The Peruvian Exocet connection in the Falklands/Malvinas war
It was 1982 and Peru had returned to the path of democracy. Belaunde Terry was elected president, the same man the military ousted in 1968, and he was no friend of military or right wing dictatorships.
However in the midst of the Malvinas war, his heart had a feeling for the Argentine people whom he respected and remembered they had received him when in exile.
Secretary of State Alexander Haig had failed in his mediation efforts between the UK and Argentina, and Belaunde Terry told the US ambassador in Lima he was prepared to attempt a peace deal between Argentina and the UK.
President Ronald Reagan instructed Haig who contacted the Peruvian president and told him he had scheduled a meeting with then Foreign Secretary Francis Pym.
“It was late Sunday in Lima early dawn in Buenos Aires and Belaunde Terry contacted Galtieri and talked to him about the peace proposal. The plan also included the four countries guarantors of the agreement that were to move into the Islands”, recalls Andres Garcia Belaunde, currently a member of Congress and at the time private secretary to the Peruvian president.
Belaunde Terry confessed to Galtieri it had been a really tough job convincing the British to accept the plan and they only did so under strong US pressure.
Galtieri’s reply surprised the Peruvian leader: “Look Mr president I also have a Senate. Let’s talk in the morning”. It was hard to understand since it was a military regime, but obviously Galtieri was referring to his fellow officers of the Junta.
“If the peace proposal had been accepted that night the Argentine cruiser Belgrano would not have never been sunk since it all occurred 24 hours after the phone conversation”, recalls Garcia Belaunde
When the news of the sinking of the Belgrano surfaced the Peruvian president again contacted Galtieri who admitted to not knowing the number of casualties, only that “the vessel was adrift”.
Belaunde expressed his condolences and Galtieri replied there was nothing else to talk about, much less a peace proposal. Haig was then informed but what most struck Belaunde Terry was the fact Galtieri mentioned that in a few hours an Argentine military delegation would be arriving in Lima to talk with him.
The delegation effectively met Belaunde Terry to request Mirage aircraft, fuel tanks and missiles, inaccessible to Argentina because of the arms embargo imposed at the beginning of the conflict.
Argentine military officers also contacted Peruvian Air Force General Jose Espinoza Salazar, who was to organize the purchase of twelve Exocet missiles for the state of Peru, but to be finally delivered to Argentina. The whole operation involved 12 million dollars.
The Exocet missiles had proved their effectiveness with HMS Sheffield.
Espinoza received clearance from Lima and the purchase was set to roll. The Argentine officers would travel immediately to Lima to obtain the authorization to buy the missiles for the Peruvian Air Force.
The operation was code named “Sky-blue and white” (colours of the Argentine flag) and all contacts had to be personal since the Peruvian and Argentine military feared they could be bugged or taped and this would have imperilled Peru’s diplomatic relations with the US and the UK, admitted Espinoza.
By June 7 another Peruvian Air Force colonel Osvaldo Saravia Peña was ready to leave for France to purchase 24 sets of supply and fuel equipments. No mention of missiles.
According to a pre-accord with a French firm “Definsa Stablishment” on signing the contract and checking the missiles, nine million dollars were to be paid with the rest completed once the Exocets were delivered in Lima.
Saravia Peña was blindfolded and driven during three hours before reaching a weapons’ storage where he simply counted the missiles, since he was no expert in the issue and because the French argued they could not test them.
Colonel Saravia Peña then returned to Washington and left the operation in the hands of the Argentines.
However the missiles were never delivered because the French demanded the rest of the money the moment the cargo was shipped and not on arrival at Peru. In the meantime the Argentines had surrendered and the whole operation fell through. The remaining money was returned to Argentina.
The Peruvian Air Force then decided to dishonourably discharge the two officers who were made responsible for the failure of the operation. Espinoza was accused of high treason in 1986 for revealing some details of the operation but the case was later dismissed.
Saravia Peña was later ordered to re-incorporate to the Air Force but fearing he would be the escape goat of the whole operation decided to remain in the US where the once brilliant strategist, first of his promotion was working as a gasoline station attendant.
Thirty years after the Malvinas conflict, the former colonel Saravia Peña is the only ‘Peruvian victim’ of the frustrated operation. He appealed to the Inter American Human Rights Commission to have his disciplinary discharge reviewed and to recover his retirement rights, but the case was dismissed precisely because of the disciplinary discharge.