Peruvian democracy at a low ebb
EDITORIAL | 20 NOVEMBER 2013
Thirteen years after the Fujimori regime fell as the multi-million dollar bribery of top officials and media personalities by Vladimiro Montesinos came to light on prime-time TV, Fujimori’s spy chief continues to cast his spell over Peruvian politics from within a top-security jail. Such is the fragility of Peru’s democratic institutions, that the latest activities of Montesinos and his associates have helped generate a political crisis that forced President Humala to abandon an official visit to Canada, pushed him to sack both the interior minister and a key military advisor, and to prompt a former president of the Congress to speculate about a coup d’etat in the making.
Who knew what about the decision to provide a police guard to a close Montesinos associate, Oscar López Meneses, provoked a public row between top members of the police force and the army, including the head of the joint command of the armed forces, Admiral José Cueto. The resignation of Interior Minister Wilfredo Pedraza and the dismissal of Adrian Villafuerte, Humala’s senior advisor on security issues, showed just how serious the matter was. Pedraza’s departure happened only weeks after Humala – his popularity fast ebbing in the opinion polls – had felt obliged to get rid of his longest-serving prime minister, Juan Jiménez, and replace him by César Villanueva, formerly president of the regional government in San Martín.
The influence of Fujimori, who was denied a pardon by Humala last June, continues to spread far from the luxury jail in which he has been incarcerated since 2009 when he was sentenced to 25 years of imprisonment for human rights and corruption crimes. Just as the López Meneses scandal was breaking, Fujimori was able to conduct an interview – relayed on television – from a phone within his jail.
Fujimori appeared healthy, contrary to efforts to depict himself as an invalid in order to swing public opinion behind his attempt to force Humala to pardon him on health grounds. Fujimori remains a popular figure, notwithstanding the crimes he has committed. Opinion polls carried shortly before Humala’s refusal to pardon him showed a majority of Peruvians supporting his release.
The results of the 2011 elections, in which Humala only beat Fujimori’s daughter Keiko by a narrow margin to win in the second round, gave Fujimori’s supporters a solid base in the Congress. After the ruling Gana Peru grouping, the pro-Fujimori Fuerza Popular (FP) grouping is the second largest party. They are consistent in little except taking every opportunity to cast aspersions on Humala, usually supported by APRA and former president Alan García. Keiko Fujimori remains one of the more likely candidates to win the 2016 presidential elections.
Not only do the Fujimoristas command support amid public opinion and within the security forces (and among some senior churchmen like the Opus Dei archbishop of Lima Cardinal Luis Cipriani), they thus enjoy a strong base in the legislature. Perhaps symptomatic of the times was the decision (since retracted) of a congressional committee to appoint Marta Chávez to head a sub-group on human rights, whose responsibilities include holding the government to account for implementation of the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on the legacy of Peru’s internal conflict. Few politicians have exhibited less sympathy for the cause of human rights in Peru than Marta Chávez, a pro-Fujimori stalwart. Human rights groups condemned her appointment, pointing out that she had advocated an amnesty for members of the La Colina death squad and a pardon for Fujimori, as well as calling the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission ‘biased’.
The political atmosphere is not improved by scandals affecting other leading politicians. García remains at the centre of a congressional enquiry into corruption during his second government (2006-11), not least the accusation that he used presidential prerogatives to pardon drug traffickers in Peruvian prisons. His predecessor, Alejandro Toledo, also finds himself embroiled in scandal about the funding of luxury home purchases in Lima.
So it is should therefore come as no surprise that democratic institutions do not inspire much confidence amid the citizens of Peru. The latest version of the Latinobarómetro, an opinion poll conducted across Latin America in early November, once gain relegates Peru close to the bottom of the regional league table in terms of faith in democracy and politicians.