Gustavo Gorriti, a Peruvian journalist based in Lima, has covered the guerrilla group Shining Path since 1981. He is the author of a book about the movement, Sendero: historia de la guerra milenaria en el Peru, and at work on a second volume. He has written frequently for Caretas, Peru’s leading news magazine, and is currently a correspondent for the Spanish newspaper El País. During the April 5 auto-golpe, or self-coup, in which President Alberto Fujimori suspended Peru’s constitution and dissolved the congress, Gorriti was arrested by armed intelligence agents and held for two days until the government responded to international pressure for his release. The following interview took place in New York at the end of May.—SK
Sarah Kerr: What was your experience during the coup?
Gustavo Gorriti: Fujimori had been out of public view for several days, and suddenly after the regular Sunday night political programs he made a surprise appearance on TV, announcing that he was taking on absolute powers to deal with the Shining Path threat and do away with corruption and inefficiency in Congress. At the same time government troops were deployed around Lima, getting control of key points and arresting many members of APRA (American Popular Revolutionary Alliance), the party of former president Alan García. García escaped, but the minister of the interior during his regime was arrested, and the presidents of the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies, members of the Christian Popular Party, were held under house arrest.
I was the only journalist they looked for. I was arrested at about 3:30 in the morning. Troops sealed off four blocks around my house; there was a company of a hundred or so soldiers nearby. Some army intelligence officers in plain clothes arrived, saying they were members of the state security police and that they wanted to speak to me. I invited them to sit and talk, but they said I had to go to headquarters. They were all carrying Heckler & Koch 9mm. submachine guns equipped with silencers. They climbed over the outside wall of my garden and stood with their fingers on the trigger. The whole thing was, let’s say, extremely tense.
They took me, along with my computer, to the army intelligence offices inside the pentagonito, the “little pentagon” military headquarters in Lima. I had seen signs of surveillance before and had expected that the police would take me. I had known they would come. But I didn’t think they would dare use army intelligence people, who have often been accused of carrying out assassinations and “disappearances,” in the kidnapping. I was left to ponder the consequences of my miscalculation for many hours in solitary confinement.
They almost didn’t question me. They came only once to take away anything that could serve as a suicide weapon, and another time to ask for the password to get into my hard disk. I didn’t give it. And they came three times to offer me food …