cardinal upset by Alzamora probe
Wednesday, April 21, 2004
Rick Vecchio, Associated Press Writer
printed in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer
-- Roman Catholic Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani's ultraconservative
views and cozy relationship with fugitive ex-President Alberto
Fujimori have frequently helped snare him in Peru's tangled
web of political intrigues. But even his adversaries were
surprised when he indignantly announced recently that he had
been subpoenaed to testify in an investigation into the alleged
murder of his predecessor, Monsignor Augusto Vargas Alzamora
- at the hands of Fujimori's now-jailed spy chief, Vladimiro
prosecutor, open your mysterious files and say who mentioned
me in a fictitious event because everyone knows that the cardinal
died of natural causes after a long illness," Cipriani
said during his Palm Sunday Mass.
Catholic Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani is seen in this 2003
file photo. Cipriani's ultraconservative views and cosy relationship
with fugitive ex-President Alberto Fujimori have frequently
helped snare him in Peru's tangled web of political intrigues.
But even his adversaries were surprised when he indignantly
announced recently that he had been subpoenaed to testify
in an investigation into the alleged murder of his predecessor,
Monsignor Augusto Alzamora - at the hands of Fujimori's now-jailed
spy chief, Vladimiro Montesinos. (AP Photo/STR)
Cipriani's complaint, few Peruvians would have suspected Vargas
Alzamora, a liberal Jesuit, was the victim of foul play. Most still
don't. He died in September 2000, four months after suffering a
debilitating cerebral hemorrhage that left him bedridden.
Cipriani's comments and the lurid possibility of homicide have set
Peru abuzz. The Lima rumor mill has worked overtime as Peruvians
recall that Vargas Alzmora and Cipriani were often at loggerheads
over Vargas Alzamora's strong criticism of Fujimori's authoritarian
the past decade, Cipriani grabbed headlines with his support of
security forces in Peru's dirty war against far-leftist Shining
Path guerrillas. He said in 1991 that most human rights groups were
apologists for Marxist and Maoist organizations.
also offered Fujimori staunch backing during the ex-president's
1990-2000 autocratic government - although he bitterly opposed Fujimori's
family planning programs, warning that free condoms would "turn
the entire country into a brothel."
Vargas Alzamora died, in January 2001 the Vatican named Cipriani,
a bishop, as its first cardinal from the conservative Opus Dei movement,
outraging political activists and many Peruvians, including some
his first Mass, Cipriani was confronted by protesters chanting,
"Christ is justice, not complicity" and "Cipriani
and Montesinos, the same killers."
the last year of Fujimori's regime, Cipriani had, in fact, become
critical of Montesinos's influence.
has been living in his parents' native Japan, safe from extradition,
since a corruption scandal toppled his government in November 2000.
its own defense, the Attorney General's Office said it only wanted
Cipriani's testimony because he visited Vargas Alzamora a few days
before his death, not because he is a suspect. Bishop Luis Bambaren,
an ardent critic of Fujimori's regime, was also asked to testify,
and has made no fuss about it.
investigation was opened after a confidential witness claimed he
overheard Montesinos tell a top aide that one of his agents had
infiltrated the church and poisoned Vargas Alzamora's food, an attorney
general spokeswoman told The Associated Press.
said the case was kept quiet to protect witnesses from public scrutiny,
"but unfortunately the one who broke the confidentiality was
Cardinal Cipriani himself."
complaint prompted friends and foes alike to jump to his defense
and accuse the prosecutor, Hector Villar, of everything from grandstanding
to carrying out a political vendetta for the cardinal's enemies.
all agree - prosecutors in Peru are totalitarian. The district attorneys
of Peru are fascists. They operate like a Gestapo," constitutional
expert Javier Valle Riestra said. "That's why there is general
agreement that the judicial system must be changed."
former Justice Minister Fernando Olivera - himself under investigation
for allegedly delivering forged documents to discredit Cipriani
- criticized the proceedings.
was reported to have traveled to the Vatican in 2001 with letters
purporting to show Cipriani sought the "elimination and incineration"
of videotapes linking him to Montesinos after the church took money
from the spy chief and requested an additional $120,000 "donation."
letters - one supposedly written by Cipriani, and two others by
the Vatican's ambassador to Peru - turned out to be fake. Cipriani
charges that the probe of Vargas Alzamora's death is yet another
attempt to discredit him..
we like it or not, the hierarchy of the Catholic Church deserves
respect," Olivera, now Peru's ambassador to Spain, told reporters.
"The prosecutor, regardless of how independent he is, has the
obligation to substantiate this type of subpoena because he should
not abuse either the law or his power."
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article was also printed in The Wall Street Journal and
May 4, 2004