly should have. 
You can't just offer that kind of assistance to a government like 
Fujimori's and then take no responsibility for the consequences."

The underside of cooperation in Peru underscores the difficulties and 
compromises of U.S. military partnerships in Latin America. Echoes of 
Peru's problems can already be seen in Washington's $1.3 billion 
contribution to "Plan Colombia." Critics warn that U.S. officials may be 
repeating the mistake of cooperating with a corrupt military establishment 
to meet their ends in the drug war.

Vladimiro Montesinos, for instance, was for years Peru's top liaison with 
Washington and Fujimori's intelligence chief. He is now a fugitive with a 
$5 million price on his head. Continuously defended by U.S. officials and 
the CIA as a staunch ally in the drug war, Montesinos is now facing 31 
criminal counts, including charges that he ordered civilian massacres in 
1991 and 1992 and that he protected drug smugglers while aiding the United 
States in capturing others.

Peruvian investigators and Fujimori's longtime political opponents are now 
demanding answers from Washington and requesting release of CIA documents 
on Peru. Many officials here insist it is inconceivable that U.S. 
intelligence -- and particularly the CIA, which enjoyed a close 
relationship with Montesinos -- was unaware of at least some of his alleged 
crimes. And if the United States was unaware, its critics here insist that 
it was lax.

Current and former U.S. officials working in Peru respond that critics 
forget the bright side of the partnership with Fujimori: the crusades that 
stamped out the powerful Shining Path and Tupac Amaru guerrilla movements 
and an aggressive anti-drug program that led to a 70 percent reduction in 
cultivation of the coca leaf used to make cocaine .

"We have had a very focused mission in Peru, first zooming in on the 
guerrillas and then on narco-traffickers," said a State Department official 
involved in U.S.-Peru policy. "We were busy dealing with the bad guys 
outside the government, so perhaps we weren't pointing all our sensors 
toward the bad guys within the government."

The U.S. officials also insist that until recently, evidence indicating 
high level corruption was largely hearsay, and they point out that, for a 
while, Fujimori was one of the most popular presidents in Peruvian history. 
Unlike the corrupt, repressive Latin American governments Washington 
supported out of strategic interest during the Cold War, Fujimori was 
democratically elected in 1990 and re-elected in 1995. And when Fujimori 
appeared to be robbing a new term through fraudulent elections last year, 
these officials say, the United States began distancing itself from his 

"While everyone is now trying hard to forget it, Fujimori did have a 
reputation for being relatively honest, and it remains to be proven to what 
extent he was corrupt," said a former State Department official who worked 
for years in Peru. "For instance, in the privatization of some $17 billion 
worth of state-run enterprises, I never heard that the process was corrupt. 
Many businessmen compared it very favorably in that regard to Argentina."

The authoritarian-style former president sought asylum in his parents' 
native Japan last November amid allegations of corruption and signs that 
congress would move to impeach him. Fujimori, who briefly closed congress 
in 1992 and seized almost total control of the judiciary and media, is now 
being probed for theft of gold bars from the Central Bank and ordering 
assassinations of leftist guerrillas. But he has yet to be brought up on 
formal charges.

Some U.S. officials concede that they lapsed in not taking a stronger line 
on dominant figures in Fujimori's government, especially Montesinos. An 
Army deserter who sold state secrets to the CIA in the 1970s, Montesinos at 
one time was a lawyer for drug traffickers. In the early 1980s, he signed a 
legal documents on behalf of a Colombian client for the purchase of 
buildings in Lima that were later discovered to harbor cocaine processing 

His background, as well as continuing allegations of misdeeds throughout 
the 1990s, did raise concerns at the U.S. Embassy in Lima as well as in 
Washington. But the CIA argued that rumors of his corruption were 
exaggerated and called him a vital asset. He continued to be Washington's 
chief liaison, holding repeated meetings with top U.S. figures, including 
the former White House drug policy coordinator, Barry R. McCaffery, and 
Gen. General Charles Wilhelm, former head of the U.S. Southern Command.

Critics here say the relationship flourished desite evidence available 
since the early 1990s that painted a broad, if incomplete picture of high 
level official corruption. That evidence included testimony taken during 
congressional hearings on corruption in 1993, when a government witness who 
had worked with Peru's most notorious drug trafficker, Demetrio "El 
Vaticano" Chavez, testified that Gen. Hermoza had been receiving between 
$50,000 and $100,000 a month in protection money. The witness also said 
that Montesinos "is the one who is making the most from 'El Vaticano,' " 
according to transcripts of her testimony.

Chavez was finally arrested in Colombia and extradited to Peru. During his 
trial in 1996, he testified that he had paid Montesinos $50,000 a month. 
Several days after Chavez's testimony, he recanted his story. But Chavez 
now says he was tortured and ordered to recant.

Other captured drug traffickers also say they provided information and 
testimony to U.S. officials about money being paid to Montesinos, but that 
their stories were ignored. A U.S. official said, "The problem with the 
so-called proof about Montesinos and the generals is that they always seem 
to come from drug traffickers."

But other evidence surfaced as well. In May 1996, police seized 383 pounds 
of cocaine -- with a U.S. street value of roughly $17 million -- on a 
Peruvian air force DC-8 transport plane en route to Russia through Miami. 
Thirteen air force personnel were arrested. That July, 280 pounds were 
found on two Peruvian navy ships, one in Vancouver, Canada, and the other 
in the main Peruvian port of Callao. Also, dozens of officers were 
investigated, and many arrested, on drug trafficking charges throughout the 

But Fujimori's former anti-drug officials say U.S. drug enforcement and CIA 
officials were reassured by promises of efforts to root out the corruption.

"I'm not going to defend an administration that we now know was rotten, but 
I can tell you that most of us working in counter-narcotics were honest 
people who didn't know what was going on," said Gen. Dennis del Castillo, 
who headed the National Police Counter Narcotics Bureau until earlier last 

Special correspondent Lucien Chauvin contributed to this report.
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