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13 June 1997 Edition

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Spitting out the Fujimori medicine

By Dara MacNeill

Less than two months after ordering the execution of 14 MRTA guerrillas in order to boost his own flagging popularity and reassure nervous foreign investors, Peru's Alberto Fujimori is in trouble with his citizenry again.

Opinion polls show that some 70% of Peruvians are less than enamoured with their President, with most citing a combination of political incompetence and Fujimori's increasing authoritarianism. Ironically, some of the trouble in which Fujimori now finds himself can be sourced to his decision to send in the troops on 22 April last, to put a bloody end to the siege at the Japanese Embassy in the Peruvian capital, Lima.

In the aftermath, the affable authoritarian found it increasingly difficult to explain away the curious fact that all 14 guerrillas inside the embassy had been killed, while all but one of the 72 hostages made it out alive and only two soldiers lost their lives.

Unwittingly, Fujimori himself aided the speculation when he publicly demanded that all former hostages maintain a vow of silence in relation to what transpired inside the embassy on 22 April. His position was further weakened when it was revealed that 12 of the 14 guerrillas had been hastily buried, before their identities had been established. This prevented any independent medical examination of the bodies. In addition, the body of guerrilla leader Nestor Cerpa was found to have 50 bullet wounds.

President Fujimori's reaction to what he saw as outright dissent was to clamp down on opponents and critics (real or imagined) within the country's media. Some he silenced in the traditional fashion. Others were the victims of more elaborate, imaginative tactics.

Thus, the head of TV station Channel Two - which had discomfited Fujimori in the past with awkward questions - was suddenly revealed to be linked to a shady, illegal arms trafficking operation. This remarkable, and very timely revelation was delivered courtesy of the country's National Intelligence Service.

However, further investigation proved the documents which purported to detail the arms trafficking scheme were in fact forgeries. It is now believed that the Intelligence Service themselves were the authors.

Nonetheless Fujimori, obviously unaware of the adage that when you're in ahole you stop digging, has further exacerbated Peruvians by once again attempting to change the law in order to facilitate his re-election in 2000.

As expected, the Peruvian parliament endorsed Fujimori's proposal that he seek re-election for a record third term. As this is explicitly prohibited by Peruvian law, a fundamental legal change was required. Naturally, the parliament saw no problem. However three members of the country's senior legal body, the Constitutional Tribunal, refused to even contemplate the President's proposal. All three were sacked and their dismissal rubber-stamped by parliament. The country is now in the grip of a constitutional crisis of such proportions that it has precipitated the involvement of the Organisation of American States.

Fujimori has travelled this road before. Elected in 1990 he found his route to everlasting power blocked by the country's prohibition on presidents serving anything but one term. So in 1992, he simply dissolved the parliament and suspended the Constitution. He later went to the country and predicted dire economic and social consequences should the populace reject his proposals. Winning a majority in a `transitional' parliament, one of the President's first acts was to push through a measure allowing him to seek a second term of office, which he duly won in 1995.

And now he wants more. However, on this occasion there have been repeated and increasingly larger demonstrations throughout the country calling for his resignation. In addition, a body called the Democratic Forum has announced its intention to campaign for a referendum on the issue of Alberto's proposed third term of office. Under Peruvian law, they have until early September to collect 1.2 million signatures for a petition opposing Fujimori's move. That would then lead to a referendum being called on the subject.

In addition, there is the economic crisis. Peru now finds itself embroiled in. Fujimori promised economic growth would result from his application of severe, Thatcherite economic policies. And for a chosen few, there were benefits.

Most, however, have yet to see any return. During Fujimori's time in office an additional 5 million Peruvians fell below the extreme poverty level. It is also estimated that more than half the country's schoolchildren are chronically malnourished. In one region of the country that figure rises to an astonishing 87%. Thus, the net result of Alberto Fujimori's `economic miracle' - loudly proclaimed in the West - is a country where more than 75% of the population live in poverty and over 85% of the workforce is either under-employed, or without any work at all.

And some wonder why so many Peruvians feel compelled to resist Fujimori's creeping dictatorship?

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