Francisco Morales Bermudez, former Peruvian military leader, dies at 100

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Francisco Morales Bermudez, a Peruvian army general who seized power in a 1975 coup and led the country to elections five years later, but also joined other South American strongmen in a clandestine network that left hundreds of political opponents imprisoned or presumed killed, died July 14 in the Peruvian capital, Lima. He was 100 years old.

Mr. Morales Bermudez’s son, Remigio Morales, confirmed the death, but did not provide a specific cause.

Mr. Morales Bermudez was one of the last surviving leaders of the military-led juntas that dominated much of South America in the 1970s and 1980s, often backed by Washington as anti-Communist allies despite widespread repression and rights violations.

At first, Morales Bermudez kept himself somewhat aloof from the region’s right-wing leaders. Days after taking power in August 1975, he pledged to keep alive some of ousted General Juan Velasco’s socialist-style policies, including the nationalization of key industries and a “militant and active stance against imperialism”. “.

Later, he aligned himself more with other military juntas, courting support and aid from the United States and relaxing state controls on the economy. Another major change: helping a regional network, known as Operation Condor, arrest or extradite political opponents, many of whom later “disappeared” as apparent victims of death squads.

The precise number of people killed after cross-border renditions under Operation Condor remains unclear. John Dinges, a longtime writer on Latin American affairs and author of the 2004 book, “The Condor Years,” said he has documented more than 650 cases. The crackdown, however, was part of a much wider wave of brutality by South American regimes against dissidents, opposition clerics, journalists and others, which led to the imprisonment or disappearance of dozens of thousands of people.

US government records, some uncovered in 2020 by National Security Archive researchers in Washington, showed that US officials were aware of Operation Condor, led by Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet, but apparently did little to contain it. South American governments at the time used a communications network built on encryption machines from a Swiss company called Crypto AG, which was secretly owned by the CIA as part of a decades-long operation with the intelligence services. West Germans.

How the CIA had a secret window into South American political brutality

In Peru, meanwhile, Mr. Morales Bermudez received signals of support from the White House.

He was hosted in Washington for Latin American summits, and in June 1977, First Lady Rosalynn Carter joined Mr. Morales Bermudez and his family at a Peruvian resort. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger visited Lima in early 1976 and endorsed Morales Bermudez’s “new vision” based on “international realities” – a clear nod to the general’s estrangement of the Soviet Union and its allies.

“We sense some concern at the Cuban Embassy here,” said a classified cable from the U.S. Embassy in Lima in July 1976, part of a trove of State Department documents made public by the group of disclosure of WikiLeaks secrets.

In 2017, an Italian court sentenced Mr. Morales Bermudez in absentia for the disappearance in the context of Operation Condor of more than 40 people, including more than 20 with dual Italian nationality. A life sentence has been imposed on Mr. Morales Bermudez and other former political and military leaders in Latin America, including former Bolivian President Luis García Meza Tejada.

In February, Italy’s highest court rejected an appeal by Mr Morales Bermudez’s defense team.

Buenos Aires authorities have also opened an investigation into Mr. Morales Bermudez for the capture of opponents of Argentina’s military regime at the time, including three people suspected of links with Argentina’s dissident Montonero guerrilla movement abducted by Argentinian soldiers in Lima in 1980.

Mr. Morales Bermudez denied being part of Operation Condor, but admitted that his government had authorized the extradition of some people wanted by The Argentinian Army regime. He often said he needed to avoid conflict in the region to stay focused on his goal of restoring civilian rule.

He authorized elections in 1980 amid an economic crisis that left his regime in trouble. Voters returned to President Fernando Belaunde, who was ousted in a 1968 coup that began 12 years of military rule in Peru.

In return to democracy, Peru holds its first elections in 17 years

“Ambiguity is a good term to describe [Mr. Morales Bermudez]said Dinges. “He brought the country back to an elected government. Nor was he of the level of brutality of Pinochet and others. But that doesn’t excuse him either.

Francisco Remigio Morales Bermudez Cerruti was born on October 4, 1921 in Lima with a political pedigree. His grandfather, Remigio Morales Bermudez, ruled Peru as president from 1890 to 1894.

His father, Lt. Col. Segundo Remigio Morales Bermudez, was killed in a possibly politically motivated attack in 1939. Mr. Morales Bermudez played an increasingly prominent role in the military-led regime after the 1968 coup. (He also served briefly as Minister of Economy in Belaunde’s first civilian government.)

Morales Bermudez was twice Velasco’s economy minister and prime minister of Peru, a largely ceremonial post, when he took power in 1975. He quickly tried to bring about a political truce, allowing the return to Peru of all political personalities, journalists and others. exiled under Velasco.

Mr. Morales Bermudez ran for president in 1985, but received little support from voters. He is survived by his son. Details about other survivors were not immediately clear.

In June 2021, Mr. Morales Bermudez made one of his last public appearances at a polling station in San Isidro, outside Lima. He arrived in a wheelchair with a long scarf wrapped around his neck. He made no mention of the Operation Condor lawsuits.

“My thinking is that we are going through difficult times,” he told a reporter, “and the vote, though mine is humble, is necessary.”

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