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January 10, 2006 > 'The flip sides of the same coin'

'The flip sides of the same coin'

by Ceri Hitchcock-Hodgson

Once in a while there are individuals who pour their soul (and savings) into making documentaries simply because there is a story needing to be told. With raw images of events and the voices and faces of those who lived through it, the filmmaker brings a humanistic side to telling tales that books and radio cannot.

It is not everyday that someone takes on the challenge of making a documentary, but one local man did. Cesar Lazo, a longtime resident of the Bay Area, now residing in Hayward, is a native of Peru. Returning home after living in the United States for 20 years, he became aware of the political injustices and corruption that plagued his birth country. The filmmaker decided to document what he considered the root of the problem - the presidency of President Alberto Fujimori and his right-hand man, Vladimiro Montesinos.

After extensive research on the situation, Lazo decided in July of 2004 that he would make a documentary to bring international attention to the crime, corruption and murder "sponsored" by President Fujimori and his "twin" Montesinos.

Times were bleak in Peru during the late 1980s. At one point, inflation increased by 7,000 percent and the middle class disappeared, leaving only the very rich and the very poor.

The Peruvian people were disappointed with their government and the presidential election of 1990 brought hope. A candidate appeared seemingly out of nowhere - Alberto Fujimori, born off the coast of Peru to Japanese parents. With no prior political history, the closest he had come to holding a position of power was president of a university; he won by a landslide. How did Fujimori win? A political unknown with no party backing, "he went to the countryside, talking to the poor," explained Lazo of the politician's success. "Unfortunately, he was part of a plan."

A large part of this plan included a man named Vladimiro Montesinos; a cunning attorney who "fixed" some legal problems for candidate Fujimori. Paperwork mysteriously disappeared and charges were quietly dropped. Montesinos was immediately hired by Fujimori to ensure that his presidency would run smoothly.

Soon after Fujimori won the presidency of Peru, he became a political pawn to puppet-master Montesinos. Between 1990 and 2000, Vladimiro Montesinos and Alberto Fujimori ruled Peru via corruption, blackmail and scare tactics. As the dictatorship gained power so did Montesinos. Eventually, Montesinos became Fujimori's sole "link to the outside world," explained Lazo. Dubbed "The Siamese Twins" by the Peruvian people, the two men became one and the same. Lazo's documentary explores the unique relationship between Fujimori and Montesinos.

Under the rule of Fujimori and Montesinos, Peru suffered through a period of some of the most notorious human rights violations of our time including the execution of 15 people by a paramilitary death squad in 1991. On July 18, 1992, nine students and a professor at La Cantuta University were abducted and murdered by security forces.

In 1998, former Peruvian Army Intelligence Agent Luisa Zanatta accused Montesinos of ordering illegal wiretaps of leading politicians and journalists. Zanatta also said that army intelligence agents killed fellow agent Mariella Barreto Riofano because she had given a magazine information about human rights violations and where bodies from the La Cantuta massacre were buried. Barreto's body was found on the side of the road in 1997.
President Alberto Fujimori and Vladimiro Montesinos were indicted for numerous crimes against their country and its people.

What is it like to take on the extraordinary task of documenting a decade of a country's history? Like all independent filmmakers "the biggest and permanent problem is financing, that is also my case," explained Lazo who has invested greatly in his project.

His passion for uncovering the truth has lead him back to Peru three times so far this year, cameras and crew in tow. At press time, he is in Peru conducting numerous interviews including that of famed British journalist Sally Bowen, author of "The Imperfect Spy: The Many Lives of Vladimiro Montesinos." Journalists, social scientists, professors, eyewitnesses and others have helped Lazo to find answers he seeks in his documentary "Las dos caras de la misma moneda" or "The flip sides of the same coin - Fujimori, Montesinos: Dictatorship, corruption and videotapes."

To help in the creation of his documentary, Lazo created, a site dedicated to the production of educational documentaries. At, visitors can view photos of the documentary-in-making and follow its progress.

"For many people, making a documentary seems a very difficult task. The first problem they see is the high cost of equipment and dependency on expensive service (cameraman, light rentals, video editor and sound engineers, rent of location and many other things). But the most difficult task is the investigations, documentation, cross verification of information and consolidation of all of this in a workable script."

The director hopes to answer various questions with his documentary - How did Fujimori, a candidate with no political background become the president of Peru and how, and why, did such a unique relationship develop between Fujimori and Montesinos?

Lazo pointed out that his film is not a political statement against Fujimori and his cabinet. Rather, he said, "It is just a documentary that will try to capture a unique period of Peruvian history."

"My goal is to make this documentary compelling for all classes, from the common person to those in power," explained Lazo. "A documentary that is both a piece of art and an education resource for future generations of Peruvians and the world."

Former president Fujimori, in self-imposed exile in Japan since 2000, was recently arrested in Chile after entering the country to begin his bid for Peru's next election.

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