'Turning the page': possible Fujimori release betokens change of strategy

28 April 2017

In a phrase widely taken to mean rapprochement with the pro-Fujimori majority in Congress, President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski announced last week (and has repeated it since) that he was ‘turning the page’ in order to build a more unified society.

The context for this page-turning was the much hyped 20th anniversary of the Chavín de Huanta operation, in which commandos from the Peruvian army stormed the Japanese ambassador’s residence, bringing to an end a lengthy siege that had many key figures held hostage for months by the Movimiento Revolucionario Tupac Amaru (MRTA).

The celebration was, of course, the chance to reaffirm the role played by then president Alberto Fujimori in bringing the siege to an end. Fujimori was jailed in 2008 for corruption and for human rights crimes during his ten-year presidency (1990-2000). Various attempts by his family and supporters to secure his release from jail have so far failed.

Hard on the heels of this page-turning discourse came the news that new attempts were being made by a member of Kuczynski’s own group in Congress, Carlos Bruce, to push for Fujimori’s release, a call reiterated by other PPK supporters. This proved to be the pretext for a Fujimorista member of Congress, Roberto Vieira, to submit a bill which would enable those over the age of 75 with health problems to serve their sentences under house arrest.

Kuczynski’s response has been, at best, ambivalent. He has said in the past that the executive would not submit legislation that was designed to benefit a particular individual. Now he is saying that Vieira’s bill should be “studied with care”. He went on to say “we shall see what should be done”.  Hardly a strong rebuttal of Vieira’s proposed law.

The pro-Fujimori majority in Congress – 72 seats out of 130 – is certainly enough to see the legislation reach the statute book. As framed, it would not allow for the release of Abimael Guzmán, since it rules out terrorists, drug-traffickers and rapists, but it might also do to achieve the release of Vladimiro Montesinos (once he reaches 75).

The thinking behind this page-turning appears to be that the Kuczynski government can only put itself on a firm footing if it manages to do a deal with the Fujimoristas. In recent weeks, it has managed to stabilise itself politically by taking full advantage of the crisis caused by flooding and huaycos. The opposition has, too, been effectively silenced by not wishing to appear to jeopardise national unity at such a delicate moment.

But the mathematics of congressional opposition are such that the Fujimoristas have the whip-hand, and if buying time means releasing Fujimori that may be the price that Kuczynski has to pay.

Not surprisingly, the human rights community, led by the family members of victims from the Barrios Altos and Cantuta killings in 1992, are appalled by this sudden about-turn. The Coordinadora Nacional de Derechos Humanos has issued a strongly-worded statement of protest.  So too the left-wing Frente Amplio has registered its opposition to any release of Fujimori in strong terms. Tens of thousands demonstrated on the streets of Lima in 2015 against his early release.

Meanwhile, the government last week saw Congress approve its proposals for reconstruction, albeit with minor changes. The package sailed through the legislature, with 90 votes for and only 18 against. The 18 came almost entirely from the Frente Amplio.

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