Two polls released this week show Ollanta Humala with a small lead over Keiko Fujimori as the campaign heats up for the second round of voting in Peru’s presidential elections. With more than a month to go before the June 5 vote, it is far too soon to predict the electoral outcome. But one thing is clear: The rest of the campaign will get ugly, as right-wing sectors are very nervous about the impact of a potential Humala victory on their bank accounts. Most of the mainstream media – with the notable exceptions of the Lima daily, La República, and the weekly magazine, Caretas – is throwing its weight, and electoral coverage, behind Fujimori. Already, several prominent journalists have been fired out of concern that they would not be sufficiently sympathetic to Fujimori and the outspoken Jaime Bayly is going back on the air on Channel 4, presumably as an attack dog targeting Humala. As one Peruvian journalist told us, “we’re going to witness a lot of hysterical accusations in the next few weeks.”
What that press will not likely be covering is the tremendous damage Alberto Fujimori’s presidency wreaked on Peruvian democracy and the widespread human rights violations and massive corruption that prevailed under his rule. Since making it to the second round, Keiko Fujimori has sought to distance herself from the “excesses” that took place during her father’s regime, vowing to respect human rights and democratic practices. Though she started her campaign with a one-point platform – to pardon her father – she now claims that if elected she won’t release him from jail. But she has repeatedly stated that her father was one of the best presidents that Peru ever had; indeed, as the first round of voting approached her campaign ads featured more and more pictures of her with her father.
Having surrounded herself with those that helped him rule during the 1990s (including Vice Presidential candidate and member of Opus Dei, Rafael Rey, as well as Fujimori’s former prime minister, Jaime Yoshiyama), it is ingenuous to think that another Fujimori government would not go down a similar path.
Keiko Fujimori now claims that her father may have had some authoritarian tendencies, but was not responsible for human rights violations. Her memory must be short-lived, as it was only two years ago that the Peruvian Supreme Court found Alberto Fujimori guilty of creating and operating a secret death squad, the Colina Group, that kidnapped and murdered Peruvians during the country’s internal armed conflict. In other words, Fujimori was convicted for having created and maintained the military and political structure that fostered human rights violations in the name of combating terrorism and that sentence was upheld on appeal by a second tribunal of Supreme Court justices. (See our article on the Fujimori verdict at Foreign Policy in Focus.) Moreover, he denied that such violations ever took place and protected those involved through a series of amnesty laws. In short, Keiko Fujimori claims that her father saved Peru from terrorism, but was not responsible for the human rights atrocities that were a fundamental tactic in the counter-terrorism strategy.
In a trial that was widely praised as impartial and respected fully due process guarantees, Alberto Fujimori was convicted and given a 25-year prison sentence for the 1991 Barrios Altos massacre in which 15 people were killed and four gravely wounded; the disappearance and later killing of nine students and a professor from the Cantuta University in 1992; and the kidnappings of journalist Gustavo Gorriti and businessman Samuel Dyer following the April 1992 autogolpe, or self-coup. The first two cases were carried out by the Colina Group, which operated out of the Army Intelligence Service and whose purpose was to eliminate suspected guerrilla sympathizers. But these were not the only atrocities committed by the clandestine death squad. It also carried out a series of assassinations and disappearances that are far too numerous to list here.
The human rights violations carried out under the Fujimori regime went far beyond those committed by the Colina Group. Forced disappearances were disturbingly common. Extrajudicial executions were carried out in peasant communities such as Chumbivilcas, Santa Bárbara and others. And thousands of innocent Peruvians were arbitrarily detained and imprisoned under draconian anti-terrorist legislation. The torture of anyone accused of terrorism was the norm. Fujimori himself was forced to form an ad hoc commission to review cases of los inocentes, the innocent ones, which ultimately led to the release of more than 500 people (and thousands more during the transitional government after Fujimori fled the country).
What allowed the Fujimori regime to get away with such atrocities for so long was that it also undermined the most basic elements of democratic governance, usurping the powers of other branches of government, demolishing the judiciary, rewriting the constitution to its liking, buying off or bribing major media outlets and constantly changing the rules of the game when necessary to consolidate control or perpetuate itself in office. It was only after public outrage reached a boiling point following Fujimori’s ascension to a clearly illegitimate third term in office and the release of videos showing his right-hand man, Vladimiro Montesinos, bribing opposition members of congress to switch party affiliation that the carefully crafted authoritarian regime came crashing down.
Before the regime’s demise, however, government officials, including Fujimori and Montesinos, bilked the country for billions of dollars. Fujimori has also been convicted for illicit appropriation of state funds and pled guilty to various counts of corruption. In 2004, Transparency International put Fujimori seventh in a list of the most corrupt former leaders in the world (following Haiti’s Jean-Claude Duvalier) for allegedly have stolen US$600 million. Over 200 individuals associated with his government have been convicted for corruption – and these do not include any cases where an appeal is still pending. In his book, Corrupt Circles: A History of Unbound Graft in Peru, Alfonso W. Quiroz estimates that the average annual cost of corruption during the Fujimori regime ranged from an astounding US$1.4 to 2 billion, at times reaching 50 percent of government expenditures.
As we have reported before, there are well-founded reasons to be concerned about a potential Ollanta Humala presidency. Sound allegations have surfaced of responsibility for human rights violations when he was a military commander in a jungle region during Peru’s brutal civil conflict. Some of his close advisers come from a military background – in a country where the military has not been known for its democratic credentials. And in the past, he has echoed some of Hugo Chavez’s anti-democratic rhetoric, though he has clearly distanced himself from such talk during this campaign. Yet as many people in Peru are now saying, “with Humala there may be uncertainties, but with Fujimori, there is proof.”
Coletta A. Youngers is the Latin America Regional Associate with the International Drug Policy Consortium and a Senior Fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). Jo-Marie Burt is an Associate Professor at George Mason University and also a WOLA Senior Fellow.