Reporting a Coup: Maria Luisa Martinez and Peru’s 1992 Coup d’état

The crisis

In the midst of a bloody internal conflict, Alberto Fujimori, Peru’s President in 1992, shocked the country by declaring a self-coup and shutting down Congress and the Judiciary on April the 5th.

Under Fujimori’s orders, hundreds of soldiers and tanks raided the capital to secure the now-dissolved institutions. Under these extreme conditions, Maria Luisa Martinez, South American correspondent for Univision, reported the first images.

Maria Luisa Martinez confronted the military in her effort to report the coup.

«Troop movement in the city centre»

Maria Luisa was listening through police radios (which journalists used to find out about different events across the city) when she heard that there were troops in the city centre.

Maria Luisa had been a reporter for Univision for several years and had covered the bloodiest years of terrorism in Peru.

Alongside her cameraman, Gilberto, she rapidly headed to the city centre. They didn’t know what was happening but not long after they discovered that President Fujimori had declared a self-coup.

“We found out that there was a troop movement in he city centre.”

Coup d’etat

Upon arrival, Maria Luisa was confronted by many soldiers that did not let her get close to the main institutions. And yet, she managed to sneak past them and discovered that the Congress, the Judiciary and the media had been taken hostage by the military.

Peruvian Congress in 2017, 25 years after Fujimori’s self-coup.
Peruvian Congress in 2017, 25 years after Fujimori’s self-coup.

The soldiers had successfully secured the dissolved institutions and had taken over the press.  

But in the midst of the chaos, Maria Luisa had only one thing on her mind: to show through the camera what was happening to the country. She wanted to obtain the images of the coup d’etat.

“I wanted the phrase ‘This is a coup d’etat’ on camera” 

«They could have shot me»

Maria Luisa remembers being afraid. On that evening, she was surrounded by the military and their tanks and yet she confronted and questioned many soldiers despite their constant threats in order to cover the event. .

As she reflects on that night, Maria Luisa believes that the soldiers could have reacted differently to her questioning and seriously endangered her life. Some of them were very nervous after being asked very simple questions and she says that they didn’t seem to be able to deal with the press.

But despite the risk, she continued to do her job.  

“I could have put myself in a situation with a greater risk”.

The day after

The fight for democracy began on the next day. People rose against President Fujimori’s self-coup while many applauded his decision to dissolve Congress and many other institutions.

“They are people that will be remembered as the ones that fought for democracy”

Several political figures and opponents were rapidly captured and imprisoned under Fujimori’s order. The president had the support of the military and the police, but many citizens, senators and congressmen couldn’t stand by such a decision and began to campaign against it.

In the space of a day, the country was suddenly divided between those who supported democracy and those who didn’t.

“When a coup takes place, there is no middle ground”.

Thinking back

More than 25 years have passed since that chaotic day. Maria Luisa remembers seeing former President Alberto Fujimori being celebrated on the streets days after declaring the self-coup. Just like in Chile and several other Latin American countries, people rallied behind a coup d’état.

On that day, a deeply divided country was fractured once again thanks to a decision that went on to cement Fujimori’s legacy. The legacy of an imprisoned former president -with millions of followers- that continues to divide public opinion until this day.

“A divided country is pitiful”.

Maria Luisa lived and reported through this intense period in Peruvian history, witnessing the relentless violence from both the government and the terrorists.

She has reported many brutal events in several different countries and yet, she can’t help but to feel sad when asked about reporting violence in Peru, her country of birth. Sad and frustrated at the lack of dialogue and the seemingly impossible idea of an agreement made between the members of a same country.

A country that until this day feels the consequences of a decision made 28 years ago.

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