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Peru President Pardons Former Authoritarian Leader, Sparking Protests

Peru President Pardons Former Authoritarian Leader, Sparking Protests

Monday, 25 December, 2017 - 11:30
Supporters celebrate after Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski pardoned former President Alberto Fujimori who was serving a 25-year prison sentence. (Reuters)

Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski’s decision to pardon former authoritarian leader Alberto Fujimori sparked clashes as protested the move as a crude political deal.

At least two ministers in Kuczynski’s cabinet who objected to the pardon, issued late on Sunday, told him they wanted to resign, and Kuczynski might reshuffle the cabinet as early as this week, a government source said.

Two ruling party lawmakers quit his party as his political group planned next steps.

The decision clears Fujimori of convictions for human rights crimes and graft when his right-wing government was in power from 1990 to 2000, and could define Kuczynski’s legacy and rewrite political alliances.

Kuczynski, a former Wall Street banker who vowed as a candidate not to pardon Fujimori, based his decision on a medical review that found Fujimori suffered from “a progressive, degenerative and incurable disease”, according to a statement from the president’s office.

Peruvian law provides that no person convicted of murder or kidnapping can receive a presidential pardon except in the case of a terminal illness. Three previous requests from Fujimori for pardons since 2013 were rejected after doctors said he did not suffer from incurable illness or severe mental disorder.

Fujimori filed a request seeking a medical pardon more than a year ago, citing deteriorating health. He has said on his Twitter account that he suffers from arrhythmia, for which he has been hospitalized several times this year. He remained at a clinic Sunday night where he was taken from prison a day earlier after suffering a drop in blood pressure.

Many in Peru saw the pardon as part of a quid pro quo. Three days earlier, Fujimori’s loyalists - led by his lawmaker son Kenji - unexpectedly saved Kuczynski from a vote in Congress that nearly removed him from office.

In a video Kenji shared on social media, a gray-haired Fujimori, connected to tubes in hospital, was seen smiling after reading Kuczynski’s announcement of the pardon on a cellphone with Kenji.

“To save his own skin he cut a deal with Fujimori’s supporters to infamously pardon a corrupt killer,” said Veronika Mendoza, a leftist leader who competed against Kuczynski in last year’s presidential election.

Kuczynski’s center-right government has repeatedly denied that a pardon for Fujimori was part of political negotiations.

Fujimori is a deeply divisive figure in Peru. While many consider him a corrupt dictator, others credit him with ending an economic crisis and bloody leftist insurgency when in power.

“He’s the best president Peru ever had,” said Maria Luisa Cuculiza, a friend and former minister of Fujimori, adding that he no longer had any political ambitions.

“He doesn’t want to return to politics. He just wants to be a good grandfather,” Cuculiza told Reuters by telephone.

Police fired teargas at scores of Fujimori’s opponents in downtown Lima, who waved pictures of the victims of a bloody counterinsurgency campaign during his term.

Officers in riot gear stood guard at Kuczynski’s house in the capital’s San Isidro financial district as protesters called for the march to make its way there.

Fujimori’s family and supporters cheered the pardon as a long-overdue vindication for a misunderstood hero.

But the pardon was a blow to the relatives of victims, prosecutors and human rights activists who helped put Fujimori behind bars in a lengthy judicial process that earned Peru global plaudits for fighting impunity.

Jose Miguel Vivanco, executive director of Human Rights Watch, said on this Twitter account that the pardon "was a vulgar political negotiation in exchange for Kuczynski's stay in power." Amnesty International demanded that Kuczynski "clarify the doubts about the lack of transparency and respect for due process."

Kuczynski, “you’ve betrayed justice, democracy and victims. History will never forgive you,” said Indira Huilca, a leftist lawmaker whose union leader father was shot dead in 1992 in what the Inter-American Court of Human Rights deemed an extrajudicial killing.

Kuczynski, who like Fujimori is 79, ran for office to cap a prestigious career in finance and public administration.

The pardon might also prompt one of the biggest political realignments in Peru since Fujimori fled to his parents’ homeland of Japan in 2000 as a corruption scandal brought his decade in power to an end.

Fujimori was extradited back to Peru in 2007. He was first convicted in 2009 and sentenced to 25 years in prison for his role in the killings of 25 people, including an 8-year-old boy, during his administration. He was later drew four more convictions, the most serious one charging him with knowledge of the existence of death squads financed with public money that killed civilians accused of being Shining Path members.

A former university president and mathematics professor, Fujimori was a political outsider when he emerged from obscurity to win Peru's 1990 presidential election over writer Mario Vargas Llosa.

Peru was being ravaged by runaway inflation and guerrilla violence when he took office. He quickly rebuilt the economy with mass privatizations of state industries. Defeating the fanatical Shining Path rebels took longer but his fight won him broad-based support.

His presidency collapsed just as dramatically as his rise to power.

After briefly shutting down Congress and putting himself into a third term, Fujimori fled the country in disgrace in 2000 after leaked videotapes showed his spy chief, Vladimiro Montesinos, bribing lawmakers. Fujimori went to Japan, his parents' homeland, and famously sent in his resignation by fax.

Five years later, he stunned supporters and enemies alike when he flew to neighboring Chile, where he was arrested and extradited to Peru. Fujimori's goal was run for Peru's presidency again in 2006, but instead he went to trial and was convicted of abuse of power.

His eldest daughter, Keiko, leads the opposition party Popular Force that controls Congress, while Kenji has courted ties with Kuczynski’s government as he challenges his sister’s past decade of leadership of their father’s populist following.

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