Fujimori: The other side of the story

The latest news about former Peruvian President, Alberto Fujimori is that he has been extradited from Chile to face seven charges in Perú. The charges range from claims of having committed crimes against humanity to corruption. The Peruvian mainstream media as well as several leftist NGO’s and many self-proclaimed "intellectuals," have gone to great lengths to portray him as a corrupt criminal, a traitor, a fugitive and a murderer. But this is not what all Peruvians think of him. There is another side of Fujimori that his enemies don’t want you to know.

Peru is now a safe country, with a growing economy and on the verge of signing a beneficial Free Trade Agreement with the United States. This is the context today but seventeen years ago before Alberto Fujimori became President, in 1990, Perú was completely different. The current President, Alan García’s first term in office between 1985 and 1990 was marked by bouts of hyperinflation which reached 7,649% in 1990 and had a cumulative total of 2,200,200%, thereby profoundly destabilizing the Peruvian economy.

Owing to such chronic inflation, the Peruvian currency, the sol, was replaced by the Inti in mid-1985, which itself was replaced by the nuevo sol ("new sun"), at which time the new sol had a cumulative value of one billion (1,000,000,000) old soles. By the end of his term in 1990, national reserves were a negative $900 million dollars. García also made an attempt to nationalize the banking and insurance industries. He incurred the wrath of the International Monetary Fund and the financial community by unilaterally declaring a limit on debt repayment equal to 10% of the Gross National Product, isolating Peru from international financial markets. [1]

Peru was also in the midst of an awful civil war against two terrorist groups known as the Sendero Luminoso or "Shining Path" and Movimiento Revolucionario Tupac Amaru (MRTA). These groups controlled about a third of the country and were responsible for the death of thousands of innocent civilians.  In addition, hundreds of brave army and police personnel who fought these terror groups were killed or badly hurt while thousands of children lost their parents, many of whom witnessed their executions.  Many local government officials in the Sierra had to endure "public trials" and some of these individuals were killed in front of their communities with no chance to defend themselves. These acts were meant to scare the population so they wouldn’t cooperate with the government or dare to vote in any election.

The SL and MRTA began attacking electric towers, causing almost daily blackouts all over the country. The García administration unsuccessfully sought a military solution to the growing problem, allegedly committing human rights violations which are still under investigation. These include the Accomarca massacre, where 47 campesinos were gunned to death by the Peruvian armed forces in August of 1985, the Cayara massacre (May 1988) in which some thirty were killed and dozens disappeared, and the summary execution of more than 200 inmates during prison riots in Lurigancho, San Juan Bautista (El Frontón) and Santa Bárbara in 1986. According to an official inquiry, an estimated 1,600 forced disappearances took place during García’s presidency. His own personal involvement in these events is not clear. [2]

The MRTA used kidnapping and extortion as well as drug trafficking to finance their activities. In addition, the country was being ravaged by corruption, by drug problems, and by terrorist warfare.  Most universities were inaccessible since they were dominated by these violent groups. [3]

In general, everyday life was harsh. There were food, water and electricity shortages, car bombs exploded almost every day, killing and severely injuring thousands of people as well as members of the military and police. Soon, the attacks were also felt in the capital city of Lima and people lived in constant fear. There were limits on the amount of food each family could buy, and supermarkets were meagerly stocked as prices changed by the hour.

So when Fujimori become president in 1990 Perú was facing catastrophe. His appealing election slogan, "Honesty, work and technology" represented a departure from the failures of the traditional ruling parties. To tackle the economic problems, "El Chino," (Fujimori’s nickname "the Chinese" although he is from Japanese descent), decided to adopt a program of shock treatment similar to that advocated by defeated Vargas Llosa. Fujimori made his priorities clear: on the one hand there was an urgent need to boost the economy and on the other to eliminate terrorism. Within a year, he brought down inflation from a peak annual rate of 7,650% to 139%.   Near the end of his tenure as president in 1999, the annual rate of inflation had fallen to 3.7%. [4]   He worked non – stop, traveling all over the country, to the most remote areas to see first hand, the needs of the people.

The problem was that his political group "Cambio 90" lacked a majority in Congress. His victory that took place in the second round of elections meant that Fujimori’s group was the third party with the most members in Congress. [5] It was very difficult to implement his policies since Congress blocked all his proposals to combat terrorism and improve the economy and there was constant fighting in the legislature.   His opponents stalled all his initiatives to force him from power.

On the fifth of April, 1992, a frustrated Fujimori decided to close the Congress. Many called this action "autogolpe" or self-coup. This decision was attacked by traditional politicians and by the international community, which accused him of being antidemocratic. Surprisingly for many of his critics, he won local support and said that he would rule Peru in accordance with national interests and not to make himself more popular. According to polls, nearly 80% of the population approved of his decision. [6]

He also decided to suspend the Constitution, declaring that he needed a freer hand to introduce more economic reforms, combat terrorism and drug trafficking and root out corruption. He also purged the judiciary, dismissing 13 of 23 Supreme Court justices and dozens of other justices with alleged ties to extremist groups. Soon, he called elections for a Democratic Constitutional Congress that would serve as a legislature and a Constituent Assembly. Some parties attempted to boycott this initiative, but the Popular Christian Party and many left-leaning parties participated in the election. Fujimori won a majority and drafted a New Constitution in 1993. A referendum was scheduled, and the document was approved by a majority of the population. [7]

After the self-coup the Congress was changed from two legislative bodies to one and the army was restructured to operate directly under the president’s control. The "National Council of Defense" was established to unify the "National Service of Intelligence" (SIN) and the "Secretariat of National Defense." Fujimori appointed important military servicemen to head these institutions. Then he promoted many high-ranking military officers to participate in the government and integrated the National Police, the Armed Forces and the SIN transforming the defense apparatus into a strong ally. [8]

On the war front, the MRTA and the Shining Path were being confronted both militarily and legally. The new Constitution allowed strong measures to combat these subversive forces. These actions alienated the leftist parties, politicians and organizations which, for years, had advocated for negotiations between the government and the terrorists and had denounced any kind of military intervention. With these measures the government was able to break the drug-terrorism alliance by offering the barons protection so they would stop providing the terrorists with resources. In the end the terrorist groups were left without economic support.

Suddenly the left parties, organizations and associations disappeared from the political scene but they would never forgive Fujimori for this and continuously accused him of having committed crimes against humanity in the war against terrorism. Of course they never defended the true victims; the innocent; their only concern was the terrorists. The government established the "rondas campesinas" (peasant rounds) a program that provided the campesinos in the interior with the means to combat terrorism and defend themselves and their families.

Significant developments soon took place. Major Benedicto Jimenez, an officer in DINCOTE (The National Office Against Terrorism) who was disgusted with the civil war, had proposed to capture the leaders of the Shining Path by patient detective work and set up a small unit with that objective. On September 12th, DINCOTE led a raid on a house in an upscale neighborhood in Lima and arrested Abimael Guzmán, the Maoist leader of the Shining Path. [9] That was the turning point in the war against terrorism that is estimated to have cost 30,000 lives.

Prior to the 1995 elections Fujimori’s opponents attempted to undercut his popularity by challenging his human rights record. Despite those challenges, Fujimori’s accomplishments overwhelmed his critics at the polls, where he won the presidential elections outright, gaining more than 60% of the votes.

But then on December 17th 1996, in the residence of the Japanese ambassador, a party in honor of the Emperor’s birthday was in full swing when Tupac Amaru terrorists seized the building and took 452 guests hostage, including Fujimori’s brother, the foreign minister, the agriculture minister, high ranking army officials, the Japanese ambassador, and prominent Japanese businessmen. The terrorists demanded the release of several hundred MRTA members who were held in Peruvian prisons. Over the next four months negotiations took place and some hostages were let go but 72 were still being held enduring inhumane treatment and living under terrible conditions. Then on April 22nd 1997, all but one who suffered a heart attack, were freed in a dramatic raid by Peruvian commandos. All of the 14 MRTA members and two brave soldiers died in the assault. [10] The successful freeing of the hostages boosted Fujimori’s popularity to new heights.

 

 

On the economic front, the reinsertion of Peru into the international financial community was achieved due, in large part, to the process of privatization. The inflation rates were reduced to less than 10% and Perú was made eligible again for external loans and became an important emerging market country due to successful economic policies. On the Social Front, Fujimori constructed thousands of miles of roads, and also built schools, rural hospitals and implemented measures to alleviate poverty by bringing running water and electricity to poor communities. In addition, Peru finally achieved peace with its neighbors Ecuador and Chile. Fujimori and Ecuadorian, Jamil Mahuad, signed the "Acta de Brasilia" which ended the conflict between Lima and Quito.

Signs of Trouble

The Constitution of 1993 states that a president can be re-elected for an immediate consecutive term. Fujimori had been president since 1990 and according to many he could not run for the 2000 elections. But some close advisors decided to interpret the constitution differently which was a decision many analysts believed to be a huge mistake. Under the new Constitution, Fujimori had only been elected once since the election of 1990. His supporters approved the "Ley de Interpretación Auténtica" in August of 1996. The relationship between the government and the opposition became very strained. Critics decided to publicly act voicing their discomfort. In this process the "Tribunal Constitucional" decided to vote against the "Authentic Interpretation" and widespread opposition began to emerge. This began to undermine Fujimori’s legitimacy. After the judges of the Tribunal were dismissed, the opposition campaigned for a referendum to be conducted to decide on the interpretation of the law. The dismissed judges became the new point of convergence of the opposition forces. They began a number of protest rallies against the government. [11]

Nonetheless, Fujimori did run for President in the elections of 2000. These elections were highly criticized by international observers such as Transparency International. The Organization of American States (OAS) sent representatives to monitor the process and called for the delay of the elections arguing that the computer system that had to count the votes did not work well. A drill was performed to demonstrate otherwise and the system proved accurate. But a dark cloud began to emerge regarding the elections.

On Election Day (April 9th, 2000) some polls informed the public that Alejandro Toledo, Fujimori’s rival, had the upper hand, but Transparency International had the real figures and knew that Fujimori was the real winner. Curiously, they never informed the public thus creating an atmosphere of doubt. Opposition leaders denounced the elections as a fraud. Soon they organized the "Marcha de los Cuatro Suyos" which created a tense situation. Thousands of people arriving from all over the country participated (their transportation costs were covered by unknown people or groups) and many violent incidents occurred. The leftist groups saw this as an opportunity to act and joined forces with opposition groups, reappearing on the political scene.

There can be no understanding of the Fujimori regime without making reference to Vladimiro Lenin Ilich Montesinos Torres. Montesinos was a lawyer who had served in the military for many years. He was an obscure but efficient figure who handled the powerful National Intelligence Service since 1990. He was Fujimori’s right hand. Vladimiro was very servile when he was in the presence of Fujimori but had actually been successful in defeating terrorism and destroying the drug-trafficking machinery. But secretly, he built a huge network of personal relations that penetrated every aspect of political, economic, social and military life. He also secretly gained control over the media.

The darkest side of him was revealed in the year 2000 when it became public that he videotaped all his meetings and then used these tapes to blackmail people. In most of this so called "Vladivideos," he appeared giving huge amounts of cash to people from every sector of Peruvian society. After the uproar that ensued following the first video broadcast, Fujimori announced that he would hold new presidential and parliamentary elections in which he, himself, would not be a candidate. At the same time, he announced the dissolution of SIN, el Servicio de Inteligencia Nacional (the National Intelligence Service), of which Montesinos was chief. It is not clear who leaked the first tape to the media. Some speculate that a lover of the former chief of SIN (Matilde Pinchi Pinchi) became jealous and stole the tape wanting revenge. It is said that Montesinos had amassed a fortune of $800 million dollars thought to have been taken illegally from the Peruvian government’s coffers. But no one can say for sure where the money came from.

Montesinos had decided that if Fujimori ousted him, he would stage a military coup. Anticipating Vladimiro’s actions, the president decided to grant Montesinos immunity, giving him political asylum in Panama. The Organization of American States intervened to achieve this outcome since the atmosphere in Peru was extremely tense and Montesinos’ presence contributed to this situation. Montesinos fled to Panama but felt unsafe and contrary to what was decided with Fujimori and the OAS, he returned to Lima and went into hiding.

This scandal had already changed the distribution of political forces and the opposition tried to censure the Board of Directors of Congress (all members of Cambio 90, Fujimori’s party). If they achieved this censure, Fujimori could be overthrown. The President ordered the arrest of the former SIN chief and he was finally captured. When he saw his power slipping away, Vladimiro lost control. His illegal associations were so strong that with one order, Fujimori could be sent to jail or killed. Fujimori was advised that he had no option but to flee the country. On November 17th the President arrived in Japan after attending a summit of Asia-Pacific leaders in Brunei. Three days later he faxed his resignation to Congress which was rejected outright. They instead voted to sack Fujimori on the grounds that he was "morally unfit" to govern. The Board of Directors was finally censured and Valentin Paniagua became President of the transitional process until new elections could be called.

Accusations against Fujimori

The accusations against Fujimori include the 1993 slayings of nine students and a professor at La Cantuta University, which was controlled by terrorist groups, and the 1991 killings of 15 people at Barrios Altos, a working-class neighborhood of Lima. Let’s keep in mind that Peru was in a civil war and the armed forces were under extreme pressure and sadly, in every war, mistakes are made. The corruption charges involve alleged payoffs to lawmakers and to news media, illegal phone tapping and misuse of $15 million in government funds. It is important to point out that on July 17, 2007 the Chilean Supreme Court Judge, Orlando Álvarez, ruled that he had not found any evidence linking Fujimori with all the corruption cases and alleged human rights violations of which he was accused. Judge Álvarez declared to the Chilean newspaper, El Mercurio, that all the accusations were based on gossip and innuendo. The ruling was appealed to the Chilean Supreme Court. [12]

On September 21, 2007, the Chilean Supreme Court granted Fujimori’s extradition to Peru on 7 of 13 charges which passed by 3 votes in favor and 2 votes against. Fujimori and other prominent lawyers claim that the charges are politically motivated. The former President says that while his government made mistakes, his conscience is clear: The extradition "does not mean that I’ve been tried, much less convicted. … I hope that in Peru, there exists the due process to clarify the accusations against me," he told the Chilean newspaper El Mercurio. While acknowledging "gross failures," he told Peru’s RPP radio: "In the trials themselves, I will show that I acted in a correct manner." [13] Let’s bear in mind that every person is innocent until proven guilty.

Why the Fujimori regime ended

The accusations of corruption and authoritarianism contributed to create a strong opposition, but the determining factor was the feud with Montesinos and the uncertainty Fujimori felt about his future. Vladimiro could not function without Fujimori and when he saw his fate sealed he was determined to take Fujimori down with him. This ended Fujimori’s presidency after almost eleven years. But he still has huge support in Peru especially amongst the poor since many have not forgotten and remain grateful for what he did. In the latest poll (carried out in October, 2007), 54.6% of the population say they approve of his government and 35.7% say they sympathize with him. His daughter, Keiko, who is a member of Congress, has an approval rating of 41.8%. [14] These numbers are likely to grow since Fujimori just arrived in Peru a few days ago and is in jail and has not made a public appearance yet.

There are many lessons to be learned. If Fujimori had listened to all the accusations regarding Montesinos, he probably would have asked for his resignation in order to separate him from his government. If he hadn’t pushed to run again in 2000, he probably would not have encountered such strong opposition and would be viewed more favorably today.  But he made mistakes, as all humans do, which contributed to the end of his regime. Maybe Fujimori’s political career has not been sealed yet and we will stay tuned to see what happens in his trial.

Part II

 

 

To the surprise of his critics, in the latest poll (carried out in October, 2007), 54.6% of the population indicated their approval of his government and 35.7% said they sympathized with him. His daughter, Keiko, who is a member of Congress, has an approval rating of 41.8%.1 These numbers are likely to grow since Fujimori recently arrived in Peru and is in jail and has not made a public appearance yet. His many supporters still regard him as the man who rescued Peru from the verge of economic and political collapse.

He had inherited hyperinflation from the previous administration of Alan Garcia (1985-90), and had managed to stabilize this situation with help from multi-national banks. He then presided over a period of economic recovery, during which real living standards rose rapidly from the abysmal levels they had reached in 1990. Fujimori was successful too in dealing with the other scourge he had inherited from the Belaúnde (1980-1985) and Garcia (1985-1990) regimes: terrorism.

Many "human rights" organizations, his critics and enemies and the left are delighted with their "success" in bringing Fujimori back to Perú. They worked on the case for seven years and finally their efforts seem to have paid off. But they seem unaware of what Fujimori’s presence in the country might trigger.

Implications of Fujimori’s presence in Peru for the future of the Garcia regime

The first problem for the Garcia regime is that his victory in the 2006 elections was very slim and his party (APRA) lacks a majority in Congress. To pass legislation and to avoid censure of Ministers, the President’s party has relied on the support of Unidad Nacional (UN) and Alianza para el Futuro (AF), Fujimori’s political party. The problem for Alan Garcia is that just a few days after Fujimori arrived in Peru, his daughter, Keiko Sofia Fujimori, publicly claimed that her father was enduring harsh treatment in jail, even worse than the terrorist leader, Abimael Guzman. She firmly stated that her father is not allowed to walk like other inmates and that since he suffers from high blood pressure; he is not in good health and has not been allowed to take his medicines. Furthermore, Mrs. Fujimori has said that the government is responsible for all this. As expected, the former President’s followers are outraged by the news and AF Congress members have already said that they will no longer collaborate with the government.

Secondly, since APRA can no longer depend on the continued support of AF, it will have to look elsewhere for support. But the options are very limited. They may try to win over supporters of Ollanta Humala, the leftwing populist whom Garcia only narrowly defeated in the second round of presidential elections in 2006, (the Humalistas form the largest bloc in Peru’s congress), but since Chavez’s buddy is already campaigning for the 2011 elections, the Garcia regime will find it difficult to secure their cooperation. If APRA doesn’t get more people to cooperate with them in Congress, Garcia will have a hard time passing legislation and governing effectively.

Third, Fujimori is going to be tried for corruption. Garcia’s first time in office (1985 – 1990) has been widely credited as being one of the most corrupt in recent Peruvian history. Garcia narrowly managed to avoid being charged when there was congressional hearings into corruption just prior to his 1992 self – coup. Garcia fled to France and lived between Paris and Bogota and was never tried. Any hearings into corruption under Fujimori might lead to revived accusations over Garcia’s own responsibilities during his time in office. Fourth, regarding "Human Rights" accusations, the findings of Peru’s Comisión de la Verdad y Reconciliación (Truth and Reconciliation Commission or CVR), lead by prominent leftist intellectuals and published in 2003, concluded that the death-toll during the five years of Garcia’s administration was considerably higher than that during Fujimori’s time in office. Garcia’s critics have accused him of involvement in several notorious killings, including the massacres that took place in the Andean villages of Accomarca (1985) and Cayara (1988). They have also held him responsible for the mass-killings of inmates in three Lima jails in 1986. During Fujimori’s trial, these cases are likely to be brought up by Fujimori’s defense. Garcia has skeletons in his own closet regarding corruption and the revival of these cases might trigger a backlash for his regime. Fifth, Fujimori’s presence in Peru will definitely divide opinions and cause a major distraction for the current regime. The justice system will be put to a test and as the trial goes on, many will start to remember the former President’s achievements and his popularity is likely to increase. In fact, his defense might have important information under their sleeve which could have huge repercussions for the current regime. But we will have to wait for the trial to start, to see how things develop.

Implications for Ollanta Humala

It is well known that Mr. Humala’s staunchest ally and most important financier is Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez. In fact, he is already campaigning for the 2011 elections with money sent directly from Caracas. Humala was defeated by a miniscule margin in the 2006 elections so he has a huge support base. In fact, many followers of Fujimori voted for Humala since they saw in him something the former President had: charisma and the idea that he would take care of the poor as Fujimori did during his presidency.

The only person capable of defeating Humala in 2011 is Fujimori. But some people, sadly, don’t seem to recognize this. If Fujimori’s trial drags on for years and he is not able to run in the next presidential elections, Chavez will have one more friend in the region to expand his "Bolivarian Revolution." Fujimori’s capacity to attract followers is impressive. In addition, he has concrete evidence that he can do what no other President ever did by reminding people of his accomplishments. They are hard to miss: he implemented measures to achieve economic prosperity, to reinsert Peru into the international community; he defeated terrorism and achieved peace with Ecuador. In addition he built schools and hospitals in remote areas, provided poor communities with water, and electricity, and constructed thousands of miles of roads. All these accomplishments attracted foreign investment and now Peru is a more prosperous country.

Already, there is speculation that Fujimori’s daughter, Keiko, might be able to run instead of her father. This is a possibility since she won 500,000 votes in the 2006 congressional elections which was far more than any other candidate.

Soon the trial will begin and it could be the perfect platform for the Peruvian people to have their say regarding Fujimori. There are many people inside Peru who would like to believe that Fujimori has returned to the political scene and that he will be able to run in 2011. But only time will tell how these events will shape Peru’s future.

Notes:

  1. Kimura, Rei. Alberto Fujimori of Peru: The President who dared to dream.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Aspen, Rino. Fujimori: Milagro Peruano, Tigre Pacificador.
  5. Bowen, Sally. Expediente Fujimori.
  6. Bowen – Ibid.
  7. Aspen, Rino. Fujimori: Milagro Peruano, Tigre Pacificador.
  8. Bowen – Ibid.
  9. Rino – Ibid.
  10. Bowen – Ibid.
  11. Chile Judge Rules against Extraditing Fujimori. The Santiago Times. July 18, 2007.
  12. Peru’s ex-president sent home to face charges.  September 22, 2007. USA Today.
  13. Grupo de opinión pública de la Universidad de Lima.

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