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Peru’s New President Dismisses Heads of Air Force, Navy

July 29, 1990

LIMA, Peru (AP) _ In one of his first acts as president, political newcomer Alberto Fujimori dismissed the heads of the navy and air force but refused Sunday to explain the decision.

The moves were widely seen as an effort by Fujimori - a political outsider with little support in Congress or among the country’s established parties - to impose his authority over the military. The military overthrew a civilian government in 1968 and ruled the country until 1980.

Fujimori - the upset winner in June’s elections - made the changes late Saturday night just hours after he was sworn in as president, and he confirmed the dismissals at a news conference Sunday.

At his first news conference, Fujimori also announced a bank holiday for Monday and Tuesday. He said the banks would be closed to help prepare the way for emergency economic measures he planned to announce later in the week.

Peru is facing one of its worst economic crises ever, with inflation running at 3,000 percent a year.

The new president said his government needed at least $700 million in emergency economic aid this year to feed and provide basic services to the country’s poor.

Fujimori also said he wanted to restore Peru’s standing with the international financial community by resuming payments on its foreign debt, which now totals $20 billion.

His predecessor, Alan Garcia, had suspended debt payments in 1986, causing Peru to be cut off by international lenders.

Regarding the military changes, Fujimori said he was confident that the armed forces would continue to respect the powers of the presidency to the same degree as in recent years.

″I must deny that there exists any discontent in the armed forces,″ Fujimori said.

On Saturday, Fujimori removed Gen. German Vucetich as head of the air force, replacing him with Gen. Arnaldo Velarde Ramirez. Press reports had raised allegations of corruption against Vucetich.

He also appointed Adm. Luis Montes Lecaros to replace Adm. Alfonso Panizo as head of the navy.

However, the new president retained Gen. Jorge Zegarra as head of the army, the most powerful of the three branches of the armed forces.

There had been recurring rumors before Fujimori defeated novelist Mario Vargas Llosa in the presidential race that the navy might back a military coup.

High-ranking sources in Garcia’s government had said senior navy officers were plotting a military takeover if Fujimori won the election by a narrow margin.

But the 52-year-old former college professor - the son of Japanese immigrants - won a landslide victory.

Panizo told the newspaper La Republica that such dismissals had not accompanied previous changes of government. The ousted navy commander said he expected an explanation from the new president.

Asked at a news conference about Panizo’s remarks, Fujimori refused to explain his decision.

″The president does not have to give explanations,″ he said.

He added that ″the laws give this right (to dismiss military commanders) to the president.″

Earlier this year, a leading television newsman, Cesar Hilderbrandt, accused Vucetich of making money for himself by manipulating air force funds deposited in private banks. Vucetich has denied the corruption allegations.

In his inaugural address Saturday, Fujimori pledged to wage a campaign against what he described as widespread government corruption.

Update hourly