Latin American Foundation for the Future

The Pardoning of Alberto Fujimori

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Recently for Peruvians, there has been plenty of reasons to celebrate for many sectors of Peruvian society. The football fans were lifted by the national football team’s qualification for the first time in 36 years to the World Cup; this was topped off by the news that the doping ban against their star player, Paolo Guerrero was lifted. For the Catholics of Peru – who according to a Vox Populi poll represent 76% of the population – the recent visit of the Pope was a proud moment with a closing mass in Lima attended by over one million devotees. The most striking cause for celebration is the buoyant Peruvian economy; for a few years, its economy has been making gains on some of its more developed neighbours. It also seems that 2018 will be no different with the Americas Society forecasting a sturdy growth rate of 3.5% second only to Bolivia in South America.

 

However, a dark and divisive shadow looms large over the Latin American nation. For a nation apparently concerned only by its future, a figure from Peru’s tumultuous past in now threatening the stability of the Andean nation. Ex-President Alberto Fujimori, who was the hard-line President of Peru from 1990 to 2000, was released from prison on Christmas Eve after receiving a pardon from the current President, Pedro Kuczynski. Peruvian law allows the president to permit a humanitarian pardon when a jailed person has a terminal illness where prison would pose a serious risk to immediate health. This pardon was carried out on Christmas Eve and has since been coined as the “indulto de navidad” (“Christmas pardon”).

 In 2009, Fujimori was sentenced to 25 years in prison after being found guilty for human rights violations. This verdict was based on his role in killings and kidnappings by the Grupo Colina death squad, which was believed to be under the control of Fujimori. The death squad committed various human rights violations, during just eight-months in 1991/92 it was responsible for the killings of 34 people in the Barrios Altos massacre, the Santa massacre, and the La Canuta massacre. This guilty verdict marked a world first as the first time that an elected head of state had ever been convicted of human rights violations. Specifically, he was found guilty of murder, bodily harm, and two cases of kidnapping. 

Fujimori himself remains an extremely divisive figure in Peru owing to his perceived successes during his presidency. Above all, he is credited with putting an end to the bloody insurgency that had gripped and dominated Peru from the early 1980s. During the unprecedented election that saw Fujimori win the presidency 25% of Peru’s district and provincial council chose not to hold elections in reaction to a campaign of assassination, during which over 100 officials were killed by insurgency groups. In the 12 years leading up to 1992, the guerrilla insurgency group, Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) had claimed the lives of approximately 20,000 lives. Many Peruvians credit Fujimori with ending the fifteen-year insurgency. To do this he granted sweeping powers to the military including military courts and detention without trial. 

 Additionally, Fujimori is credited with restoring stability to the country after years of hyperinflation under previous administrations, reaching 7,649% in 1990 under Alan García. Fujimori’s neoliberal reforms were felt to be responsible for attracting businesses and high-growth to the Peruvian economy. In the years from 1992 to 2001 GDP grew at an annual average rate of 3.76%, and statistics from the INEI (national statistics office) show a decrease in the number of impoverished Peruvians from 70% in 1990 to 54% at the end of Fujimori’s presidency.

 Despite these successes, Fujimori is perhaps one of the most divisive figures in Peruvian society. Although he is credited with ending the internal conflict in Peru the way he did this seriously compromised fundamental rights. By granting the military the powers of detention without trial, and the establishment of military courts he eroded the democratic and human right to an open trial. Furthermore, critics say that in their path to victory the Peruvian military committed various human rights violations, with most of the victims tending to be poor rural communities caught between the fire of the military and the insurgents. A report published in 2003 by the Peruvian Truth and Reconciliation Commission found the military guilty of killing rural inhabitants and destroying their communities.

 

In the period between the years of 1996 and 2000, Fujimori’s government carried out a campaign of forced sterilisation under the guise of family planning. Over 215,000 people, entirely indigenous, and mostly women were forced or coerced into sterilisation programmes, most of which carried out without the use of anaesthesia. This mass sterilisation of indigenous populations is an act of not just a serious violation of human rights, but genocide. 

 

Fujimori’s neoliberal economic policies which are claimed to have lifted Peru out of hyperinflation and stagnation have also garnered much controversy. His economic policies benefited first and foremost, businesses and the wealthy. His neoliberal reforms are often said to have acted as sweeteners to powerful businesses and elites to secure his third term in office. Critics observe that the GDP growth under Fujimori was not a response to his reforms but to the greater rate of extraction of mineral wealth by foreign companies; consequentially, little of this wealth has remained in Peru. The wave of privatisation initiated by Fujimori is surrounded by controversy, with one congressional investigation claiming that only a small fraction of the $9 billion USD raised through these privatisations benefitting the Peruvian people. In 2004 the Global Transparency Report labelled Fujimori as the seventh most corrupt world leader through his amassing of $600 million USD.

 Fujimori’s pardon could not have come at a more inconvenient time. Keiko, his daughter is the leader of the political party, Popular Force which is a strong adherent of Fujimorismo; she was narrowly beaten by Kuczynski in the 2016 presidential election. In December she led the impeachment attempt in response to accusations of corruption as part of the Odebrecht scandal, in which the president is accused of receiving kickbacks from a Brazilian construction company. However, Kuczynski survived the impeachment with the help of Kenji, Fujimori’s son, who convinced nine politicians to vote against impeachment. Coincidentally, but not for many, Kuczynski, days after surviving impeachment thanks to Kenji Fujimori signed the document that officially pardons Alberto Fujimori of his human rights violations. Many believe that Keiko Fujimori’s impeachment attempt was stopped by her brother in order to release his father from prison.

 

This saga has disillusioned many Peruvians but above all rural and indigenous communities of Peru who were affected most by the policies enacted by Fujimori and the crimes he committed. The trivialisation of Fujimori’s conviction which is now being used as a political tool and a route for self-preservation by the current president risks reversing the conciliation process that has been underway in Peru since the end of the internal conflict.

 

 

Since the pardoning, four major street protests have taken place, lamenting the decision to give Fujimori a pardon. This has reduced confidence in the current political order of Peru. This affair has raised grave concerns about who now can continue Peru’s path. For businesses, there is no answer and the worst enemy of business in uncertainty. This act of apparent selfishness by Kuczynski in releasing a convicted human rights abuser so that he can remain in government runs the risk of jeopardising the until now certain path of growth and prosperity for Peru. 

Sources and further reading

Ten most corrupt leaders: https://www.infoplease.com/world/political-statistics/worlds-ten-most-corrupt-leaders1

Sterilisation scandal: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/2148793.stm

Historical Peruvian GDP growth: https://lamula.pe/2011/09/25/el-pbi-en-los-ultimos-tres-gobiernos/sunivazo/

Protests against Fujiori pardon: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-42657312?intlink_from_url=http://www.bbc.com/news/topics/c1038wnxe4rt/peru&link_location=live-reporting-story

Religion in Peru: https://peru21.pe/peru/papa-francisco-peru-76-peruanos-catolico-10-fiel-iglesia-391759

Peruvian and South American growth predictions: https://www.as-coa.org/articles/chart-latin-americas-2018-economic-outlook

Barrios Altos massacre: http://larepublica.pe/politica/715469-matanza-en-barrios-altos-la-noche-donde-murieron-16-manos-del-grupo-colina

International perspective on Fujimori pardon: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-42689307

Historical inflation of Peru: https://knoema.com/atlas/Peru/Inflation-rate

Peruvian Truth and Reconciliation Comission Report: https://www.usip.org/publications/2001/07/truth-commission-peru-01

Pope’s arrival in Peru: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-42742183

Extent of insurgency in Peru: Freeman, Michael. Freedom Or Security: The Consequences for Democracies Using Emergency Powers. 2003, p. 150.

 
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