Fujimori Meets Military, Peru Crisis Deepens

Reuters -- 23 October 2000

by Jude Webber

LIMA - Peru's President Alberto Fujimori met military chiefs, ministers and toured army and security bases in Lima on Monday as a political crisis escalated with the return of his widely reviled ex-spy chief.

With his position looking increasingly fragile after his deputy quit -- and with tension soaring over government plans to tie promised elections to an amnesty for rights abuses -- Fujimori found himself under fire at home and abroad.

The head of the Organization of American States, Cesar Gaviria, said he was ``profoundly concerned'' by the return of Vladimiro Montesinos and urged Peru to exclude him from power.

Even a government-appointee like respected human rights ombudsman Jorge Santistevan said Fujimori's ``autocratic administration'' had to go, while Second Vice President Ricardo Marquez said Fujimori had to act fast.

``I think in the next few hours the president is going to take decisions and address the country,'' he told CPN radio.

Meanwhile, the government and opposition leaders resumed OAS-brokered talks that have been struggling to prepare the path to the elections with the amnesty plan on the agenda

Opposition leaders slammed as ``blackmail'' the proposal, which they say is tailor made for Montesinos who ran the feared intelligence service (SIN) amid charges of phone-tapping, ordering torture and authorizing death squads.

The amnesty would shield military and government officials from charges they violated human rights in Peru's fight against drug lords and rebels.

Gaviria in a statement scolded Fujimori for allowing Montesinos back into Peru, as if his return were ``something natural and compatible with the country's democracy and not something that seriously jeopardizes democratic stability.''

He added he planned to visit Peru but gave no date. The United States also expressed concern at Montesinos' return.

Dozens of protesters demonstrating outside the presidential palace flanked by police in riot gear also demanded action. The uncertainty punished financial markets.

Mystery And Drama

Fujimori was seen speaking into a mobile phone on his tour of special forces units, the SIN and a military academy.

It was not clear if he met Montesinos or if his day out was an attempt to prove he had the military under his control.

Montesinos, Fujimori's go-between with the powerful military for a decade, arrived in Peru hours after the government unveiled the amnesty plan. He was reportedly whisked away in a military aircraft -- underlining the power he was still widely believed to wield. His whereabouts were unknown.

The latest twists on a day of high drama followed the abrupt resignation of Vice President Francisco Tudela, a former foreign minister held hostage in a siege of the Japanese ambassador's residence in Lima for 126 days in 1996-97.

Tudela, widely tipped to be the government's election candidate, was the highest-profile defection and the clearest sign yet of the president's crumbling support.

Cornered by a corruption scandal involving Montesinos, Fujimori last month announced he would step down in July after elections four years early.

The deepening political turmoil -- which opposition leaders say puts the elections at risk -- punished financial markets, hitting Peru's Brady bonds in New York and its sol currency.

``It looks like the politics in Peru is going to get worse,'' said Michael Henry, bond strategist for Latin America ABN-AMRO. Ratings agency Standard & Poor's said Montesinos' reappearance could trigger a chain of events leading to a downgrade.

Montesinos' clout with the military raised instant questions about whether his return would now spark a coup by military leaders who felt exposed by the election decision.

Peru's top military officials are due to retire at the end of the year and are believed to be hell bent on securing protection from prosecution before they go.