Vladimiro Montesinos Torres
As special advisor to President Alberto Fujimori of Peru and defacto head of Peru's National Intelligence Service, Vladimiro Montesinos Torres has overseen and directed abuses of human rights and corruption, including the La Cantuta and Barrios Altos massacres. Known as "Rasputin," he is rarely seen in public, does not hold an official position, and charges against him have a habit of mysteriously being dropped. He is protected by about 30 bodyguards.
Born in Arequipa, Peru in 1946, Montesinos was trained as a Cadet at the US Army School of the Americas in 1965. In 1966, he graduated from the Peruvian Military School of Chorrillos. Later, as an army captain, he specialized as an intelligence operative for the National Intelligence Service.
In September 1976, Montesinos was linked to a plan to "crush the power of the people and the workers organized into unions, political parties, progressive magazines, and also patriotic young officers and other ranks, and progressive sectors of the Church."
Some time in 1976, Montesinos made a quick trip to the United States, apparently without the authorization of his military superiors, a leftist military regime. Montesinos was charged with selling state secrets to the CIA (an enemy of leftist military regime) and was cashiered from the Army in 1977. He may have served some time in prison, but he was quickly back in the circles of power.
He became a lawyer, began representing drug traffickers and policemen linked to drug trafficking, and amassed a fortune. In the early 1980's, he signed legal documents on behalf of a Colombian client for the purchase or lease of two buildings in Lima that were later raided and found to house cocaine processing.
According to The Guardian, in September 1996, Defense Minister Tomas Castillo admitted that Montesinos was tried in 1983 by a military court for treason and acquitted. Montesinos was accused of using a clandestine newspaper to foment a military coup.
Peruvian journalist Gustavo Gorriti annoyed Montesinos when he wrote a serious of articles in 1983 for the weekly Caretas profiling Montesinos' career.
Montesinos gained his first real notoriety when he defended 1990 Peruvian presidential candidate Fujimori against accusations of fraudulent real estate dealings. The paperwork in that case mysteriously disappeared and the charges were quietly dropped.
In November 1991, fifteen people, including an eight-year-old, were killed when hooded men with silencer-equipped automatic weapons opened fire without warning on a party in the Barrios Altos neighborhood of Lima. The Barrios Altos massacre was later revealed to be the responsibility of the Grupo Colina, which answered to Montesinos.
On April 5, 1992, Fujimori dissolved congress, fired many of the country's judges and suspended the constitution. Guillermo Cabala, considered by many to be beyond reproach, was one of the judges fired by Fujimori. Cabala said that Montesinos had him fired out of "personal vengeance" because Cabala blocked Montesinos' attempt to silence a weekly magazine with a gag order in 1991. In another Montesinos payback, journalist Gustavo Gorriti was arrested just hours after the coup. According to Gorriti, he was only questioned about what he had about Montesinos. "The only time I was threatened during my two-day stay at military intelligence headquarters was when they tried to get the password into my computer," stated Gorriti in an Asian Wall Street Journal article. When his computer was returned, all records concerning Montesinos had been erased. In the days after the coup, Montesinos continued his revenge by firing dozens of police generals, including many who had arrested Montesinos' clients in drug raids.
On July 18, 1992, nine students and a professor at La Cantuta University were abducted by security forces. The case was blown open by General Rodolfo Robles, the third-highest ranking military commander, who took refuge at the US Embassy after he stated in May 1993, "The crime of La Cantuta was committed by a special intelligence unit (known as the Grupo Colina) operating under the orders of Vladimiro Montesinos..." After the civilian judge indicated her intention to call Montesinos and Army Chief (and fellow SOA graduate) General Nicolas de Bari Hermoza to testify in the case, the Peruvian Congress (installed by Fujimori after the auto-coup in April 1992) passed a law moving jurisdiction in the case from the civilian courts to military courts.
In a 1992 letter, then-California Sen. Alan Cranston asked the State Department about Montesinos' relationship with "the U.S. intelligence community." Cranston expressed concern that the U.S. was "running the same risk with him--in terms of the seriousness of our commitment in anti-narcotics activities"--as with Gen. Manuel A. Noriega of Panama, who allegedly worked with U.S. intelligence while raking in bribes from drug smugglers.
On August 22, 1996, Fujimori's Congress turned down an opposition motion for a commission to investigate Montesinos. The Fujimori Congress also rejected a request that Prime Minister Alberto Pandolfi and Defense Minister Gen. Juan Castillo Meza provide them with a report clarifying exactly what role Montesinos plays in the National Intelligence Service.
When self-confessed drug trafficker Demetrio Chavez was arrested in 1996, he was originally charged with drug trafficking. However, after he claimed that he paid $50,000 per month to Montesinos in exchange for protection of his jungle drug operations, he was charged with collaborating with terrorists. This gave the military jurisdiction over his case. Later, a visibly dazed Chavez retracted his allegations and Chavez' lawyer claimed Chavez had been coerced. According to the LA Times, transcripts of radio intercepts compiled by Peru's navy intelligence gave the impression that Chavez was an ally of the military, as he talked of working with military officers. During the same trial, General Jaime Rios, who had originally been called as a witness, was then included with the defendants and sentenced to 15 years in jail in October 1996 for taking payments for drug airlifts and accepting supplies for his local men. Rios claimed that his sentence was a result of an aborted coup attempt to overturn Fujimori's April 1992 auto-coup and dissolution of Congress. Rios also failed to sign a document denouncing General Rodolfo Robles.
In April 1997, Baruch Ivcher's Frecuencia Latina Channel 2 broadcast allegations by Peruvian Army Intelligence agent Leonor La Rosa that she was tortured by intelligence agents and it also reported on Montesinos' tax records, which indicating he was making $600,000 a year, even though his official salary was $18,000 per year. On July 14 1997, Ivcher was stripped of his Peruvian nationality and in September control of his station was handed to minority shareholders more friendly to the government. In response, former U.N. Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar said that, "Peru is no longer a democracy. We are now a country headed by an authoritarian regime." The 1997 US Human Rights Report on Peru stated, "The Government's action in this case was widely interpreted as an attempt to prevent the station from broadcasting any more negative stories about the regime. If this was the case, it appears to have succeeded, as very few stories critical of the Government appeared on Channel 2 since the change of management."
On March 16, 1998, former Peruvian Army Intelligence Agent Luisa Zanatta accused Montesinos of ordering illegal wiretaps of leading politicans and journalists. Zanatta also said that army intelligence agents killed fellow agent Mariella Barreto Riofano because she gave a magazine information about human rights violations and where bodies from the La Cantuta massacre were buried. Shortly before Barreto was killed, she told Zanatta that she was part of the Grupo Colina death squad responsible for the La Cantuta massacre. Barreto's body was found by a roadside on March 29, 1997. The body showed evidence that Barreto was tortured before she was decapitated and her hands and feet cut off.
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