Alberto Fujimori

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Japanese-Peruvian ex-president Alberto Fujimori is one of the most controversial figures in the country’s recent history. His detractors call him a Machiavellian despot bent on power at all costs, guilty of corruption on a massive scale, human rights abuses including torture and mass murder, and the instigation of a brutal police state; his supporters cite successes such as the stabilization of the economy and defeating the Shining Path guerrilla movement, whose campaign of terror left tens of thousands dead. He was president for ten years, in voluntary exile in Japan for five, and is now under house arrest in Chile awaiting extradition procedures.

Fujimori was born in Lima in 1938, the son of two Japanese émigrés who had moved to Peru just a few years previously. He therefore had Japanese-Peruvian dual nationality. An agricultural engineer and senior academic, he stood for the presidency in 1990 under the banner of a new party, “Cambio 90” (Change ’90). With the support of the evangelical groups, the left wing and incumbent Alan Garcia (who supposedly feared possible imprisonment for crimes committed as president), he won the election against writer Mario Vargas Llosa, who represented a more right-wing platform.

On his election he distanced himself from the evangelical and grey-market groups that had supported him, and relied instead on the support of the USA and the IMF. His initial challenges were the stabilization of the economy after Garcia’s extreme hyperinflation, and dealing with the menace posed by radical insurgent groups such as the Shining Path.

Citing the terrorist threat and in the wake of a failed military coup he dissolved congress in 1992, effectively staging a coup against his own government and changing his status from that of democratic president to dictator. At the time, this move was considered necessary and supported by a strong majority of the public.

Fujimori found himself at the helm of a country facing a serious terrorist threat, principally from the nationalist-Maoist Shining Path movement. His response was definitive, popular with the people and with the US regime, but without any respect for international law.

Fujimori’s right hand man throughout his presidency was the chief of his intelligence service, Vladimiro Montesinos. A former army officer who had been imprisoned for espionage, and subsequently a lawyer specialising in defence of those accused of drug trafficking and corruption, Montesinos ensured Fujimori’s control of the country through threats, assassinations and bribery, often in the scale of millions of dollars.

He placed family members and trusted friends in positions of power in government, law, police and the military; he bribed or threatened judges, opposition politicians and key media figures to ensure their support for the Fujimori regime. Supposedly with heavy CIA backing, he put together death squads to assassinate presumed terrorist leaders. A congressional committee has found that Peru may have lost up to US$1.6 billion to corruption during the Fujimori regime.

In a wave of scandals, Fujimori was finally forced to flee the country in November 2000, finding sanctuary from extradition in Japan. While attempting to return to Peru to stand in the presidential elections in 2006, he was arrested in Chile under an Interpol warrant. He is currently under bail and forbidden from leaving the country as Peruvian authorities fight for his extradition.

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