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Paranormal Claims in Peruvian Mass Media

Manuel A. Paz y Miño

Volume 13.3, September 2003

One of the main goals of the Peruvian Center for Investigation of Paranormal Claims, Pseudo-Sciences, and Irrationality (or CIPSI-PERU, founded in 1998 by professionals and campus students) is observing paranormal claims made in the Peruvian mass media. As in other countries we have newspapers, TV, and radio shows that publish or broadcast uncritical information on paranormal claims. Let’s examine the most important and interesting of them.

I. Newspapers and Periodicals

Daily Extra is the dean of the pro-paranormal press, publishing sensationalist headlines and articles on local earthquake predictions, doomsday prophecies, UFOs, etc. Of course there are other similar but newer ones like El Popular.

The weekly esoteric periodical La Huaringa is one of the newest; its name is a reference to a northern Peruvian town known for its many shamans.

The bi-weekly Salud, dinero y amor (Health, Money and Love) was launched about nine years ago. It has columns on dreams, astrology, and other paranormal articles.

Peru News Review-a Peruvian monthly publication in Spanish printed in the USA-had a paranormal column, Lo conocido deconocido or The Unknown Known, which was published until the October 2002 issue. When CIPSI-PERU’s letter criticizing their paranormal claims appeared, it was discontinued. That periodical has its own Web site: www.perunews.com, and a new freethought column authored by me.

The serious and respected Diario El Comercio, (Daily Commerce) had an esoterica page, appearing on Sundays until last year, but it was changed for a sexological one-and has a daily horoscope. Some pro-paranormal articles have appeared in El Comercio's Saturday’s magazine Somos (We Are), such as reports on crystal healing power (April 28, 2001) and fortunetellers and political elections (May 26, 2001). Another issue reported both a believer’s and skeptic’s view on The X-Files in Peru and UFOs contacts (February 2, 2002). In El Comercio's Sunday’s supplement, El Dominical, a note appeared on Nostradamus’s quatrains predicting the September 11 tragedy (October 7, 2001), one false and the other one real; in addition to a piece on extraterrestrials and movies (October 6, 2002). Both Saturday’s magazine and Sunday’s supplement published CIPSI-Peru’s letters where we refuted their paranormal claims and applauded presentation of a skeptical view. (Of course we have our own magazine Neo-Skepsis and books published through Peruvian Editions of Applied Philosophy.) El Comercio published a feature story about us on December 11, 2002, and two days later we appeared on America TV morning news to talk about Ouija boards. The electronic version of El Comercio is at www.elcomercioperu.com.pe.

Founded about four years ago, Diario Liberación (Daily Liberation) had as its first editor Mr. César Hildebrandt-one of the most important journalists in Peru-and also had an important role in the fight against disgraced President Alberto Fujimori’s regime. But until October 2002, with a change of editors, Liberación had a paranormal section and a daily horoscope by astrologist Aghata Lys. The section was changed to an entertainment page but the horoscope remains.

Daily Peru 21 was launched last year and has published many of our letters critical of its paranormal news. Its Web page is at www.peru21.com.

II. Television Shows

Utilísima (Very Useful) was a daily morning talk show aimed at women (broadcast until recently by América TV) where tarot card reading was promoted during the 1990s. Ayer y Hoy (Yesterday and Today) is a Frecuencia Latina TV Sunday magazine that sometimes airs foreign reports of paranormal events such as supposed apparitions of the Virgin Mary, ghosts, faith healings, etc. They have shown Brazilian reports with skeptical and scientific explanations of, for example, a “strange” light near a hospital where a famous medium was, or the alleged image of Virgin Mary on a window, or a scientific investigation on the Shroud of Turin’s age.

Daily El Comercio until last year featured their own tarot readers and fortunetellers, the “Arcanos,” on its news channel, Canal N.

You can watch a paid short segment on miraculous healing of the Brazilian international church Pare de Sufrir (Stop Suffering) every day at about 11 p.m. on the two more important private channels, Panamericana TV and América TV. In its first minutes people give tearful testimony of their miraculous cures. Then a pastor with a Portuguese accent offers both “real” peace and healing while inviting the public to his churches, where they offer religious objects blessed in Israel like dirt, oil, crucifixes, etc. The Spanish Catholic priest Manuel Rodríguez is very popular because of his laying of hands during mass aired on his own religious channel and on Televisión Nacional del Peru (Peru’s National TV) at the end of the programming schedule.

The number one Peruvian paranormal program until July 2002, Más allá (Beyond), was hosted by Ms. Josie Diez Canseco, an astrologist and tarot card reader. Monday through Friday she had many paranormal guests like Mr. Sixto Paz, the founder of the international UFO cult Rama Mission, and others including supposed psychics and paranormalists. She currently reads a weekly horoscope for Ayer y Hoy TV show and writes a daily zodiac for both a local newspaper (Peru 21) and a radio program.

Physician Javier Pérez Alvela has a Saturday morning program Bien de Salud (Good Health), a mixture of mysticism, medicine, and natural living, broadcast also through Red Global TV; years ago it was transmitted by Peru’s National Television.

One of the most famous Peruvian medicine men, Adrián Vera (or El Tuno) had his own paranormal show briefly last year. Red Global TV transmitted it Saturdays at midnight.

In his weekday news and talk show aired by América TV, César Hildebrandt featured an investigation by reporter Ms. Mariella Patrieu. The story was about two Venezuelan tarot card reading sisters, Nelly and Norelia Pompa, known as “Las Mentes Gemelas” ("Twin Minds”). They were very famous and successful after living and working in Peru for years. The sisters used to claim that they are right 99 percent of the time. But the reporter made a list of their mistakes-for instance they failed when predicting that the Peruvian soccer team was going to have a better performance. They were also wrong to say that American Lori Berenson, who is still in jail for a terrorism conviction, would be released. Finally the sisters missed when they claimed that political fugitive Mr. Vladimiro Montesinos-accused of corruption-was hidden in a non Spanish-speaking country when in fact he was captured in Venezuela. After the report, Mr. Hildebrandt interviewed the sisters in a sympathetic way.

On the same show but on another occasion there was a slightly ironic report on the Peruvian UFO religion Alfa y Omega (Alpha and Omega) and its failed doomsday prophecies. The report also examined the telepathic communications between its Chilean founder Luis Antonio Soto Romero (said to be Jesus in his Second Coming, now in the Himalayas) and his Peruvian representative.

In 1992, when President Fujimori fled to Japan in the wake of a coup d'etat, a supposedly “miraculous” image of the Virgin began shedding tears. Hildebrandt, in a former show, produced the same effect in a similar icon proving it was artificially and chemically caused. His show was then canceled. Even some priests have shown that it is possible to produce “crying” and “bleeding” from portraits by applying certain chemical substances. Caretas (Masks), the most important Peruvian magazine, said that an owner of a house with a crying Virgin icon was a government employee who used the event to distract attention from the government’s drastic economic policy.

Mr. Marco Aurelio Denegri, host of La Función de la Palabra (The Function of the Word) reviewed our magazine-Neo-Skepsis #3 on ESP and parapsychology-on one of his programs. He is a sexologist, Spanish language expert, and a freethinker. He said that researchers and intellectuals like Prof. Mario Bunge have a right to criticize paranormal phenomena but they shouldn’t ignore “important” work like John Hasted’s and Jole Eisenbud’s parapsychological research. Mr. Denegri also defended Uri Geller, Ted Serios, and yogis. Although he received skeptical literature by Randi, Kurtz, Polidoro, and other skeptics, he went on attacking skepticism in a future episode.

Ms. Jeanet Barboza was a host of successful popular musical shows and later of talk shows. One of the latter, Noche a Noche (Night to Night)-now canceled-had an almost weekly debate segment, many times on paranormal topics like exorcism, ouija, haunted houses, shamanism, etc. Her present show, La alegría del mediodía (Joy at Noon) has a similar segment with guests like shamans, psychics, astrologists, religious and psychic healers as well as skeptics, psychologists, lawyers, magicians, and philosophers like myself. In one episode (April 1, 2002), I was pleased to give a skeptical view on telepathy and other paranormal claims like psychic surgery. A supposed psychic surgeon was invited to perform on a lady with an alleged tumor who later said she was better because of the “operation.” Then after audience gave their opinions (for and against the surgeon), he was revealed to be professional illusionist Magician Khalid (Mr. Guillermo Carranza). He revealed the miracle as a fraud and a magic trick. He said, “you will not be cured although you may have less pain but finally you will lose your money.” Other guests included Mr. Jonel Heredia, a psychic surgeon, and religious healer Rodríguez. Joy at Noon's production team contacted me before 2003’s Holy Week in order to participate again. But eventually they stopped calling me-maybe because I am also a secular humanist!

CIPSI-PERU was initially contacted both by an America TV news morning show America Hoy at the end of 2001 to present our “predictions” for the new year and by Red Global TV’s Beyond to talk about paranormal cases. In the end we were not invited on, probably because we explained our skeptical view to their production people. However we have participated in two college TV courses, and have been interviewed for other journalism courses.

III. Radio Shows

Entre amigos (Among Friends), aired by Peru’s most important radio station, Radio Programas del Perú, has consulting segments with medical doctors, psychologists, lawyers, nutritionists, a Catholic priest, and even a tarot reader! The lady doing this psychic consulting is called “Amatista” and she offers also advice on traditional medicinal plants. Mr. Marco Antonio Talledo’s radio promotions bill him as the “best parapsychologist” in Peru, and his radio shows are on the air three times per week in the mornings in Radio Libertad (Freedom Radio). This station has also a daily morning news program which specializes in social and political affairs, called El Reportero (The Reporter). Hosts of this show read daily horoscopes, like most other Peruvian radio stations.

IV. Web Pages

Thankfully, CIPSI-PERU has its own critical Web page (www.geocities.com/cipsi peru) with an introduction, explanatory links, and letters to mass media and articles, including one on the paranormal in Peru published originally in English in the Skeptical Briefs. The media, college students, and people interested in our work can contact us easily and quickly by e-mail at: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Manuel A. Paz y Miño

Manuel A. Paz y Miño is Director of the Peruvian Center for Investigation of Paranormal Claims, Pseudo-Sciences and Irrationality (CIPSI-PERU), and the Center for Inquiry in Lima, Peru.