Siblings at warby Catherine Elton / April 17, 2018 / Leave a comment
Published in May 2018 issue of Prospect Magazine
On the day in late March that Peru’s president, faced with impeachment over corruption charges, finally decided to resign from office, the streets were empty of marches—either celebratory or in protest—and the stock market barely noticed. But this preternaturally quiet end to Pedro Pablo Kuczynsky’s 19 month rule, belies the fact that what led to this moment was a barely believable tale of intrigue, betrayal and political subterfuge carried out by two rival children of former president Alberto Fujimori.
The battle between Keiko and Kenji Fujimori was over whether Kuczynsky—or PPK, as he is known—would stay in the presidential palace. But the siblings’ larger, blood feud is over who will go on to represent their father’s legacy in the 2021 elections and possibly move “back home” to the presidential palace they were kicked out of 17 years ago when their father, too, was forced to resign over corruption charges.
Alberto ruled Peru from 1990 until 2000, when he faxed his resignation from Japan. He had fled there after secretly taped videos emerged showing his intelligence advisor paying government officials for their allegiance. He was eventually arrested in Chile, extradited to Peru and jailed.
Alberto’s children both entered politics after he went to prison. Keiko ran twice for president, losing on both occasions—the second time, in 2016, by a razor thin margin to PPK. But her Popular Force party held a majority in congress, allowing her to block PPK’s agenda at every turn and attempting to impeach him over revelations of his undisclosed business relationships with Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht.
But Keiko’s younger brother, Kenji, has ambitions of his own. Despite being a congressman in Keiko’s party, it was he who initially saved PPK from impeachment, when he and nine congressional allies abstained from the vote. Days later, it became clear why. In what was seen as the second half of a political deal, PPK pardoned Alberto, paving the way for his early release from jail. Although Keiko tweeted a joyful message about her father’s release, it was widely speculated that she preferred he remain in jail, lest he steal her political thunder.
Undeterred, Keiko tried to impeach PPK again. This time she had a trump card—and in playing it, turned on her brother too. Her party released video of secretly-taped meetings in which Kenji and his allies tried to lure a congressman into abstaining from the vote with the promise that PPK would approve public works projects for his district, giving him the chance to skim five per cent off the top. Although it wasn’t clear if PPK knew what Kenji was doing on his behalf, the tide had turned. PPK resigned the next day.
After his resignation, courts banned PPK from leaving the country for 18 months while prosecutors investigate the charges. He has some company. Former president Ollanta Humala and his wife are in jail awaiting trial, while prosecutors are also trying to extradite former president Alejandro Toledo from the US on bribery charges.
The winner in the whole mess is Keiko. But some say Kenji still may have some cards to play. “He isn’t dead or destroyed and he has his father there to guide him,” says political consultant Luis Nunes. Indeed, he came out of the recent video scandal swinging: he offered prosecutors evidence of illegal dealings between Keiko’s party and Odebrecht.
For now, the big question mark is on the unassuming man who has succeeded PPK, his vice-president, Martin Vizcarra, an engineer and former governor of a small department in the south of Peru who finds himself an unexpected president. “I presume he will make it till the end of his term” says Nunes, “but in a country like Peru, with such weak institutions, you can never be too sure.”
There is not much to go on to predict what kind of president Vizcarra will be. Thus far he has done little more than name his cabinet and iron out details for the upcoming Summit of the Americas, which Peru is hosting this month. The topic of the meeting is “democratic governance against corruption.”