‘Last samurai’ still has support in thankful Japan

by and

The stage may be set for former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori to be tried for human rights violations and corruption charges in Peru, but many Japanese still see him as a hero.

Just two months after being touted as the “last samurai” by supporters during his unsuccessful run in July’s Upper House election in Japan, the Chile Supreme Court on Friday ordered the 69-year-old Fujimori extradited to Peru, where he is wanted on charges of sanctioning death squad killings and bribery, among other offenses.

But in contrast with those who want Fujimori convicted and thrown in prison, others maintain that the former president, who is of Japanese descent and has Japanese citizenship, helped develop the South American country.

Tadae Takubo, a visiting professor at the social sciences faculty of Tokyo’s Kyorin University, said the former Peruvian president was “a virtuous politician who showed his determination in fighting terrorism.”

“The Peruvian court must take into consideration the genuine wish of the people supporting Fujimori,” he said.

Takubo, who in July joined other professors and corporate executives in establishing the Organization to Rescue Former President of Peru Alberto Fujimori, insists that Fujimori deserves lavish praise, particularly for his leadership in liberating 72 hostages from rebels who stormed the Japanese ambassador’s official residence in Lima in December 1996. The operation pressured the rebels into releasing hundreds of other hostages before its dramatic conclusion.

“What he has done and shown us Japanese is quite respectable,” said Takubo, an expert on diplomatic affairs.

Zenshin Yamamoto, a cofounder of the pro-Fujimori group, said the organization collected statements of support for the embattled politician from 1,200 people over the last two months. Among them are Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara and 17 Diet members.

“I believe that the alleged incidents he is wanted for were the cost of fighting terrorism — the result of a stabilizing effort,” Yamamoto said of Fujimori’s alleged human rights abuses. At least one in four Peruvians still supports Fujimori for reining in runaway inflation, building schools and hunting down terrorists, he said.

However, Tokyo-based lawyer Yasushi Higashizawa praised the decision by Chile’s Supreme Court to extradite Fujimori and seek strict judgment against him.

The lawyer acknowledged that during Fujimori’s asylum in Japan between 2000 and 2005, those who supported the former president outnumbered those who didn’t.

But Higashizawa, who has met with the family members of nine students allegedly murdered by a death squad at Cantuta University in 1992 and 15 civilians murdered by the military in the Barrios Altos district near Lima in 1991, said he is firmly convinced Fujimori should face trial.

Peruvian prosecutors have said Fujimori knew of the assailants’ operations and was thus an accomplice — a view echoed strongly by survivors Higashizawa has met.

The lawyer, a supporter of The Japan Network for Bringing Justice to Fujimori, said Fujimori’s popularity in Peru and Japan should have no bearing on whether he faces trial.

“He may have helped reduce poverty, but he should nevertheless face the proper legal procedure,” he said, adding that Fujimori would spend 30 years in prison at most and avoid the death penalty.

Meanwhile, Mario Castro, Tokyo correspondent for respected Peruvian newspaper El Comercio and a 16-year resident of Japan, described his and other Peruvian residents’ feelings toward Fujimori as nuanced.

The Lima native, who tried to interview Fujimori throughout his stay in Japan but was rebuffed, explained that Fujimori’s many fans here include Peruvians of Japanese descent, and that his support is based as much on the deposed leader’s economic successes and tough stance on terrorism as it is on the more fickle sense of ethnic identification.

Detractors, though, believe the Japanese government wrongly sheltered the one-time strongman from the charges but eventually “asked Fujimori to leave” because impatient Peruvian prosecutors were threatening to take their case to an international court, Castro said.

Such critics saw Chile’s relatively swift extradition of Fujimori as an affirmation of the charges against him and proof that Japan was dragging its feet. And Fujimori’s pursuit of politics in the two countries while under house arrest was branded a ruse.

“On one hand he said he wanted to go back, but on the other he ran for the Japanese Diet,” said Castro, referring to the failed bid for the House of Councilors. “Why did he do that? For many people, Fujimori just wanted to escape Peruvian justice.”