by Antonio Zapata
The National Coordinator of Human Rights (CNDDHH) invited me to attend the trial of the ex-President of Peru, Alberto Fujimori, on Friday, January 4, 2008. So at 7:15 a.m. I showed up to board the bus that would take us to the headquarters of the Director of Special Police Operations (DIROES), the Barbadillo property, where this historic trial is taking place. The line for delivering documents was relatively orderly and rapid. After leaving our cell phones and keeping only a pen and notebook, we finally arrived at the actual entrance. There we left our keys in a small filing cabinet and we were ready to enter the spectator hall. Before, we had crossed for the first time the “fujimoristas”
(backers of Fujimori) and no one greeted each other. Really there were few glances exchanged and each group went their own way.
The small hall is divided into two sets of seats. One side is occupied by the fujimoristas and the other by the families of the victims, the human rights organizations, and the observers. I took my seat, which was number 20. A glass wall separated us from the courtroom, through which we could easily see the protagonists of the penal process. The prosecutor and the other lawyers – those for the victims’ families and for Fujimori (Cesar Nakazaki and his assistants) – were already in their seats. Soon Fujimori entered and crossed in front of me. It was the only time that I could observe his face in front of me. He was absorbed in his own thoughts. The group of fujimoristas stood up and greeted him in the Japanese style. However, the delegation of his followers wasn’
t composed solely of Japanese people. Other than three of his children, there really were no other Japanese and it was a rather racially diverse group. After verifying this, I turned and looked at the people accompanying me and noticed that we had the same racial diversity.
My silent observations were abruptly cut short by the entrance of the judges, and someone asked us to stand up. When I stood up I saw Judge Cesar San Martin for the first time. He looked serene, and in complete control he ordered the carrying out of the usual protocols, which was done very rapidly, an agreeable surprise. It was 10:00 a.m. Then the first witness of the trial came in. On that exact day began the presentation of witnesses, commencing with those called by the prosecution. The first witness was Natividad Condorcahuana, a survivor of the Barrios Altos killings. The judge gave her the oath, and I was impressed by the explicit way he warned her about the serious penalties in case of perjury.
The prosecutor began the questioning and the witness related that on November 3, 1991, while she lived in the Villa El Salvador district and worked as a walking salesperson of medicinal herbs, she was invited by her brother-in-law to a “pollada”
[i] organized by the residents of the little convent on Huanta Street in the Barrios Altos district. With this activity they were hoping to collect funds to repair the drainpipes of the place, so they were selling tickets, and Sra. Condorcahuana had one of them when she arrived at the place at 8:30 p.m., a bit late since the party had already started. She encountered some 20 people and, since she knew almost no one, she continued forward and entered the house of her brother-in-law; she stayed there until 11:30 p.m. She then went to look for her husband, who was drinking liquor with the other guests in the patio of the old house.
Nobody was dancing and they were just drinking liquor and talking, there was music in the background, and she first came across her brother-in-law, who invited her to a toast with a class of beer. Suddenly she saw her husband fall to the floor and she thought that he was fighting with another guest. She went to him and helped him sit down in a chair. She wanted to calm him in order to avoid a fight among drunk men. But he had his head broken and was bleeding. At that same moment she saw that a group of strange people had entered the patio. With loud and vulgar words they ordered everyone to get down on the floor. Sr. Rios, who was the leader of the neighborhood, stepped forward and said to one of them “What’s going on, chief?”[ii] but a burst of bullets killed him. They were about ten people, two of them with their face covered, some wearing long coats, and others, military commando clothes. Sra. Condorcahuana squatted down next to the wall. When Sr. Rios fell down, his son ran toward him shouting “my papa, no!”, but a shootout killed the boy. Then we heard the desperate shouts of the woman and the voice of one of the aggressors, who said “move away, señora, this isn’t about you.” Another woman said to her “let’s go, neighbor”
, but she fell wounded. That night 15 people died and 4 survived, among whom were Leon Condorcahuana and his wife.
Sra. Condorcahuana received a bullet in the temple and several bullet hits destroyed her right thigh. In all, she was hit by 11 shots and two bullets still remain in her body. She was taken to the May 2 Hospital and, since her husband also was wounded, their 5 young children remained alone. They continued selling herbs, without receiving any support from the State. The family itself paid for the medications that both spouses required. The señora was questioned by the police and, despite the tension of the moment, it was established that neither she nor her husband were terrorists, they were completely innocent. The later judicial investigation found 111 bullet shells in the patio and determined that they came from sub-machine guns with silencers. Sra. Condorcahuana hasn’
t been able to return to work and her life has changed radically. She suffers from a permanent injury to the knee and walks with difficulty, although she has had a son since the event.
Right after the questioning by the civil party, it was the turn of the lawyer Nakazaki, who began by expressing his solidarity with the lady’
s suffering and making it clear that what happened was an infernal shootout and not a sequence of murders of the Rios family. Next the judge questioned her and asked that she specify that she had never been threatened, neither during her hospitalization nor afterwards. A second question from the judge led the señora to recount that she and her husband received an indemnification of US$165,000 thanks to a decision of the Interamerican Court of San Jose and that now they are owners of Internet booths.
Next it was the turn of Sr. Felipe Leon, Sra. Condorcahuana’s husband, who repeated the story, specifying that someone had hit him in the back and he fell wounded before the start of the shootout, his wife seated him in a chair, and he was there when the bullets flew. He received six shots and even so, when it was all over, he dragged himself through the alley while seriously wounded in order to look for help. He found a passer-by and was taken to the near-by Mother and Child Hospital of Lima, then he was transferred to the May 2 Hospital and then to the Bravo Chico in El Agustino. He was in three hospitals in only 15 days because his children couldn’t figure out what to do and because his wife was much worse off than he. Although he still had a bullet in his body, was working a little, and took out some savings he had in the CCC Bank, he was financially broke three months later. He managed to pay the costly medical expenses of his wife. At a particular time he gave effusive thanks to the police, specifically to the National Office Against Terrorism (DINCOTEO), that made an investigation into his possible connections with Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) that promptly exonerated him. They didn’
t plant evidence nor falsely involve him. To him, this conduct of the police appeared extraordinary and he reiterated his appreciation. He said that, moreover, the police helped him to leave the hospital without paying the hospital bill.
Seven years later, Judge Saquicuray opened a criminal case regarding the Barrios Altos case and a priest who was identified as Father Carlos came looking for him, offering him help in the name of President Fujimori. They talked and, in response to the offer of the priest, he responded that all support was welcome and he asked how he could actually get the help. The priest provided him with an address and he went to the La Recoleta School. There he found a Father Lanssiers, who treated him with great brusqueness. Lanssiers acted confused when Sr. Leon asked for a large amount of economic help, and he answered “what do you think, that perhaps Fujimori shits money?”
Sr. Leon got mad and left. For ten years he looked for help and the doors of Government Palace and the Justice Palace were closed.
His lawyer, who is his son, helped him to relate that only a few blocks from the place of the massacre there was an important police station, that the entire area was corded off by the police, and that the protection around the Congressional offices was intense. Then, Nakazaki questioned him about the absence of official threats and about the good quality of the police work. Next, the same Nakazaki indicated that in 4 trials to which Sr. Leon has come, this was the first time that he mentioned the matter of Father Lanssiers. The judge became interested and asked the witness why he had kept quiet about this point for so many years, did your lawyers know, and what did they tell you? Sr. Leon responded that 5 years ago he was threatened by an unknown person in the street and he was afraid, and he didn’t give his testimony to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (CVR). He decided to keep quiet and not search around so much about his personal tragedy. At that, the judge asked Fujimori if he knew about Father Carlos and if he sent Lanssiers to talk with Leon. Fujimori stammered and answered that he didn’
t know Father Carlos and that he never asked Lanssiers to take steps in his name for the Barrios Altos victims.
At 11:30 we took a break and we were in the patio for 15 minutes. I visited the impeccable press room and discovered an unusual fact: in the DINOES barracks, nowadays, there are four separate jurisdictions. First, it is the National Penitentiary Institute (INPE), where Fujimori is a prisoner. Second, it is the Judiciary, where we found ourselves and where the trial was taking place. The third institution is the same DINOES that keeps control of part of its barracks, but the exterior perimeter is protected by the Police District. So, 4 jurisdictions in an area so small and critical constitute a microscopic example of the disorder and superimposing nature that characterize the government in Peru.
The session started up and continued until 2:00 p.m. The strong food of the day was the presentation of Gustavo Gorriti, a journalist who was kidnapped on April 5, 1992, the day of the self-coup d’
état. Once again the prosecutor began the questioning and Gorriti related that for some time he had been investigating and publishing articles about the role of Vladimiro Montesinos in the Fujimori government, who he knew had been a captain convicted of treason to his country and right after leaving military prison had graduated as a lawyer, working then as a defense lawyer for drug traffickers. Montesinos seemed to him to be a terrible influence on the government. He related that he asked Fujimori several times about Montesinos, in every press conference that took place. Faced with these questions, Fujimori always denied it, claiming that Montesinos was only a low-level functionary without power or influence in the government. Knowing the vengeful nature of Montesinos, Gorriti, for his part, had taken precautions, formed a plan, adopted security measures in his house, and developed with his wife a system of alerts and contacts.
Sunday, April 5, 1992, he went out with his wife to walk his dogs and saw a discreet police surveillance stationed very close to his house. He returned to his home and stayed there to watch television. That was when he got a telephone call, while watching the speech about the self-coup, “to dissolve, to dissolve”
.[iii] He looked out the window and saw that the surveillance had disappeared. At 11:00 p.m. he went out to visit Enrique Zileri, editor of the magazine Caretas, exchanged some information, and stayed on call to their houses in case a possible detention of both. At 3:00 a.m. on April 6 they knocked on the door of his house, while he was writing a dispatch for the international press on his computer. It was a lot of people who presented themselves at his house, everyone was tense, and they said they were from State Security. While he opened the door for them, already three individuals had entered, climbing over the front wall, and at that moment they were sliding down toward the garden of the house. Some 12 persons entered, in civilian clothes, but carrying weapons of war. When they ordered him to accompany them, there was resistance and a struggle, until one of them imposed his authority and Gorriti negotiated and managed to get everyone out in exchange for delivering himself peacefully. Nevertheless, they took his computer. He said goodbye to his wife, who had participated in the events, and to his children, who were sleeping. He was taken to a van of the National Intelligence Service and on the road he observed that a transport truck of troops was leaving after having provided security for the kidnapping operation.
Gorriti was transferred to the General Army Barracks, known as the Pentagonito, through the entrance door that leads to the wing of the Army Intelligence Service, SIE. The guard who accompanied him delivered him to an official who locked him away in a semi-basement of the building. There were bars, two rooms, and a bathroom, everything was very dirty. His detention was clandestine and he announced a hunger strike. A day and a half later he was delivered to the police and set free. In the interim, as had been planned, his wife as well as Zileri made an infinity of contacts; an intense international pressure of the part of embassies and press associations had been produced. After sharing some hours of prison with other journalists who were prisoners in the State Security office, Gorriti found his Human Rights lawyers and was freed; they returned his computer to him a short time later.
Days afterwards, Fujimori called a press conference with the international media. It was the press conference related to the self-coup of April 5. Gorriti went to the conference which was held in the Government Place. They let him enter and he asked Fujimori about his detention. Beside the President was the then chancellor Augusto Blacker, very nervous. In his response, Fujimori denied that Montesinos had intervened in Gorriti’
s case and mentioned the situation of the brothers of the journalist Yovera, who also had been kidnapped. In agreement with Gorriti, the answer of Fujimori reveals that he knew of his kidnapping and also of the brothers Yovera. In other words, that he must have been appraised of everything.
For Gorriti, Fujimori’s knowledge about his detention is a crucial fact because it proves the connection of the ex-President to the kidnapping of citizens. He recounts that years later, working on the “Colina” case, he talked to General Nicolas Hermoza – then General Commander of the Army, and now a prisoner in the San Jorge facilities – asking him why he had signed the order to kidnap him. His response was “What did you want me to do? Someone had to do it, the others refused to sign, I had to act.” Hermoza added, as Gorriti recalled, that he now regretted it. At that moment, Gorriti asked Nakazaki if Hermoza told him about that conversation. He did so because Nakazaki is also Hermoza’s lawyer, notwithstanding the fact that both Fujimori and the general point to each other as the one guilty of “excesses”
When it was his turn, Nakazaki maintained, in the first place, that it wasn’t a kidnapping but rather an illegal detention, and moreover that his client knew nothing. He pointed out that Gorriti was authorized to enter the Palace and then ask questions with total naturalness during the press conference. In his view, the presence of Gorriti in the Palace showed that he hadn’t been banned by Fujimori. On the contrary, according to Nakazaki, Fujimori found out about the illegal detention of Gorriti at that very moment. With that, being 2:00 p.m., the session was interrupted. When we left we went through the small town that surrounds the barracks and could observe the place that the fujimoristas had rented. It’s a two-story house situated almost in front of the entrance to DINOES, painted orange, adorned with posters and pennants that proclaim the innocence of their leader. But it was completely empty; there wasn’
t anyone, not a single militant waving flags or singing slogans as on other dates.
It became clear to me that Nakazaki’s strategy doesn’t allege Fujimori’s complete innocence, but argues the interpretation of the facts. They were not selective assassinations but rather indiscriminate shootouts. They weren’t kidnappings with rather illegal detentions. His client had designed the general strategy, but the details were the responsibility of subordinates. Nakazaki wants to tone down the reading of the facts in order to reduce the penalty. It is a reiteration of the attitude adopted during the first trial, where there was a quick judgment because Fujimori flattened himself. That is, the trial by the false prosecutor who invaded the case of Trinidad Becerra (Montesinos’
wife), when Fujimori was looking for the taped videos kept by Montesinos. In that first trial, Fujimori admitted a degree of culpability and was sentenced to six years. In the same way, in these trials that are for more complex matters like violations of human rights and that carry prison terms of up to 30 years, his lawyer seems to be advising him to admit little and deny everything. Nakazaki prefers that Fujimori appear powerful and in control of his government, arguing that lamentably there were some excesses owing to the zeal of certain evil subordinates.
Finally, my evaluation is that Fujimori’s trial is being carried out correctly, respecting due process. I think that the judges are offering a guarantee of impartiality and transparency. One should remember that the trial is broadcast live by TV channel 8, unfortunately only on cable and not by open signal. But the citizens are forming their own opinions. We are in front of a transcendent event and nobody is unaware of it, along with the fact that there is no strong political component. Passions rain and adults argue about the trial with a certain acrimony. But young people are happy that it is happening, that those who govern should know that they must be clean or they will run the risk of going to jail. It is a sign of the times and young people are living it with pride. Moreover, as rarely seen in Peru, it is evident to everyone, and nobody disputes it, that Fujimori is having an impeccable trial, that if he isn’t guilty, his brilliant lawyer will manage to get him out of prison. But that if he is found responsible for criminal activities, then his stay behind bars will be prolonged. The entire country and all of us are confronted with the most momentous trial in Peru’
s modern history.
[i] Popular party organized around the preparation of chicken parts, marinated in chili, garlic, and other condiments, and cooked in a kettle or on a grill. Beer and cheerful dance music are other characteristics of these parties, which are organized for the collection of money for some purpose, usually small neighborhood organizations.
is a popular expression used to address a uniformed officer, generally the police.
[iii] Words from Fujimori’
s message in all the media, with which he communicated his decision to close the Peruvian Congress in 1992. This expression became popular and frequently appears in caricatures of Fujimori as a bit of humor.
Antonio Zapata Velasco is a historian, a professor in the Graduate School of Social Sciences at the Greater National University of San Marcos, and is director and leader of the history program “It happened in Peru”
for the Peruvian state channel (TNP).
This article is published under the San Marcos Foundation Agreement for the Development of Science and Culture of the Greater National University of San Marcos –
Japanese American National Museum, Discover Nikkei Project.