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Americas Thursday, 22 March, 2001, 11:39 GMT
Peru's scandalous soap opera
Vladimiro Montesinos,
Former Presidential advisor Vladimiro Montesinos, shown here in October 2000, has fled Peru in the wake of the scandal

By Nick Caistor

The people of Peru have found a new home entertainment. Every day they are watching videos. These are not the latest Hollywood productions, but badly filmed black and white tapes with poor sound. What they show, as magazine editor Enrique Zileri told me, is the degree of power and the levels of corruption that one man had in this Andean country for the past ten years.

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That man is Vladimiro Montesinos, the unofficial adviser to President Alberto Fujimori, and head of the National Intelligence Services in Peru until the first of the "Vladivideos" was shown last September.

Weeks later Montesinos and President Fujimori fled the country, and the whole political landscape changed. A new transitional government was appointed, and they immediately set up commissions to investigate what had gone on in the previous regime. One of these is busy looking at the more than 1600 videos that Montesinos filmed in the intelligence headquarters, showing how he bribed politicians, bought off media owners, and paid money to high-ranking officers to turn a blind eye to drug trafficking.

José Ugaz
Special Prosecutor José Ugaz wants Vladimiro Montesinos brought to justice
Special prosecutor José Ugaz told me that Montesinos made hundreds of millions of dollars from crooked arms deals, rigging the sale of state enterprises, and other illicit deals. "For the first time in Peru" he told me, "we have two general commanders of the armed forces in prison, as well as a lot of people linked to the police and civil society. Most of the levels of Peruvian society were involved in these crimes."

Enrique Zileri
Enrique Zileri's magazine, Caretas, still campaigns against corruption
This amount of involvement has stunned most Peruvians. In the cafes of Lima, all the conversation is about what kind of man could have filmed all these videos, and what his motives were.

In a select neighbourhood of the capital, the psychiatrist Jorge Bruce described Montesinos as a complex character, someone who undoubtedly got pleasure from seeing himself in such a position of power over the most prominent people in Peruvian society. "Not even the Stasi in East Germany were so careful to film all their activities as Montesinos was. This must be a first in history."

Beyond the bewilderment, Peruvians are wondering how on earth they can emerge from this nightmare and build a country where they can believe that politicians, public servants, and other officials are working for them and not simply getting rich as quickly as possible.

Susan Villarán
Government Minister Susan Villarán believes that Peru can overcome its endemic corruption
An old friend of mine, Susan Villarán, now the Minister for Women and Human Development in the transitional government, told me she was sure ordinary Peruvians had the personal resources to build credible institutions again. "We've survived the internal war, we've survived Fujimori and Montesinos, and we need to rebuild the idea of a legitimate authority."

The people of Peru will have a chance to start the process in April. They are voting for a new president and Congress. All the candidates are promising a fresh start, honesty and transparency, a new sense of responsibility. But when I went to a political rally in the poor port area of the capital, men and women in the crowd were sceptical that things would change. "What the Vladivideos have shown is that all the politicians are the same. It¿s up to us to make sure things are different from now on."

Gabriela Ayzanoa
Radio Milenia director, Gabriela Ayzanoa caters for a mainly female audience
Also in this edition of Crossing Continents: how Peruvians are increasingly turning to radio for reliable news after TV chiefs were implicated in the Montesinos scandal; and the renaissance of pre-Columbian cooking in Lima's most fashionable restaurants.

Listen in on Radio Milenia:
jingles asking female listeners to "Vote without Fear"
Experience a pro-democracy demonstration
in the streets of Lima
Hear Special Prosecutor Jose Ugaz
explain how the Montesinos scandal implicates hundreds of highly placed Peruvians
See also:

02 Feb 01 | Americas
31 Jan 01 | Americas
20 Mar 01 | Americas
13 Mar 01 | Americas
12 Feb 01 | Americas
14 Dec 00 | Americas
Links to more Americas stories are at the foot of the page.

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