Alberto Fujimori, Peru's president of Japanese origin, is set to become one of Latin America's longest surviving political leaders. Janet Bush surveys the strategy of a man who strives to combine democracy with autocracy, and free market reforms with Asian-style social developmentby Janet Bush / October 20, 1996 / Leave a comment
Perched stiff-backed on a large gold and brocade chair in his palace, Alberto Fujimori rifled through the inside pocket of his suit and took out a crumpled piece of paper. On it were various scribbled aides-m?moires. Privatise that tourist hotel in the north. Think about the link between education and employment. Send the labour minister to open the new technical institute. Promote the cause of women.
The president of Peru writes policy on the back of an envelope, running the country with a telephone and a Toshiba laptop: a cut-price Ross Perot, too poor to campaign by tele-conference and satellite, but full of the same populist, independent instincts.
Fujimori is an odd fish. The son of Japanese immigrants, this former agronomist rose without trace to beat Peru’s most famous novelist Mario Vargas Llosa to power in 1990. In 1995, he won a second term by a popular landslide, slaying another of the most illustrious sons of Peru’s establishment: former UN secretary general Perez de Cuellar.
To cap all this, in August this year he persuaded Congress to vote through an “authentic interpretation” of the constitution which will allow him to seek an unprecedented third term to mark the millennium. With his popularity hovering around the 60 per cent mark, he is set to become one of Latin America’s longest serving presidents.
Like Perot, he had no party, just the appeal of the outsider to a jaded electorate. But Fujimori succeeded where the other failed because he was stepping into a political vacuum and because he happened to find himself in Latin America.
The country-and the continent-where Fujimori found his political stage has been in crisis for decades. Economies have been wrenched back and forth violently on the pendulum of the state versus free market economic debate, societies buffeted helplessly as power passed from generals to democrats and back again: right, left, right.
In Peru, the left finally got its man into Lima’s monumental presidential palace in 1985. What followed under the five years of Alan Garc?-a’s presidency was a quixotic flirtation with almost any economic ideology which seemed to fit the moment.
Garc?-a alienated Peru’s creditors with a campaign to limit debt payment to 10 per cent of export earnings and the IMF and the private banks duly ruled out Peru for any future credit. In July 1987, he suddenly nationalised the banks; by August he had quietly reopened…