Peru's news media survived era of corruption, ambassador says
By Susan Bennett
ARLINGTON, Va. Peru's news media have survived an era of corruption in their government and among their own leadership to emerge stronger and more independent than ever, Peruvian Ambassador Carlos Alzamora said yesterday.
"They kept this small lamp of freedom of the press in Peru alive and that became the beacon for the fight for democracy. We are very grateful to them," Peru's ambassador to the United States said during The World This Week: Peru and its Media program at the Newseum.
Maria Luisa Rossel, Washington correspondent for Radio Programas del Peru, the nation's largest private national radio network, acknowledged that the news media were "corrupted" during the presidency of Alberto Fujimori. Executives from major broadcasting companies and newspapers in Peru have been implicated in a bribery scheme run by former Fujimori confidante and ex-spy chief Vladimiro Montesinos.
Earlier this year, videotapes reportedly showed an executive of the newspaper, Expreso, and a director of cable news station Channel 10 with Montesinos as he counted $2 million in cash. Other tabloid newspapers, which published vicious stories about Fujimori's political opponents, allegedly were underwritten by Peru's intelligence service.
Many Peruvian journalists had no involvement in the deals cut by their bosses, Rossel said, and those who remained true to their profession now hope the era of government-influenced and financed news reporting is over. "It's been very difficult for the journalists," she said.
Alzamora said the depth and scope of Peru's scandal overshadowed similar political embarrassments in Korea, Japan and Italy.
"In Peru, Montesinos destroyed the moral fiber of the country," the ambassador said, adding that "he corrupted the executive, the legislative, the judiciary, electoral powers, the media, the armed forces and the entrepreneurs."
But as a result, Peru is "vaccinated against corruption," the ambassador asserted.
Montesino was the executor of this corruption, but Fujimori allowed it to happen, Alzamora said, and some of the blame should be shared with any country that supported the regime even after allegations of abuses became known.
"Montesino all along was the ally of and the instrument of the CIA," Alzamora said. Only when the CIA learned that Montesino had double-crossed the United States by allegedly aiding and abetting narcotics traffickers in Colombia and elsewhere did the intelligence agency turn against him, the ambassador said.
Peru, its people and its press will get a second chance with the ascension into power of Alejandro Toledo, the first Peruvian of Indian descent to win the presidency, according to Alzamora and Rossel.
Toledo who like many Peruvians speaks Quechua, the language of the Incas will be sworn in tomorrow, on Peru's national day celebrating independence from Spain in 1821. The following day, Toledo will travel to Cuzco, the former capital of the Inca empire, where he will repeat his oath in the sacred mountain city of Machu Picchu, where Inca rites will be performed for the first time in 500 years, the ambassador said.
"The lesson we learned after the Fujimori regime is that we now have another chance," Rossel said. "I hope that Toledo is trying to put together the different cultural perspectives that live in one country at the same time."
Already the economy in Peru, the third largest country in South America, is getting another chance.
Initially, the international press was "seduced" by Fujimori, the ambassador said, portraying him as an economic miracle-maker even as Peruvians suffered economic woes. Now with the corrupt regime gone, the financial picture is improving, with Peru's inflation rate one of the lowest in the world.
"The situation in Peru is now difficult but manageable," Alzamora said.
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