Renowned Peruvian investigative reporter battles criminalized smear campaign — and cancer

April 28, 2024

LIMA, Peru (AP) — At age 75, one of Latin America’s most storied journalists had been looking forward to weaving into books the fragmented threads of more than four decades of investigative reporting that exposed high-level abuse of power in Peru and abroad.

In an illustrious career, Gustavo Gorriti has endured death threats from drug traffickers, survived Peru’s harrowing Shining Path insurgency and a kidnapping by silencer-toting military intelligence agents during a 1992 presidential power grab.

Then an aggressive lymphatic cancer struck, wasting the former five-time national judo champion’s robust physique. Diagnosed in August, Gorriti was in the final drips of two months of chemotherapy in December when a different kind of body blow landed.

A smear campaign — amplified by complicit, cowed or indifferent broadcast and print media — portrayed the self-styled “intelligence agent for the people” as Public Enemy No. 1, a ruthless, egotistical victimizer of innocents.

Gorriti is clear on who is behind it: A cabal of “kleptocrats” in Peru’s political and business elites who are in prosecutorial peril due in large part to his crowning gumshoe achievements. Their aim: “to liquidate all gains in the war on corruption.”

With his hair gone from the chemo, his trademark white beard down to “like three hairs,” Gorriti said he “looked like a pathetic Fu Manchu.” He was so debilitated “I only wanted to sleep,” he said in an interview on the terrace of his Lima apartment.

But indignation stirred the pugilistic reporter to action, marshaling his team at IDL-Reporteros, an online news site, to mount a vigorous, detailed defense.

“You don’t get to choose when you go to war,” he said.

Then it got worse. By March 27, Gorriti was facing a criminal investigation in a bizarrely framed bribery case, accused of “favoring” two anti-corruption prosecutors with publicity.

“Of course it’s not true,” one of the prosecutors cited, José Domingo Pérez, told The Associated Press. “This is a blatant attempt to muzzle one of Latin America’s best investigative reporters, the outlet that he has founded, and, by extension, any journalist who would dare to speak truth to power in Latin America,” The Washington-based National Press Club said in a statement co-signed by seven press and human rights groups.