Peruvians rise up against pardon for corrupt ex-president
A man shouts slogans against the pardon of former President Alberto Fujimori in Lima, Peru, on Dec. 25, 2017. Protesters held up signs with photos of nine university students who were kidnapped, killed and disappeared in 1992. | Martin Mejia/AP

Thousands of angry demonstrators  are marching in the capital, Lima, and other cities in Peru to demand new elections to replace the conservative President,  Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, and to denounce Kuczynski’s Christmas Eve pardon of former President Alberto Fujimori, who has been serving a 25-year prison sentence for crimes of corruption and the violation of human rights.

The demonstrations, organized by labor unions, student groups and human rights organizations, are taking place in Lima, Cusco, Arequipa, Puno and other cities.  The slogans include “the pardon [of ex president Fujimori] is insult!” and  “Out with them all!”  .  The coalition which organized the demonstrations, the Unified Struggle Committee, and labor leaders have called for continued protests, with a major mobilization on January 11.

Kuczynski, like many other politicians throughout Latin America, has been implicated in a corruption scandal involving the Odebrecht construction company, a Brazilian firm whose operatives are accused of having distributed bribes to land government contracts in Brazil, Peru and elsewhere.   In the case of Kuczynski, at issue are contracts issued to Odebrecht by a company that the president controlled while he held his post as a minister of economy and finance in the government of a previous President, Alejandro Toledo.  Toledo and Kuczynski’s two immediate predecessors in the presidency, Alan García and Ollanta Humala, are also accused of such corrupt involvements; Toledo has taken refuge in the United States, whence Peruvian authorities are trying to extradite him, without success so far.

Before last week, demands had already arisen from both the left and far right for Kuszynski’s impeachment.  For the Peruvian left, which seeks Kuczynski’s removal from power, new elections and a new constitution, this represents a dilemma, however.  The strongest force in the Peruvian Congress right now is the far right People’s Force (Fuerza Popular) headed by Keiko Fujimori, which has 71 of the 130 seats in the unicameral national legislature.        .

In last year’s general elections, the presidential candidate supported by the left (including Peru’s two communist parties and other socialist groups), Veronika Mendoza, registered advances beyond those of left candidates in recent years, especially in poor indigenous districts in the South of the country.  However, she did not get into the eventual runoff, which took place between Pedro Pablo Kuczynski and Keikio Fujimori.

Fujimori is the daughter of ex-President Alberto Fujimori, who ruled from 1990 to 2000 in an increasingly authoritarian manner.  The senior Fujimori, using the pretext of suppressing the violent “Shining Path” rebellion, is blamed for both corruption and for the violent repression of the human rights of workers, students and others.  In 2009, he was sentenced to 25 years in prison for some of these things, and other charges. Claims for compensation from victims of his government’s actions have been pending.  But some people, crediting Alberto Fujimori’s iron hand for improving internal security and also alleged economic improvements, support Keiko and her party for this reason.

In the runoff phase of the 2016 elections, most of the left threw their tactical support to Kuczynski, fearing that a Keiko Fujimori presidency would spell a move to fascism with a return to her father’s brutal repressive methods of governance.

Kuczynski, a major figure in international finance capital and a promotor of neoliberal policies such as the Transpacific Partnership (TPP), won by a small margin. His government has been faced with protests against his trade and labor policies and also his support for aggressive extractive industries, especially mining.

The fear on the left has been that if Kuczynski were simply impeached and removed from office because of the Odebrecht matter, the principal political beneficiaries would be the Fuerza Popular and Keiko Fujimori, with the possibility of a government of the fascist extreme right.  For this reason, the demand of the Peruvian left, including the Peruvian Communist Party, is not just for the impeachment of Kuczynski, but for new elections and a Constituent Assembly to draft a new constitution that would be more responsive to the popular will.

It looked as if there were enough votes in Congress for impeachment.  But on Thursday, enough legislators from Keiko Fujimori’s party abstained in the impeachment vote for it to fail.   Keiko Fujimori continued to call for impeachment, but one of the legislators who abstained, killing the measure, was her brother and Alberto Fujimori’s son Kenji Fujimori, also a major figure in the party.

Then on Christmas Eve, Kuczynski shocked millions of Peruvians by announcing a full pardon for Alberto Fujimori.  Kuczynski said he was issuing the pardon on humanitarian grounds due to the ex president’s alleged poor health.    This pardon covered possible future prosecution, and left in limbo financial claims of Peruvian citizens who suffered repression during the dictatorship.

The strong suspicion of a deal whereby Kuczynski would avoid impeachment in exchange for the pardon arose immediately.  There were resignations from Kuczynski’s cabinet, and the left, the labor movement and other sectors doubled up on their calls for Kuczynski to go.  Today’s demonstrations are to be followed by more protests, with a major union mobilization scheduled for January 11.

In a statement signed by its president, Mario Huaman Rivera, and general secretary, Geronimo López Sevillano, Peru’s largest labor federation, the General Confederation of Peruvian Workers (CGTP), gave voice to the views of millions:

“The GCPT knows that Alberto Fujimori …..murdered, through his paramilitaries, labor leaders such as Pedro Huilca Tecse,  the students of la Cantuta, the massacre of Barrios Altos and other men and women of our homeland, and that his family members, who have fled justice, have still not been prosecuted…..Faced with this fact, the CGTP calls on all workers and on the Peruvian people to repudiate [the pardon] and to mobilize all over the country to build an alternative power based on district, provincial and regional defense fronts, to move toward a national meeting which will develop a proposal for a new, democratic and people’s Constitution”.

Huilca Tecse was a former CGTP secretary general who was murdered in 1992 by operatives of a paramilitary group linked to Fujimori’s government.  In the same year, nine students and a teacher at La Cantuta University were abducted and murdered by the same Fujimori linked death squad, Grupo Colinas, whose members were army personnel.  Earlier, in 1991, Grupo Colinas had massacred fifteen unarmed civilians in the Barrios Altos neighborhood of Lima.  Alberto Fujimori tried, unsuccessfully, to blame these atrocities on the Shining Path guerillas, and to pardon military leaders accused in the crimes.  The coverup quickly unraveled.

During Thursday’s protests, Veronika Mendoza, the left’s candidate in the 2016 elections, expressed similarly trenchant views:  “Mr. Kuczynski is no longer the president of the Peruvians, because what he has, in fact, done with the immoral and illegal pardon is a crude betrayal of our homeland, because he has pardoned a  murderer and thief,” adding that Kuczynski should resign.

It is still possible that court action will overturn the pardon.


CONTRIBUTOR

Emile Schepers
Emile Schepers

Emile Schepers is a veteran civil and immigrant rights activist. Emile Schepers was born in South Africa and has a doctorate in cultural anthropology from Northwestern University. He has worked as a researcher and activist in urban, working-class communities in Chicago since 1966. He is active in the struggle for immigrant rights, in solidarity with the Cuban Revolution and a number of other issues. He now writes from Northern Virginia.

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