Fujimori's pardon: A loss of trust in Peru
What a gift that was! Peru's former dictator Alberto Fujimori has been pardoned, just in time for Christmas. This is a man who was proven to have been behind the murders of 25 civilians and was sentenced accordingly, who sent death squads after his political opponents during his presidency in the 1990s, who ordered the forced sterilization of tens of thousands of indigenous women. One of Latin America's last dictators still seems to be pulling the strings in the country, thanks to influential members of his family.
It's hard to believe the beleaguered Peruvian president, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski (above), would allow this criminal to be pardoned on humanitarian grounds. Under Peruvian law, pardons are only issued in cases of very serious illness. Fujimori has had a heart condition for years now, and Kuczynski has already rejected his appeal for clemency several times. The 79-year-old Fujimori was transferred from prison to a hospital on Saturday with tachycardia, but he appears to have been well enough to make phone calls and pose for photos with his son Kenji. The former dictator even managed to wish the world "Feliz Navidad" via social media, although this did seem to cost him some effort.
Kuczynski has no friends left
There are therefore many reasons to suspect that this pardon has come about as the result of some dirty deal. Last week, to everyone's great surprise, Kuczynski just managed to avoid being impeached. This only came about because some members of parliament from the party of Fujimori's daughter Keiko did not vote against him — at the urging of Kenji. Their father is said to have called the parliamentarians from prison to convince them not to vote against the hated Kuczynski.
Keiko Fujimori's party has the majority in parliament, and as other parties also lacked confidence in Kuczynski, it seemed that his political fate was sealed. So what an extraordinary coincidence it is that, three days after Kenji Fujimori was canvassing on Kuczynski's behalf, that same Kenji should be sitting at his father's sickbed, grinning broadly and thanking the president!
From a long-term perspective, Kuczynski has not done himself any favors by issuing this pardon. The first protests began in Lima shortly after the decision was announced, and on social media his supporters are describing it as a betrayal. After all, many only voted for him in 2016 in order to prevent a victory for Keiko Fujimori. The Fujimoristas, on the other hand, however happy they may be about the release of their idol, are not suddenly going to start supporting Kuczynski: He remains their political opponent. And he doesn't have any friends left.
Kuczynski thought to be incorruptible
The president has gambled away his credibility once and for all, dealing another heavy blow to confidence in Latin America's political class. An uncharismatic but worldly-wise economist, he was seen until just recently as a reliable broker, and scandal-free. Peru is still deeply politically divided, but the country is doing well economically. The cool-headed, liberal-conservative Kuczynski seemed to be the right man to help his country avoid the temptations of populism from both the right and the left.
However, the way he responded to the corruption allegations that culminated in the impeachment proceedings against him was clumsy, to say the least. Probably he genuinely didn't have any illegal dealings with the massively corrupt Brazilian construction company Odebrecht, only legal ones. But Kuczynski's defense displayed a lack of political instinct, and seemed incredibly out of touch; the arguments put forward weren't all that convincing.
In pardoning Fujimori, Kuczynski has probably lost any remaining supporters who may still have been in two minds. Regardless of what actually went on behind the scenes, the president is now saddled with the label "corruptible." That makes him just one more among many in Latin America's political class, but one who was least expected to be so. Kuczynski has just sent out a very ominous signal for the future.