Peru spymaster Montesinos goes on prison hunger strike

LIMA, Peru, AP

Former spymaster Vladimiro Montesinos has not eaten since Thursday and will refuse food until he is moved out of a maximum-security naval prison built to house his key enemies, his wife says.

“What is very worrisome is his fragile state of health,” Trinidad Becerra told Lima’s Channel 4 late Friday night. “He is very weak.”

Becerra, who is under house arrest for alleged links to her husband’s multimillion-dollar bank accounts, said Montesinos will remain on the hunger strike until he is moved out of an elite lockup he helped design to hold guerrilla leaders and terrorists.

She said her husband, who she claimed has lost more than 30 pounds (14 kilograms) since being captured last weekend, had the “best intentions of collaborating with authorities.” But she said she was afraid he may not live long enough to do so.

“It’s a military base and I’m not accusing anyone, but it’s possible some harm could come to him there,” said Becerra, who fears her husband’s military jailers might try to assassinate him to cover up their involvement in the corruption network he is accused of building.

Montesinos was apprehended by Venezuelan military intelligence outside a hide-out in a Caracas slum June 23, ending an eight-month manhunt for Latin America’s most-wanted man.

Venezuela deported him to Peru, where he was taken to a cellblock inside a naval base at Lima’s Callaho Port, a prison that has housed just six other inmates — including Maoist Shining Path founder Abimael Guzman, who Montesinos interrogated after his arrest in a Lima safehouse in 1992.

Local newspapers, citing unnamed prison and court officials, said authorities are planning to move Montesinos to an overcrowded, dilapidated Lima prison infamous for frequent inmate uprisings.

Authorities will make the transfer upon completion of a special cell built for Montesinos, reports said.

Montesinos is charged in 52 open court cases with trafficking drugs, dealing arms and directing death squads during 10 years as former President Alberto Fujimori’s top adviser.

The former spy chief’s arrest has strained relations between Peru and Venezuela, prompting both countries to recall their ambassadors.

Peru’s Interior Minister Antonio Ketin Vidal charged Friday that armed security forces took away his diplomatic passport and held him for three hours during an authorized trip to hunt for Montesinos in Venezuela in April. He said he had permission when he flew to the central city of Valencia after receiving reliable information that Montesinos was hiding in the area.

Venezuelan Interior Minister Luis Miquilena then showed up, he said, saying that Venezuelan police had scoured the area but found no trace of Montesinos.

Vidal questioned Venezuela’s “systematic and categorical” denials of Montesinos’ presence in that country, despite mounting evidence to the contrary.

He has said an FBI-orchestrated deal came close to capturing Montesinos. But before Montesinos’ protectors turned him over to Peruvian agents as planned, Vidal said, Venezuelan authorities — who have for months denied sheltering Montesinos — said they made the arrest without outside help.