- The Washington Times - Friday, November 24, 2000

Alejandro Toledo, the man who would have won the Peruvian election last spring if President Alberto Fujimori had not cheated at every stage of the process, got it exactly right: "Alberto Fujimori's government will be illegitimate, a source of permanent instability, and I don't think it can last more than six to 12 months."
Well, it's gone. Only six months after he dragged Peru through a huge political crisis in order to win a illegal third term as president, Mr. Fujimori has phoned home from Japan to say he has resigned. In fact, he is probably going to stay in Japan. If he went home, he might end up in jail.
Alberto Fujimori is not a nice man, but he was not your classic Latin American strongman, either. The son of Japanese immigrants to Peru, he came out of nowhere, the darkest of dark horses, to win the presidency in the 1990 election and took over an impoverished country reeling from the twin scourges of hyperinflation and a savage guerrilla insurgency.
He beat them both, and won the gratitude of poor Peruvians who were the chief victims of both phenomena. As one of the protesters at his inauguration for a third term last July said: "If he's gone in 1995, he'd have been remembered as Peru's best president in history."
Mr. Fujimori's key instrument in defeating the guerrillas was a disgraced ex-army officer called Vladimiro Montesinos who created and ran the National Intelligence Service (SIN). With a ruthless combination of blackmail, bribery and torture, Mr. Montesinos won the intelligence war that is the heart of any guerrilla struggle.
Only a quarter of the 4,000 people who were "disappeared" by the army were killed after Mr. Fujimori came to power in 1990, but they included the key leaders of Shining Path. By 1992 the organization's founder and guiding spirit, Abimael Guzman, was captured and jailed for life. Mr. Fujimori also ended the economic chaos of the 1980 by savage cuts in government spending, and in 1995 a grateful nation voted him a second term by a landslide majority.
The problem was that the monster he had created wouldn't go away. Mr. Montesinos sat at the center of his web, silent and invisible, controlling the military, the judiciary and the tame Congress with his bribes and his blackmail, and tucking a fortune away for himself. And since this hidden empire could only survive so long as Mr. Fujimori stayed in power, he couldn't be allowed to quit.
There is no evidence that Mr. Fujimori had grown weary of power, but Peru's constitution clearly forbids a third term as president. Would Mr. Fujimori have put himself and Peru through the grotesque manipulations necessary to get around that fact including firing three judges who said he couldn't change the constitution, and holding an election where the votes cast outnumbered the voters by 1.5 million if Mr. Montesinos hadn't insisted on it? Nobody knows.
In the end it bought Mr. Montesinos little time, for in September a tape came out that showed him bribing an opposition member of the newly elected Congress to defect to Mr. Fujimori's party. Mr. Fujimori's response was to pull the whole temple down around his ears.
He fired Mr. Montsinos and closed down SIN. He cut his term short and decreed a fresh election in April in which he would not run. He replaced the three armed forces chiefs (all thought to be Mr. Montesinos's men). And then he left the country.
What drove him to do all this? Canadian diplomat Peter Boehm, who has been the special envoy of the Organization of American States to Peru during this year's crisis, suggests he was looking for a face-saving way to undo some of the damage his reputation has suffered. He paraphrases Mr. Fujimori's position this way: "I'm a Spanish-speaking politician in Latin America, but my entire background is Japanese. I was raised in that culture. My duty and my sense of honor are foremost."
High-flown sentiments from a man who often behaved like a cheap thug, and whose right-hand man was a corrupt and murderous monster. On the other hand, even gangsters in Japan have a Japanese sense of honor. At any rate, he's gone, and the forthcoming elections will bring Alejandro Toledo to power just one year behind schedule.Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist.

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