Double cross in Peru
The storm buffeting Peru’s political landscape climaxed with the Christmas Eve pardon of President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski (or PPK, as he’s commonly known) of former dictator Alberto Fujimori. Unlike the Philippines’ Ferdinand Marcos, Fujimori was tried in his own country’s courts and found guilty of human rights violations and corruption. How did Peru reach this point in which a president elected through the support of anti-Fujimorismo, and who has been under attack from Fujimoristas throughout his administration, gave in to their main demand of impunity for Fujimori after narrowly surviving impeachment proceedings promoted by them and the ex-dictator’s daughter Keiko?
While they hold similar free-market, neoliberal values (PPK even endorsed Keiko as president in 2011), Keiko’s blood thirst for Kuczynski has its origins in the 2017 election. Thanks to support from progressive sectors who rejected Keiko’s authoritarian streak, PPK was able to pull off an incredibly tight election victory. But Keiko bucked democratic tradition and neither conceded the election nor congratulated PPK. Despite winning only 36 percent of the votes for congress, Fujimorismo was able to occupy 73 of the 130 seats, and Keiko has used this to beat the Kuczynski administration into submission.
It is now evident that PPK thought he could rely on economic growth and appeasement of the Fujimoristas to govern Peru. When they went after his most qualified official, Education Minister Jaime Saavedra (now a high-ranking functionary at the World Bank), PPK served Saavedra’s head on a platter. Time and again, despite having the constitutional power to shut down an obstructionist Congress and call for new elections, he insisted on appeasement, hoping that his enemies would be satisfied. He was wrong.
This unremitting political confrontation came to a head shortly after the district attorney’s office raided Fujimorista party offices and found signs of financial wrongdoing (there is persistent talk that Keiko is funded by money launderers and drug traffickers). Shortly thereafter, Fujimoristas in Congress hit back and accused PPK that his company, Westfield Capital, received money from Brazilian corporation Odebrecht while he was finance minister in the early 2000s. Peruvians watched the astonishing spectacle of Fujimoristas in Congress — who have been accused of such offenses as forging documents, hiring thugs, money laundering, taking bribes, etc. — calling for lightning-fast impeachment to “fight against corruption.”
In the face of a likely Fujimorista takeover of power and the ensuing pardon for Fujimori, Peru’s disillusioned progressive sectors again reluctantly sided with PPK, despite their valid reservations on his conflicts of interest. But when it seemed that Fujimorismo was going to succeed, the unexpected happened: Ten members of Congress led by Keiko’s brother, Kenji, broke with the party and saved PPK from impeachment. Progressive sectors celebrated, saying democracy had triumphed and corruption had been defeated.
What was the price of those votes? The siblings have long been fighting for control over the Fujimorista party and their father’s “legacy,” so Peru’s progressives warned PPK against pardoning their father as payment for Kenji’s votes. But on Christmas Eve, after having vowed to not do so, PPK issued his presidential pardon. As a result, lawmakers in PPK’s party as well as Cabinet ministers have resigned, and protests have rocked Peru.
PPK’s obstinate insistence on appeasement has cost him dearly. Fujimoristas aligned with Keiko still want to topple him, progressives abjure him as a traitor, and he has never had a proper political party to begin with. He painted himself into a corner in which his only choices were to cede power to the Fujimoristas so they could pardon Fujimori, or to strike a deal to stay in power and pardon him himself.
After splitting Fujimorismo into two bitter factions by handing the “win” to Kenji instead of Keiko, PPK might fancy himself a self-sacrificing Samson rather than a faint-hearted Chamberlain. But by bringing down the temple around his botched presidency and his Fujimorista executioners, he has also double-crossed the victims of the dictatorship. Much like Marcos’ burial in the heroes’ cemetery, this is an affront to all those who believe in human rights and justice.
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Jorge Bayona is a PhD candidate at the University of Washington.
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