The 2009 conviction of Alberto Fujimori, Peru’s autocratic former president, on multiple counts of crimes against humanity was widely seen as a major blow against impunity in the embattled country. Now, nearly nine years later, shady dealings in the Peruvian Congress threaten to completely subvert the course of justice.
By Rocío Silva Santisteban
When voting over the proposed impeachment of President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski came to a close in the Peruvian Congress at almost midnight on December 21st last year, a group of ten dissidents from the Fujimorista party (Popular Force) came together to embrace and weep on the chamber floor. The band of self-proclaimed ‘Avengers’ had defied their own party by abstaining from the proceedings, hoping to exchange their abstentions for a pardon for their party’s imprisoned founder – the notoriously corrupt former president Alberto Fujimori.
Minutes after this scene unfolded, one of the “avengers” confessed to journalist Jimmy Chinchay that Alberto Fujimori had personally called to beg him to abstain, pleading “don’t abandon me”. At the same time, party loyalists branded the move as a “betrayal” of Alberto’s daughter, Keiko Fujimori, a perennial presidential candidate and current leader of the Fujimorista party.
Keiko was the main architect of the impeachment process, which was intended (according to several sources) to head off the threat of her own corruption investigation. In particular, it has been alleged that Keiko’s election campaign was financed by Odebrecht – the Brazilian conglomerate whose illicit dealings have laid waste to the political classes in Brazil, Panama and Ecuador, among many others throughout the region. With these abstentions, the Fujimoristas, once a monolithic bloc in Peruvian politics, had split into two factions.
That night I tweeted the following prediction: “Tomorrow they will pardon Alberto Fujimori”.
I was wrong – it actually took three days.
Mañana lo indultan.
— RocioSilvaSantisteba (@pavese) December 22, 2017
The sad truth is that the “humanitarian” pardon granted to the ailing former autocrat has no humanitarian basis whatsoever. Instead it is a straightforward transaction, a quid pro quo exchange of favours under the table. Nevertheless, according to a an opinion poll carried out in January 2018, Kuczynski lost seven approval points (from 27% to 20%) on foot of this deal. Large sectors of the electorate clearly feel that ‘PPK’, as he is popularly known, has betrayed his election promises.
Worse still, Kuczynski has betrayed the victims of the many crimes perpetrated by Alberto Fujimori, the same crimes that led to his landmark conviction for crimes against humanity in 2009.
The list of these human rights violations is long and disturbing. It includes the Barrios Altos Massacre, where 15 innocent civilians, including an 8-year-old boy, were shot dead; the massacre at La Cantuta, where the ‘Grupo Colina’ death squad, composed of active members of the Peruvian military, assassinated 9 students and a lecturer at the University of Education; the murder of 9 peasants in Santa Province, northern Peru; the killing of the young journalist Melissa Alfaro with a letter bomb; and the murder of three university students in the basements of the Intelligence Services.
But the true impact of Fujimori’s reign of terror cannot be measured in body counts alone. His rule also saw the aggravated kidnapping of journalist Gustavo Gorritti, the bribing of media outlets with state funds to gain support for his candidacy in 2000, the bribing of opposition legislators to join Fujimorista ranks, and the incredibly cruel national policy of forced sterilisation, carried out against more than 200,000 poor, illiterate peasant women in an overt attempt to reduce the “excessive population” in rural areas.
These are the horrific costs of the crimes committed by Alberto Fujimori in order to maintain his grip on power.
At 7pm on the evening of December 24th, Kuczynski released a video recorded at his country residence, outlining his determination to grant the pardon regardless of the consequences. In doing so, PPK finally exposed the clandestine strategy his own Prime Minister, Mercedes Araoz, had denied just three days earlier when she told television cameras that a pardon was “not on the agenda”.
That Christmas Eve, instead of sitting down to dinner with our families, groups of Lima residents made their way to the centre of public resistance, the Plaza San Martín, to express our indignation.
That night I met Rosa Rojas, whose husband and 8-year-old son both died in the Barrios Altos Massacre in 1991. Some years earlier Rosa had told me how, on that fateful night, she had gone to a corner in the courtyard of the building where just minutes earlier the death squad had murdered dozens of innocent partygoers using guns fitted with silencers. Rosa saw her son, Javier, sitting in the corner and thought that he had taken shelter. But when she went to embrace him, she realised that he had been shot in the head and killed.
Rosa has never recovered from the horror of that moment. On Christmas Eve at the Plaza San Martín, Rosa said to me: “Instead of enjoying my Christmas dinner with my children, I have to take to the streets once again to demand justice!”
Justice – that has been the resounding cry from the families of the victims for over 25 years, all of whom have added their voices to the public expressions of outrage at this pardon. The march on December 24th was followed by more on the 25th, the 28th, and on January 11th – each bigger than the one that came before. The march on January 11th brought 80,000 people onto the streets of Lima and 20,000 more in other cities, not only in Peru, but also in Madrid, Berlin, New York and dozens more.
On January 11th, at around 5:45pm our group of 2,000 activists, artists and university students began to make our way toward the Plaza San Martín when the police, without any justification or excuse, began firing tear gas and rubber bullets. There was not even the slightest provocation to justify these actions – the marchers, who had been carrying a huge Peruvian flag, had been entirely peaceful. But the police, who had even mustered cadets from the police academy, claimed that they had needed to contain the mobilisation. They gassed us four times until the march began to break up, and even then they continued to gas us. I found myself trapped between two police contingents that were firing pepper spray down into the narrow alleyway we had fled to. Completely blind and unable to breathe, I only escaped when a comrade pulled me out by the arm.
Lawyers for Fujimori’s victims have petitioned the Interamerican Court of Human Rights for an appeal hearing on February 2nd. At that hearing Rosa Rojas, Carmen Oyague, Raida Cóndor and other mothers of those extra-judicially executed by Fujimori will seek to have the pardon rescinded on both procedural and substantive grounds. We must not forget that Alberto Fujimori has been declared the intellectual author of crimes against humanity.
Personally, I believe that the Court will request that the pardon be revoked, but I fear that the Peruvian state has no intention of accepting such a verdict. Prime Minister Araoz told the press as early as Christmas Day that “Peru is only subject to its own constitution”, although she has backtracked somewhat in the past few days, stating that “Peru respects the sentence of the Court”.
Will Kuczynski really comply with a verdict that would pull his weak government back to the edge of the abyss? If he fails to accept the likely outcome calling for the pardon to be revoked, Peru would find itself isolated from the OECD, and would risk becoming an international pariah like Venezuela. But if he accepts the verdict, the Fujimoristas will re-unite under Keiko and her younger brother Kenji, with the shared aim of making any attempt at governing impossible. In either case, the former dictator will have the option of once again fleeing back to his gilded refuge in Japan.
Rocío Silva Santisteban is a Peruvian poet, university lecturer and journalist. She is the former Executive Secretary of the National Coordinator of Human Rights of Peru.
The views expressed in the LASC Blog are exclusively those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect those of LASC and its members.