External Affairs

Peru: President Kuczynski Pardons Ex-Leader Fujimori

FILE PHOTO: Peru's former president Alberto Fujimori arrives to attend his trial at the Special Police Headquarters in Lima, Peru, December 10, 2007. Credit: Reuters/Mariana Bazo/File Photo

Peru’s former president Alberto Fujimori arrives to attend his trial at the Special Police Headquarters in Lima, Peru, December 10, 2007. Credit: Reuters/Mariana Bazo/File Photo

Lima: Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski pardoned former authoritarian leader Alberto Fujimori late on Sunday, clearing him of convictions for human rights crimes and graft before completion of a 25-year prison sentence.

The decision triggered a Christmas Eve protest in downtown Lima, where police fired teargas at scores of Fujimori’s opponents as they waved pictures of the victims of a counterinsurgency campaign during his 1990-2000 right-wing government.

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

Fujimori’s critics denounced the pardon as the result of a crude political deal Kuczynski brokered with Fujimori’s supporters in Congress, but his family and supporters cheered it as a long-overdue vindication for a misunderstood hero.

Kuczynski, a 79-year-old 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.

The pardon could trigger 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 and later found guilty of commanding death squads that massacred civilians, bribing lawmakers and having a hand in the kidnapping a journalist, among other crimes.

Despite his downfall, the right-wing populist movement that Fujimori built in the 1990s has remained one of the most potent political forces in Peru.

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

On Thursday, Kenji led a surprise defection in Popular Force that narrowly saved Kuczynski from a motion to remove him from office in the wake of a graft scandal.

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

Kuczynski’s has repeatedly denied allegations that a promise for a pardon was part of any political negotiation.

“We’re eternally grateful to you,” Kenji said on Twitter, noting that he was speaking for Fujimori’s family.

‘Best ever’

Fujimori was taken to hospital late on Saturday after suffering a severe drop in blood pressure and abnormal blood pressure that put his life at risk, according to his doctor, Alejandro Aguinaga, who denied allegations it was a ruse to legitimise a pending pardon.

Kenji said on Sunday that Fujimori was recovering in intensive care and would not likely go home for a few days.

Television images showed Fujimori’s supporters waving banners that read “Freedom for Fujimori” and cheering the announcement outside the hospital in Lima where he remained late on Sunday.

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 during his rule.

“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.”

The pardon was a blow to 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.

Kuczynski “has 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.

Before the announcement, Kuczynski summoned his cabinet and ruling party to the presidential palace.

Congressman Alberto de Belaunde announced his resignation from the party on Twitter. Congressman Vicente Zeballos, a ruling party lawmaker, was also resigning, the El Comercio newspaper reported.

(Reuters)