Peru hit by high profile resignations

LIMA, Peru, AP

Peru’s top three military commanders and the national police chief offered their resignations Monday after the release of videos that showed them pledging support for former President Alberto Fujimori’s 1992 decision to seize dictatorial powers.

Flanked by the other top commanders, air force Gen. Pablo Carbone, head of the joint chiefs of staff, asked for understanding and forgiveness from Peruvians, explaining that they had no choice but to sign in March 1999.

Carbone pledged his loyalty to interim President Valentin Paniagua and Peru’s Constitution in the nationally broadcast statement.

It was not immediately clear whether Paniagua would accept the resignations from Carbone, navy Adm. Victor Ramos, army Gen. Carlos Tafur and national police Gen. Armando Santisteban.

Their appointments last November were part of a shake up to purge the military of high-ranking officers viewed as loyal to Fujimori’s fugitive former intelligence adviser, Vladimiro Montesinos, who controlled the armed forces and police through coercion and blackmail for years.

The spymaster is said to have even secretly filmed officers in sexually compromising situations to keep them in check.

Since April 5, Congress has released videos from March 1999 showing hundreds of officers signing pledges that endorsed Fujimori’s 1992 “auto-coup,” in which he deployed troops to dissolve the opposition-controlled legislature and temporarily close the courts.

The document signing appeared to be a calculated move to consolidate power in the weeks before Fujimori’s fraudulent bid last year for a third five-year term.

Paniagua’s government on April 6 expressed support for the current police and military high command, arguing the current commanders were forced to sign the pledges by Montesinos’ cronies, who were their superiors at the time.

But the videos prompted calls from some politicians to oust any officer who signed the documents. Local media reported that Paniagua has met repeatedly with top ministers in recent days to discuss how to handle the situation.

Military experts say Montesinos drew hundreds of officers into his web of corruption, either through undeserved promotions or other favors. They say so many officers were tainted that if the government tried to purge all of them, the armed forces could be crippled for years to come.

Special elections to choose Fujimori’s replacement were held April 8 and will go to a runoff vote, probably next month, in a contest between U.S.-trained economist Alejandro Toledo and former President Alan Garcia.

“The current commanding generals are committed to democracy and are openly cooperating in the government transition,” military analyst Enrique Obando said. “It would be a great waste if the government pushes them into retirement.”

Montesinos, who remains on the run, faces charges ranging from drug trafficking and influence peddling to smuggling arms to Colombian guerrillas. Most members of his military inner circle are in jail or face arrest on charges stemming from the reputed network of corruption he is accused of directing.