He also led the government through a bloody internal war with the Maoist rebel group, the Shining Path. In 1995 he won a second term of office defeating another high profile candidate former United Nations secretary-general Javier Perez de Cuellar. According to Time, Fujimori’s success was based on an image of the populist caudillo “just as the continent was ridding itself of the legacy of dictators who had turned ‘disappear’ into a verb when dealing with their political opponents.” The war with the Shining Path led to the deaths of 70,000 people and Peru’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission has estimated 37 per cent of those were killed by armed forces.
Fujimori remained popular and won a third term in 2000. This time there were strong suspicions of election irregularities. The new government did not last long and was overthrown in the wake of a corruption scandal involving the head of Peru’s intelligence service, Vladimiro Montesinos. Secret videos showed Montesinos bribing opposition congressman Alberto Kouri to join Fujimori’s party. Montesinos fled the country and Fujimori followed him shortly after. The disgraced president fled to Japan, where faxed in his resignation.
In 2005, Fujimori took a gamble on resurrecting his political career. He flew to Chile where he was promptly arrested. After a two year court battle, he was extradited to Peru to face human rights and corruption charges. In December that year he was sentenced to six years for ordering the illegal search of the apartment of Montesinos’s wife in 2000. The separate human rights trial continued all through 2008. The prosecution successfully linked him with the Grupo Colina, a top-secret army death squad whose mission was to suppress any activity the regime thought subversive. Grupo members testified they were following Fujimori’s orders in the two massacres.
Human Rights Watch called yesterday’s conviction a “major advance for human rights accountability” in Latin America. HRW said Peru’s national court system demonstrated “the will, capacity, and independence” to try its former president. Maria McFarland, senior Americas researcher at the New York-based rights body said the ruling showed “even former heads of state cannot expect to get away with serious crimes.”
Fujimori’s daughter Keiko maintains her father’s innocence saying she was “a direct witness to his work and his accomplishments”. She told Al Jazeera there was no proof of any dirty war and the government’s strategy was to get the support of the people whom they provided basic infrastructure to improve quality of life. “We created this group called ‘ronderos’ or ‘comites autodefence”, she said. “We provided the poor people with small guns to protect themselves from terrorism.”
Other Peruvians were less forgiving of the president and preferred to praise the justice system. Political activist Monica Miranda told the BBC Fujimori had committed many crimes and violated human rights and she was proud Peru tried him while he was still alive. She also said Fujimori violated the constitution, and committed crimes of corruption and embezzlement. “I understand he did positive things for many Peruvians who had been abandoned by all the previous governments, but that doesn’t absolve him of his crimes now and it never will,” she said.