Peru: Spying on Social Movements

  (IPS) – Business Track, a private security firm, was engaged in spying on non-governmental organisations, environmental activists, social movements and opposition groups in Peru, sources in the police, prosecutor’s office and courts investigating the case told IPS.

When the authorities arrested Business Track (BTR) managers and employees in January on charges of illegally tapping telephone conversations on behalf of third parties, they found intelligence reports about politicians, leftwing organisations and groups critical of the government in the possession of those implicated in spying.

The detainees had files of taped telephone conversations, intercepted e-mails and video footage of people they had had followed, said the sources, who have access to the confiscated documents.

According to investigations by prosecutors and police, the owner of BTR, Manuel Ponce, a retired naval captain, delivered the information collected by his firm’s employees, who were active or retired naval intelligence agents, to high government officials.

BTR’s "front" activities were counterespionage and information security, such as debugging telephone lines and information technology systems, removing wireless microphones and neutralising spam or malicious e-mail intrusions.

The BTR web site, which has now been decommissioned by the authorities, used to display a portfolio of clients made up of oil, mining and gas companies and private security firms like Forza and Orus. Orus and Forza provide contracted security services to mining companies that are in conflict with local communities. Both firms denied knowledge of BTR’s illegal activities and said they had only requested "information security" services.

Forza has worked for the Newmont Mining Corp., a U.S. company mining for gold at Yanacocha in the northern region of Cajamarca, the epicentre of a large number of violent incidents involving local authorities, non-governmental organisations and social movements.

The Majaz mining company, formerly owned by the British company Monterrico Metals and then by the Chinese Xiamen Zijin Tongguan Investment Development Company, also availed itself of Forza’s services at the copper and molybdenum mines in Río Blanco, in the mountainous northern province of Huancabamba.

In January the Ecumenical Foundation for Development and Peace (FEDEPAZ) published photographs, obtained from an anonymous source, showing police and Forza personnel meting out brutal treatment to campesinos (small farmers) participating in a peaceful protest against Majaz in 2005.

The photographs show campesinos blindfolded or with their heads inside black bags and their hands tied behind their backs. During the demonstrations, police and Forza agents arrested and tortured people, according to the FEDEPAZ report. The Majaz company has not denied the accusation.

Opposition lawmakers said they will investigate Forza’s role in the alleged violence against and torture of campesinos.

Orus, in turn, has metal and mining firms Miski Mayo, Doe Run Peru, Oro Candente, Buenaventura and BHP Billiton Tintaya on its client roster.

Local communities in the areas of the mining operations have protested against the mining companies for not consulting them in advance, as required by law, or because the firms’ activities have caused environmental damages.

The documents confiscated from BTR were handed over by prosecutor Walter Milla to Judge Ana María Martínez, who is handling the case.

Martínez must determine which of Ponce’s clients were paying for illegally obtained information, sources at her office told IPS.

Vice President Luis Giampietri acknowledged that BTR provided him with certain information through one of its officials, a woman who is currently in jail.

"I received intelligence information, early in my term of office (in July 2006), about the ALBA (Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas) Houses and the Bolivarian groups," Giampietri told the newspaper Expreso on Jan. 13.

The ALBA Houses are social centres providing basic needs in the poorest areas, and receive part of their funding from the Venezuelan government, which runs similar programmes in its own country.

The press revealed that between July 2006 and July 2007, while officiating as the president of Congress, lawmaker Mercedes Cabanillas of the governing Peruvian APRA party hired BTR, ostensibly to carry out an electronic sweep of her office. Cabanillas admitted to being a friend of Ponce’s, who she said "passed on to and discussed with me information about the activities of anti-establishment groups."

In military spy jargon, "anti-establishment groups" are organisations that hold protests against violations of basic human rights, or against the activities of mining companies, police and military sources told IPS.

The same material – film footage, intercepted e-mails, surveillance and monitoring of persons belonging to "anti-establishment groups" – came into the hands of Giampietri, the armed forces high command and Defence Minister Ántero Flores Aráoz.

On the basis of the intelligence, Ponce tried to convince the authorities of the existence of a plan to create chaos and overthrow the constitutional order.

The putative plan was alleged to be financed by the government of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, with the Peruvian chapter of the Continental Bolivarian Committee (CCB-CP), a platform of leftwing groups sympathising with Chávez, as its intermediary.

The supposed plan was also alleged to involve the rebirth of the now-defunct Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA), the smaller of two guerrilla groups fought by counterinsurgency forces during Peru’s 1980-2000 civil war. (The larger group was the Maoist Sendero Luminoso or Shining Path).

BTR spied on some former members of the MRTA and leaked the information it had gleaned to the media, warning of supposed acts of violence to disrupt international meetings held in Peru in 2008, such as the European Union-Latin America and the Caribbean (EULAC) Summit and the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum.

None of the dire prophecies was fulfilled.

"Giampietri and I are friends; in fact I am friends with everyone, including (Peruvian) President (Alan) García. I have provided all of them with the information they needed. If I learned something that would interest them, I passed it on. I gave them information, for free. Everyone has consulted me, even President García," said Ponce in an interview from his prison cell for the Lima newspaper La República, published Feb. 8.

In addition to the current charges he faces, Ponce has been prosecuted for human rights violations allegedly committed when he worked at the Directorate of Naval Intelligence during the administration of former Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000).