World News

Peru’s President Pardons Alberto Fujimori, Enraging Critics

Posted December 24, 2017 9:18 p.m. EST

LIMA, Peru — Alberto Fujimori, who as Peru’s leader in the 1990s revived the economy and crushed two violent leftist insurgencies, but was forced out in a corruption scandal and later imprisoned for human-rights abuses, received a medical pardon on Sunday night, a decision that prompted an outcry across the Andean nation.

The Christmas Eve pardon was approved by President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, who himself narrowly survived a bid by Congress on Thursday to remove him from office over allegations linking him to a graft scandal that has rattled Latin America.

Kuczynski survived the effort to remove him from office by exploiting divisions within the main opposition party, which is led by his chief rival, Keiko Fujimori, Alberto Fujimori’s elder daughter. Keiko Fujimori, who lost by a slim margin to Kuczynski in a presidential runoff election last June, had distanced herself from her father.

But a faction of her party — led by her younger brother, Kenji — split with Keiko Fujimori last week and abstained, denying Kuczynski’s enemies the supermajority needed to remove him. The younger brother had urged the pardon, so Kuczynski’s decision on Sunday was seen as a way of rewarding Kenji Fujimori for his help. The younger brother is viewed by some as more likable and a more promising face for the party, compared with his sister, who has twice failed to win the presidency.

Both Keiko and Kenji Fujimori issued statements praising the pardon.

Other opposition politicians immediately denounced the pardon, which was to take effect at 6 p.m. on Sunday.

Even Kuczynski’s former allies called the move troubling. Alberto de Belaunde, a congressman, said he would resign from Kuczynski’s party.

Alberto Fujimori, 79, would have remained in prison until age 93 if he had served his full sentence.

Suffering from arrhythmia, tongue cancer and other ailments, Alberto Fujimori had requested a humanitarian pardon, citing his deteriorating health. He was taken from his prison cell to a hospital on Friday after suffering a drop in blood pressure, doctors said.

In a statement, Kuczynski’s office said that a medical board had determined “that Mr. Fujimori suffers from a progressive, degenerative and incurable disease and that the prison conditions mean a serious risk to his life, health and integrity.” The board’s conclusions were presented to a presidential pardon commission, which recommended that a pardon be granted to Alberto Fujimori and seven other inmates “for humanitarian reasons.”

Ronald Gamarra, a human rights lawyer and anti-corruption prosecutor, dismissed that characterization. “This pardon is fake and under no circumstance should it be considered a humanitarian pardon,” Gamarra said. “It is a political pardon.”

A son of Japanese immigrants, Alberto Fujimori was an obscure agricultural engineer and political novice when he ran for the presidency in 1990. He stunned the nation by placing a close second in a crowded field and then defeating the establishment favorite, the novelist Mario Vargas Llosa, in a runoff.

In office, Alberto Fujimori helped tame hyperinflation, unemployment and mismanagement; unleashed economic growth and a rise in standards of living; and curbed the cocaine trade.

But he also ran roughshod over Peru’s laws and institutions. He was lauded for suppressing two uprisings, the Shining Path and the Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, but the brutality of his methods drew criticism worldwide and ultimately landed him in prison.

Alberto Fujimori was forced from power in 2000 after a television channel broadcast a videotape showing his intelligence chief, Vladimiro Montesinos, trying to bribe a congressman. He fled to Japan, where he submitted his resignation by fax from a hotel in Tokyo. He was extradited to Peru from Chile in 2007 and later sentenced to 25 years in prison for atrocities that a military unit carried out early in his presidency, killing 25 people.

“There will be no peace, no democracy or justice when the pain of the family members who are victims of the atrocities of Fujimori and Montesinos is not respected,” Marisa Glave, a member of Congress from the leftist Nuevo Peru party, said Sunday.

Alberto Fujimori was believed to be the world’s first democratically elected former president to be found guilty of human rights violations in his own country. But even from prison he continued to command grass-roots support. His supporters took to the streets near the hospital where he was being treated to celebrate, wearing white T-shirts that read Freedom for Fujimori.

Marco Arana, a member of Congress from the leftist Broad Front party, condemned the pardon as a “slap in the face,” saying it would polarize the country. “We reject this criminal act,” Arana said. “The president has made a mistake and it is an act of criminal politics.”