Fujimori's dirty tricks

Threaten integrity of Peru's elections

Miami Herald Editorial -- 15 March 2000

Let's just end the fiction that Peru's president is practicing democracy. Call Alberto Fujimori what he is: an authoritarian who will employ any unlawful means to stay in power. Is it bad enough that he twisted the legislature and judiciary to bypass a constitutional prohibition against a third consecutive presidential term? No, Mr. Fujimori and his government are resorting to a full range of dirty tricks to ensure his reelection on April 9.

Even the Organization of American States' Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has taken note. Last week, the OAS Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, Santiago Canton, delivered a blistering report on widespread abuses compromising the upcoming elections.

Mr. Canton described a systematic campaign to gag those who criticize the administration: journalists and opposition politicians followed and phones tapped; critics of government officials subjected to smear campaigns, and media owners pressured to block unfavorable coverage, among other acts.

As Mr. Canton concluded, Peru's intelligence services and security forces have been unleashed as systematic instruments of harassment and persecution. The principal targets are investigative reporters and political-opposition leaders. The casualty has been freedom of expression.

The latest example: Owners of El Comercio, one of Peru's leading newspapers, this week accused the Fujimori government of trying to strip them of their controling shares. Not coincidentally, this paper published an investigation last month alleging that some one million forged signatures were used to register the president for reelection.

At best, the Peruvian government is doing nothing to curb dirty-tricks campaigns against opposition voices. At worst, government players themselves are directing it with impunity.

Elections under these conditions are nothing but a sham. They cannot be fair, free or democratic. Without access to information on all the candidates voters can't make valid choices.

Ironically, Mr. Fujimori could win a fair election. Many credit him for restoring Peru's economy and stability after his disastrous predecessor. But when a president cannot tolerate criticism and his state manipulates the rule of law, anyone can be its next target.

The OAS's mission of election observers in Peru now cannot ignore Mr. Canton's report and shouldn't validate this election. They should get out and call the world's attention to this electoral sham.