Panamanian leaders allowed Peru’s ousted spy chief to enter the country temporarily after being told Peru’s military was on the verge of launching a coup if he was turned away, the foreign minister said Monday.
“Information we received from various presidents and foreign ministers [from Latin America] was that if Panama didn’t accede, there would be a military coup Sunday in Peru,” Jose Miguel Aleman told a news conference.
“We have reports that Peruvian troops stationed at border posts were moving toward Lima at dawn on Sunday,” he said, before meeting with President Mireya Moscoso to decide on asylum for Vladimiro Montesinos.
Aleman said the process could drag on for months.
“Mr. Montesinos came here with a tourist visa that was given to him by the [Panamanian] consulate in Lima. He has a visa for 30 days that can be extended for a further 60,” he added.
After initially refusing Montesinos’ bid for asylum Saturday, Panama opted a day later to grant him a temporary refuge, dubbed “territorial asylum.” Moscoso has come under strong pressure from Latin American leaders, backed by the United States, to grant the asylum to allow Peru to extricate itself from its political crisis.
Opposition leaders in Peru were demanding the arrest and prosecution of Montesinos, a powerful aide to Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori, over a bribery scandal, but there were fears that any move against him would bring retribution from the officers Montesinos had placed in top spots in the military.
Aleman said Montesinos’ apparent strength persuaded Panama to reconsider its refusal. Aleman said the fact that many believe Montesinos’ departure was the only way to consolidate democracy in Peru “is an indication that he was the de facto leader in Peru.”
The bribery scandal prompted a surprise announcement by Fujimori on Sept. 16 that he would hold new elections in which he would not be a candidate. Fujimori also pledged to dismantle the National Intelligence Service that Montesinos headed.
In Peru on Monday, opposition leaders harshly criticized Fujimori for allowing Montesinos to flee the country and dodge the scandal.
Fujimori bowed to opposition demands Monday that he formally, in writing, announce that he had accepted Montesinos’ resignation. In the announcement, Fujimori praised his former spy chief for having “participated in a significant way” in the war on drugs and the successful fight against leftist rebels.
Throughout the 1990s, Montesinos headed Peru’s intelligence service and was viewed as Fujimori’s right-hand man. But in mid-September, Peruvian broadcasters aired a videotape showing him apparently bribing an opposition lawmaker to join the government’s party.