After Fujimori

Boston Globe -- 21 November 2000

The end of President Alberto Fujimori's pseudo-democratic rule in Peru has come with comic-opera brio. Moving vans entered the grounds of the presidential palace in Lima yesterday while the elected despot was sending a letter of resignation from a Tokyo hotel to the president of Peru's Congress.

For good reason, members of Peru's Congress do not want to allow Fujimori to relinquish power on his own terms. Having had to struggle against his rigging of elections, the corruption and brutality of his absconded spy chief, Vladimiro Montesinos, the bugging and taping of lawmakers' conversations, and Fujimori's domination of a servile judiciary, his opponents in Peru's Congress want to dismiss him from office on grounds of moral unfitness.

Fujimori's demise holds a lesson not only for Peruvians who welcomed his bare-knuckle methods for awhile, but also for US policy makers who looked the other way while he suspended democratic checks and balances for the sake of fighting radical groups, inflation, or his political rivals. Fujimori's fortunate fall from power ought to serve as a reminder that, in the matter of democracy, means and ends must be inseparable.

For too long, using the Cold War as an excuse, US officials supported various unaccountable thugs in Latin America, helping them stage fraudulent elections to legitimize their misrule. Invariably, however, the chickens came home to roost. Today, when Americans think of El Salvador, they are likely to remember the nuns and church workers from the United States who were raped and murdered by the forces Washington backed.

It is too much to expect that anybody in Washington will ask forgiveness for a decade of collaboration with Fujimori and his fixer, Montesinos, the CIA's man in Lima who is currently on the lam and wanted for taking narco-payoffs and supervising death squads and torture sessions.

Nevertheless, the more that is known in this country about Washington's complicity with Montesinos and Fujimori, the harder it should be for future administrations to bond with the next Fujimori. One way to break with the past would be for Washington to demand that Peru release Lori Berenson, the former American MIT student who was convicted in a phony military court of being a leader of a Peruvian terrorist organization and sentenced to life in prison by hooded judges.

For both economic and political reasons, it is crucial that Peru's transition to the post-Fujimori era be accomplished lawfully. Pending loans and substantial investments from abroad depend upon a new government in Peru that seeks democratic ends by democratic means.