December 12, 2007 [LINK / comment]

Fujimori sentenced to six years

... and that's just for starters. Peru's former president Alberto Fujimori was sentenced to six years in prison for having ordered an illegal search of the home of the wife of Vladimiro Montesinos, his erstwhile right-hand man. This happened during the "Vladi-video" blackmail scandal which led to Fujimori's resignation in October 2000. The trial began on Monday, with Fujimori loudly proclaiming his innocence, and the initial verdict was handed down by Supreme Court Judge Pedro Guillermo Urbina the very next day. (¡Qué rápido!) After the more serious charges are dealt with, it is likely that Fujimori will face life imprisonment. The sentences would be served concurrently, however, so the question is, How many years will the most serious charge be worth? See Washington Post.

It is worth noting that, as the Post article mentioned, most Peruvians still have mixed feelings about Fujimori, faulting him for abusing his power but crediting him for achieving enormous success between 1990 and 2000. After all, he defeated the Shining Path terrorist movement, halted hyperinflation, and paved the way for one of the most sustained periods of economic growth in the country's history. As stated by "El Peruanista", "[t]he first 4 years of his government (1990-1994) had a positive balance for the nation. But as power and corruption grew ... Fujimori became the abusive autocrat..." If he had not gotten carried away with himself and sought a third term in office in 2000, he would have gone down in history as one of the best Peruvian presidents ever. Indeed, given the modest historical standards of Peru, he still might.

In my mind, there is no doubt that Fujimori should have to answer for the abuses he committed during his decade-long term in office, but a six-year sentence for such a minor offense is extreme. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that this prosecution is politically motivated, getting revenge on Fujimori for having persecuted those in the Aprista party who now run the government of Peru. (Current President Alan Garcia was a fugitive in the aftermath of Fujimori's "autocoup" of 1992, and finally managed to flee to Colombia, where he resided in exile for over eight years.) With the steady economic growth in Peru, in contrast to most of the rest of South America, it's a shame that the political elites are letting slip the opportunity to build state institutions (and thereby enhance the rule of law) by separating politics from justice. I could be wrong, though, and much depends on Judge Urbina's background, which warrants further scrutiny.

New constitution for Bolivia?

In keeping with the agenda of President Evo Morales who seeks to transfer political power to the Indian people of Bolivia, the constituent assembly has passed a new basic charter. The final vote was boycotted by opposition parties, however, so it is doubtful that the new charter will be widely accepted. On the other hand, in an authoritarian regime such as Venezuela (which Morales wants to emulate), consensus is beside the point, so he may well press ahead, protests or not. See BBC.