Fujimori Backpedals on Democracy Vow

Associated Press -- 12 July 2000

by Monte Hayes

LIMA, Peru (AP) - Only weeks after promising an international delegation that he would take concrete steps to repair Peru's damaged democracy, President Alberto Fujimori is showing signs of backpedaling.

Fujimori, who won a third term in a May 28 runoff observers said was tainted, recently named an ally - rather than an independent - to look into government corruption. He vowed to keep his security chief on the job. And Fujimori loyalists were cleared of responsibility in a conspiracy to forge election-related signatures.

Such steps demonstrate a lack of good faith in moving toward a stronger democracy, analysts and political opponents contend.

U.S. Ambassador John Hamilton used a July 4th Independence Day picnic at his residence, attended by hundreds of politicians and journalists, to send a message to the Peruvian government. With Foreign Minister Fernando de Trazegnies at his side, Hamilton told the crowd: ``Cosmetic or superficial changes will not resolve the crisis of credibility.''

The next day Fujimori bristled when he was asked about Hamilton's remarks. He said Peru would remodel its democratic institutions as it sees fit. ``The opinions of other countries are not important to us,'' he said. ``We are taking the initiative and very soon these changes will be completed.'' The exchange comes less than a month after Fujimori promised a mission from the Organization of American States that he would consider a 29-point plan it proposed to strengthen Peru's democratic institutions.

The OAS agenda called for reforms to establish an independent judicial system, guarantee press freedom, correct flaws in the electoral process and provide oversight of the armed forces and the National Intelligence Service, which have been key allies in helping Fujimori tighten his grip on all branches of government.

The agenda was developed after the May 28 election runoff, which monitors said was unfairly biased in Fujimori's favor. The challenger boycotted the vote, saying the outcome was fixed, and Fujimori won a third five-year term. Fujimori's adversaries say no one should be surprised if he does not keep his promises. They accuse him of stalling and say he is hoping that, with time, pressure for reform will ease.

``So far Fujimori has not shown even a cosmetic change. Just the opposite, he has accentuated the authoritarian nature of his regime,'' said Mirko Lauer, a political columnist for the opposition newspaper La Republica. Julio Carrion, a professor at the University of Delaware and an authority on Peruvian affairs, said the government's actions should not be a surprise given that democratizing the country would undermine Fujimori's political power.

``We cannot expect the person who is the beneficiary of that political power to curtail his own power,'' Carrion said.

In one of the actions that has raised concerns, Congress cleared high-ranking Fujimori loyalists of responsibility in a conspiracy to forge 1 million signatures to help register his candidacy for a third term. The legislature, controlled by Fujimori supporters, said seven low-level participants - including four whistle-blowers who brought the case to light - were criminally liable.

Also, Fujimori denied reports that the OAS mission had urged him to fire his security chief, Vladimiro Montesinos. ``Montesinos continues his functions as adviser at the top level of the intelligence service,'' he said. Montesinos, widely feared for his spy network and seen by many as the power behind the president, has been accused of having links to death squads, taking drug payoffs and spearheading smear campaigns against Fujimori's opponents. Many Peruvians say the clearest sign Fujimori could send that he is sincere about loosening his autocratic hold on power would be to fire Montesinos as de facto head of the intelligence service.

But analysts say Fujimori has kept Montesinos close by during a decade in power because he has proved highly useful in defeating leftist rebels and undercutting political foes. Some say Montesinos is the real power in Peru, and Fujimori might not be able to fire him even if he wanted to.

``It is more likely that Montesinos could replace Fujimori than the opposite,'' said Fernando Rospigliosi, a political scientist who has studied civilian-military relations.