Peru's Crisis Could Cost It Aid

Associated Press -- 26 October 2000

by Ken Guggenheim

WASHINGTON - Mired in a political crisis, Peru risks losing tens of millions of dollars in U.S. aid if it doesn't move toward democracy.

A $14.8 billion foreign aid bill approved by Congress on Wednesday would cut off assistance to President Alberto Fujimori's government if it doesn't make ``substantial progress'' toward holding fair elections and respecting human rights, free speech and the rule of law.

Peru is scheduled to receive about $125 million in overall assistance under the bill. Roughly half the aid, intended to go directly to the government, could be at risk if the conditions aren't met, according to congressional estimates.

The conditions were sought by Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., reflecting bipartisan support.

``The time has come. Fujimori has got to go,'' said Marc Thiessen, spokesman for the Foreign Relations Committee, which Helms chairs.

Fujimori has been under fire for months. In May, he won a third term as president in a runoff election widely criticized as rigged. Last month, he agreed to step down after a leaked videotape showed his feared intelligence chief, Vladimiro Montesinos, apparently bribing an opposition lawmaker.

Aggravating the crisis, Montesinos, who had resigned and sought refuge in Panama, returned to Peru on Monday. But Fujimori may finally have taken steps to appease his critics on Capitol Hill. Late Wednesday, Fujimori ordered the armed forces confined to barracks as part of a manhunt to capture his feared former intelligence adviser.

His government also agreed to a date for new elections, dropping its demand that a new vote be contingent on the approval of an amnesty for officials accused of abuses during Peru's battle with leftist guerrillas and drug traffickers.

The decision about whether to suspend aid will be based on quarterly evaluations of Peru that Congress is asking the State Department to prepare. The first report would be due 90 days after President Clinton signs the aid bill.

About $48 million of the aid for Peru is for counternarcotics programs, and it is unclear how much of that could be affected. Over the past decade, Peru has greatly reduced the cultivation of coca, the raw material for cocaine. But some fear that production could rise again as traffickers return to Peru because of a $1.3 billion U.S. anti-drug campaign in neighboring Colombia.

Thiessen wasn't worried about the drug aid being cut off.

``Any progress is Peru is going to be reversed by Fujimori staying in power or him rigging the transfer of power to a hand-picked successor,'' he said.

The State Department has taken no position on the aid conditions set by Congress. The Clinton administration has generally avoided acting on its own to pressure Fujimori, preferring to support efforts by the Organization of American States to negotiate democratic change.