Peru, Part II
"A full democracy means more than elections. It requires sturdy
institutions: strong political parties, an independent judiciary and
a Congress willing to vote against the executive branch."
On July 28, 1990, Alberto Fujimori, a little-known agricultural
engineer, son of Japanese immigrants, and the ultimate outsider,
became president of Peru.
At the time of his election, Peru''s political system was discredited
by corruption and Fujimori promised a clean break with the past.
What the citizens wanted most was employment, justice and
But behind the scenes, another figure was also coming into power
with the inauguration of Fujimori, one Vladimiro Montesinos.
Born into a family of Marxists, Montesinos had been expelled
from the army back in 1977 on charges that he was selling secrets
to the CIA.
But he soon recovered and eventually became a trusted aide to
the new president. In fact, Montesinos'' influence, through his
political and military connections, clearly was a major reason for
Fujimori''s election. Alberto owed Vladimiro big time and placed
him in charge of a new intelligence agency, the National
Intelligence Service, or SIN.
And it was Montesinos who in 1992 convinced Fujimori to
dissolve Congress and shut down the Supreme Court, granting
the president sweeping powers to deal with the guerrilla
movements that were threatening to destroy Peru. In effect, it
was a "self-coup" and the Peruvian people, tired of the constant
turmoil in their lives, rewarded President Fujimori with soaring
And the president delivered, apprehending the leader of the
Maoist Shining Path guerrilla movement just 5 months after his
declaration of supreme authority.
But Fujimori''s victories over the guerrillas didn''t come without a
price. With Montesinos pulling strings and using his security
forces, the government became increasingly authoritarian, while
at the same time espousing democracy. Yet the public was still
behind the president and they rewarded him with a resounding
victory in his re-election vote in 1995.
With the guerrillas crushed, the Fujimori controlled Congress
approved an interpretation to the 1993 constitution which
allowed the president to seek a third term in 2000. The U.S. and
much of the Organization of American States disagreed with this
ruling and urged him to step down when his second term was
But the U.S. still needed both Fujimori and, more importantly, his
security chief Montesinos to aid in their fight against the narco-
traffickers. The CIA saw Montesinos as indispensable to their
counter-narcotics efforts. He became known to intelligence
agencies, and the State Department, as "Mr. Fixit." Fujimori was
soon able to claim a huge victory in the drug war. [Of course,
Peru''s gain was Colombia''s loss as the drug kingpins just set up
shop in the latter nation.]
Fujimori thought that the U.S. owed him. In a way we did. But
the Peruvian president was becoming more of a tyrant than a
democratic leader and many in Washington became disillusioned
with the characters that they had previously promoted.
Formally, Peru was a democracy with elections, courts, a
Congress, and a variety of print and electronic media. But
beneath the surface lay a nation of dirty tricks, torture and
increasingly, murder. SIN leader Montesinos saw to it that
Fujimori had no real opposition.
When the U.S. became more insistent that Fujimori step down
after his term expired this year, Montesinos only directed more
efforts to ensure that the president had a third. Fujimori shut
down virtually all critical television news and effectively
controlled the agencies that oversaw the election.
The first round of voting was held this past April and outside
observers knew the election was wrought with fraud. For the
first time, Fujimori faced an authentic challenger to his rule in the
form of a business school professor, Alejandro Toledo.
As the two were to square off in the final round of voting on May
28, Toledo suddenly exited the race only a few days before,
claiming that it was impossible for him to win a rigged election.
Fujimori then won handily.
Peru was once again in turmoil and it seemed that the legitimate
gains that the people had won (defeating Shining Path, eliminating
the narco-terrorist threat, and restoring economic order) would
And so it was that about ten days ago, a videotape emerged
which showed Montesinos offering $15,000 to an opposition
congressional leader if he would switch his support in the May
vote to Fujimori. Immediately, turmoil turned to chaos.
For 72 hours, President Fujimori said nothing. Imagine what it
was like for this nation, their leader''s right-hand man implicated
in a scandal of the utmost gravity and not a word from the man in
charge. The people, of course, feared an imminent coup. There
was also no word on the whereabouts of Montesinos himself.
After three days, Fujimori stunned the nation by announcing he
would step down as president in 2001 and deactivate the
intelligence service. But the vast majority of the people wanted
him to step down immediately. The opposition leader, Toledo,
rallied the people but his own credibility was somewhat shaken by
his withdrawal from the May vote.
As for Montesinos, it finally emerged that he was under
protective custody. This only heightened the tension. Most
Peruvian generals owed their careers to Vladimiro and it was
clear that through his security apparatus, Montesinos had dirt on
all of them...as well as the president himself.
But two days after Fujimori announced he would eventually step
down, the military came out and announced that it supported his
decision. This created a slight sense of calm as the people took
the generals'' pronouncement as a sign that a coup was not
Yet still no word on how Montesinos would be handled. It has
now emerged that, behind the scenes, the U.S. was urging the
nation of Panama to grant him political asylum as a way to defuse
the crisis. There were rumors that Montesinos had some 2,500
videotapes. If they were released, there''s no telling what would
And so it was that early in the week, the security chief was
spirited away to Panama in the dead of night. And then on
Tuesday, the announcement was made that the Montesinos case
was closed. Needless to say, the opposition is furious.
Fujimori has stated that elections will be held in March and that a
new leader won''t be allowed to take over until July 28. While
many are clamoring for him to step down and allow a transition
figure to take the reins until the vote, Fujimori shows no signs of
Meanwhile, there can be no doubt that the Peruvian economy will
suffer tremendously as foreign investment dries up.
What was once thought to be a peaceful region is no longer so.
The Andean nations of Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, Peru and
Venezuela have massive problems. And instability in these
nations can only have a negative impact on those other big Latin
American countries that have newly stable democracies; namely,
Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Mexico. This isn''t the last Hott
Spotts reports from this part of the world, you can be sure.
John Crow, "The Epic of Latin America"
Michael Shifter / Washington Post
Clifford Krauss / New York Times
Larry Rohter / New York Times
David Gonzalez / New York Times
Charles Lane / Washington Post
Karen DeYoung / Washington Post
Anthony Faiola / Washington Post
Next week...update on China.