Peru celebrates as Fujimori goes
BY SOLEDAD GALIANA
On Sunday 19 November, the longest serving Latin American leader, Alberto Fujimori, announced while on a private visit to Japan that he would quit his position as president of Peru within 48 hours. Fujimori's exit ends a decade of hard-line rule, leaving a country embroiled in economic downturn, a spy chief still at large and an uneasy military uneasy facing a potential string of criminal court cases for human rights abuses.
The current political crisis erupted in September, when Fujimori was cornered by a corruption scandal involving his former spy chief Vladimiro Montesinos. At the time, this obliged Fujimori to announce he would slash his new five-year mandate to just one year and quit in July 2001, after early elections.
Montesinos has been on the run since returning a month ago from a failed exile in Panama. The fate of Fujimori's closest ally is still a mystery. Montesinos - known as Rasputin for the power he wielded behind the throne - has been accused of holding over $58 million in offshore accounts and is now known to be implicated in numerous cases of human rights abuse.
In reality, Peru has been immersed in a constant political crisis since April 1992, when the recently elected Fujimori decided to dissolve Congress and the judiciary in a ``self-coup'' and ran the country as a virtual dictatorship for eight months. He then rewrote the constitution to allow himself to run for a second term and called new elections. He was re-elected in 1995, with 64% of the vote.
In August 1996, in a surprise move, Fujimori's congressional majority enacted a law that effectively discounted his 1990-1995 term in office and laid the ``legal'' foundations for a third run for the presidency in 2000. Nothing has gone right for Fujimori, however, since he won that controversial third term in May in a run-off vote that was boycotted by the opposition amid widespread allegations of fraud.
``The dictatorship is going to fall''
But electoral fraud didn't force Fujimori's resignation. The Montesino scandal caused the political tide to turn for the opposition, which gained control of Peru's Congress.
On Thursday 16 November, opposition MP Valentin Paniagua was elected president of Congress, to cheers in the chamber. Supporters chanted, ``It's going to fall, it's going to fall, the dictatorship is going to fall'' as the result of the ballot was read out.
This is the first time the opposition has headed the legislature since Fujimori's 1992 self-coup. In defiance of Fujimori, the Congress quickly moved to reinstate three constitutional court judges fired in 1997 after they questioned the legality of Fujimori running for a third successive term in office in 2000.
Transitional government confusion
Fujimori's sudden decision has thrown Peru into constitutional confusion. His two vice presidents are next in line to succeed him at the wheel of a transitional government but one has resigned and the other has only patchy support. Government ministers quit en masse after emergency talks and attacked Fujimori for causing a ``grave'' crisis. They said they would stay on in a caretaker capacity ``until the transition to a new government is achieved''. Congress President Valentin Paniagua summoned party chiefs to special meetings in Congress to discuss the situation. The door may now be open for Paniagua, the choice of the opposition, to take over as interim president
There are some rumours that Fujimori might seek asylum in Japan, after the US government said Peruvian sources had confirmed that the former president is planning to stay indefinitely in the Asian country. Japanese regulations would allow him to apply for residency because his parents were both born in Japan.
Meanwhile, jubilant anti-Fujimori protesters gathered in Lima's main square outside the government palace with banners reading, ``Thank God, the tyrant has fled''.
Report on the ``disappeared''
Fujimori's resignation came about as in Peru's first official report on the ``disappeared,'' the state human rights office said that 4,022 Peruvians, generally Andean farmers forced at night from their homes and tortured and shot by soldiers, have ``disappeared'' since 1980. About a quarter of the disappearances occurred under President Alberto Fujimori. Most of the victims were kidnapped and killed by the army and police in the remote and poor highlands.
In 1995, Fujimori's government passed a law granting amnesty to military officers responsible for rights abuses, causing widespread street protests by Peru's opposition. In 1997, he supervised a ruthless military operation to free 72 hostages held at the Japanese ambassador residence by Revolutionary Tupac Amaru Movement (MRTA) rebels in Lima. All 14 rebels and one hostage were killed.