Dr. Ariel Segal is a journalist and writer in the fields of history and international studies. He has lived in Venezuela, the United States, Peru and Israel, and has worked as a professor, conference speaker and journalist. He analyzes current issues for BBC’s Latin American division and is an international analyst for the Red Global de Union Radio-Venezuela, Radio Programas Peru, Radio Caracol and analyzes Latin American issues in the Spanish edition of Kol Israel. In an interview with Fujimoriontrial, Dr. Segal discussed the relationship between the case of former Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori and Venezuela.
Fujimoriontrial: In Peru, few people remember that Vladimiro Montesinos, Alberto Fujimori’s former advisor, fled to Venezuela where he remained a fugitive from 2000 to 2001. Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez reassured Peruvian authorities in Lima that Montesinos was not in the country, but days later Montesinos was captured there and turned into the Peruvian government.
Do you think that at this time there was Venezuelan government support for Vladimiro Montesinos to stay in the country as a fugitive? If so, at what time did this support start and what were the motives?
Ariel Segal: I’m not an expert on the issue of Fujimori and Montesinos, so I’ll be careful not to speculate on the issue. However, it is obvious that there is a link between Fujimori-Montesinos and Chávez and the majority of his government’s members, since they made two coup d’état attempts against Carlos Andrés Pérez in 1992.
When Fujimori carried out his self-coup [April 5, 1992], Carlos Andrés Pérez was the only South American president to openly condemn him and the only one to break relations with Peru due to this breach of democracy. He said, almost prophetically, that this self-coup was opening the doors to future coups, either military or civilian-military that could put Latin American democracy in danger. And today we are seeing it, especially in Venezuela.
Since Fujimori disliked Carols Andrés Pérez for being the ‘party pooper’ among all those who legitimized him after his self-coup, it could be speculated that the two coup attempts in Venezuela in 1992 — the first headed by Chávez and the second by people tied to Chávez — did not bother him. And it is no accident that various people who participated in the coup escaped, went to Iquitos [Peruvian jungle city close to border with Colombia and Brazil] and sought asylum in Peru.
For this reason, it would not be strange if Montesinos thought that Chávez and his people owed him a favor and that he could be safe in Venezuela.
In fact, he was safe for a good time until journalist Patricia Poleo began to report that [Montesinos] was in Venezuela, protected by the government. Not only Chávez denied it, but also the Secretary of the Interior, Pedo Carreño, who went so far as to say that “Montesinos had been killed by people from Peru.”
Given the apparent ultimatum from the governments of [Peruvian President Alejandro] Toledo and [US President George] Bush, Montesinos was turned in and extradited to Peru. This culminated in the trials that Montesinos faces today.
Fujimoriontrial: What role did the Venezuelan press play in his capture?
AS: The role of the Venezuelan press was very important, especially the role of Patricia Poleo who exposed the Chávez government’s lie that they didn’t know where Montesinos was and that “he had been killed by Peruvians.”
Fujimoriontrial: One of the crimes that Fujimori was recently sentenced for was for the kidnapping of journalist Gustavo Gorriti. Have there been similar cases of harassing journalists or attacking freedom of press in Venezuela?
AS: There have been many cases of attacked journalists, censured media — the most symbolic being the closure of RCTV [opposition television channel] — and there are other media that, for fear of being imprisoned, have stopped writing or exercising their criticisms.
The most symbolic case is the accusation of Patricia Poleo, as one of the alleged intellectual authors in the assassination of a pro-Chávez public prosecutor, Danilo Arderson. In order to not go to prison, she had to escape Venezuela and is now in Miami, but if she returns to Venezuela, she would go to jail.
In this same case, there is also a board member of Globalvision accused for the same and, in the end, the accusations of journalists and media of being ‘pro-coup,’ ‘fascist,’ etc., do not stop.
During Fujimori’s regime, it was common to buy or blackmail media and journalists. In Chávez’s regime, they are harassed, scared, attacked and even imprisoned or sent into exile. It is a grade higher that demonstrates how neo-dictatorships are growing increasingly worse and developing totalitarian tendencies.
There is an excellent interview on the [Peruvian television] program Prensa Libre with RCTV journalist Miguel Ángel Rodríguez, in which the problem of the Venezuela government seeking to attain a media hegemony is made very clear:
Fujimoriontrial: The current Venezuelan government calls itself “leftist” and Fujimori’s government (1990-2000) claimed to be “neoliberal.” Despite the ideological differences, what similarities do you find between these two governments?
AS: I don’t think that Chávez’s government is leftist, rather it is a form of state capitalism — an oligarchy with allegedly leftist discourse, but with a political and economic agenda that is based on petroleum money.
In Venezuela, the alleged leftists can be catalogued this way under petroleum, which does not happen in Peru since there are not energy resources in these amounts. Therefore, they can avoid taking certain measures that are considered liberal or neoliberal.
Anyhow, in both cases the similarity is that one (Peru) was and the other (Venezuela) is an electoral neo-dictatorship, without a real separation of powers, with the army co-governing with civilians, failing to respect the Constitution that they themselves instated and neutralizing the critical media by permitting some opposition when they do not have widespread reach.
These are dictatorships with elections, which allow those who govern to keep themselves in power through electoral manipulation or fraud. This is can be achieved through the fear factor and government abuse of public employees, with the fear component through repression.
They are the same thing with different names and these neo-dictatorial systems are increasingly perfecting themselves all around the world. They become more intolerant and put on less of an appearance of democracy that the international community requires in order to be treated with legitimacy.
Do you think that the 25-year prison sentence Fujimori received for crimes against humanity has some implication for the future criminal trials of leaders that don’t respect human rights or the Rule of Law in South America?
It’s an excellent precedent for those who usurp power, maintain and abuse it, and can contribute to having them tried and convicted, like Fujimori. But I doubt that it will have much influence on dictators and autocrats while they are in power because they believe they are invulnerable. It’s part of the power disease. But let’s hope…let’s hope…