The Fujimori era is over. Peru’s embattled president, Mr. Alberto Fujimori, has resigned after 10 tumultuous years in office. Mr. Fujimori leaves a mixed legacy. There were important accomplishments during his decade in power, but the price has been high. His successor inherits a divided country whose democratic institutions have been weakened. Mr. Fujimori claims to have always put Peru’s interests first; history is unlikely to be so charitable in its assessment of him.
Mr. Fujimori’s achievements are significant. He broke the back of the Sendero Luminoso Maoist guerrilla organization that had terrorized the country. He gambled on a high-risk rescue attempt when rebels took Japanese diplomats hostage at the embassy in Lima in 1997 — and succeeded. Mr. Fujimori tamed the hyperinflation that had ravaged the economy, helped get diplomatic relations with Peru’s neighbors back on track and beat back the drug traffickers who had worked with the guerrillas and who virtually ruled parts of Peru.
Unfortunately for Peru, Mr. Fujimori was a strong leader who had little time or respect for democratic procedures. When the Congress blocked his government’s policies, he dissolved it. When the judiciary refused to approve his programs, he dismissed judges and packed the benches with supporters. Mr. Fujimori put order above all other priorities. He worked intimately with the security forces to achieve that objective; human rights suffered in the process.
That relationship was the foundation of Mr. Fujimori’s rule. It began to crumble with allegations that Mr. Vladimiro Montesinos, the head of the intelligence service and the president’s right-hand man, was involved in gun smuggling to Colombia’s Marxist rebels. A videotape of Mr. Montesinos bribing an opposition official to support the government proved to be the intelligence chief’s downfall. Mr. Fujimori’s authority and legitimacy have collapsed in the allegations of corruption that followed.
Facing impeachment at home, Mr. Fujimori tendered his resignation. In one final — and typically disdainful — gesture, Mr. Fujimori gave leave while on an overseas trip, sending his resignation by mail. Officially, he claimed that he had lost control of the legislature, which he had controlled since 1992, and that it would be best for the country if he resigned.
His decision does not end the drama. The legislature was offended by the letter and has ignored the resignation. Instead, on Tuesday night it voted 62-9, after the president’s supporters walked out of the assembly, to oust him on grounds of “moral incapacity” as provided for in the constitution. While Mr. Fujimori denies that he has profited from his term in office, corruption charges are hanging over his head. The president has said that he will remain in Japan where he can claim citizenship because of his Japanese nationality.
Peru must now deal with his legacy. The country must first select a president who will rule until new elections are held next April. Mr. Valentin Paniagua, who was named president of the Congress last week, is likely to take the post. He is a popular moderate, who served in governments before Mr. Fujimori came to power.
Mr. Paniagua has two immediate assignments. The first is getting the economy back on its feet. While the economy is growing, it is underperforming because of the political uncertainty. Growth is needed if the government is going to make a dent in the poverty that grips much of the country. Financial assistance is needed to help deal with the $1 billion in debt that comes due next year.
The second priority is bringing the country together. Peru is deeply divided. The military’s commitment to constitutional order is suspect, and the opposition’s demand for accountability for human-rights abuses committed during the last decade will further strain relations with the armed forces. There is little common ground between the former president’s allies and the opposition. Mr. Fujimori still has fervent supporters in the countryside and among the poorest Peruvians. The next government must guarantee that it looks after those citizens as well as the landowners and the middle class.
In his resignation letter, Mr. Fujimori chose to focus on his accomplishments. They are substantial — as are the scars that he has left on Peru. Sadly, Mr. Fujimori’s achievements may not last long after his term in office. If that forecast comes true, his supporters will claim that it is proof that the country needs Mr. Fujimori. They would be wrong. That would be the most powerful indictment of his term in office. A true leader prepares his nation for his passing.
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