Fujimori’s Long Race From Justice

Lima, Peru

The legal case against Augusto Pinochet may have died along with the former dictator, but the Chilean courts have found a way to continue protecting coup plotters and human rights abusers. On July 11, 2007 Judge Orlando Álvarez Hernández ruled against the Peruvian state in its efforts to extradite former Peruvian president and dictator Alberto Fujimori.

Few politicians in history have had such a meteoric rise to power or such a sudden and decisive loss of credibility as Fujimori. A dark horse in Peru’s 1990 election, Fujimori was widely expected to lose to celebrated Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa. Running on the nearly nonsensical slogan “honesty, technology, work,” Fujimori refused to publish his political platform until late in the election. Known simply as El Chino to his supporters, he managed to upset Vargas Llosa in the election with vague promises to reject the “shock” neoliberal economic austerity program that Vargas Llosa championed.

Once elected, Fujimori abandoned his campaign promises and embarked on a radical program to impose the so-called Washington Consensus on Peru. Despite Milton Friedman’s thesis linking capitalism to freedom, Fujimori’s government was decisively authoritarian. After being pelted with eggs at the Enrique Guzmán y Valle National University, El Chino ordered the university to be taken over by the military. It was then that members of the Army Intelligence Service and the Army Intelligence Directorate detained nine students and one professor. The ten were tortured, murdered, and buried in a mass grave. They were later dug up and shoved into a furnace at the Army Intelligence Service building. The burned remains were thrown into cardboard boxes, driven to a new location, dumped into a new mass grave, covered up with lime, and left to rot.

Fujimori’s thirst for power did not simply lead him to murder students. On April 5, 1992, El Chino overthrew the entire government in a move known as the autogolpe or self-coup. In one night, Fujimori put tanks at the steps of Congress, arrested key opposition members, declared the Constitution void, and dissolved the Judicial Branch of the government. After facing international pressure, Fujimori promised to reinstate Congress, but only after a new constitution was written and a new congress elected. Until then, he simply dictated laws with a series of harsh “emergency decrees.” It was this mixture of authoritarian coup-plotting, dictatorial rule, and human rights abuses that earned Fujimori the derisive nickname Chinochet, an impossible-to-resist play on El Chino and the name of his ideological brother Augusto Pinochet.

Governing Peru as a dictator would require some help. Fujimori’s primary advisor and de facto head of the National Intelligence Service, appropriately known as the SIN, was Vladimiro Montesinos, who had once been jailed for giving confidential information to the Central Intelligence Agency. Montesinos ensured loyalty to the Fujimori regime. In charge of military promotions, Montesinos filled the top ranks of the military with Fujimoristas and skipped over anyone whose sensibilities were offended by murder and dictatorship. He also harassed and wiretapped opposition figures and, according to a confidential Department of State source, even sent a bomb to an opposition congressman. He also filed libel lawsuits against whatever newspapers were brave enough to buck the official propaganda repeated by much of the mainstream press.

Despite his abuses, El Chino likely would have fairly won reelection in 2000. However, not leaving anything to chance, he decided to buy the elections instead. Shortly after his tainted reelection, which was effectively unopposed when his adversary pulled out after proof of electoral fraud was made public, a bombshell hit the Peruvian political scene. One of the few remaining independent news channels aired a videotape of Vladimiro handing $15,000 to an opposition congressman to switch parties. It later showed videotapes of Montesinos secretly buying editorial control of television stations, ordering the judges of the Supreme Court to make rulings favoring the regime and US companies, meeting with CIA agents, paying off congressmen, and using huge bricks of government cash to pay for the electoral campaigns of Fujimoristas.

Unable to govern neither with Montesinos’ tarnished image nor without Montesinos’ vast criminal connections, Fujimori simply gave up and left. A day after making a sudden getaway to Japan, and less than four months into his new term in office, Fujimori faxed in his resignation. Congress, which had for so long been stacked by loyal Fujimoristas, voted to reject his resignation, and then voted in favor of declaring him morally incapacitated. As a final indignity, Congress stripped Fujimori of the presidency and requested his extradition from Japan.

Because Fujimori is the son of Japanese immigrants, he has dual citizenship in Peru and Japan. This fact had long frustrated the efforts of the Peruvian government and human rights workers worldwide, as Japan does not extradite its own citizens to other countries. As long as Fujimori stayed in Japan, he was safe.

In 2006, however, Fujimori made the shocking decision to go to Chile in order to participate in, or at least interfere with, the Peruvian general elections. Greatly miscalculating the consequences, Fujimori was barred from participating in the elections by the Peruvian government, arrested in Santiago, and made to face an extradition hearing.

The Peruvian government asked for extradition for a host of charges including illicit association to commit crimes, abuse of authority, usurpation of functions, aggravated embezzlement or misuse of public funds, aggravated kidnapping, aggravated murder, and treason against the fatherland. Significant evidence implicating Fujimori in the various human rights abuses committed during his government was sent to Chile, including a videotaped confession by the leader of Grupo Colina, the main government death squad, implicating Fujimori. There is also substantial evidence that Fujimori was utterly corrupt, including various congressional inquiries into missing government funds.

Nevertheless, the Chilean justice system ruled in favor of Alberto Fujimori. The 100-page decision in the case reads more like an ideological propaganda piece for Fujimori than a carefully reasoned judicial opinion.

For example, Judge Álvarez Hernández opined that “when Fujimori assumed the presidency, he was completely unfamiliar with the world of the armed forces and intelligence services and, although he held the position of Supreme Chief of said armed forces like all Presidents of the Republic, the operations of the military and the military command’s own professional decisions obviously could not have been handed over to him.” This completely ignores the reality of the Peruvian situation. The Peruvian government under Fujimori was totally controlled by the personalistic and neo-populist head of what the US Department of State’s human rights report called the “overwhelmingly dominate executive branch,” Alberto Fujimori. Furthermore, Montesinos’ promotions ensured that the military was completely loyal to the Fujimori regime.

The judge continues by implying that irrespective of Fujimori’s shortcomings, he was no worse than the average Peruvian president as “there are statistics that registered a drop of nearly 44% of people killed or disappeared during the Fujimori government.” It very well may be that the total number of killed and disappeared people dropped during the Fujimori government; the war against the fanatical Maoist Shining Path guerrillas, which started before Fujimori assumed office, had largely wound down in the early years of the Fujimori administration. Thus, one would expect for an overall decreasing trend of the worst kinds of human rights abuses during Fujimori’s rule. However, the fact that someone else committed more atrocities than Fujimori does not excuse Fujimori for his crimes.

In what may be one of the most astounding statements, the decision states that Fujimori cannot be held responsible for the infamous Amnesty Laws which, before being declared invalid by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, gave total amnesty to any member of the Peruvian government who had been accused of, tried for, found guilty of, or jailed for human rights abuses. The judge’s reasoning? The law had been approved by Congress and “it is entering the land of presumptions to estimate that the president had exercised political influence” on the same Congress that he had militarily attacked, disbanded, packed with supporters, and bribed.

Furthermore, in what can only be described as a ridiculous degree of hair-splitting, the judge dismisses the decisions of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights regarding Fujimori’s role in two massacres, because the Court sentenced only “the Peruvian State,” “the Executive Branch,” and “the Presidency of the Republic” without specifically using the name of the one man who led those three organisms: Alberto Fujimori.

Only a day after the decision was released, Peru filed an appeal to Chile’s Supreme Court. It is widely expected that the Supreme Court, comprised of several liberals, will be more sympathetic to Peru’s extradition request. However, don’t hold your breath waiting for Fujimori to pay for his crimes. The Supreme Court has historically upheld the great majority of lower court decisions. What’s more, Fujimori has announced that he will run for the Japanese Senate on the ticket of a small right-wing party that, ironically considering Fujimori’s embrace of free-market capitalism, was founded to oppose the privatization of Japan’s postal service. If he wins the election, he is sure to argue that as a Japanese senator, he has diplomatic immunity.

And one must keep in mind that Fujimori is already in his seventies. While far from certain, it is quite possible that Chinochet will share the same destiny of Pinochet and die before he ever sees the inside of a prison.

MICHAEL BANEY recently graduated from the School of Public Affairs at American University in Washington, DC. He currently lives in Lima, Peru and works at an intern for APRODEH, the Pro-Human Rights Association of Peru. He can be reached at baney@alum.american.edu