Fujimori and the Military: A Marriage of Convenience

September 25, 2007

Fujimori needed the military to sustain his new government. In turn, the military wanted to gain greater control over the counterinsurgency war. The two forged an alliance based on a common vision: neoliberalism in the economic sphere and authoritarianism in the political sphere. The Peruvian military was an important behind- the-scenes actor in the 1990 presidential elec- tions. Front-runner Mario Vargas Llosa, an ardent advocate of orthodox neoliberalism, had the backing of the navy and its intelligence service. 1 The army saw Vargas Llosa as the least objectionable of the candidates, though it didn't wholeheartedly support his platform. When Vargas Llosa was forced into a second- round run-off against an unknown candidate, Alberto Fujimori, the navy began spreading rumors that a coup would occur if Fujimori were elected. Fujimori went on to defeat Vargas Llosa, but the navy's coup never mate- Enrique Obando is a researcher on military issues at the Peruvian Center for International Studies (CEPEI), and teaches at the Catholic University in Lima. This article is adapted from his chapter in Steve Stern, ed., Shining and Other Paths: War and Society in Peru, 1980-1995 (forthcoming). Translated from the Spanish by Peter O'Driscoll. rialized. To be on the safe side, however, Fujimori retired the navy's Commander-in-Chief and the head of navy intelligence. This was a prelude to what would become a constant recourse throughout the Fujimori administration: the president's use of promotions and retirements within the military to weed out opponents and award supporters. Rarely has the military not been involved, directly or indirectly, in Peruvian politics. After 12 years of direct military rule, the military relinquished power in 1980 in the wake of massive street protests against authoritari- anism. Since then, civilian governments have taken dif- ferent measures to protect themselves from a military coup. President Fernando Beladnde (1980-85) tried to ingratiate himself with the military by not interfering in their internal organization or the underlying military doctrine that assigned the armed forces a preponderant role in overseeing the course of the country's develop- VOL XXX, No 1 JULYIAUG 1996 31REPORT ON PERU ment. Alan Garcia (1985-90), by contrast, actively intervened in the military's internal organization and co-opted the High Command in order to ensure his con- trol over the military. Fujimori expanded upon Garcia's methods of co-optation, but with the intention not only of controlling the military but of using it for his own political purposes. When Fujimori took power, he was in an unenviable position: he had no political party or trade-union sup- port, and the business community, which widely backed Vargas Llosa, viewed him with mistrust. With virtually no allies to sustain his new government, Fujimori feared that the military would see him as weak and try to replace him. To prevent this from happening, he sought to build support for his government within key military circles with the help of an obscure lawyer and for- mer army captain, Vladimiro Montesinos. Montesinos first gained Fujimori's trust by helping him wiggle out of tax-evasion charges during the 1990 elec- toral campaign, and he soon became one of Fujimori's top advi- sors. Montesinos, who knew who was who within the military, suggested which gen- erals should be retired and which should be promoted to key posts. By forcing out officers whose loyalty was sus- Gen. Nicolas Hermoza leads a batter pect, and rewarding ing down from a probe into military those whose support was unconditional, Montesinos helped Fujimori secure the backing of the military. In late 1991, Montesinos and Fujimori perfected their system of co-optation by passing a law that changed the procedure for selecting the heads of the armed forces. Traditionally, new commanders-in-chief were selected each year according to rank. The new law gave the pres- ident the power to name commanders-in-chief from among the highest-ranking officers, and to retire any officer at will. All Fujimori had to do was find a loyal officer, make him commander-in-chief, and keep him in power throughout his administration. Following Montesinos' advice, he used the new process to remove high-ranking officers linked to the "institutionalist" current within the military, which advocated maintain- ing the military's independence and avoiding its politi- cal manipulation. Generals who were slated to become commander-in-chief in 1992 and 1993 were unceremo- niously dismissed, while an undistinguished general recommended by Montesinos, Nicolis Hermoza Rios, was named commander-in-chief of the army. The quid pro quo of the military's support for Fujimori was his promise to broadly expand military power in the counterinsurgency effort. Throughout the 1980s, the military had grown increasingly frustrated over the failure of civilian regimes to quell Shining Path's violence. Fujimori first attempted to broaden the military's powers in late 1991 by passing a series of Draconian decree laws that, for some observers, added up to a "white coup." The opposition in Congress over- turned many of the most noxious measures, which y of tanks in Lima in April, 1993 to intimidate Congress into back- involvement in the La Cantuta massacre. Fujimori and his military allies denounced as undue interference in their efforts to combat Shining Path. 2 In response, Fujimori closed down Congress and suspend- ed the Constitution in April, 1992. He then proceeded to implement the counterinsurgency decrees that Congress had vetoed. 3 Most officers backed the autogolpe, confirming the marriage of convenience between Fujimori and the mil- itary. Other factors were crucial to the alliance as well. The military's long-standing disdain for political par- ties, for example, dovetailed with Fujimori's anti-party stance. The military also avidly supported Fujimori's attempts to implant a free-market economy. Many offi- cers believed that Fujimori's neoliberal program would allow the Peruvian military to realize its long-standing dream of making Peru a strong regional power. Both

Fujimori and the military had a common vision: neolib- eralism in the economic sphere and authoritarianism in the political sphere. issension within the military, however, began to brew. The new procedure for selecting the High Command became the norm for the entire offi- cer corps. Promotions and retirements were no longer based on professional merit, but according to a given officer's personal loyalty to Fujimori and Hermoza. Many officers believed the co-optation of the top brass endangered the autonomy and professionalism of the military. Montesinos' growing power to make or break the careers of top military officers was also a serious point of contention within the military. Montesinos' murky past did not help matters. He had been dis- charged from the army for allegedly passing classified information to the U.S. government, and as a lawyer, spent a good part of his career defending drug traffick- ers. 4 Many military officers believed it was inappropri- ate-and dangerous-that an unscrupulous dealer like Montesinos accrue such power. This sentiment was exacerbated as Montesinos consolidated his control over the National Intelligence Service (SIN), a govern- ment agency charged with collecting information for national-security purposes. Montesinos expanded the SIN's surveillance network of both high-ranking mili- tary officers and opposition groups. The fear of a Shining Path victory grew more acute in the aftermath of the autogolpe, aggravating dissension within the military. 5 Shining Path, which saw the coup as an all-out offensive against its organization, launched a dramatic series of bombings in Lima during April and May. The government was caught complete- ly off guard. Its paralysis sent tremors throughout the hemisphere. In mid-1992, the active-duty institutional- ist officers began clamoring for a counter-coup against Fujimori and the co-opted generals in the High Command. Many of these officers were linked to two clandestine opposition groups that had emerged within the military, "Commanders, Majors and Captains" (COMACA) and "Sleeping Lion." They believed a counter-coup would restore Peru to constitutional rule, rebuff the impending threat of a Shining Path triumph, and end the political manipulation of the armed forces that they perceived as a threat to the entire military institution. The officers grouped in COMACA and Sleeping Lion had not only grown to mistrust their superior offi- cers in the High Command, but-revealing the degree to which the chain of command had fallen apart-they looked for leadership from the institutionalist generals who had been forced out by Fujimori and Montesinos in late 1991. They also sought support from the lower- and middle-ranking active-duty officers who had grown frustrated with the military's low overall budget, which had crippled its operating capacity. 6 Another source of discontent was the incredibly low salaries paid to mili- tary officers-at the high end, a division general earned $283 per month, while at the low end, a second lieu- tenant earned about $213 a month. The surprise capture of Shining Path leader Abimael Guzmfn on September 12, 1992 threw the institutional- ists' plans into a tailspin. The seizure was a spectacular victory for Fujimori-one that he desperately needed to shore up his fledgling government. With a Shining Path victory no longer feared, one of the main justifications for a counter-coup against Fujimori disappeared. Soon thereafter, the institutionalists abandoned the idea. Months before, however, the SIN had apparently infil- trated both COMACA and Sleeping Lion. Though the two groups' plans were never acted upon, more than 40 offi- cers-including five generals-were arrest- ed in November, 1992 on charges of attempt- ing a coup d'dtat. With the arrest of the counter-coup leaders, Fujimori had van- quished his main oppo- nents within the mili- tary. At that point, he could have declared an amnesty for the institu- tionalists, and thereby gain the military's com- plete support. Instead, he was determined to destroy every last seed of possible opposition Dissension within the military arose from the belief of many officers that Fujimori's co-optation of the top brass endangered the autonomy and professionalism of the military. within the military. A sweep against the remaining insti- tutionalist officers ensued, including those who approved of Fujimori but had not been co-opted. With this buffer group gone, a head-on collision between the pro-Fujimori loyalists and the anti-Fujimori institution- alists seemed imminent. The clash came in December, 1992, when Gen. Alberto Arciniega, a pro-Fujimori institutionalist who had been forced out in Fujimori's sweep, and Gen. Luis Cisneros, former minister of war under Fernando Belaiinde, publicly criticized Gen. Hermoza's treatment of the generals involved in the coup conspiracy. Both men were tried in military courts for "insulting a supe- rior officer." Arciniega, who had successfully led a counterinsurgency campaign against Shining Path in the coca-growing Upper Huallaga Valley, was subse- VOL XXX. No 1JULY/AUG 1996 33 VOL XXX, No 1 JULY/AUG 1996 33REPORT ON PERU quently stripped of his military protection. This move Fujimori publicly defended Hermoza, accusing his pre- forced Arciniega into exile since it was tantamount to decessors of inefficiency and corruption. an invitation to Shining Path to assassinate him. The With the battle lines drawn, disgruntled institutional- confrontation continued when 19 former commanders- ists launched an all-out campaign to discredit Hermoza in-chief of the army published two letters criticizing and his cronies, which they hoped would force Fujimori Hermoza's harsh treatment of the coup leaders and to replace him. In mid-1993, the institutionalists leaked respected military officers like Arciniega and Cisneros. information to the press and opposition leaders expos- Anatomy of a Cover-Up: The Disappearances at La Cantuta T he Enrique Guzman y Valle University, widely known as "La Cantuta," was occupied by the Peruvian army in May, 1991 as part of President Fujimori's effort to combat Shining Path. Located just east of Lima, La Cantuta is the country's leading teachers' college. The security forces had long sus- pected it of being a guerrilla training ground. A military base was established on campus on May 21, 1991. For a time, the university was closed, as sol- diers set up more permanent lodgings and vigilance points on campus. When classes resumed, strict con- trols were put on student movement in and out of campus. Soldiers were posted as guards at key points and patrolled constantly, especially at night during the eight-hour curfew beginning at 10 p.m. Six months later, the government legalized the incursion of the security forces onto formerly autonomous university campuses with Decree Law 726. The law authorized the armed forces to occupy campuses "when they are made aware that terrorist elements or groups disturb peace and internal order." Along with these public measures, the govern- ment apparently also authorized military intelli- gence to infiltrate the student body in search of Shining Path sympathizers. That infiltration alleged- ly led to the events of July 18, 1992, a little over a year after the army's arrival. ln the early hours of that day, eyewitnesses say that about 30 hooded gunmen burst into the male stu- dent dormitory at La Cantuta and forced the 60 stu- dents inside into the hallway with threats and blows. The students were forced to lie face down on the floor. One of the armed men went through the group with a list in hand, ordering that certain students be pulled out. A similiar operation took place in the female student dormitory. The gunmen then pro- ceeded to detain Hugo Munioz in the professors' res- idence in front of his wife and a neighboring couple. ing human rights abuses by a clan called the "Colina Group." The mo tion, which implicated Gen. Her Montesinos, involved the abduction a students and a professor from a known as "La Cantuta" [see "Anatom this page]. On the day that the Congress called on Hermoza to testify regarding military involvement in st serious accusa- the Cantuta case, Lima's residents awoke to the sound noza as well as of tanks rumbling in the streets. Hermoza's intimidation nd murder of nine tactics worked: he never appeared before Congress, and public university the case was diverted to a military court. ny of a Cover-Up," The institutionalists then changed strategy, raising the ongress called on issue of military involvement in drug trafficking. COMACA and Sleeping Lion began leaking informa- tion to the press in early 1994 naming officers who were actively involved in drug trafficking and describ- ing how others were paid "not to see" what the drug traffickers were doing just a few miles from their bases. as up, to Pieru's The accusations implicated the political-military chiefs e. : Court ito of the Upper Huallaga Valley, the head of the army's air S.jurisdiction. force, and Hermoza himself. COMACA hoped that the Court hasl these accusations would lead to Hermoza's ouster, by always ruled in forcing the U.S. government, which was heavily f'the military in involved in counter-narcotics operations in Peru, to s over jurisdic- particularly i, take action. rights cases,-the After initially denying any wrongdoing on the part of file of the La the military, Hermoza admitted in January, 1995 that disappearances some 100 officers were linked to the drug trade. While mencdous pres- Hermoza promised that the military justice system the judges: to- would look into the charges, COMACA says that only civilian jurisdic- those military officers who were not part of Hermoza's s the alternate inner circle were targets of investigation. 7 In order to eliberated over repair the publicity damage that this incident caused, ocast his tie:: - Fujimori pulled the military out of anti-drug operations g vote, .the in late 1995. ss stealthfully rn the wee hours.' The institutionalists made one last-ditch effort to morning 'a bill bring down Hermoza in early 1995, in the aftermath of "such a way that the Peruvian military's unsuccessful attempts to dis- .aCantuta case. lodge Ecuadorian troops occupying territory in a dis- 0-page case, the puted border region. Fujimori's policy of assigning he' 12 soldiers, generals to key posts on the basis of their loyalty rather ars. The military, than their professional qualifications, they argued, had the 'tolriankiing led to serious mistakes in the war with Ecuador. They killings. At the also criticized Fujimori and Hermoza for not adequate- entences were rve their time in ly equipping the military, and for failing to avert the sing them from, conflict in the first place. 8 The political opposition, led r Benefits. Later by Javier P6rez de Cu6llar's coalition Union For Peru 'rison'ed soldiers' (UPP), jumped into the fray. By criticizing Hermoza's rts, cellular tele- leadership of the war, the UPP hoped to bolster its d' regular visits chances of winning the April, 1995 presidential elec- paymaster who tions. Again the attacks against Hermoza didn't stick. ented by occa- After the conflict came to a close with the help of inter- national mediators, Hermoza retained his post, and pro- resst passed ohei ceeded to retire all the generals on active duty who had esty to mem- hm criticized him. nnesty to mern to , investigated, Over this three-year period, Hermoza had consoli- 'iimes from May, dated his power within the military. Purges of dissident rst to walk free. officers had seriously weakened his opponents within prison for the La' the armed forces. In late 1994, Hermoza ensured that several of his cronies were promoted to top military positions, buttressing his own power base within the VoL XXX, No 1 JULY/AUG 1996 35 VOL XXX, No 1 JULY/AUG 1996 35REPORT ON PERU armed forces. Moreover, the government's policy "successes" on the economic and counterinsurgency fronts boosted Gen. Hermoza's prestige among the military officers. As a result, by 1995, the attacks against Hermoza, rather than weakening him, had the Peruvian troops along the Ecuador-Peru border during the 1995 border conflict. opposite effect: military officers began to feel that the institution was being beleaguered by opposition groups with suspect motives. As a consequence, they rallied around Hermoza and the High Command. Hermoza was now in a position to exert his indepen- dence. he criticisms against Hermoza and the military took a toll on Fujimori politically. Despite his enthusiastic defense of Hermoza, it was evident that the general had become a liability to the President. In fact, reports indicate that Fujimori first tried to remove Hermoza at the end of 1994, when military pro- motions and retirements usually occur. By then, though, Hermoza had become a powerful figure in his own right. When a journalist asked him about his possible removal as commander-in-chief, Hermoza replied, "I will go when Fujimori goes." Fujimori's sweeping victory in the 1995 presidential elections seemed to provide him with the perfect oppor- tunity to force Hermoza to step down. Yet, while Fujimori replaced the entire top officer corps, including the commanders-in-chief of the navy and the air force as well as the minister of defense, Hermoza retained his post. For many observers, this was proof positive that Hermoza and his cronies were in control of the govern- ment, and not Fujimori. In fact, while Hermoza has gained leverage over Fujimori, he does not govern the country. The Peruvian military retains less power and privilege than it did 20 years ago, when Gen. Juan Velasco seized power and launched an ambitious series of economic and social reforms. Today, the military refrains from interfering in non-military aspects of the state's affairs. Its preroga- tives are largely circumscribed to three spheres. First, military officers retain certain perks, such as free lodg- ing, health care for their families, and education for their children. Officers above the rank of colonel have a chauffeur-driven car and a steward at their disposition. Second, the military enjoys impunity from prosecutions for human rights violations and drug trafficking. In June, 1995, Congress passed a sweeping amnesty law which cut short all judicial investigations of human rights abuses. 9 Military and police officers arrested for human rights crimes-even those who had been found guilty and were serving prison sentences-were freed. Finally, the military continues to assert its influence in the counterinsurgency war. Although Shining Path's activities have diminished considerably over the past three years, the military retains control over a third of the country's territory.' 0 The relationship between Fujimori and the military is far more complicated than it appears on the surface. A symbiotic relationship has evolved between Fujimori and Hermoza, based essentially on personal interests. Fujimori first used the military to shore up his power. Hermoza and his allies, in turn, used Fujimori to assert their authority within the military. Now, Fujimori finds himself unable to remove Hermoza and his cronies from the upper echelons of power. Hermoza has be- come a caudillo, or strongman, who controls the military through a series of alliances with other high-ranking officers. He backs up those alliances with internal sur- veillance-with the help of Montesinos and the SIN- and a special security unit. In effect, Hermoza has reproduced within the military the same system of co- optation used by Fujimori to advance his own person- al interests. Fujimori still benefits from the deal. General Hermoza's iron grip over the military institu- tion lends stability to his government-at least in the short term. Fujimori and the Military: A Marriage of Convenience 1. Author's personal interviews with retired navy officers who par- ticipated in Vargas Liosa's electoral campaign. 2. Ana Maria Vidal, Los decretos de la guerra (Lima: IDS, 1993). For a progressive critique of the decree laws, see Andean Commission of Jurists, Andlisis de los decretos legislativos dicta- dos por el gobierno peruano en materia de pacificaci6n nacional (Lima: Codice Editores, 1991). 3. Another important element in the autogolpe was the perceived ineptitude and corruption within the judicial branch. Courts had released over 200 known guerrillas in the first two years of Fujimori's administration. 4. Interview, Gen. Edgardo Mercado Jarrin, February 17, 1994. 5. These impressions are based on presentations by Dr. Manuel Migone, advisor to the Navy High Command and retired Col. Jose Bailetti, director of the National Research Institute on National Defense (INIDEN) in August, 1992.. 6. See the letter written by Minister of Defense Gen. Jorge Torres Aciego to then Finance Minister Carlos Bolonia regarding the lack of funds to engage in basic military action and Bolofia's response in Carlos Torres y Torres Lara, "Hito 1424: El pacto de caballeros," Informe para la Comisidn de Relaciones Exteriores del Congreso de la RepOblica (Lima), 1995. 7. La Repdblica (Lima), January 9, 1995. 8. Author's personal interviews with three air-force colonels, April 6, 1995. 9. The amnesty law also freed those officers who had been involved in the November, 1992 coup plot, as well as those who had been put on trial for criticizing Gen. Hermoza during the conflict with Ecuador. 10. Enrique Obando, "The Power of Peru's Armed Forces," Joseph Tulchin and Gary Bland, eds., Peru in Crisis: Dictatorship or Democracy (Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1994).

Tags: Peru, Alberto Fujimori, military, neoliberalism, counterinsurgency

Like this article? Support our work. Donate now.