The Chilean Supreme Court’s extradition to Peru of ex-president and dictator Alberto Fujimori could
contribute to the consolidation of Peru’s fragile democracy and may even reduce the culture of fear.

"In this neighborhood almost everyone supports Fujimori," says Nelly, seated on a bench
at the outdoor restaurant "Virgen del Carmen" in the El Oasis slum of Villa El Salvador on
the outskirts of Lima.

El Oasis is a monument to poverty—dirt roads, shacks constructed from tarps, cardboard sheets, and
bits of plastic, lacking running water or sanitation. The areas recently taken over by squatters still
fly a small Peruvian flag on each new shack to try to dissuade possible eviction. The community’s little
cafeteria is made from plywood; it is the only structure in town built on concrete foundations.

At about noon kids are hanging around, waiting for lunchtime and a meal prepared on a rotating schedule
by 25 co-op members. For just half a dollar, the children receive what, for most, is their only hot
meal of the day.

Without being asked, Nelly feels the need to explain herself: "They told us that if we didn’t
go to the pro-Fujimori demonstrations the community cafeteria wouldn’t receive any more food. They’d
pass around attendance lists and the intelligence service checked to make sure that the co-op members
applauded and shouted "Viva" for El Chino.1 If we didn’t
show enthusiastic support, the next month we’d receive a smaller delivery of rations."

The Eye that Cries

The day after the extradition of Fujimori, a dozen supposed supporters of the ex-dictator attacked
a monument called "The eye that cries" constructed in memory of the civil war that wracked
the country since 1980 when the Shining Path took up arms. The mob threatened the only guard protecting
the monument with guns. They chained the guard, forcing him to his knees, while they set about breaking
the stone monument on which the names of the disappeared are inscribed, throwing red paint over the
center of the sculpture.

The monument is the work of sculptor Lika Mutal. It is located in a park called the "Campo de
Marte" near the center of Lima. It was part of the first phase of a tree-lined avenue dedicated
to the memory of that era. It represents the first symbolic rapprochement of the victims of political
violence. Physically it consists of a circular labyrinth with a four-ton center-stone symbolizing the
center of each person; on top of this is another stone which symbolizes the eye from which a stream
of water falls. Surrounding this are 27,000 stones each with a name of a victim recognized by the Commission
of Truth and Reconciliation.

For the mothers who live in El Oasis showing their support for Fujimori wasn’t a political choice
but rather a question of survival. So, to speak of "clientele politics" really adds little
to the understanding of the unequal power relationship under which Peru’s poor operate. Their public
behavior might threaten even something as basic as their survival rations. The Fujimori regime just
like that of Argentine ex-president Carlos Menem, took care of them, facilitating access to their basic
necessities but with a strong dose of authoritarianism.

A Special Kind of Dictator

The nervous 69-year-old Fujimori, suffering from hypertension, arrived in Lima on Sept. 22, looking
like a caricature of the once-great leader who sneered at adversaries. Fujimori was not elected on
merit; rather his election was a protest vote against Mario Vargas Llosa who ostentatiously represented
the light-skinned, Lima-based Peruvian elites. The Andean ethnic and mestizo majorities of Peru soundly
rejected the openly colonial pretension of Vargas Llosa, leading to Fujimori’s triumph.

Shortly after he took power, it became more than evident that a cold-blooded, implacable, and calculating
tyrant was ruling the country. He quickly established an ironclad alliance with the business sector
and the military. He offered his friends bloody pacts and money in exchange for impunity and a rash
of corruption.

In April 1992 he launched an internal coup. Fujimori shut down Congress and manipulated the judiciary
by firing members who opposed him. By these means he concentrated power in his own hands and from then
on governed with the support of the Peruvian military. He deepened all the problems he inherited coming
into office—the dirty war, corruption, militarization of the country (especially in rural areas), and
privatization of the economy, opening the doors to multinationals in the mining, oil, and public services
sectors. As dictators are wont to do, Fujimori launched expansive public projects that lavished contracts
on his friends. These supposedly essential projects left the country wracked by bankruptcy and in its
wake followed hyperinflation.

In his favor, one can say that Fujimori did bring an end to the war and cause a spurt of growth in
the economy. The end to the war was attained at a great cost in human rights and the disappearance
and torture of thousands of people. Many innocents were arrested and sentenced by anonymous judges
in a continuous parody of justice. Fujimori took the helm of a nation wracked by war; an unusual war
in that one side, the Peruvian Communist Party-Shining Path, was responsible for more than half of
the 69,280 victims verified by the Commission for Truth and Reconciliation (CVR). This was a war waged
against the poor rural Quechua-speaking population—79% of the victims were from rural regions and 75%
spoke indigenous languages (including Quechua). But by the time Fujimori endowed himself with absolute
powers, the rural farmers were already opposing the Shining Path, organized in "rounds," and
they were winning, as noted by the Editor of La Republica, Mirko Lauer.2

The sentence of the Chilean Supreme Court brings to light the true face of the Fujimori cult. The
212-page judgment based on the declarations of the ex-commander of the Army, Nicholas Hermoza Rios,
and of members of the "Colina" death squad denies Fujimori’s alleged "ignorance" of
the massacres and the infringements of human rights. "There are clear indications that Fujimori,
after the coup, had firm control of all of the concentrated state powers and the supreme command of
the military and intelligence forces, and furthermore that he created a special group within the armed
forces tasked with operations against individuals suspected of subversion and political enemies of
his regime."3


1989—Alberto Fujimori defeats Mario Vargas Llosa in the second round with 56% of the vote.

1992—April 5, launches a coup d’état and dissolves parliament. Convoking elections
for a Constituent Congress, his party wins an overall majority. In August, Abimael Guzman, leader of
the Shining Path, is arrested.

1995—Fujimori is elected by an overwhelming majority. Police force and military condemned
for violations of human rights in the guerilla war are given amnesty. Anonymous judges condemn more
than 2,000 people between 1992 and 1995.

1997—Dissolves the constitutional assembly that affirms that the Constitution stands in the
way of his re-election.

2000—Fujimori presents a million falsified signatures, which underwrite his re-election.
He wins 48.7% of the vote, his rival Alejandro Toledo 41%. On the night of the elections thousands
of Peruvians protest in the streets claiming voter fraud. Fujimori is proclaimed winner in the second
round though Toledo does not concur with the result in spite of scrutinizing 54% of nullified votes.
The United States and the Organization of American States distance themselves from Fujimori. Videos
showing his confidant and chief of intelligence, Vladimir Montesinos, bribing member of Congress are
shown. In the middle of huge demonstrations against the regime claiming corruption, Fujimori decides
to attend an Asian-Pacific forum on economic cooperation held in Brunei; from there he travels to Tokyo
and send his resignation via Fax. Valentin Paniagua is nominated as president during the transition.

2001—The Commission for Human Rights of Peru asks the Japanese Parliament for Fujimori’s

2003—Japan refuses the extradition request. In the meantime the Peruvian congress accuses
Fujimori of the massacre of 15 people in "Barrios Alto," December 1991 and of the deaths
of nine students in the University of Cantuta, July 1992.

2004—The Peruvian government ask for extradition a second time to face charges for irregular
payments in the amount of 15 million dollars to the chief of Intelligence Forces, Montesinos.

2005—On Nov. 7 Fujimori makes a surprise visit to Santiago, Chile, where he is detained
at the request of the Peruvian Government.

2006—The Chilean Supreme Court impedes Fujimori’s exit from Chile.

2007—On June 11 judge Orlando Alvarez issues a finding rejecting the request for extradition.
On Sept. 21 the Supreme Court revokes this finding and approves the extradition.

The judgment asserts that Fujimori knew of the existence of the "Colina" group and that
he authorized promotions, decorations, and other incentives for its members. Also, many people testified
to his giving orders to Montesinos, who in turn Fujimori assigned as head of this group.

He transformed the basement of the offices of the Military Intelligence Service (SIE) into "its
operational center," when alongside Vladimir Montesinos, Chief of the Intelligence Services (SIN),
he "planned and directed" death squad extermination operations.

"These activities," the judgment adds "were the result of actions planned by an organization
or a ‘power apparatus’ formed by the Military Intelligence Service and led by Fujimori, which fulfill
all of the requirements to be considered a hierarchically organized criminal organization."4

The Chilean Supreme Court granted the petition for extradition for the crimes of attempted murder
and harm for the mass murders at "Barrios Altos" and "La Cantuta," as well as for
buying favors from congressmen using funds provided by the Military Intelligence Services (SIN), handing
over $15 million in public funds to Montesinos to buy off the media, and other crimes such as intercepting
private telephone calls. As noted by the ex-president of the truth commission, Solomon Lerner, the
decision of the Chilean justice system represents "a move closer to international penal justice."

The court considered that the worst damage done by Fujimori was the institutionalization of corruption
within Peru: "By disemboweling State power, buying the conscience of the media, of politicians,
of businesspeople, of the military; poisoning the conscience of the common man and, by means of the
yellow press, diluting personal mores and human dignity; leading to the moral impoverishment of the
state. Fujimori is guilty of much more than that for which he is accused."5

A New Period

Fujimori’s legacy came to an end as a result of the mass mobilization of the Peruvian people. Today,
President Alan Garcia governs with the support of what is left of Fujimori’s political support in the
Peruvian parliament, a conservative force of 13 deputies lead by Keiko, the dictator’s daughter. Many
analysts, and a large part of the public, fear a possible Garcia-Fujimori coalition that could result
in a farcical court case and the imposition of minimal punishment.

Fujimori-ism does not currently represent a threat to Peruvian democracy. Polls show little support
for the extradited dictator. Garcia, who some view as inclined to make a deal with the ex-president,
came down hard on Keiko’s accusations that her father was being held in "terrible" conditions.
Garcia declared that the prisoner was being kept in a 100 square foot room with access to a living
room and to a private bathroom, as well as having access to an outdoor space of 350 square feet. "We
haven’t put him in a prisoner’s striped uniform, as has happened in the past," said Garcia alluding
to September 1992 when Fujimori presented Abimael Guzman (the captured leader of Shining Path) in a
cage, dressed in traditional prisoner garb. "There will be no cruelty, hatred, or revenge. His
personal dignity shall be respected," assured the President.

However, a large sector of Peruvian society who hate the ex-president has doubts based on two factors.
First that Fujimori is in possession of a large number of videotapes made by Montesinos, his aide at
the time, which could implicate members of congress, other politicians, media magnates, and a host
of other personalities. He is capable of using these to blackmail those who judge him.

Then there is the military factor. Until now no one, not even a single participant in the dirty war,
has been brought to trial. Through a combination of implicit agreements and pressures, the military
has avoided taking any responsibility, an unprecedented event in the region. Just how much pressure
an army that was never subjected to scrutiny by a democratic government can apply remains to be seen.
Fujimori ran a civil-military regime, and it doesn’t make sense that the military be exempted from
all responsibilities when it all comes down. It is quite likely that Fujimori himself will implicate
the military.

Finally, more important than any trial, which could last for months, possibly even more than a year,
is the future of Peruvian society and its nascent democracy, the movements and social groups that brought
the dictatorship to an end. Anyone who knew Peru back in the 80s and who now walks down its streets
today will notice important changes. The country is different, but not truly changed, for that would
require social and cultural change (absent in the case of Peru). Proof of this lack of change can be
seen in the slums that encircle Lima where five of the nine million inhabitants of the city live. The
slums are another country, living in apartheid, where the poor are darker skinned, and come from the
Andean highlands, where they speak, dress, and dance in other languages.

These two countries were never reconciled, nor are they coming together, except in a relationship
of subordination. To understand the roots of Fujimori-ism one has to enter into the causes of this
authoritarianism, whether that be the Shining Path or the Fujimori-Montesinos duo, who represent two
sides of the same coin. Deconstructing this authoritarianism would imply removing the requirement for
these mothers from El Oasis to cheer "Viva!" in return for receiving bags of rice.

Seven years after the fall of the dictatorship, Nelly and her friends at the canteen have not been
able to provide a future for their children, many of whom take part in delinquent activities in the
slums. When they go to the police, the police tell them to take matters into their own hands because
the authorities are unable to help them. "Since the earthquake in Pisco, the authorities only
bring half the previous food supplies," she says without desperation, but with a sense of resentment.


End Notes

  1. "El Chino" literally means the Chinaman. Fujimori
    is of Japanese decent, however his Peruvian nickname is El Chino.
  2. La Republica, September 25, 2007.
  3. Angel Paez, ob. cit.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Interview with Samuel Lerner, ob. cit.