Peru Historical Overview: The Fujimori Years

The Fujimori Years

In the context of deteriorating security and mounting economic turmoil, a little known university rector, Alberto Fujimori, won the 1990 presidential elections. In an effort to end hyperinflation and stabilise the country’s economy Fujimori introduced a series of free market reforms (known collectively as the ‘Fujishock’). He also increased military efforts against SP insurgents by arming and training ‘self-defence committees’, comprising rural groups who opposed the guerrillas. As a result of police investigative work, Guzmán was tracked down and arrested in 1992. Though SP conducted periodic activity throughout the 1990s, Guzmán’s capture dealt a serious blow to the organisation from which it never fully recovered.

Improvements in security however, were accompanied by increasing authoritarianism in government and greater military interference in politics. This was marked by the growing power behind the scenes of Vladimiro Montesinos, Fujimori’s shadowy spy-chief. Within two years in office Fujimori had scrapped the country’s constitution, closed down Congress and sacked Supreme Court judges. He rewrote the constitution in 1993 increasing executive powers and lifting the bar on his own re-election. Buoyed by public support for his successes against terrorism and hyperinflation, Fujimori was re-elected in 1995. During his second term, his government became involved in ever more brazen attempts to manipulate political institutions to stay in power. In 2000 he sought to stand for a third term, arguing that this was his first re-election under the new constitution. Despite widespread opposition to his candidacy, Fujimori engineered his victory in the 2000 presidential election.

The Fujimori administration was marred by frequent human rights violations. Some of the worst abuses were perpetrated by Grupo Colina, a paramilitary death squad created by Montesinos and other senior military and intelligence officials. In the early 1990s Grupo Colina carried out massacres of civilians at Barrios Altos, La Cantuta and El Santa, ostensibly as part of counter-insurgency operations. Kidnappings and forced disappearances of journalists, suspected insurgents and their alleged sympathisers were also common.

However, it was massive corruption and embezzlement which were to be the ultimate undoing of the Fujimori regime. Shortly after the 2000 election, videos were unearthed showing Montesinos handing substantial bribes to members of Congress and a variety of other opinion formers. Following the emergence of these vladi-videos Fujimori was obliged to resign and fled to Japan. Montesinos also fled, but was arrested in 2001 in Venezuela. Both were eventually extradited to Peru (Fujimori in 2006 after returning voluntarily to Chile), where they were convicted of human rights abuses, corruption and embezzlement. They are currently serving lengthy prison sentences.