Peruvians are witnessing a tense power struggle between President Alberto Fujimori and his former spy chief and political adviser, Vladimiro Montesinos.
Mr. Montesinos is the one on the run, trying to evade Peruvian authorities. But Mr. Fujimori is under pressure too, facing public demands for his resignation and questions about his control over the military.
In a surprise move, Fujimori announced Saturday that he had replaced the three generals in charge of the Army, Navy, and Air Force, who were close Montesinos allies. Fujimori also fired Gen. Luis Cubas Portal, Montesinos's brother-in-law, as commander of the Lima military region.
"The presence of Montesinos in Peru generates problems for Fujimori," says political analyst Alberto Adrianzen. "It causes Fujimori pain to have to distance himself from Montesinos, but the circumstances - in particular, pressure from the United States - require it."
In September, a leaked video showed Montesinos apparently bribing an opposition congress member, prompting Fujimori to announce he would call new elections in which he would not be a candidate. Montesinos fled to Panama, where he was seeking political asylum.
But last he week he unexpectedly returned to Peru, generating international criticism and a storm of protest within Peru. Organization of American States Secretary-General Cesar Gaviria, who had rallied 10 heads of state to go to bat for Montesinos's asylum bid in Panama, had particularly harsh words for Fujimori following the spy chief's return.
In a move designed to show Peruvians and the international community who's boss, Fujimori personally led police and military officials on a theatrical five-hour hunt for Montesinos last Wednesday afternoon and vowed the search will continue until the former presidential adviser is located.
Mr. Gaviria returned last week to oversee a special meeting aimed at bringing government and opposition representatives back to the OAS negotiating table. The opposition had withdrawn from OAS-brokered talks earlier last week after the government suddenly presented a controversial amnesty proposal as a condition for new elections.
But to the surprise of many, the government quickly abandoned the amnesty proposal as a precondition - although a modified version remains on the table - allowing opposition leaders to emerge from the meeting with a firm election date of April 8, 2001.
The hunt for Montesinos has dropped in intensity, and there's skepticism over whether Fujimori's changes to the military command are little more than cosmetic.
The new commander in chief, Walter Chacon, is Fujimori's former Interior Minister and a Montesinos man, as are the commander generals of most of the military regions.
"What we're seeing is a complex situation of political transactions between Fujimori and Montesinos," says
Adrianzen. "The question is, what will Montesinos's next move be?"
Some analysts speculate that the hunt is part of an elaborate scheme designed to portray Montesinos as politically persecuted, thus lending weight to any future asylum requests he might make in other countries. Panamanian authorities' plans to reject Montesinos's asylum bid were a factor in Montesinos's decision to return.
Montesinos may also have been implicated by a jailed Panamanian drug trafficker under investigation by the US, according to the Lima opposition newspaper La Republica.
Others see the intention to find Montesinos as genuine. "Montesinos was traditionally the intermediary between Fujimori and the armed forces, but during Montesinos's absence, Fujimori was able to rebuild his relationship with the military," says retired general and military analyst Daniel Mora. "Now, Fujimori feels supported by the Armed Forces, and that, together with pressure from the international community, made Fujimori decide to pursue Montesinos." But Mora notes that Montesinos still has friends within the military, who may be hiding him.
On Sunday, a mid-level officer led more than 50 soldiers to take over a mining camp in southern Peru, calling for Montesinos's arrest and protesting against what they see as "the illegitimacy" of Fujimori's presidency.
In a written statement, the officer criticized Montesinos's manipulation of the military and vowed to lay down arms "only when the chain of command is legitimate and there is a president who has been truly elected." Yesterday, the rebel soldiers were reportedly headed toward the Bolivian border. Army officials vowed to put down the uprising.
A key question now: what happens if Montesinos is caught? Fujimori has said it would be up to the country's judicial authorities to "take the appropriate measures."
In the week since his return, seven criminal complaints have been filed against Montesinos, alleging his involvement in torture, assassinations, arms dealing, and money laundering.
But many see a thorough investigation as unlikely, since the former head of the country's intelligence service is thought to have amassed compromising evidence against scores of government officials and possibly even the president himself. "There are a lot of people [within the government] who have gotten their hands very dirty over the years," says Adrianzen.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society