April 8, 2009
Peru's former president Alberto Fujimori was convicted of ordering the murder of 25 dissidents in 1992: 15 at Barrios Altos and 10 students at "La Cantuta" University, just outside of Lima. This comes sixteen months after Fujimori was sentenced to six years in prison for having ordered an illegal search; see Dec. 2007. The delays were caused by Fujimori's poor health; he is 70 years old. (That sentence was clearly disproportional to the nature of the crime, and can be explained by the widespread suspicion that Fujimori had done far worse things which could not -- at that time -- be proven for sure.) The central charge in the trial that just ended was that Fujimori gave indirect orders to "La Colina" death squad, which spearheaded the successful anti-terrorism campaign of the early 1990s. Fujimori was also convicted of ordering the detainment of respected journalist Gustavo Gorriti. According to the BBC, it "was the first time a democratically elected Latin American leader had been tried and found guilty in his own country for human rights abuses."
In his closing arguments, Fujimori complained that the trial was motivated by revenge. There may be some truth to that, since the man who currently serves as president, Alan Garcia, was forced to flee Peru in 1992 after Fujimori ordered his arrest. It's pretty ironic, and one wonders if deep inside, Fujimori regrets persecuting his predecessor.
Even if he spends the rest of his life behind bars, Alberto Fujimori will still enjoy widespread support in Peru, and 13 legislators in Peru's congress are affiliated with pro-Fujimori parties. His daughter Keiko is a possible candidate for the presidential elections in 2011, as Fujimori himself has been barred for life from running again. Millions of Peruvians are grateful to him for the economic stabilization and recovery that he brought about, as well as the defeat of the narco-terrorist forces of the Shining Path and MRTA. Fujimori's methods were often brutal and even illegal, but it is hard to imagine how Peru could have overcome those dire threats to its very existence any other way. There is no clear-cut answer to how much violence or extra-legal actions are necessary in order to defeat a terrorist movement, and you might say that Peru was a real-world test case for the sorts of moral dilemmas that are a main theme of the FOX-TV series 24. (What would Jack Bauer have done about the terrorist menace in Peru?)
The headline in Peru's leading daily newspaper, El Comercio, was: "It Is Now Proven: Alberto Fujimori Kidnapped and Murdered with Treachery." The article details the illegal orders that Fujimori gave to specific military units, bypassing the chain of command. Fujimori's adviser Vladimiro Montesinos exercised command power as well, even though he was neither a military officer nor a cabinet official. This fact itself casts grave doubt on the many achievements of the Fujimori presidency: Even as the country became more secure and prosperous, the national political institutions were undermined by the irregular manner in which the "dirty war" against terrorism was carried out.
Will this verdict and sentencing bring Peru any closer to the social reconciliation that its people so desperately yearn for? Probably not. In much of Latin America, the justice system is heavily tainted by political favoritism, and countries such as Argentina, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica have been noted for criminal persecution of former presidents, and those who still revere Fujimori are not likely to regard the trial as fair or legitimate. For background on Fujimori and Peru, see the Peru page.