Investigations into Peru's fugitive former spy chief Vladimiro
Montesinos - the mysterious power behind the 10-year regime of
former President Alberto Fujimori - are like a window opening onto
the world of shady arms sales.
Peruvian investigators, with help from abroad, are figuring out
how 10,000 Kalashnikovs from Jordan were diverted to Colombia. And
why Peru decided to buy some decrepit MIGs from Belarus. The
picture becoming clearer with each new Swiss bank account found is
a landscape of corruption and kickbacks surrounding legal arms
But there is some positive news amid the revelations of dark
doings in Peru: Arms purchases in general across Latin America have
either dropped off substantially - as in Central America - or have
settled at moderate levels, driven by modernization demands. Gone
are the days when mutual suspicions among neighbors fed a South
American arms race, or when Central America's ideological wars
fueled a tremendous arms buildup.
In a survey of transfers of major conventional weapons over the
past decade, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute
shows a steep dropoff in arms purchases by Central American
countries, with South American countries spending about $1 billion
a year since the mid-90s. This makes Latin America the world's
developing region with the lowest military expenditure, according
to a 1998 report by the Economic Commission for Latin America and
the Caribbean, in Santiago, Chile.
The SIPRI study even shows one South American country, Bolivia,
coming in 148th out of 149 countries for 1995-99 arms expenditures,
spending less than $500,000 during the period.
But the discovery of more than $75 million in Swiss bank accounts
linked to the former director of Peru's much-feared spy agency, the
National Intelligence Service or SIN, points out how a country's
legal arms purchases can turn into a fount of corruption. When
basic democratic principles of transparency and accountability are
disregarded amid claims of "national security" and "military
secrecy," experts here say, the door to influence peddling and
illegal enrichment slides wide open.
"We're always told that [arms purchasing] is a national security
issue and is only the business of those in uniform," says Cesar San
Martin, a criminal-law professor at the Peruvian University of
Applied Sciences in Lima. "But we're seeing that transparency is
absolutely essential in all aspects of the arms trade." When
Congress and an informed civil society have a role in overseeing
arms purchasing and sales, he adds, "the kind of problem we're
facing now can be greatly reduced."
Commissions from a $1 billion purchase of arms from Belarus and
Russia in 1996 - mostly involving old MIG fighter jets and spare
parts - were the major source of the Montesinos wealth now coming
to light, a Peruvian congressional investigation is finding.
Evidence is supporting press reports, denied at the time, of the
arms deal that Montesinos, a former military official and Mr.
Fujimori's chief advisor, made a deal first with Belarus for
obsolete jets. When those planes proved lacking in spare parts
Belarus could not provide, Montesinos negotiated an additional
purchase with Russia. It appears both deals involved multimillion-
dollar commissions that went to Swiss accounts.
Peruvian investigators are also taking a closer look at a case of
arms diversion that is casting strong light on proliferating arms
trafficking in the region - much of it to feed the Colombian
conflict's insatiable appetite for weapons. …