Peruvian immigrants in the Bay Area have mixed reactions to President’s Alberto Fujimori’s recent surprise announcement that he is resigning.
Just like the people in Peru, they were left confused and divided by the political soap opera in which Fujimori plays the lead role.
Fujimori sent a letter to the Peruvian congress from Tokyo, where he had arrived unexpectedly on November 16, saying he would step down after a decade as president. In September, he said he would leave the presidency by July of next year and called for new elections to take place April 8, 2001.
For Maria, a waitress at Mi Lindo Peru who declined to give her full name, Fujimori is resigning because the opposition is pressuring him to do so and not because people are unhappy with him.
“Fujimori got rid of terrorism,” said Maria, who left Peru three years ago.
“Before Fujimori, there were times when there was no electrical power on Christmas Eve. His government brought food and services to the people.”
Fujimori's involvement in politics has been dramatic from the start. A little-known lecturer in agricultural economics, he became a major player in Peru’s politics after a surprise victory in the 1990 presidential elections. He gained support after his government virtually wiped out the Maoist Sendero Luminoso terrorist group and the Marxist Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement before the end of his first term.
“Fujimori's government stabilized the economy and, relatively speaking, brought peace to the country,” said Fernando Calderón, an adviser to the United Nations and a visiting professor at UC Berkeley.
“But his government also functioned in a less legitimate and legal way. His government did not abide to human rights norms and the number of political prisoners noticeably increased under Fujimori.”
A Human Rights Watch report released Sunday alleged that Fujimori's security and intelligence apparatus continued to torture and abuse prisoners even after the terrorist threat had been effectively eliminated.
But for some outside observers, the human rights violations come as a result of Fujimori’s determination to put an end to the leftist terrorism that plagued the country before he came to power.
“Before his presidency, I never visited Peru because of fear of terrorist attacks,” said Peter Gomez, a Nicaraguan who visited Peru more than once during Fujimori's government. “But after I saw the way he handled the hostage situation at the Japanese Embassy, I knew he was a man with courage.”
In 1992, Fujimori dissolved Congress and then packed it with his supporters, who passed a new constitution allowing him to run for a third term. But after a corruption scandal involving Vladimiro Montecinos, head of the secret intelligent service and the president's right arm, Fujimori's popularity diminished.
Fujimori's departure leaves a gaping hole in a country where democratic institutions have been crippled by an oppressive government, Calderón said.
“Unfortunately, when there is a weak political system people fall for charismatic leaders like Fujimori,” Calderón added. “But in the long run these leaders don’t fulfill their promises.
Now, Peruvians have to achieve a consensus among the different political players. Otherwise, the climate of uncertainty could dampen economic prospects and slow Peru's recovery.”
But for some immigrants the distance between Peru and their new home is far.
“I don't follow Peruvian politics,” said Julio Shinzato, a Peruvian of Japanese descent who has lived in San Francisco for more than 20 years. “What happens in Peru does not affect me. I am from here now.”