The Rise and Fall of Alberto Fujimori

Biography of the President of Peru 1990-2000

The son of Japanese immigrants overcame poverty and prejudice to become the president of Peru. The country's economy was in a state of collapse. Even worse, Peru was in the midst of a guerrilla war and seemed destined to fall into the hands of the Sendero Luminoso and the MRTA terrorist movements.

Fujimori turned out to be an energetic ruler and against all expectations he defeated the terrorists, stopped hyperinflation in its tracks and transformed the economy. When a war with Ecuador seemed likely, Fujimori settled a centuries old dispute and made a permanent peace.

He also slashed production of coca, the raw material for cocaine, and grappled with the problems posed by one of the worst el Niño's of the century. But after his right hand man, Vladimiro Montesinos, the head of the security service SIN, was accused of bribery, moneylaundering, arms trafficking and numerous abuses of human rights, Fujimori's career was ended by the wave of scandals and he left Peru in disgrace to become an exile in Japan.

Although the trial of Vladimiro Montesinos is shedding light on one of the most controversial periods in modern Peruvian history, Fujimori vigorously defended his record from his base in Japan and began to plan for a return to power. However, on a visit to Chile he was arrested at the behest of the Peruvian authorites and subsequently extradited to stand trial in Peru.

  President Fujimoiri receiving a copy of Nido de Viboras, while flying to a meeting in London during the Peruvian hostage crisis.
President Alberto Fujimori, keeping calm during the hostage crisis at the Japanese embassy, is presented with a copy of the novel Nido de Viboras, the Spanish edition of Nest of Vipers by Rupert Wise (left), the husband of the author Linda Davies.

The photograph was taken on board the presidential plane when President Fujimori was flying to London with a group of bankers and business leaders to attend a Latin American investment conference in February 1997, in order to attract foreign investment to Peru, a task was made more difficult  by the hostage crisis.

Into the Fire, new! the third novel by Linda Davies, is a thriller set in Peru and London and the plot involves the head of SIN, el Servicio de Inteligencia Nacional. A new edition is just out! Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail are among the locations where the action takes place.


The Making of a Leader

When Alberto Fujimori was sworn in as President of Peru on 28 July 1990 it was the first time anyone of Japanese origin had become head of state of a foreign country. His father, Naoichi Fujimori, in order to escape from the poverty of his native village Kumamoto in southern Japan, had originally wished to emigrate to Hawaii, but because of very stringent medical tests introduced to curb Asian immigration he opted for  Peru instead, and after his arrival there in 1920 found work in the cotton fields of Paramonga, about 200 kilometers from Lima. A few years later he moved to the town of Huacho where he worked as a tailor. 

On a visit home to Japan to find a wife, Naoichi Fujimori married Mutsue Inomoto, a girl from his own village, whom he took back to Peru in 1934. Before long the couple moved from Huacho to Lima where their first child, a daughter Juana was born in 1935, but in the unfavourable political and economic climate of those times Naoichi's tailoring business failed, and he turned to cotton growing instead. Three years later, on the 28th of July, Peruvian Independence day, the couple's first son Alberto was born. (After he became President some of Alberto Fujimori's enemies would claim that he, and his sister, had really been born in Japan before his parents arrived in Peru which would mean that legally he was not eligible to be president).

Unfortunately the soil in the field the Fujimoris rented turned out to be poor and their cotton growing venture, like their earlier tailoring business, failed, and a few weeks after their son's birth the family moved back to Lima. There Naoichi noted the growth in traffic and the state of the vehicles, and decided to start a tyre repairing business. That proved to be a good decision, but the family's rare turn of good luck did not last long. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 brought the United States into the Second World War, the Peruvian government, in response to pressure from the Americans, confiscated Japanese-owned businesses, including the family's tyre repair shop. 

Despite, or perhaps because of, the privations of his childhood Alberto Fujimori proved to be as hardworking as he was academically gifted. He attended the the Agrarian National University in La Molina, a suburb of Lima, graduating top of his class in 1961. A few years later, in 1969 he was awarded an M.A. in mathematics by the University of Wisconsin in the United States. After returning to Peru, Fujimori continued to follow an academic career and from 1984 to 1989 he was dean of the faculty of sciences at the Agrarian National University. He also became rector of his university and president of the National Assembly of University Presidents. However it was as the host of a television talk show Getting Together that he first came to the notice of a wider public as a shrewd political analyst. In 1989 he founded a new political party, Cambio 90 (Change 90), in preparation for the presidential elections the following year. 

The Ill-fated Campaign of Mario Vargas Llosa

The overwhelming favourite for the election in 1990 was one of Latin America's best known novelists, Mario Vargas Llosa who had entered politics only a couple of years before Fujimori, after being angered by the decision of President Alan Garcia Perez to nationalise the private banks. It is said that Perez smashed his television set in fury when he saw Vargas Llosa addressing a huge demonstration in Plaza San Martin, against the seizure of the banks.  Hernando de Soto, an eminent economist, had convinced Vargas Llosa of the necessity of a free-market economy and was, at first, one of his campaign advisers but later denounced him for selling out to state capitalism. 

Fujimori, with his knowledge of agriculture and his own experience of poverty in his childhood, understood the problems of the Campesinos, the descendants of the original pre-Spanish inhabitants of the land. Like them, El Chino, a nickname given to him because of his oriental background, was something of an outsider in a country still dominated by people of Spanish descent.  When Fujimori's mother's command of the Spanish language was criticised, that increased her son's popularity with the millions of Peruvians whose first language is Quechua, the language of the Incas, or Aymara, another native tongue spoken in the area around Lake Titicaca.

Thus Vargas Llosa came to be regarded as the candidate of an affluent, mainly white minority, and Fujimori as the candidate of the poor, the Indians, the mestizos (people of mixed Indian and white ancestry), the blacks and people of Asian origin. Subsequently Vargas Llosa told the story of his unsuccessful campaign in a book -  A Fish in the Water.


El Sendero Luminoso and El Movimiento Revolucionario Túpac Amaru

Peruvian Terrorism

When Fujimori become president in 1990 Peru was facing catastrophe. The economy was in the grip of hyperinflation but, even more seriously, in the countryside a bloody civil war was raging between the army and the guerrilla movement, el Sendero Luminoso or the Shining Path, which controlled about a third of the country.

Abimael Guzmán, a philosophy lecturer in the University of San Cristóbal de Huamanga, in Ayacucho, founded the Shining Path in 1970 as a Maoist breakaway movement from the pro-Russian Peruvian Communist Party. Poverty and injustice made Ayacucho a fertile breeding ground for the movement which started a campaign armed insurrection  in 1980. By the middle of the decade several thousand guerrillas were operating in rural areas and by late 80s urban terrorism was also a problem.

Sendero Luminoso was not the only terrorist movement. The other was the Movimiento Revolucionario Túpac Amaru, generally known by its initials, MRTA, or as Túpac Amaru which was the name of the last Inca ruler who was assassinated by the Spaniards in 1572. Almost two centuries later, Tupac Amaru's great-grandson, José Gabriel Condorcanqui, better known as Tupac Amaru II, led a new uprising against Spanish rule but his rebellion was crushed and he was captured and, after being tortured, was executed in the main plaza in Cusco in 1781.

The MRTA, which was smaller and less extreme than Sendero Luminoso,  started its guerrilla campaign in 1984.  In February 1989 the MRTA suffered a setback when its leader, Victor Polay, was captured but on July 8, 1990, less than three weeks before Fujimori became president, 47 MRTA members, including Polay, escaped from Canto Grande prison via a 332 metre tunnel.


Che Guevara in Peru

In 1951-52 Che Guevara and his doctor friend Alberto Granado undertook a journey by motor bike from Argentina through Chile and Peru to Venezuela. It was in Peru that Guevara came in close contact with South America's Indian masses for the first time. In his diary he noted the words of a school teacher in Puno with whom he made friends.

"The present system of education ... on the rare occasions it does offer indians an education, ... only fills them with shame and resentment, leaving them unable to help their fellow indians and at a tremendous disadvantage in a white society which is hostile to them and doesn't want to accept them."

"The fate of these unhappy people is to vegetate in some obscure bureaucratic job and die hoping that, thanks to the miraculous power of the drop of Spanish blood in their veins, one or other of their children will somehow achieve the goal to which they aspire until the end of their days."

No doubt the experiences he gained on his epic motor bike trip played an important part in the formation of Che Guevara's political outlook. What he said about the native people of Peru could also be said of those in Bolivia where, 14 years later, Guevara tried to organise a revolution like the one he had helped Fidel Castro to lead in Cuba. However he was captured in 1967 and executed on the order of President Barrientos.

Despite the failure of his campaign Bolivia, Che Guevara's words and deeds were to inspire the MRTA in Peru.


At first Fernando Belaúnde did not take the terrorist threat very seriously but in December 1982 he authorised the intervention of the armed forces in the counterinsurgency struggle. Atrocities were committed by both the terrorists, particularly the Shining Path, and the government. General Luis Cisneros, the Minister of Defence, explained the government's strategy with brutal clarity.

The police do not know who the senderistas are, nor how many there are, nor when they are going to attack. For the police force to have any success, they would have to begin to kill senderistas and non-senderistas alike, because that is the one way they could ensure success. They kill 60 people and at most there are three senderistas among them and for sure the police will say that all 60 were senderistas.

Alan Garcia who succeeded Belaúnde as president in July 1985, tried to put an end to indiscriminate killing by army and security forces but had little success. The Sendero Luminoso drove government forces out of the upper part of the Huallaga Valley and repulsed the attempts of their rivals in the MRTA, who were strong in the central part of the valley, to get footholds there. At that time Huallaga accounted for about 40% of the world's production of coca, the raw material for cocaine.  Most production of the drug actually occurred, then as now, in Colombia, but Sendero Luminoso's control of the biggest source of coca leaves helped to finance their rebellion. MRTA used kidnapping and extortion as well as drug trafficking. The dirty war continued and Garcia's economic policies proved disastrous, thus increasing discontent with the government in those parts of the country that were still relatively free from terrorist activity and paving the way for Fujimori's victory in the 1990 presidential election. 


Fujimori's "Self Coup" or Autogolpe

To tackle Peru's economic problems Fujimori decided to adopt a programme of shock treatment similar to that advocated by his defeated rival, Vargas Llosa. Within a year, he brought down inflation from a peak annual rate of 7,650% to 139%. (In 1999, President Fujimori's last full year in power, the annual rate of inflation fell to 3.7%. See Peru en Cifras: Información Económica). However the security situation continued to deteriorate. Fujimori lacked a majority in Congress and therefore on 5 April 1992, like a Peruvian Cromwell, he dissolved Congress and suspended the constitution, declaring that he needed a freer hand to introduce more economic reforms, combat terrorism and drug trafficking and root out corruption.  He also purged the judiciary,  dismissing 13 of 23 Supreme Court justices and dozens of other judges.

A couple of months after Fujimori's coup, on 10 June, Victor Polay the leader of MRTA was recaptured, but that success was overshadowed by the actions of  Sendero Luminoso which stepped up its campaign in the capital, Lima,  itself. However, behind the scenes significant developments were taking place. Major Benedicto Jimenez, an officer in DINCOTE (la Direccion Nacional Contra el Terrorismo or the National Office Against Terrorism) being disgusted with the dirty war, had proposed to capture the leaders of the terrorist movement by patient detective work and despite a lack of support from most of his superiors he set up a small unit with that objective.

Jimenez asked the Americans for assistance but his initial overtures were rebuffed. However, after Jimenez discovered a terrorist safe house in Lima, they changed their minds and the CIA provided considerable assistance. Britain also helped by sending an expert in surveillance operations from Scotland Yard to provide training. 

After another safe house was discovered agents regularly examined the rubbish discarded by the occupants until one day they found a package that had contained a medication for psoriasis, an ailment from which Guzman suffered, a label from his favourite brand of vodka, and other clues indicating his presence. On 12 September the commander of DINCOTE, General Antonio Ketin Vidal, led a raid on the house and arrested Guzman to whom he said: "In life, one has to know how to win and lose. As a man of the dialectic, you should know that you have lost." That was the turning point in the war against terrorism that is estimated to have cost 30,000 lives.

Fujimori's popularity soared but there were influential Peruvians who were troubled by his autocratic rule. On 13 November General Jaime Salinas led an abortive counter-coup with the aim of restoring democracy but he and the other leaders of the conspiracy were captured by the security forces. Salinas subsequently spent three years in prison. Less than two weeks after the failed counter-coup, elections for a new Congress were won by Fujimori's party giving him the authority to push through the changes that he wanted. However his wife Susana Higuchi proved less amenable to his bidding than Congress. That same year the couple split up and Higuchi announced her intention of running against her husband in the 1995 presidential elections.  Fujimori responded by having a law passed which prevented close relations of the president from seeking higher office and  Higuchi was not able to get divorced until after the election. 

In January 1995 there were clashes between Peruvian and Ecuadorian troops along the border in Cenepa, an area which had been disputed since the Spanish colonies in South America gained their independence. A cease-fire was arranged in February and both countries agreed to settle their differences by negotiation. The next month Fujimori was re-elected,  defeating the former secretary general of the United Nations, Javier Perez de Cuellar, by a landslide.

The Japanese Embassy Hostage Crisis

What at first appeared to be a major setback took place on the evening of December 17, 1996. In the official residence of the Japanese ambassador a party in honour of the Emperor's birthday was in full swing when Tupac Amaru guerrillas seized the building and took 452 guests hostage, including Fujimori’s brother, the foreign minister, the agriculture minister, and the Japanese ambassador, and prominent Japanese businessmen. The rebels demanded the release of several hundred guerrillas who were held in Peruvian prisons.

The women among the hostages were soon released and although Fujimori rejected the rebels' demands the Red Cross acted as an intermediary between the government and the guerrillas. Over the next few months most of the remaining hostages were released but 72 were still being held when, on 22 April 1997, all but one who suffered a heart attack, were freed in a dramatic raid by Peruvian commandos. All of the 14 Tupac Amaru rebels and two soldiers died in the assault. The successful freeing of the hostages boosted Fujimori's popularity to new heights.


The Challenge of the 1997-98 El Niño

El Niño is a meteorological phenomenon that causes chaotic conditions over a large part of the globe but Peru and Ecuador are usually the countries worst affected. It is believed that the destructive effects of El Niño were responsible for the collapse of the Moche civilisation in the north of Peru during the period AD 650-700. A dramatic illustration of its power was the appearance in February 1998 in the Sechura desert, 500 miles northwest of Lima, of a lake 185 miles long, 25 miles wide, and 33 feet deep. The cost to Peru of one of the severest El Niños of the 20th century was considerable and was made worse by the fact that it occurred just after the crisis in the so-called Asian tiger economies. In 1997 the Peruvian economy had grown at a rate of 6.8% but in 1998 output fell by 0.6%.

Fujimori had made plans in advance for coping with the floods and landslides that El Niño was expected to bring and when the situation was at its worst in early in 1998 assumed responsibility for co-ordinating engineering work, disaster relief and the evacuation of threatened areas. Once again his resolve in a time of crisis boosted his popularity - in the short term. Inevitably the economic downturn had the opposite effect.

The Border Dispute with Ecuador

On 13 May 1999 President Fujimori met President Jamil Mahuad of Ecuador at the military post of Puesto Cahuide where an orange-painted boundary stone was laid, the last one in the disputed area that the two countries had fought over three times in the twentieth century - in 1941, 1981 and 1995. Their meeting in that place set the seal on the agreement that they had reached in October 1998. 

Ecuador had sought access to the Amazon (and thus to the Atlantic Ocean) ever since the country was created in 1830. Under the terms of the treaty Ecuador was given navigation rights and sites in Peru for operating port services. The border between the two countries follows the heights of the Cordillera del Condor mountain range, as Peru had maintained it should. Ecuador had wanted Tiwintza Hill which their soldiers had successfully defended in 1995 and where some of them are buried but, in a judgment of Solomon ownership was separated from sovereignty, the former being given to the Ecuadorian government while Peru retained the latter.

The Cocaine Business

After the Sendero Luminoso's grip on rural areas, and especially the Huallaga Valley, the Peruvian government began to tackle the drug dealers. Vladimiro Montesinos put into force a policy of shooting down suspicious planes that ignored orders to land and measures were taken to reduce the cultivation of coca, which has some legitimate uses, (e.g. as mate de coca, a tea made from coca leaves which is merely a mild stimulant like coffee) and encourage the production of alternative crops instead. The latter policy had considerable success and the area of land devoted to coca dropped from 115,300 hectares in 1995 to 34,100 hectares in 2000, according to the Economist magazine. 

In Bolivia too, there was a considerable reduction. Unfortunately those improvements were more than offset by a huge increase in coca production in Colombia, the home of the cocaine cartels, where the area under cultivation increased from 50,900 to 136,200 hectares in the same period. Moreover, FARC, a guerrilla organisation, and right wing paramilitary groups are said to protect the interests of the cocaine barons in that country.  Subsequent revelations that the Peruvian intelligence services, headed by Mr. Montesinos, had at one stage provided protection for bribe-paying drug traffickers tarnished the governments record in cutting coca production in that country.

El Chino versus El Cholo

President Fujimori had already tinkered with the constitution to allow himself a second term and to disbar estranged his wife from standing against him. Even so it was a surprise when in August 1996, quite early in his second term, he introduced a law that allowed him to interpret the constitution in such a way that the limit to two consecutive terms of office as president only counted from the end of his first term!  Peru's constitutional court disagreed but the Congress dismissed three of the judges thus removing that obstacle. 

The main opposition candidate in the 2000 presidential election was Alejandro Toledo who had been minister of labour under President Belaúnde (Fujimori's predecessor's predecessor) and had also been the chief economic adviser to the Central Bank of Peru and had worked for the World Bank. Because of his origins Toledo was affectionately called by his supporters El Cholo, a usually derogatory term applied to urbanised Indians. He had been born in a poor Indian village in the Andes and was one of 16 brother and sisters. His family subsequently moved to the coastal city of Chimbote where his father worked as a bricklayer and his mother sold fish, and Alejandro himself started work as a shoeshine boy at the age of seven.

Nevertheless, such was his performance at school that at the age of 16 he won a scholarship to the University of San Francisco. Later he gained a a Ph.D. in economics from Stanford where he met his wife, a Belgian anthropologist, Elaine Karp. When the couple moved to Lima in 1981 people tended to assume that he was her driver. However, unlike most white Peruvians she learnt to speak Quechua fluently and made speeches in that language in support of her husband during his campaign for the presidency.  In contrast Fujimori would sometimes don a poncho and would make the audience laugh by replying in Japanese to questions posed in Quechua.

The election in April 2000 was bitterly contested. Officially Fujimori narrowly failed to get the 50% of the votes required for an outright victory and therefore a second round of voting was necessary in June but Toledo dropped out, alleging  that the election was being rigged in his opponent's  favour.  However Fujimori's days in power were numbered.


Vladimiro Montesinos, the Man from SIN

In August President Fujimori held a news conference to announce the interception of a large consignment of arms from Jordan destined for FARC guerrillas in Colombia and he gave the credit for smashing the operation to his right hand man, Vladimiro Montesinos. However, the Jordanian government claimed that it had sold the arms to the Peruvian armed forces. Not long afterwards, on Thursday 14 September 2000 a video was broadcast that was to lead to the fall from power of Alberto Fujimori.

The video, that had fallen into the hands of one of the opposition parties in Peru, showed Montesinos, giving a bribe of $15,000 to congressman Luis Alberto Kouri to switch sides in order to try and ensure that the government's favoured candidate would be chosen as president of Congress. According to one later report Montesinos himself had been responsible for the arms sale to FARC, angering the CIA, who turned against a man with whom they had previously had close links, and a group of Peruvian army officers who were emboldened to break into his office and steal the tape - one of a collection of thousands incriminating politicians, officials and military officers. 

Montesinos was not the only one to be accused of a double role in the arms for FARC affair. Months later, Robinson Rivadeneyra a member of Alejandro Toledo party and no friend of Montesinos, claimed in El Comercio newspaper that the CIA had approved of the arms shipments to FARC in order to justify US military intervention in Colombia. 

Whatever the the truth about the origin of the video, in the uproar that ensued following its broadcast, Fujimori announced that he would hold new presidential and parliamentary elections in which he himself would not be a candidate. At the same time, he announced the dissolution of SIN, el Servicio de Inteligencia Nacional (the National Intelligence Service), of which Montesinos was the de facto chief.

The parents of the spy chief, regarded by many as Fujimori's Rasputin, were communists and therefore they named their son, who was born in Arequipa in 1946, Vladimir Ilyich after Lenin, an ironic choice for the boy who was to grow up to become the pillar of a right-wing regime. By coincidence Arequipa was also the birthplace of the novelist Mario Vargas Llosa, Fujimori's opponent in the 1990 election, and Shining Path leader Abimael Guzmán.

In 1966 Vladimiro Montesinos joined the army and subsequently became the personal adjutant of another officer from Arequipa, General Mercado Jarrín. When the president, General, Juan Velasco Alvarado made Jarrín his prime minister in January 1973, Montesinos moved closer to the reigns of power in what was a left-wing regime. Soon it became apparent that information was being leaked to the US embassy and suspicion fell on Montesinos. When General Guillermo Arbulú took over as commander-in-chief took of the army in 1976, Montesinos was transferred to a remote garrison of El Algarrobo near the Ecuador border.

Montesinos stayed there only a matter of days before flying to Washington where he had meetings with officials in the CIA but on his return to Peru he was arrested, was convicted of falsehood and desertion of command, expelled from the army, and sentenced to a year's imprisonment. While in prison he studied law and on his release specialised in defending people accused of tax fraud and drug traffickers. As the cocaine barons had corrupt allies in the army and police the information Montesinos acquired through his job made him an increasingly powerful figure. When General José Valdivia was accused of having been responsible for the massacre of innocent civilians in the Shining Path stronghold of Ayacucho in 1988, he turned to Montesinos for help and the case against him was dropped. 

Even SIN found Montesinos useful because of his contacts and files on all sorts of people and he began to supply the agency with information. When, during his campaign for the presidency in 1990, Fujimori was worried about accusations of tax evasion which were damaging to a candidate who made much of his clean reputation, General Díaz, the boss of SIN, suggested that Montesinos should help him. From then onwards Fujimori found himself increasingly dependent on Montesinos whose reputation became even more controversial.

In November 1991, 15 people at a party in a poor district of Lima where killed in one of the most notorious acts of La Colina death squad, formed to combat the Shining Path. Local media claimed the death squad had mistaken the party for a terrorist meeting. According to rumours Montesinos was the man behind La Colina. The unit within DINCOTE established by Benedicto Jimenez for tracking down and arresting terrorist leaders was the complete antithesis of La Colina in its methods.  Despite the rumours, Montesinos was one of the very few people in authority who gave Major Jimenz practical support. He agreed to provide equipment, and money if Jimenez hired four analysts from military intelligence. However, when the major discovered that the analysts were reporting back to Montesinos he sacked them.

Later, when the Sendero Luminoso leader was safely behind bars, Benedicto Jimenez was posted to the Peruvian Embassy in Panama as a police attache - not much of a reward for his role in ridding Peru of terrorism. Nevertheless in some ways he was fortunate. Even generals learnt that it was unwise to cross Montesinos.

Another person who cause to regret crossing Montesinos was one of Peru's leading cocaine barons,  Demetrio Chavez also known as "El Vaticano". At his trial in 1996 he claimed that he had paid $50,000 a month to Montesinos for protection, but when he reappeared in court about a week later, apparently somewhat the worse for wear,  he withdrew the accusation saying that he had been "confused" when he made it. 

The money mentioned in El Vaticano's recanted statement was relatively trivial compared with the amounts mentioned in allegations after Montesinos fell from power. Roberto Escobar, the brother of the former head of the notorious Medellin drug cartel in Colombia, Pablo Escobar, who was killed in 1993,  wrote a book published in January 2001 called Mi Hermano Pablo  (My Brother Pablo) in which he claimed that Fujimori's first election campaign was financed by a donation of $1 million of drug money and that total payments to Montesinos to ensure that Escobar's planes carrying partly processed cocaine were not shot down in Peruvian airspace, came to $45 million.

"Their brief had been to fight that estate, not to perpetuate it, but the finer objectives had long ago been swept away by the river of money that flowed from the jungles where the coca leaf grew, through their hands, into Colombia, where it became a sea that could wash away the world."
Linda Davies, Into the Fire, describing the role of SIN in relation to the cocaine business. Vladimiro Montesinos served as the inspiration for the character of Victor Maldonado, the main villain in Into the Fire.

Fujimori's Departure and the Hunt for Montesinos

After the broadcast in September 2000 of the video showing him bribing a congressman, Montesinos left for Panama but, after being refused asylum in that country, returned to Peru and immediately went into hiding. President Fujimori gave orders for the arrest of his former spy chief but his own hold on power was almost at an end. On 2 November Switzerland announced that it was freezing about $50 million in five bank accounts linked to Peru's ex-spy chief, prompting the Peruvian government to launch a probe into allegations that Montesinos laundered money through Swiss banks. Evidence of other unexplained bank accounts (in various places, including the Cayman Islands, Uruguay and New York) containing $274 million allegedly amassed from arms deals and drug trafficking was soon uncovered. Even those discoveries leave the bulk of the $800 million thought to have been taken illegally from the Peruvian government's coffers, unaccounted for.

On 17 November Alberto Fujimori arrived unexpectedly in Japan after attending a summit of Asia-Pacific leaders in Brunei. Three days later he faxed his resignation to Congress but the next day it rejected his resignation and instead voted to sack Fujimori on the grounds that he was "morally unfit" to govern. Valentin Paniagua, the president of Congress, became the country's interim president. Paniagua picked Javier Perez de Cuellar, the former U.N. secretary general, and Fujimori's opponent in the 1995 presidential election, to be prime minister. Ketin Vidal, the former head of DINCOTE who arrested the Shining Path leader Abimail Guzman, was appointed as interior minister.

The new government purged the armed forces of officers linked to Montesinos and set about investigating human rights abuses and corruption associated with the previous regime. New cases came into the spotlight as when a MIG-29 fighter crashed in front of a congressional committee in March 2001. The committee had been investigating claims that planes which were obsolete or short of spare parts were purchased from Belarus in 1996 in a deal involving hefty commissions for senior military officials and Montesinos.

On Saturday 23 June 2001, Vladimiro Montesinos was arrested in Venezuela, a month after Jose Guevara - a former Venezuelan intelligence service agent, had attempted to withdraw part of the $38 million Montesinsos held in a frozen account at a bank in Miami. Guevara opted to reveal the fugitive's whereabouts in return for the $5 million reward offered by the Peruvian government. Ketin Vidal, Peru's interior minister, flew to Venezuela to arrange the handover of the former SIN boss. When the two came face to face, Montesinos said nonchalantly, "this time, it was my turn to lose", a paraphrase which echoed the words which Vidal himself had used on arresting Abimael Guzmán, the Sendero Luminoso leader nine years earlier. Almost a year later, on 3 May 2002, it was reported that the Peruvian government had still not paid the promised $5 million reward for the capture of Montesinos and was trying to decide between the competing claims of a banker, a bodyguard and a private eye.

Alejandro Toledo versus Alan Garcia

The campaign to elect a new president was between Fujimori's predecessor, Alan Garcia, and his challenger of the previous year, Alejandro Toledo. Toledo, el cholo, attacked Garcia for his record of allowing inflation and terrorism to get out of control. Garcia retaliated by repeatedly referred to media allegations that Toledo had misused campaign funds, including a $1 million donation from the international financier George Soros, used cocaine, consorted with prostitutes and refused to recognise an illegitimate daughter.  In his defence Toledo referred to an announcement his wife had made during the campaign the previous year, that in 1998 agents of SIN had kidnapped her husband, drugged him, and then filmed him with prostitutes in order to blackmail him.

Another rival of Fujimori, his opponent in the 1990 election Mario Vargas Llosa, claimed that neither candidate deserved to win and urged voters to spoil their ballots. Nevertheless Toledo won by a narrow margin. On Sunday 2 June 2001 thousands of supporters gathered in central Lima and chanted Pachacutec- the name of the greatest Inca emperor. Alejandro Toledo was the first person of Indian origin to become president of Peru. Emphasising this fact the official inauguration in Lima was followed the next day, Sunday 29 July, by another ceremony at Machu Picchu, the Lost City of the Incas.

Fujimori in Exile in Japan

As both his parents were Japanese and they registered his birth with the Japanese embassy in Lima, Fujimori has Japanese as well as Peruvian nationality. Another attraction of his parents homeland was that Japan does not have an extradition treaty with Peru. The Peruvian congress approved criminal charge against him for abandoning office and dereliction of duty and the state attorney investigating corruption allegations against Montesinos said  he was looking into evidence that could link Fujimori to money laundering.

Fujimori refused to return voluntarily but said that he was willing to provide information while in Japan. In an interview with Time magazine in November 2000, he talked about making a documentary video about his 10 years in office and writing his memoirs. The exile also turned to the Internet and in July 2001 Fujimori's official website was established so that he could answer his critics and defend his period of rule, in three languages, English, Spanish and Japanese. By 2008, with Fujimori on trial in Peru, his website was no longer operational but it is still available in archive form on the Wayback Machine and his supporters have also established their own website, la Página Fujimorista.

Keiko Sofia Fujimori, the former president's eldest daughter, said in an interview in the newspaper La Republica in October 2000 that her father's greatest error "was not realizing the magnitude of the problem caused by Dr. Montesinos' presence." It would not be the first time that the people running a country's secret services have indulged in illegal activities without their government's knowledge, but it is widely expected that at some stage during the legal proceedings against him Montesinos will seek to implicate his former boss. There must be many other people, too, who have reason to fear what the man who kept files on so many of Peru's leading citizens might say, and not just those who were associates of Fujimori. Using a secret camera Montesinos made over 1,000 videotapes of his shady transactions, believing that this evidence would serve as a sort of insurance policy. The people who knew most about his dealings would themselves be implicated if they were tempted to reveal what they know.

A more serious matter than corruption is the disappearance of about 3,190 people after being detained by the armed forces or the police, during the administrations of Fernando Belaúnde, Alan García and Alberto Fujimori. In January 2001 the interim government decided to set up a Truth Commission to investigate the fate of those people. The Truth Commission began its work in November 2001.

Following his fall Fujimori became a convenient scapegoat for anything. In March 2001 when Japanese scientists reported that Machu Picchu was in danger of being destroyed in future landslides some conspiracy theorists claimed that the scientists had been put up to it by Fujimori in order to wreck Peru's tourist industry and damage the economy. Other experts have disagreed with the Japanese and it is to be hoped that their confidence in the site's stability is well placed.  A more obvious danger comes from its popularity.  At the height of the Shining Path's power few people hiked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu even in the high season whereas in the final year of Fujimori's rule it was decided to introduce restrictions on the number of hikers in order to preserve the trail. 

Inevitably attempts to come to terms with the past have generated controversy. In May 2002 a judge investigating the fate of the hostage takers at the Japanese ambassador's residence in 1997 ordered the arrest of 12 army officers who helped to end the siege. The judge's actions caused an outcry as the soldiers were widely regarded as heroes and among his critics was President Toledo who had himself been held as one of the hostages for five days. When Fujimori was in power the majority of the population were prepared to tolerate his autocratic ways because of his many successes in tackling the crises afflicting his country when he became president and others that occurred while he was in power.

In more peaceful and prosperous times (prosperous for some anyway) his rule seemed much less tolerable and on 14th June 2002 Amnesty International called on the Japanese government to agree to Fujimori's extradition to stand trial for human rights violations in Peru. Although Interpol issued an international arrest warrant in March 2003 it was generally thought unlikely that the Japanese authorities would take any action. However he was questioned by Japanese prosecutors, at the end of May 2003, in connection with the alleged execution of the rebels holding hostages at the Japanese ambassador's residence in Lima in 1997. Meanwhile the Peruvian authorities decided to charge him with treason in connection with the sale of obsolete fighter planes to Ecuador in 1996, the year after the border war between the two countries.

On 1 July 2002 Vladimiro Montesinos was convicted of illegally controlling Peru's spy agency and he was sentenced to nine years and four months in prison. Nearly a year later, on 29 May 2003 he was sentenced to eight years imprisonment on embezzlement charges. Altogether Montesinos faces about 70 different trials. The legal procedures against him were still not complete in April 2005 when he was sentenced to five years imprisonment after he pleaded guilty to accepting $15 million in "severance pay" from President Fujimori as their regime collapsed.

A British magazine devoted to intelligence services around the world summed up the legacy of Fujimori and his closest associates as follows:

Thus the men who stabilised the Peruvian economy, tamed hyper-inflation, eliminated the threat of left-wing guerrillas, reduced inflation to single figures, made peace with neighbouring Ecuador and smashed drug cartels in the country have gone. However it will be interesting to see if this proud nation now goes into freefall.
On Thursday 21 March 2002, a few days before a visit by the US president, a car bomb exploded near the American embassy in Lima killing 9 people, and showing that the terrorist threat has not been completely eliminated. There have also been reports that guerrillas in Colombia, who control large swathes of that country including areas bordering on Peru, have been active in Peru and may have had contacts with the remnants of the Shining Path. By November 2002 Alejandro Toledo's popularity had slumped, partly because of the long time it took him to acknowledge an illegitimate daughter, his attempts to increase his own salary, and his wife's connections with a bank that was under investigation for helping Montesinos hide money abroad.

Although she resigned from the bank Elaine Karp vehemently denied any wrong doing. Nevertheless Toledo's problems continued. A survey by the University of Lima in March 2003 gave Fujimori's administration a 41% approval rating - nearly 4 times that of President Toledo. In response to that situation Toledo appointed Beatriz Merino as prime minister replacing Luis Solari in June of that year. Merino, a graduate of both Harvard and the London School of Economics, was the first woman in Peruvian history to hold the position and her appointment was widely welcomed. Nevertheless, buoyed up by Toldedo's problems, Fujimori started to plan for a return to power one day despite the fact that on 30 July 2003 the Peruvian government officially asked the Japanese government to extradite him.

The Japanese government did not accede to the Peruvian government's request. In an interview with David Pilling published in the Financial Times on 1 May 2004, Fujimori denied accusations of corruption and when asked how he could afford to live in the world's most expensive city replied that he had made a "small fortune" running a Peruvian Christmas tree farm and that he earned a decent income from delivering lectures at $10,000 a time. He also expressed his hopes for the future. "I want to go back to Peru and put it back on the right path. There's nothing to stop me legally, politically or ethically from becoming president again."

The Contrasting Fates of Alberto Fujimori and Alan Garcia

In November 2005 Fujimori took action to achieve his goal of returning to power and flew to Chile to begin his campaign, only to be arrested by the Chilean authorities. That, however, was not the end of the story. In January 2006 his supporters in Peru were considering the choice of a stand-in to take his place in the April presedential election. One person considered was his brother Santiago Fujimori but in the end Martha Chavez was chosen as the standard barer. A few days before the first round of the presidential election Fujimori married his girlfiend, Japanese businesswoman Satomi Kataoka in a long-distance ceremony. He was released on bail in May 2006. Just over a year later, in July 2007, a court ruled against his extradition but his victory was only temporary as the verdict was reversed on appeal and on 22 September Fujimori was sent to Peru to stand trial on various very serious charges. On 11 December 2007 he received his first conviction and was sentenced to six years in prison for abuse of power in ordering the illegal search of the apartment of his former security adviser Vladimiro Montesinos's wife.

Imprisonment has taken its toll on Fujimori's health; in September 2008, just three months after treatment for a precancerous lesion on his tongue, his daughter Keiko announced that he had a cystic tumor in his pancreas.

The Peruvian presidential election of 2006 saw the astonishing return to power of a man who had fled Peru to avoid corruption charges and spent years living in exile, his reputation in tatters. That man was not Alberto Fujimori but his predecessor, Alan Garcia, who defeated the ultra-nationalistic Ollanta Humala in the final round of the elections on 4 June 2006. Who would have dared to predict such a development when Fujimori was winning plaudits by crushing Sendero Luminoso? However, the next presidential election may produce an equally remarkable twist.

Fujimori's Daughter

On 7 April 2009 Alberto Fujimori was sentenced to serve 25 years in prison. However an opinion poll in Lima and Callao showed that most people would approve if President Garcia were to pardon him. About a week later Congresswoman Luisa Cuculiza who visited Fujimori at the police base where he was being held was quoted as saying that he predicted that his daughter Keiko Fujimori would become the next president of Peru! An opinion poll taken at about the same time showed that she was the leading the race for 2011 presidential election. Keiko Fujimori claimed that her father's trial was political one and that the judges were biased and wanted the man who saved the country from terrorism to die in prison. The 2011 election between Keiko Fujimori and Ollanta Humala, a former army officer who had previously been an admirer of Hugo Chávez, the left wing president of Venezuela, turned out to be a very close run thing. Vargas Llosa described the election as being like "choosing between AIDS and terminal cancer" but the novelist, decided that Humala was "the lesser evil." A Fujimori victory would have been reassuring for the financial markets but Vargos Llosa's "lesser evil" gained a narrow victory. Ollanta Humala promised to transform Peru and pointed to Brazil's successful, moderate left wing government as a model.

Fujimori and the US War on Terror

Another development which will ensure that the lessons of Alberto Fujimori's period in power will remain relevant for a long time to come is the film The Fall of Fujimori produced and directed by Ellen Perry which had its official release on 18 January 2006. Critics who had seen it before the release date could not help drawing parallels between Fujimori's ruthless war on the terror of the Shining Path, with its concomitant abuses of human rights, and the US War on Terror sparked off by Al-Qaeda's attrocities in New York and Washington DC on September 11, 2001.

The Past in Perspective

Whatever the fate of individual politicians it is to be hoped that the government of Peru will build on Fujimori's achievements and avoid his mistakes and excesses. Fujimori himself could have restored democracy during his second term, when the terrorist threat had been largely overcome, and handed over power at the end of that term in accordance with the constitution. By clinging to power for too long he made his own downfall inevitable and damaged his country. The manner in which he fell from power affords striking confirmation of the dictum of a controversial British politician:

All political careers end in failure.
- Enoch Powell


In addition to the links given in the article above numerous newspaper articles were consulted (mainly using the web), and the websites of other news services, e.g. the BBC.
Timeline Peru
A chronology from the BBC.
Alberto Fujimori of Peru: the President who Dared to Dream by Rei Kimura.
This is the first biography of Fujimori in English. Kimura's website has a lot of information about Fujimori's background (that was used in writing the first three paragraphs of this article) as well as information about how to order her book.
Into the Fire new! by Linda Davies.
A treatment in fiction of some of the abuses of power by the head of SIN. The new edition is published by Twenty First Century Publishers.
Declassified U.S. documents on Vladimiro Montesinos
A collection put on the web by the National Security Archive, a non-governmental foreign policy documentation center at George Washington University.
Premier suspect by David Pilling. FT Magazine, issue no. 53, May 1, 2004, p. 14-15.
An article in which Fujimori defended his record and expressed his hopes of returning to power one day.

The printed sources below were also used.

Poole, Deborah and Rénique, Gerardo. Peru: time of fear. London : Latin America Bureau, 1992.
Strong, Simon. Shining Path: a case study in ideological terrorism. London : RISCT, 1993.
The Twins: Peru's Spy Master on the run. Eye Spy! no. 1, 2001, pages 18-19, 114.

The source of the quotation from Che Guevara is:

The Motorcycle diaries: a journey around South America by Ernesto Che Guevara. London: Fourth Estate, 1992.


In 2004 a Spanish language film, Diarios de motocicleta, based on Che Guevara's motorcycle diaries was released.

The Fall of Fujimori, the official website for Ellen Perry's film, has a lot of information not only about the central character but also about other people and organisations involved in the events described.

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