This Tuesday January 11, the Board of Elections in Peru decided to refuse former President Alberto Fujimori a chance to seek what would have been his third Presidency. The decision hardly surprises anybody, but it provides an excellent chance to see at the painful state of contemporary Peruvian politics.
As with other countries that I have considered in this blog before, I do not think that we should assume that what is happening nowadays in Peru will happen later in Argentina or Mexico. The intricacies of Peruvian politics prevent from any possible contagion, and yet it is possible to see in Fujimori's biography some glimpses of the kinds of things that are wrong region wide in Latin America.
First it is necessary to acknowledge that as repulsive as Fujimori may be for some in Latin America he was able to address critical issues in Peruvian politics that many others before him were unable or unwilling to address. The problem, of course, exists in the kind of means that he used to pursue his goals. For one, we have the case of Vladimiro Montesinos, the former chief of the political police in Peru who gained fame as one of the bloodiest torturers in a region full of them.
In addition, one can think of Fujimori's decision to dissolve the Peruvian Congress and Supreme Court. The "auto-golpe" or "self-coup" as it came to be known in the early 1990s was with his aggressive counter-terrorist tactics and his economic shock plan, the features that gained "El Chino" (The Chinese), as he came to be known, world fame. By the way, if you are interested in Peruvian politics and you like movies, watch The Dancer Upstairs, an excellent movie directed by John Malkovich dealing precisely with aspects of the counter-terrorist tactics used by Fujimori and Montesinos.
These aspects of Fujimori's biography have been the subject of many commentaries and criticism, some of them accurate and fair, some of them exaggerated by Fujimori's foes. What is more relevant, however, is to ask how a former professor in a technical university (Universidad Nacional Agraria La Molina), ended up walking the path Fujimori walked.
To my mind, Peru and Fujimori provide a text-book case to understand what is wrong with presidential regimes and the kind of contradictions that constitute the core of such regimes. I cannot think that a guy such a Fujimori, a college professor in Agronomy, was since his early youth the corrupted and mischievous politician that was forced out of his country to seek refuge in his unique condition as both former President of Peru and Japanese citizen.
Quite the contrary, people who knew the early Fujimori, the one who came to be the president of his Alma Mater, have expressed over and over their surprise with the kind of policies, and more specifically with the decisionmaking processes used by Fujimori as President of Peru.
First, of course his decision to shutdown the Peruvian congress and Supreme Court. He did so after it was clear that his government had no chance to overcome the grip that before him had affected former presidents Fernando Belaúnde Terry and Alán García during their terms. Belaúnde ended up being ousted by a coup back in the 1960s, and García avoided any further confrontarion with the Congress by becoming more radical than the Congress and the leaders of APRA itself.
No wonder, by the end of his term Peru was deep into the worst crisis of its history confronting two choices, Alberto Fujimori as the rather surprising candidate of Cambio 90, and Mario Vargas Llosa, the novelist turned into politician who was unable to defeat Fujimori when El Chino was able to gather the support of García and other leaders of APRA who expected to be able to control his presidency.
Fujimori himself contributed to such perception as his first presidential campaign was based on a bold rejection of the structural reform policies that Vargas Llosa openly proposed to the Peruvian electors. However, Fujimori proved to be a resourceful politician gathering the support of the Armed Forces to launch, rather late when compared with other Latin American countries, an ambitious reform program. The program included not only the usual shock policies to freeze the mounting inflation rate, but also a broad diplomatic effort to recast Peru's relation with the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the U.S. Department of the Treasury.
Fifteen years later, Fujimori is nothing but a shadow of his old self, and sadly, Peru is in no better shape. After Fujimori's exile in Japan, the administration of Alejandro Toledo faced, as his predecessors did, the negative consequences of presidential regimes, making the very process of government almost impossible.
Despite the decision of the Peruvian electoral board it is important to stress that the Fujimoris are coming. Keiko, the former president's daughter and Santiago, the former president's brother are already registered as candidates. It is not clear, however, who will takeover as Santiago running mate, now that it is clear that Alberto will not be able to run as presidential candidate to compete with Ollanta Humala and another shadow from the past, former President Alán García who expects to become the newest of Hugo Chávez's partners in Latin American politics.
The problem, however, is in the institutional designs and more specifically in presidentialism. That is why politicians with different approaches to politics such as Belaúnde, García, Fujimori, and Toledo share all similar fates, similar flaws. It is not in the Peruvian or in the Latin American "culture," but in the rules of a perverse game that we are unable to stop.
Technorati Tags: América Latina, Latin America, Peru, Alberto Fujimori, Alejandro Toledo, Ollanta Humala, Alán García, Populist Politics, Rodolfo Soriano, Social Change in Latin America