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Peru: On the Brink of Deepening Civil Strife

Peru: On the Brink of Deepening Civil Strife

* Isolated both within his country and abroad, an autocrat relies on his military to hold onto power

* Today's inauguration of "President" Alberto Fujimori, the latest step in an entirely fraudulent electoral process

* Fujimori implicitly ridicules OAS response-that of sending a "High-Level Mission" to Peru with a series of proposals for strengthening democracy-by toying with its recommendations

* Outside and domestic monitoring organizations cite serious violations of democratic procedures by Fujimori operatives, including the latest ploy of coercing or bribing various elected members of the legislative opposition into joining the president's party

* Heightened militarization of Peru, a feature of "Fujimocracy," threatens the country with profound civil strife

Alberto Fujimori will be inaugurated for his third term as Peru's president today amid turmoil and widespread disapproval of Fujimocracy-an authoritarian regime cynically spouting the rhetoric of democracy. Thousands of his countrymen, braving both snowy mountain roads and heavily armed policemen determined to obstruct the passage of their chartered buses, are making their way to Lima, while undergoing every form of adversity, to protest what they perceive to be the final act of a totally staged electoral farce.

Peru's opposition-the man and woman in the street-now realizes that they must battle Fujimocracy on their own, without the slightest assistance from the U.S. or OAS, the hemisphere's self-proclaimed defenders of democracy. Despite near-unanimous condemnation of Peru's national elections by both domestic and international observers, these bodies raised only feeble objections regarding Fujimori's victory, giving him the tacit assent to proceed with his humiliation of the democratic process. This grudging acquiescence to the status quo by the rest of the Americas casts real doubt on the OAS' prospects as a coherent institution, the quality of democracy a lá America Latina, and short circuits any chance that the Clinton Administration could rehabilitate its already heavily flawed Latin American foreign policy before leaving office. Democracy's continuing struggle under Fujimori As he begins his next five-year term, Fujimori understands that the personally beneficial blend of an apathetic populace traditionally indifferent to politics, and fear of a brutal retaliation to disloyal voices (which in the past has prevented a confrontation between his military-backed coalition and the well over half of the nation who despise him) could be at an end. Every respected election observer mission, including that of the European Union and the independent domestic watchdog Transparencia, has declared the May ballot invalid, and their stinging declarations following the uncontested victory merely echoed the analysis they made of his tarnished rule since December 1999. Since beginning his election campaign, he attacked the opposition and monitoring bodies with a massive smear campaign in the popular media, used the judiciary and military to harass opponents, exploited public resources to buy votes and political support, unrepentantly forged more than one million signatures to ensure his party a place on the ballot, and corrupted the vote-counting system in an alleged attempt to win the presidency through outright fraud. What's more, the OAS' Electoral Observation Mission refused to monitor the second-round voting after the pro-Fujimori National Office of Electoral Processes (ONPE) and National Elections Board (JNE) had ignored the requests of Alejandro Toledo, head of the opposition Perú Posible party, to postpone voting until major deficiencies in the computer tallying system had been worked out. The Carter Center also declined to monitor the ballot, instead issuing a statement that "an election on May 28 would not meet minimum standards for credible, democratic elections." The U.S. and OAS initially took admirable measures toward condemning Fujimori's victory. The day after the ballot, a State Department official said that it was a "flawed process," and declared the results invalid; the OAS, spurred by U.S. ambassador Luis Lauredo, moved to invoke Resolution 1080, the organization's mechanism to force collective action in response to a member country's democratic lapses. Both groups, however, embarrassingly lost fortitude, rapidly backing down from these surprisingly firm initial stances. But no amount of diplomatic shadowboxing can hide the fact that Fujimori's victory in Peru has no democratic basis. The fact that they know this will inevitably create headaches for policymakers trying to decide how to address the "Peruvian question" over the next five years.

The OAS gave Fujimori and his operatives a slap on the wrist, but in the end its resolution proved to be toothless and its members left the details for its implementation up to the dictator's self-serving administration. The president formed the High-Level Presidential Commission to Strengthen Democratic Institutions in June, but opposition groups and important public figures have rejected the invitation to attend, arguing that the body is little more than a façade erected to placate the international community, while avoiding the discussion of sensitive but essential questions, such as the President's connections to Vlademiro Montesinos and the highly corrupt National Intelligence Service. In addition, these dissenting groups demanded that the government demonstrate its "goodwill" by proposing and implementing meaningful reforms before any discussion took place. Thus far, Lima has resisted such pressure to mend its undemocratic ways, even acting with belligerence toward representatives of the international community; the Carter Center was labeled "impertinent" by a senior congressional official, and was advised to visit the tourist sites in Cuzco rather than carry on its monitoring tasks.

Among the more disturbing predilections of Fujimocracy has been the party's attempt to coerce or cajole elected opposition members of Congress to flock to Fujimori's Perú 2000 banner. The respected Peruvian daily, La República, reported on July 26 that 18 representatives had switched parties since the national elections, sparking allegations that Fujimori's operatives bribed or threatened these formerly committed party members to bring about their switch. In effect, these "tránsfugas," who were showered with jeers and coins from their former comrades as they neared the podium to take their oaths with their new affiliations, turned the July 24 congressional inauguration ceremony into a chaotic and freewheeling mêlée of clashing party representatives, a dismal foreshadowing of the upcoming sessions in this now intensely-polarized legislature.

"Marcha de los Cuatro Suyos" Facing the specter of massive protests this week, the government launched a concerted effort to neutralize and undermine the opposition, which has maintained its pledge from the beginning that its July 26-28 "Marcha de los Cuatro Suyos" ("March of the Four Regions"-referring to areas of the ancient Inca empire) demonstrations would be peaceful. Organized by the Toledo camp immediately following the May elections, the three-day protests include carefully planned marches by many segments of those opposing Fujimori's continued reign. Using an old standby, its control over the tabloid press, or "prensa chicha," the government accused the demonstrators of planning to incite violence and labeled them as terrorists or narco-traffickers. This name-calling has instilled a well-founded sense of fear, because to be associated with the drug cartels or Sendero Luminoso in Peru is a very ominous condition to live under. Some of the more damaging (and equally bizarre) headlines in the tabloids included, "Narcoterrorists Plan to Set Lima on Fire with Toledo" and "Toledo Says: If There Are No Dead, Then We Fail." It is not entirely surprising that the pro-government television channels joined in these slanderous attacks, because their owners are either Fujimori's cronies or are dependent on the government for their broadcast licenses.

In addition to this targeted propaganda, the government has resorted to force and the inappropriate use of official agencies to prevent protesters from reaching Lima for the mass demonstrations. While unable to stem the tide of the expected 200,000 citizens traveling to the capital, armed police officers have been detaining buses across the country, on some occasions even confiscating license plates and other official documents to prevent them from continuing. The police personnel monitoring the Panamerican highway has been doubled, and one bus carrying 150 demonstrators from Arequipa reported that it was stopped nine times, once by police who had thrown nails on the road. In addition, Toledo told reporters that protest organizers had discovered members of the National Intelligence Service among these busloads, who, they worried, intend to disrupt the peaceful protests by inciting the demonstrators to violence.

Seeking legitimacy behind a gun Entirely bereft of democratic legitimacy, Fujimori is turning increasingly to the military to enforce his rule. This has been the template of his rule during his entire period of holding office. The caudillo's ever-comforting bedfellows in the armed forces held an unprecedented ceremony on June 8, 50 days before the inauguration, to officially recognize their commander-in-chief's reelection, and have become noticeably more strong-fisted in dealing with demonstrators. The Air Force closed the skies above Lima to air travel during the protests, undermining organizers' plans to escort media personnel and international visitors in helicopters in order to showcase the scene. Furthermore, the government has called in an additional eight thousand policemen to Lima (augmenting the force to forty thousand strong) to assist their crowd-control operations, featuring code names such as "Blockade" and "Saturation." Their mission is to stop the protesters' efforts to peacefully "reject the inauguration of a government that lacks legitimacy." Fujimori, it seems, has created a perfect opportunity for himself to declare the "state of emergency" (as per his personally-written 1993 constitution), which would put the brakes on any steps toward bona fide democratic expression, meanwhile knocking Peru back to 1992 when he effected a similar "self-coup," in which he closed Congress, suspended the constitution and padlocked the judiciary.

With only a 31.2 percent approval rating, and 59.6 percent of the population expressing support for this week's march, Fujimori's government faces a crisis of legitimacy. His tired claim that despite his dubious undemocratic methods, he still represents the voice of the people, patently is no longer true, and his efforts to maintain a hold on the people and the government have even alienated some of his traditional constituencies. Recent legislation has angered mining companies and the telecommunications industry, as well as business in general, which is increasingly wary of Fujimori's unpredictable policies and his growing penchant to flirt with populism.

His administration is also edging toward international pariah status, with practically all of the hemisphere's heads of state declining his invitation to attend the July 28 inauguration. The United States even appears to have moderately followed through on its initial threats to punish Fujimori's undemocratic behavior, axing $40 million intended to go toward drug enforcement efforts in Peru from the Clinton administration's controversial Colombian aid bill.

Fujimori faces the greatest challenge that his troubled administration has ever seen: declining domestic support, skepticism from the business community, waning international approval, mass demonstrations in the streets and strong opposition in Congress. Unless he commits to serious democratic reforms, it is becoming increasingly unlikely that his presidency will last until the next presidential election in 2005. Although such a destabilizing situation could be devastating for the region, further militarization could very likely escalate already-rampant human rights abuses, that have begun to evoke images of the 1970s and 1980s, when Latin America's militaries waged a bloody war upon their own populations. Serious consequences will be difficult to avoid, but a firm stance by the international community (so far all but nonexistent) could help to steer Peru towards the most justified outcome: the immediate voiding of Fujimori's rule and a transition to democratic institutions.

Taylor Mammen, Research Associate


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