Attacks on the Press 2001: Peru

Press freedom conditions improved markedly in Peru during 2001. The victory of centrist Alejandro Toledo, who beat leftist candidate Alan García in the June 3 runoff presidential elections, brought democracy back to Peru, a country that suffered 10 years of authoritarian rule under former president Alberto K. Fujimori.

In June, Fujimori’s sinister intelligence adviser, Vladimiro Montesinos, was captured in Venezuela and extradited to Peru. He is currently jailed in a maximum-security prison and faces scores of charges, including corruption, embezzlement, money laundering, and weapons trafficking. Fujimori, who remains in self-imposed exile in Japan, also faces numerous corruption charges in Peru.

Throughout 2001, the steady release of the “vladivideos,” a collection of tapes that Montesinos had secretly recorded, most likely to extort money from those taped, continually shocked the country. The tapes first emerged in September 2000 when independent cable channel Canal N broadcast a video showing Montesinos bribing an opposition congressman. The recordings vindicated the independent press, which, led by the dailies El Comercio, La República, and Liberación, had endured defamation suits and harassment for covering corruption and human rights violations under Fujimori.

Each new installment of the “vladivideos” revealed the brazen measures that Montesinos and Fujimori had taken to corrupt the legislature, the judiciary, and the media. With the complicity of television channel owners, the pair orchestrated media coverage in order to secure Fujimori’s third presidential term, widely considered unconstitutional, in April 2000. Their tactics included bribes, judicial persecution, manipulation of government advertising, threats, and tax incentives. In a video released in February, Montesinos bragged: “They [the broadcast channels] are all lined up. Every day I have a meeting with them and we plan what is going to come out in the nightly news shows.”

Several media owners have been charged with crimes ranging from embezzlement and influence peddling to conspiring to commit crimes. In one set of “vladivideos,” José Enrique Crousillat and his son José Francisco Crousillat, owners of América Televisión-Canal 4, can be seen taking thousands of dollars in cash from Montesinos. In February, José Francisco Crousillat admitted to having received US$9 million from Montesinos in exchange for a carte blanche to dictate Canal 4’s programming content so as to favor Fujimori’s candidacy. Both father and son are now fugitives. The brothers Samuel and Mendel Winter, minority owners of Frecuencia Latina-Canal 2, who conspired with Montesinos to wrest the channel from its owner, Israeli-born businessman Baruch Ivcher, are now in jail.

Another video, released in February, showed businessman Genaro Delgado Parker, former owner of Red Global de Televisión-Canal 13, negotiating the 1999 dismissal of outspoken Fujimori critic and TV journalist César Hildebrandt with Montesino in exchange for the latter’s support in several legal disputes over the station’s ownership. Delgado Parker now faces an investigation for conspiring to commit crimes.

The defamation campaign that the Fujimori government orchestrated against the independent press and the opposition from 1998 to 2000 was further exposed in 2001. The prensa chicha, a group of tabloids that reveled in publishing unsubstantiated allegations about independent journalists and opposition politicians, carried out the campaign. In March, a judge prohibited several tabloid owners from leaving the country after a public prosecutor’s investigation revealed evidence that the government had directly bankrolled the tabloids.

The broadcast media’s complicity with the Fujimori government prompted an intense national debate over what action to take against corrupt media owners and their TV stations. Some, like the reknowned Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa, proposed empowering the judiciary to revoke the licenses of TV stations that had supported Fujimori.

In December, the Toledo administration proposed the Law of Modernization and Transparency of Telecommunications Services, which a congressional subcommittee was considering at press time. Designed to prevent manipulation and abuse of the broadcast media, the bill would create a radio and television commission, comprising government and civil society representatives, to oversee and review the TV licensing process.

Despite the marked improvement in press freedom conditions, attacks and threats against journalists continued in 2001. Journalists from the provinces were again the most endangered. Unidentified assailants attacked Luis Samuel Zevallos Hidalgo, a journalist with radio station Radio La Oroya in Yauli-La Oroya, Junín Department, apparently for broadcasting a recording of a local official bribing a business executive.

April 19

Luis Samuel Zevallos Hidalgo, Radio La Oroya

Unidentified individuals assaulted Zevallos, a journalist with radio station Radio La Oroya in the municipality of Yauli-La Oroya, Junín Department, after he broadcast an audio recording of a local official bribing a business executive.

The journalist, who worked for the news program “En las Noticias” (In the News), was attacked by four unidentified men as he was heading home at around 1 a.m. Cevallos told CPJ that the attackers covered him with a pillow and then beat him. They also took the audiotape, which Zevallos had broadcast two days earlier.

The tape was of a conversation between a local business executive who had been awarded a contract to supply milk for a community food program and Javier Izquierdo Yantas, head of supplies and logistics for the municipality of Yauli-La Oroya. In the conversation, Izquierdo asked the businessman for a bribe of 5,000 nuevos soles (about US$1,400).

Zevallos attributed the attack to Izquierdo and Yauli-La Oroya mayor Georgina Ríos Quintanilla, who appointed Izquierdo. Ríos is a member of the Vamos Vecino political party, a junior member of former president Alberto K. Fujimori’s ruling coalition.

As a result of the attack, Zevallos suffered multiple injuries and broke his collarbone. Afer surgery and a month of bed rest, he returned to Radio La Oroya on June 11.

May 8

Jesús Alfonso Castiglione Mendoza, free-lancer
Martín Gómez Arquiño, Radio Alpamayo
Hugo González Henostroza, Liberación

Castiglione, Gómez, and González faced criminal defamation charges filed by former governor Ildorfo Cueva Retuerto in Huaraz, a city in the central department of Ancash.

Cueva, a retired police colonel who headed the government anti-terrorism office in Huaraz in the early 1990s, was named governor of Ancash in late February 2001. After learning of his appointment, the three journalists accused him of committing numerous human rights violations under the authoritarian government of former president Alberto K. Fujimori.

On April 21, the Ministry of the Interior dismissed Cueva over these allegations.

On May 8, Cueva filed a criminal complaint against the journalists with the First Criminal Chamber of the Huaraz Superior Court. He requested civil damages of 1 million nuevos soles (US$280,000), in addition to criminal penalties.

González, president of the Huaraz chapter of the local journalists’ organization Asociación Nacional de Periodistas (ANP) and local correspondent for the Lima-based daily Liberación, wrote an article quoting Gómez, a journalist with the local radio station Radio Alpamayo, who declared that Cueva was a human rights violator and that his appointment was an insult to the region’s citizens. Speaking for the ANP, González also expressed the outrage of local journalists over Cueva’s appointment.

Castiglione wrote a March 28 letter to the editor of the national weekly Caretas denouncing Cueva as a human rights violator and claiming he had been tortured while in Cueva’s custody in 1993. Castiglione, the former owner of radio station Radio Amistad in the port city of Huacho, was arrested in April 1993 and accused of participating in a Shining Path terrorist attack in Huaraz. He was convicted in 1994 and pardoned in 1996.

Since his arrest in 1993, Castiglione has frequently condemned Cueva’s record of human rights violations. The journalist told CPJ that he was concerned that Cuevas remained an influential person in the area and might use his clout to harass the journalists.

In the May 27 edition of the television news program “Reportajes” (Reports), broadcast by Panamericana TV-Canal 5, Cueva accused Castiglione of being a slanderer and a terrorist.

The journalists were formally notified of the lawsuit on June 7. On June 20, their lawyer requested that the criminal charges be dropped. On August 17, Judge Magdalena Sofía Salazar de Solís dismissed the charges, ruling that the journalists had done legitimate reporting on regional events.

Cueva appealed this ruling on August 27, Castiglione told CPJ. At press time, there were no new developments in the case, which was being heard in the Ancash Superior Court.