Fujimori to critics: Stay out of Peru's politics

Miami Herald -- 3 April 2000

by Glenn Garvin

Herald special correspondent Lucien Chauvin contributed to this report.

LIMA, Peru -- Alberto Fujimori's quest for a third presidential term, which has ricocheted from ugly to comic to bizarre, took a turn toward the confrontational over the weekend, with the president bluntly telling his foreign critics to butt out of Peruvian politics.

``No power and no country will tell us how we should develop Peru, because we will do it ourselves,'' Fujimori snapped after learning that the U.S. Senate was considering a resolution threatening to cut off international aid to his country over the president's conduct of this week's election. His prime minister, Alberto Bustamente, was even more blunt. ``Peru's patience in tolerating this kind of pressure is running out. . . . They are creating instability,'' Bustamente said.

The government's pugnacious comments came at the end of a week of increasing criticism by foreign observers -- including the Organization of American States, the U.S. State Department and several international human rights organizations -- that Fujimori has rigged Sunday's election to guarantee his victory.


Coupled with new polling data showing that Fujimori could conceivably win an outright victory, rather than being forced into a runoff, Fujimori's new combativeness could push Peru into a political confrontation with most of the hemisphere, diplomats and political analysts in Lima said.

``Peru will be discredited internationally because of these fraudulent elections,'' said Lima constitutional lawyer Alberto Borea, a former senator. ``Although he has the support of the military, you can't govern with the sword in this globalized democratic era. . . . ``President Fujimori does not understand the seriousness of what he has gotten the country into.''

Just a week ago, it seemed any confrontation over election results could be weeks away, at the time of a runoff election. A serious challenger, Alejandro Toledo, a shoeshine boy turned World Bank official, had emerged from the chaotic ranks of the opposition. With his support increasing by a third in barely two weeks, Toledo appeared to have enough votes to force Fujimori into a runoff.


The polls published before a legal blackout went into effect early last week showed Fujimori with around 43.5 percent -- well short of the majority necessary for an outright victory -- to 32.5 percent for Toledo. But even though polls can no longer be legally published, they're still being conducted. Pollsters say privately that data analyzed Friday show Fujimori increasing his share of the vote to 47.5 percent, tantalizingly close to a first-round victory, with Toledo dropping to 30.5. The numbers do not impress Fujimori's foreign critics, who say he got them by cheating.

The chief of an OAS observation team, former Guatemalan Foreign Minister Eduardo Stein, said Fujimori's manipulation has been so bald that the OAS ``may disqualify the legitimacy of the electoral process.'' Stein was merely the latest foreign official to blast the president. U.S. Sen. Paul Coverdell, R-Ga., introducing the resolution calling for Washington to block aid to Peru, accused Fujimori of engineering ``a slow-motion coup.''


The State Department said electoral conditions ``fall far short of what is required to ensure a fully democratic process.'' Added a delegation of observers from the Atlanta-based Carter Center and the National Democratic Institute: ``Irreparable damage to the integrity of the electoral process has already been done.''

Some of what his critics call Fujimori's most blatant actions: His allies in Congress ``reinterpreted'' Peru's constitution to allow him to seek a third term, then fired three judges on the Constitutional Tribunal who objected.

Witnesses say the president's campaign forged a million signatures necessary to get his name on the ballot, deploying 450 workers in three shifts a day for two weeks. Observed one bemused diplomat: ``It looks like it was more effort to forge them than it would have been to go out and get them legitimately.''

TV stations, fearful of license challenges from the government after two were seized after critical reports about Fujimori, have allegedly refused to sell advertising to opposition candidates. And their newscasts have been one-sided. A study of evening newscasts one week last month by the nonpartisan group Transparencia showed Fujimori got one hour and 52 minutes of air time, compared with 15 minutes for Toledo.

Pro-Fujimori newspapers and TV programs routinely launch savage personal attacks on opposition candidates. The onslaught is daily in Lima's tabloid newspapers, where Toledo has been lacerated for everything from his marriage to a French-born woman to his singing, with an occasional detour into economic policy.

The most serious damage to Toledo, however, may have been done by the TV program Laura en America, a wildly popular talk show whose host, Laura Bozzo, is often called ``the Jerry Springer of Peru.'' Last week Bozzo interviewed a woman who claims her 12-year-old daughter was fathered by Toledo but that he has refused to acknowledge her or pay child support.

Bozzo led the studio audience in a chant of ``DNA! DNA!'' which she has repeated every day since. The controversy over campaign tactics has largely eclipsed ideology in the contest between Fujimori, 61, and Toledo, 54, who worked his way to a doctorate at Stanford.