Humala’s Hatchet Man May Be Key Figure in Peruvian Spy Scandal

The Peruvian government is spying on its critics, real or imagined.

The first revelations came out a year and a half ago but were summarily dismissed by President Ollanta Humala. Now a profusion of videos, documents, and other evidence has been leaked out by insiders at the National Intelligence Directorate (DINI), an organization headed by a former soldier from the same graduating class as the President, also a retired officer, at the military academy.

President Humala repeatedly attacked and even mocked the new revelations—until evidence came out that his vice president, a dissident who was pushed aside by the president’s wife when she tried to become head of the Congress, was being spied on. Fearing a major crisis once she tweeted her disgust at the news that she was a target (many believe the vice president found out she was under surveillance and leaked the information), Humala has promised to “open” the DINI to a parliamentary committee . . . controlled by the ruling party.

This is a particularly sensitive issue in Peru, where Vladimiro Montesinos, a spymaster under the dictatorship of Alberto Fujimori, ran a vast surveillance network in the 1990s targeting critics and potential dissidents, and used the intelligence services to persecute his adversaries. Subsequent democratic governments have also been accused of using the intelligence services for political ends. In this case, Humala, forever mistrustful of civilians and politicians, has placed men from his military graduating class in key positions in the intelligence services and used other former soldiers as key advisors.

News of the espionage against critics of his presidency has coincided with corruption scandals involving former associates of the presidential couple who obtained government contracts. Peru is only months away from the start of the campaign for the presidential elections of 2016, and Humala’s government is running an operation aimed at destroying its opponents.

A key part of this scheme is the interior minister, General Daniel Urresti, a repellent character whom Humala appointed despite the fact that he is under judicial investigation for the murder of a journalist in Ayacucho, when he was serving in 1988. A telecommunications expert, Urresti spends his time insulting and threatening his critics, and boasts of the information he has about them, part of it of a sexual nature, which he posts on social networks. (Using coarse language, he has attributed adulterous affairs to various politicians and female journalists.) His verbal primitivism and populist posturing, as is common in Latin America, have gained him some popularity: 49 percent of Peruvians reject him but 41 percent approve of him, a rating that is twice that of Humala and his wife.

Unlike the shadowy Adrián Villafuerte, a former colonel who worked for a close associate of Montesinos in the 1990s and served as an adviser to Humala in the first years of his government, Urresti operates in the spotlight part of the time. But his activities as Humala’s hatchet man involve a lot of secret scheming, too. Although at this point there is more conjecture than hard data, many critics see his hand behind the dirty tactics of the intelligence services.

In the labyrinthine mess that is Peru’s intelligence network, the National Intelligence Directorate coordinates its activities with agencies attached to a plurality of military and police services, including two belonging to the ministry of interior. One-third of the DINI’s budget is a secret slush fund.

What does all this amount to? Is Humala, who is barred from re-election, preparing to perpetuate his government by proxy? Would Urresti be the figurehead? I am not yet as convinced as a significant part of the Peruvian opposition. But the Humala administration is acting with considerable paranoia, and its methods could gravely harm Peru’s electoral process.

  • Catalyst