Vicky Pelaez: Can someone be married to a Russian spy and not know it?
Vicky Pelaez: A willing spy for Russia or a wife deeply betrayed? Or something in between? Exactly what the Peruvian journalist knew is one of the more tantalizing mysteries to emerge from the Russian spy saga.
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He said Pelaez plans to go back to Peru, where her family has a ranch, and where she hoped to continue writing for El Diario La Prensa, a well-known Spanish-language newspaper.Skip to next paragraph
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It was in Lima, the Peruvian capital, that the couple met in the early 1980s. The country was in turmoil, with leftist rebels ascendant. Vicky was working for Channel 2, Frecuencia Latina. The man she knew as Juan Lazaro was not only a talented freelance photographer but a karate black belt who taught the discipline to colleagues.
Delfina Prieto, who worked alongside Lazaro at the Peruvian magazine Punto, called him "a magnificent person, a great companion." She said he always looked out for her and, because she is short, once pulled her up on his shoulders at the presidential palace so she could get a good shot.
But she questioned his origin, as did others. "I would always think, 'This guy has a European accent,'" she said.
Cesar Medrano, another photographer who knew the couple, agreed. "He said he was Uruguayan, but he had a European accent. He looked German." Yet another colleague, Carlos Saavedra, said Lazaro never spoke about his past — "but we never asked."
Does that include Pelaez? It's not known what she knew of his origins. The federal complaint says agents intercepted a conversation inside the Yonkers home in 2002, where Lazaro was heard describing his childhood to Pelaez, saying: "We moved to Siberia ... as soon as the war started(.)"
A key sign of how little she may have known: Her lawyer said Thursday his client "seemed shocked" to learn that Juan Lazaro was not her husband's real name. "I don't believe she knew he had another name," Rodriguez said.
In any case, the two were deeply in love, according to a colleague of Pelaez in Peru, TV reporter Monica Chang. "She was a very passionate woman," Chang said in a TV interview. "To her, he was a hunk."
In Peru, Pelaez established a reputation as a gritty street reporter. Then, in December of 1984, she was kidnapped for a day by members of the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, one of the country's main communist armed insurgencies, along with her cameraman.
It was partly because of that ordeal that Pelaez and Lazaro, recently married, left the country for New York, says her sister, Elvira Pelaez.
There, she made a name for herself at El Diario La Prensa as a columnist who praised Fidel Castro and was highly critical of U.S. government policy.
While Pelaez continued to pursue her career as a journalist, Lazaro studied at the New School for Social Research, now called The New School, a university in Manhattan. He taught a class on Latin American and Caribbean politics at Baruch College, also in Manhattan, in 2008.