Peru Mad With Fujimori Citizenship

Associated Press -- 12 December 2000

by Rick Vecchio

LIMA, Peru - Outrage and disappointment rippled across this Andean nation Tuesday after Japan announced that deposed President Alberto Fujimori is a Japanese citizen, apparently putting him outside the reach of Peruvian law.

From housewives to legislators, Peruvians expressed indignation that Fujimori, who fled to Japan a month ago, was confirmed as a Japanese citizen.

Radio talk shows buzzed throughout the day with criticism of Fujimori from a host of analysts, politicians and common Peruvians. And the tabloid press, for years a thinly veiled tool of government propaganda, lambasted the former autocratic leader in bold headlines. ``Japan protects its mafioso son!'' said newspaper El Popular.

``I'm sorry we had to wait years for something he should have told us from the beginning, the first time he presented himself as a candidate,'' said Congressman Victor Joy Way, a longtime Fujimori loyalist.

Luisa Montoya, 45, a housewife, said she believed Fujimori kept his Japanese nationality a secret in case one day he had to escape the country.

``What a disappointment. He deceived us with premeditation,'' she said. ``We sacrificed for so many years, thinking about a better future and it was all thrown overboard.''

For years, Fujimori, the son of Japanese immigrants, was identified as a man of the people. Credited with ending hyperinflation and taming deadly leftist insurgencies, he often headed into the nation's interior wearing Andean ponchos and jungle Indian tunics.

But his 10-year authoritarian rule crumbled amid mounting corruption scandals surrounding his fugitive ex-intelligence chief, Vladimiro Montesinos, and a failing economy.

On Tuesday, Japan confirmed that Fujimori's birth 62 years ago was registered with the Japanese consulate in Peru and that the former president had never renounced his Japanese citizenship - meaning he cannot be extradited to Peru.

``As Peruvians we should feel offended that someone has utilized the highest office and exited Peru to resign from Japan and not answer for covering up for Vladimiro Montesinos,'' said Congresswoman Anel Townsend.

``He deceived Peru with his lies. Now they're saying he is Japanese,'' said Hugo Condori, a 16-year-old shoeshine boy in Lima's business district.

Constitutional experts weighed in on whether Fujimori's failure to renounce his dormant Japanese citizenship meant that he had occupied the presidency illegally.

Some noted that Fujimori was born under a previous Constitution that was in effect from of 1933 until 1980, which did not allow for dual nationality.

But Manuel Aguirre Roca, chief magistrate of the Constitutional Tribunal disagreed.

``We are not interested if he is also Japanese,'' he said ``If he contends or manifests or cites proof that he was born in Peru ... he is Peruvian by birth.''