U.S. Hopes Peru Will Stay Democratic

Associated Press -- 20 November 2000

by George Gedda

WASHINGTON - A senior U.S. delegation was in Peru imploring political leaders there to stay on the democratic path now that the country faces a difficult transition following Monday's surprise resignation of President Alberto Fujimori.

``In our view, it is important that the transition be peaceful and in compliance with the constitution,'' State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.

The U.S. delegation is being led by Peter Romero, the top State Department official for Latin America; and Arturo Valenzuela, a National Security Council official.

The trip was long-planned, and the delegation decided to go ahead with it even though there were rumblings over the weekend that Fujimori's resignation was imminent. He was in Tokyo at the time of his announcement, and Peruvian officials informed the United States that Fujimori's stay in Japan was indefinite.

Another official said it was important for the U.S. delegation to proceed with the trip to show continued support for a democratic reform process led by the Organization of American States.

The OAS has been taking a proactive role in Peru since Fujimori was declared the winner of a presidential runoff election last May that outside observers described as deeply flawed.

Fujimori, his government plagued by scandal, was inaugurated to a third term less than four months ago. Because of his weakened position, he had planned to step down next July, four years ahead of schedule. In the end, even that accelerated timetable was not soon enough.

The administration gave Fujimori high marks for his success in the wars on drugs and leftist guerrillas. But his refusal to take steps to strengthen democracy caused strains in his relations with the United States throughout his 10 years in office, officials said.

In the Clinton administration's view, there are few higher priorities for the hemisphere than the establishment of stable democracies.

Michael Shifter, who follows Peru at the Inter-American Dialogue, a local research group, said Monday that Peru was the weakest link in the Latin American democratic chain, which encompasses all countries except Cuba.

Fujimori ``will be given credit in the economic and security areas but will be blamed for not taking advantage of the opportunity to lead the country toward a more stable democracy,'' Shifter said.

``Things will be very precarious for a long time in Peru,'' he said. ``The meltdown is coming much more quickly than people thought.''