Headlines, Human Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean

RIGHTS-PERU: Fujimori Hemmed In

Ángel Páez

LIMA, Apr 29 2008 (IPS) - After 50 days of hearings, the Peruvian court trying former President Alberto Fujimori has heard virtually incontrovertible evidence that the former president was responsible for kidnappings and for two massacres of civilians perpetrated in the early 1990s, according to prosecutor Avelino Guillén.

“The prosecution has provided 80 percent proof that Fujimori was an accessory before the fact in kidnappings and the murders of 25 persons in two separate incidents in 1991 and 1992, which he instigated and which were carried out by the Colina squad, a special group of Army Intelligence Service (SIE) agents,” Guillén told IPS.

Fujimori (1990-2000), who fled to Japan and was deposed by parliament in 2000, is also accused of having approved, as commander-in-chief of the armed forces, the SIE kidnappings of businessman Samuel Dyer and journalist Gustavo Gorriti, at the time of the Apr. 5, 1992 self-coup in which Fujimori dissolved parliament.

According to the prosecution, the kidnappings of Dyer and Gorriti were not isolated human rights violations but the expression of a government policy to use the military intelligence apparatus to crack down on opposition, including the Shining Path guerrillas and the insurgent Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA).

“In the first place it has been proved beyond reasonable doubt that the Colina squad did exist, which the former president’s defence counsel has staunchly denied,” said Guillén, one of the two prosecutors who have cross-questioned Fujimori and nearly a hundred witnesses called to testify in the trial.

“The death squad was an integral part of the army intelligence apparatus and its operational commander was the head of army intelligence, General Juan Rivero, who reported to the head of the National Intelligence Service (SIN), General Julio Salazar, who in turn answered directly to Fujimori,” he said.

“The Colina squad committed the Barrios Altos and La Cantuta murders,” Guillén said.

On Nov. 3, 1991, the Colina commando burst into a fund-raising party in Barrios Altos, and opened fire on a group of people who were enjoying a traditional “pollada” or chicken barbecue, killing 15, including an eight-year-old boy.

A witness said in court that the Colina group was after Shining Path insurgents who had recently attacked the president’s bodyguards, and who supposedly lived in that area. It was later reported that the assailants actually went to the wrong address, and killed a group of people who were not suspects.

Later, on Jul. 18, 1992, the death squad kidnapped, tortured and murdered nine students and a professor from La Cantuta University, buried the bodies and later exhumed and burned them. This was carried out to avenge a Shining Path attack on a residential building in Lima’s fashionable Miraflores district.

Legally, any suspects of subversion should have been turned over to the anti-terrorist police.

The prosecution has asked for a 30-year prison term for Fujimori. On Apr. 8, Salazar was sentenced to 35 years for murder with malice aforethought. The verdict strengthened the prosecution’s case in the Fujimori trial, in that it was proved that the Colina squad took orders as part of a chain of command that came from the very highest authority.

During the hearings, Fujimori’s defence counsel César Nakasaki has repeatedly alleged that there is not a single document to prove that his client ordered the formation of the Colina group, “let alone that he ordered them to carry out the killings,” and that the former president could not have signed any such document, because he was unaware of the existence of the illegal death squad.

“This argument is at odds with the truth, because there are a number of material facts that prove that Fujimori knew about the special intelligence team known as the Colina squad right from the start,” said Guillén.

“On Jan. 8, 1991, intelligence adviser Vladimiro Montesinos, on Fujimori’s behalf, attended a meeting of an intelligence analysis group, some of whose members formed the Colina squad after it met,” he said.

Montesinos, Fujimori’s security chief, is already serving a 15-year sentence for arms smuggling, bribery and other forms of corruption, while awaiting further verdicts on the Barrios Altos and La Cantuta massacres and similar human rights abuses.

“Fujimori himself, in a speech he made in February 1991, spoke of this special team, which he said was acting ‘silently,’” the prosecutor said.

“So Fujimori definitely knew about it, and he even signed a document congratulating the members of the special operations team, on Jun. 25, 1991, and another a month later on Jul. 30 in which he recommended officers of the Colina group for promotion. Shortly afterwards these officers were commanding the death squad,” he said.

“First they wrote a manual on how to conduct a ‘dirty war’ against the Shining Path guerrillas, and then they applied the methods in the manual to commit the murders at Barrios Altos and La Cantuta,” Guillén said.

Another line of the Fujimori defence is a systematic attempt to discredit former Colina squad agents who testified for the prosecution. According to Nakasaki, these witnesses lied to procure benefits, including reduced prison terms, under a law providing incentives to those who turn state’s evidence.

Guillén denied this accusation. “The testimony of former members of the Colina squad who have availed themselves of the law has clearly established two facts,” he said.

“One is the existence of a special intelligence team, operating within the structures of the army, and the other is that Colina squad members have admitted to carrying out the massacres at Barrios Altos and La Cantuta,” he said.

“They have not conspired to blame a particular military officer or Fujimori in order to evade their own responsibility. They have admitted their crimes and received stiff 15-year sentences,” he said.

“Neither were they expected to accuse Fujimori directly, as they did not personally receive direct orders from the former president,” he added.

“Do you think the court will sentence Fujimori to 30 years in prison, as the prosecution is seeking?” IPS asked Guillén.

“That is up to the court,” he answered. “However, we think there is enough evidence to prove the case, and we believe the sentence requested by the prosecution is what Fujimori deserves for the serious crimes he committed.”

“In court, the prosecution has provided the judges with an account that clearly sets out the sequence of how the incidents of which the former president stands accused happened,” he said.

Fifteen more witnesses have yet to be called to testify, before the evidence will be examined in depth. The sentencing of Fujimori may therefore not take place until the last few months of the year.

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