Video of bribe attempt in Peru called catalyst in unraveling of Fujimori regime
By Sarah L. Rasmusson
The Freedom Forum Online
NEW YORK A video clip broadcast two months ago on Peru's only
independent cable TV station has led to the dramatic unraveling of the
presidency of Alberto Fujimori, who announced yesterday that he would leave
office within 48 hours.
The videotape showed
opposition party members counting bills an apparent payoff from
Vladimiro Montesinos, who then was the head of Peru's secret service. The bribe
was intended to encourage the opposition figures to side with Fujimori and his
As it turned out, however, Montesinos was the one who leaked the
videotape, in an attempt to sully the opposition politicians. But the
subterfuge backfired. A political furor swept Peru. Montesinos is now a
fugitive and Fujimori is on the verge of leaving office. He announced in Japan
yesterday that he would resign in short order.
As the bribery scandal broke in mid-September, Fujimori said he would
call a new presidential election in which he would not be a candidate. But
before yesterday, he had not said when he would leave office.
Fujimori was reelected to a third term in May amid charges of vote
The airing of the videotape and its role in unraveling the Fujimori
regime were centerpieces of a Newseum/NY panel discussion Nov. 16 about the
news media's influence in Peru's presidential politics.
"The situation just reached a critical mass," said Corrine Schmidt,
coordinator of the Latin American Studies Department at Johns Hopkins
University, in reference to the airing of the videotape on the Canal N
"When Canal N started showing this tape," Schmidt added, "the
grassroots movement, which has been growing in Peru for the last three years,
went out to the streets. Within an hour, even those stations that were more or
less controlled by the government couldn't cover it over anymore."
Not only did Montesinos pay bribes to the opposition politicians and
then leak the tape to the Canal N, but he also caught himself in the
The panelists said many Peruvians believed that the Fujimori regime
has been more harmful to democratic freedoms than any military regime in the
"The Fujimori government enjoys the disguise, if you will, of being
able to pose as a civilian government elected by the voters," said Roberto
Bustamante, president of National Association of Journalists of Peru, a U.S.-
based group for journalists interested in Peruvian issues. "It is not a
military regime, but the effects are similar."
Bustamante, who is also a reporter for El
Diario in New York, presented a report that documented the
killing of 12 journalists and the prosecution of hundreds of others in Peru
over the last 10 years. "When Fujimori was here at the United Nations General
Assembly," Bustamante said, "I raised the question of the persecution of
journalists to him in a press conference. He answered with a stern face that
nothing was going on."
Fujimori is ranked by
the Committee to Protect Journalists as one of the
10 leading international enemies of
"There was a huge effort by the government to control TV," Schmidt
added. "Because they were trying to keep a veneer of democracy, it was very
useful to Fujimori to have Canal N."
Schmidt noted that when foreigners or the international press inquired
about whether there was press freedom in Peru, Fujimori would direct people to
turn on the television and watch Canal N. "One would say, 'Yeah, there is
freedom of expression here.'"
Two government efforts have clouded journalistic integrity in Peru,
the panelists maintained. A powerful tax agency audits the returns of
journalists in opposition media and some newspapers sell advertising to the
Nothing the government was doing "could be pointed to as a censor
sitting in the editorial room marking out what the writers could say," Schmidt
said. "It was very difficult to pinpoint how this form of control was being
During the past two presidential elections, there was only one
independent TV station and a handful of non-official newspapers. Schmidt
defined the independent news media as the opposition media, because they do not
receive funds from the government or only paint a positive picture of the
president and his policies.
And the panelists agreed the
pro-government newspapers, which
offer unwavering support for the regime, also have harmed journalistic
integrity in Peru.
Only when the Intelligence Service stops funding the budgets of these
papers will news become more accurate and unbiased, Schmidt added.
As a result of censorship, journalistic standards and ethics must be
improved, said Norberto Swarzman, a New York-area journalist for more than 30
years who has also worked for El
Commercio, the leading independent daily in Peru.
"In general," Swarzman said, "journalists have not been able to
develop any (newsgathering) instinct. Television in Peru is pitiful. There is
no journalistic push to uncover the facts."
Busamante offered several proposals for the role of the press in
post-election Peru next summer. "The press in Peru has a number of
obligations," he said. "We must work to break down the 'controlismo' of the
press. We must fight against the economic dependency of the means of
communication on the current government."
Still, despite the legacy of censorship and back-pocket corruption of
the press, the panelists pointed to the coverage of Fujimori's deeds in the
independent news media as a catalyst for his downfall.
"If it hadn't been for Canal N, you wouldn't have had that
crystallization of opposition," Schmidt said. "The government just couldn't
cover up its corruption anymore. There it was."
Schmidt sees a bigger role for the Peruvian press to play in the
aftermath of Fujimori's rule.
"I am very optimistic," she said. "It is going to be rough and tumble
for a while but the media as Fujimori withdraws from the stage and new
political forces crystallize will investigate what has been going on in
the past 10 years. You will see a return to more stable politics and
Peruvian news anchor quits over staged interview
LIMA, Peru When President Alberto Fujimori's shadowy security chief gave his first interview since the Peruvian leader came to power nearly a decade ago, Channel 4 Television billed it as the interview of the century.