World News

From Hospital Bed, Ex-President Asks Peru for Forgiveness

Posted December 26, 2017 7:36 p.m. EST
Updated December 26, 2017 7:42 p.m. EST

LIMA, Peru — Alberto Fujimori, the professor-turned-strongman who ruled Peru with an iron grip in the 1990s, acknowledged on Tuesday that he had disappointed many of his countrymen, and he asked their forgiveness “with all my heart.”

The comments, Fujimori’s first public remarks since President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski granted him a medical pardon Sunday, did little to quell widespread criticism in Peru that the pardon was motivated less by clemency than by a desire to reward Fujimori’s son Kenji, a congressman who helped Kuczynski survive a crucial impeachment vote last week.

The sight of a humbled Alberto Fujimori, speaking from a hospital bed in a video that was posted on Facebook, was nonetheless an exceptional moment for Peru. During his presidency, from 1990 to 2000, Fujimori suspended civil liberties and oversaw a brutal crackdown against the Shining Path, a leftist insurgency.

He was extradited from Chile to Peru in 2007 and was sentenced to 25 years in prison for human rights violations that a military death squad carried out under his watch. But public support for clemency for the former leader, who is credited with reforms that put Peru on a path of sustained growth, has inched up in recent months.

“I am aware that the results during my government on one side were well received,” Fujimori said in the video. “On the other hand, I recognize that I have also disappointed other fellow Peruvians. I ask them to forgive me with all my heart.”

Still, many Peruvians and human rights activists continued to assail the pardon, which was announced Sunday evening, three days after a legislative faction led by Kenji Fujimori denied Kuczynski’s foes the supermajority they needed to oust him. Kuczynski categorically ruled out pardoning Alberto Fujimori when he was in a tight race for the presidency in 2016 against the former leader’s daughter Keiko Fujimori.

“I feel deceived by a president who has lied once again,” said Carolina Huaman Oyague, one of thousands of protesters who took to the streets in Lima, the capital, on Tuesday. “We will continue on the streets and will fight so that the judicial process under which he was tried is respected.”

Her cousin Dora Oyague Fierro was one of several students at La Cantuta University who were abducted and killed in 1992 by a military death squad tied to Alberto Fujimori. She said that Kuczynski’s office had ignored repeated requests for meetings with a group of the victims’ relatives.

In a televised address Monday, Kuczynski called the pardon “perhaps the most difficult decision in my life” but defended it as a gesture of clemency. He urged protesters to “turn the page,” saying the move was part of an “effort at reconciliation” in a polarized nation. “Those of us who feel democratic should not allow Alberto Fujimori to die in prison,” the president said. “Justice is not revenge.”

Human rights experts and political analysts in the region rebuked Kuczynski for pardoning one of the few Latin American strongmen who had been held accountable in a judicial proceeding for grave abuses committed while in office.

“Granting pardons is a prerogative that demands rigorous case-by-case analysis, taking into account the severity of the deeds through a transparent and inclusive process that is in line with international human rights norms,” said Amerigo Incalcaterra, the South America representative for the U.N. high commissioner for human rights. “Not putting victims at the center of this decision derails the progress the Peruvian state has made on truth, justice, memory and reparations.”

Marta Lagos, the founder of Latinobarómetro, a polling and research organization based in Santiago, Chile, called Kuczynski’s decision a seminal moment. “His legacy will be having held on to power at all cost, having sold himself out for the support of his fiercest opposition,” she said.

Kuczynski, 79, a former World Bank and International Monetary Fund official who spent much of his life in the United States, has faced strong opposition in Congress, where Fujimori supporters have considerable clout. He has faced an outcry over allegations that he received payments from Odebrecht, a Brazilian construction company that bribed officials across the region to secure contracts. (He has called the payments legitimate.)

The pardon has already cost Kuczynski the support of at least three allies in Congress who resigned in protest, leaving him with only 15 allied lawmakers. “I respect the president’s prerogative to grant a humanitarian pardon, but I do not share the way it has been exercised,” said Gino Costa, formerly a fervent supporter and one of those who resigned.

Peru’s Justice Ministry insists that the pardon was legally and procedurally sound, but at least three senior civil servants have resigned in protest.

Petitioners for medical pardons must show that they suffer from an “irreversible and degenerative” ailment. Fujimori’s doctors have said he suffers from cardiac dysrhythmia, a common condition, and tongue cancer, which was originally discovered more than a decade ago.

Cesar Nakazaki, a former lawyer for Alberto Fujimori, said the ex-president easily met the criteria. “He’s not the most severe case, but also not the least severe,” Nakazaki said.

Even before the pardon, Kuczynski had seen his popularity plunge. A poll released Dec. 18 by the firm Ipsos Peru found that only 18 percent of respondents supported the president, a record low since his election. (The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.7 percentage points.)

But Kuczynski may have assessed that the political cost of pardoning Fujimori would be manageable. Ipsos Peru found in September that 65 percent of Peruvians supported a humanitarian release, a slight increase from the 60 percent who signaled support in July. José Basilio, 39, a computer technician in Lima, said Tuesday that he was overjoyed to see the ailing leader freed.

“I lived through the years of terror, during the times when our electricity was constantly cut off and the bombs were dropped on our doorsteps,” said Basilio, whose father was a military officer. “His administration may have used excessive force, and I know there were people caught in the crossfire, but he wore the pants and did what needed to be done.”

Fujimori, for his part, said the pardon had surprised him, prompting “feelings of extreme joy and of sorrow mixed together.”

He promised that he would support Kuczynski’s call for reconciliation. “Thank you very much, President Kuczynski, for this magnanimous gesture,” Fujimori said.