No Shining Path

Alberto Fujimori, October 1998, credit Wikimedia Commons

No Shining Path

Bill Hartley, on the Peruvian pagaille

Some countries get the heads of state they definitely don’t deserve. Worse still, they get them in rapid succession. A good example of this would be Peru, whose recent history is littered with former presidents who carry the taint of scandal.

The first of note whose reputation extends beyond the confines of his country is Alberto Fujimori. Courtesy of the Foreign Office he is, incidentally, a holder of the Grand Cross of the Distinguished Order of St. Michael & St. George. He has also been a member or leader of an impressive array of political parties, among which are the right wing ‘Let’s Go Neighbour’ whose ideology was described as ‘Fujimorism’: a catch all term it seems, designed to cover authoritarianism with a dash of fascism. Then came ‘Yes Fulfil’ and the rather more mundane ‘New People’s Party’. A total of eight so far in the course of his career.

As the name suggests, Fujimori is of Japanese descent, an academic and something of a technocrat. In 1992 during his first presidential term and facing opposition from the legislature, Fujimori carried out what is known in the trade as a ‘self coup’. This allowed him to assume all judicial and legislative powers by dissolving congress. What followed was his ‘Green Plan’ which involved the genocide of impoverished and indigenous Peruvians. In the best South American tradition the economy was overseen by the military; self coups having their limitations.

It has been suggested that the de facto leader of the country at this time was the long standing head of the country’s National Intelligence Service, who rejoices in the name of Vladimiro Lenin Ilich Montesinos Torres. Montesinos was said to have had a long standing relationship with the CIA. His career would stretch credulity if it were included in a work of fiction. Currently, like his alleged protégé, he is serving a lengthy prison sentence.

Fujimori’s neo liberal policies (liberal unless you were in the wrong category) attracted the support of wealthy Peruvians and international institutions. He went on to secure victory in the presidential elections of 1995 and 2000. Subsequently, facing accusations of corruption and human rights violations, he went into exile in Japan. He was extradited and convicted of murder, kidnapping and embezzlement, which in 2009 led to a sentence of 25 years imprisonment. Although various other convictions followed, Fujimori was fortunate in that according to Peruvian law, all sentences must be served concurrently. Not that actually serving a sentence, in the generally accepted definition of the term, is something which necessarily troubles Peruvian ex presidents. Fujimori was pardoned by President Pablo Kuczynski in 2017. The gesture may have had something to do with his gratitude towards Fujimori’s son Kenji, who as a congressman helped Kuczynski survive an impeachment vote. Kenji was able to squeeze this in before congress suspended him for alleged crimes of influence peddling and bribery. Kuczynski, a graduate of Exeter College Oxford, assumed office in 2016 having defeated Keiko Fujimori, the ex president’s daughter. A year later congress began impeachment proceedings after he was accused of lying about payments from Odebrecht, a Brazilian construction company whose activities have been deeply interwoven with Peruvian politicians. Although this failed a further attempt was made, this time alleging acts of vote buying and in 2018 he resigned. In 2019 Kuczynski was arrested on charges of money laundering.

Fujimori’s pardon proved to be only a temporary reprieve since it was revoked by the Supreme Court and he was imprisoned once more in 2019. Another short lived pardon followed and here it gets rather confusing. Despite having been out of politics for some time, Fujimuri regularly features in the Peruvian national daily El Comercio. One of his most recent appearances was on February 1st of this year. The former president is currently serving his sentence under a form of house arrest. He attempted to have this lifted so as to be able to travel to Japan for medical treatment. A judge refused permission and he has been advised to renew his application in nine months. Given that he is now aged 85 time is not on his side.

Stories about political corruption are a staple of El Comercio. For example, the January 31st edition carried a story about the Anti Corruption Squad visiting the home of Carlos Revilla Loayza, a government official between 2018 and 2021, during the presidency of Martin Vizcarra. (See below) One of the allegations against him is that he had been moving sums totalling up to $100,000,000 around in suitcases. Judging by the photograph accompanying the story, Loayza’s pet bulldog was no more pleased than his master to be receiving the visitors. Pages four and five of the paper carried a handy guide to who else was involved in the ex president’s web of corruption.

Fujimori was succeeded by Alejandro Toledo who held the presidency from 2001-2006. An indigenous Peruvian of humble origins, he was founder of the Possible Peru party. Although there were positive aspects to his administration, scandal began to grow, with allegations of corruption made against his inner circle. After he left office Toledo settled in the United States and appeared to be developing a reputation as an elder statesman and sought after lecturer on the college circuit. Then in 2019 he was arrested following an extradition request from the Peruvian foreign ministry and last year he was finally returned. Behind the extradition request was the name of the above mentioned construction company. Toledo is alleged to have received millions of dollars in bribes from Odebrecht. He claims that the allegations against him are politically motivated.  True enough in a way, since according to the New York Times ex presidents are beginning to stack up in Lima’s prison.

Odebrecht’s web of corruption has run through various South and Central American countries. In Peru a number of provincial officials together with ex presidents have been implicated. The corruption dates back more than thirty years and much of it involves a major construction project, the ‘Rutas de Lima’. The name of the company appears regularly in the pages of El Comercio. Politicians promoting an attachment to clean government when seeking the presidency have found that their connections to Odebrecht, whilst occupying more junior positions, has come back to haunt them.

Investigations into the activities of Peruvian presidents may drag on for years without any conclusion. An exception to this was Alan Garcia (1949-2019). First elected president in 1985 his was an administration best remembered for hyperinflation and terrorism. Unsurprisingly he lost the next election to Fujimori and then fled the country, since the army was said to be looking for him. He was granted asylum in Columbia, then following the fall of his successor returned and won the 2006 election. Garcia finally left office in 201. Allegations of corruption centred on payments from Odebrecht arose and in 2019 the police arrived at his home with an arrest warrant. Garcia asked for an opportunity to telephone his lawyer and went into a bedroom. Subsequently a shot was heard. It turned out that he had attempted to commit suicide by shooting himself in the head, though this wasn’t immediately successful. With some understatement, Peru’s Minister of Health told the media that he ‘was in a very serious condition’. Garcia died three hours later.

Skipping over the presidency of former army colonel Ollanta Humala (2011-16) who is also implicated in the Odebrecht scandal, takes us to Martin Vizcarra who was in office from 2018 to 2020.Although Vizcarra has no British honours he does possess the Grand Collar of the Order of Prince Henry, awarded by Portugal. This may date back to the time when there were high hopes he would be the anti corruption president. He first ran in the 2016 general election for one of two vice presidential positions alongside Pablo Kuczynski (see above) on his ironically named Peruvians for Change ticket. Then in 2018 he was sworn in as president following Kuczynski’s resignation. This gave him the opportunity to promote reforms against corruption.

It wasn’t long before Vizcarra got into conflict with the legislature. A year after being sworn in he triggered a constitutional crisis by dissolving congress. This backfired since in the subsequent 2020 elections, congress once again became opposition led. In September of that year congress opened impeachment proceedings against him on the rather vague grounds of ‘moral incapacity’. This didn’t receive enough votes but at a second attempt in 2020 they succeeded. It is said that the impeachment proceedings were orchestrated from his jail cell by ex president Humala, where he is serving a 19 year sentence. In March of this year the Andina News Agency reported that the Attorney General’s office had seized documents from Vizcarra’s home. This relates to an investigation into procurement processes dating back to his time as Minister of Transport.

Vizcarra appears to have a circle of close friends from his time as governor of the city of Moquegua. El Comercio published a lengthy story on 1st February into corruption which is alleged to date back to this time. Illustrating the story is a photograph of Vizcarra seated alongside Hugo Misad, one of the suspects. Not pictured unfortunately, was another former functionary from this period in Vizcarra’s career, the fabulously named Stalin Zeballos. Presumably he is not a relative.

This list of Peruvian ex presidents is by no means exhaustive. Several more have followed since Vizcarra left office and special mention ought perhaps to be made for Manuel Merino, who having succeeded Vizcarra, lasted for only five days before being driven from office due to widespread protests. The depressing thing about these scandals is the effect it must have on Peruvian democracy. Little wonder if the average voter loses faith in the prospect of the country ever acquiring honest politicians at any level.

William Hartley is a Social Historian

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