Fond Memories of a Dictator: The Fujimori Legacy in Peruvian History

Latin American history and politics has taken an interesting turn of late. On 24 December 2017, the current Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski granted an official ‘humanitarian pardon’ to former President Alberto Fujimori, whilst new Chilean President Sebastian Piñera only today declared his Cabinet, including members who have links to the Pinochet regime. 

In this blog post, Alexis Castro Robles interviews  Ella Carkagis, a nurse assistant living in Sydney since 2011, who supports Fujimori’s actions. In both Peru and abroad, Fujimori’s legacy attracts both praise and criticism, most notably his actions in ending the 1980-1997 terror of the Shining Path and the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) for the people of Peru. He is criticised for having achieved this at the cost of breaching human rights which led him being sentenced to twenty-five years in prison in 2009.  

What were your experiences during the era of terror in Peru? Did you agree with Fujimori’s measure to overcome this by granting the military extensive powers to arrest suspected rebels and try them in secret military courts with few legal rights?

During the 1980s and most of the 1990s, I was always scared to leave my house and, like everyone I knew, there was always the thought of whether you would come back alive.  I lived in a time where if you saw a package in the street, you thought it was a bomb, where electric light towers would continuously blow up and you had to stay in the dark.  No one in the world would like to live in constant fear and terror of dying anytime.  During this time, I was also at university and, as many of us lost numerous semesters, we had to dedicate ourselves to throw stones in the street burn tires and challenge the police for a better education and end corruption.  Fujimori himself once entered my university to drill the students in the courtyard, hoisting our national flag, making us place our hands on our chests and singing the national anthem.  He told us that we were students whose duty was to study for our country and parents.

I agree with Fujimori’s measure as he made sure to capture the leaders of the Shining Path and MRTA, who together caused the deaths of over 60,000 people.  While Fujimori was accused of killing nine La Cantuta University students, I believe that as a president of Peru, if nine killed hundreds of people, I would have also avoided further deaths by killing these students.  Why defending the rights of nine people? What about the rights of thousands and thousands of people killed by terrorism in Peru during the 80s and 90s?

What about the mass forced sterilisation that affected around 300 000 Indigenous Peruvian women, many of them without anaesthesia, by the Fujimori regime in the late 1990s? Do you think it was an act of abuse and genocide?

At that time, I was a school teacher in a very impoverished area of Peru’s capital city, Lima. I know for a fact that some of my students’ mothers underwent these sterilisations since they already had too many children, their economic situation was critical, and they even told me they were grateful for it.  I agree to sterilise women with numerous children who are in extreme poverty without the possibility of giving a good quality of life to their children who could end up begging in the street and have to prostitute themselves under bridges.

Do you think his program has improved the lives of Indigenous women?

I believe there has been progress for Indigenous Peruvian women, but it should be sustained.   I have travelled around Peru in the 2000s and I have seen great progress for these women in the main provincial cities, but we still need to reach more remote villages where populations live in towns that border other countries and poverty is rampant.

How has the Fujimori regime influenced geographical regions in the 1990s?

Fujimori ordered highways and roads not only in Lima but in more remote and poor provinces like Ilo, Abancay and Ayacucho.  He also facilitated medical centres and schools across the nation, including one in front of my house.  That is why those in the provinces favour Fujimori.  In the 2016 presidential elections for instance, you can see people in the poor provinces such as Ayacucho voted for Fujimori’s daughter, Keiko in contrast to the vote in Lima.

Screenshot 2018-03-02_08-59-51

Map depicting votes for the second round of the 2016 Peruvian Presidential Elections by Province (Image via Wikipedia). Pedro Pablo Kuczynski won the election with a runoff breakdown of 50.12% against Keiko Fujimori’s 49.88%. 

If Keiko Fujimori received support in the last elections, why do you think over 30,000 protesters across Lima expressed their discontent during her campaign in April 2016? Do you think they were fearing a possible return to her father’s dynasty? 

The majority of these protesters were university students who are too young to remember what people like me suffered during the era of terrorism in Peru and what Fujimori achieved in the 1990s.  All these young people who have no memory of our dark past are part of the Peruvian Left today and hate Fujimori for the death of nine terrorist students from La Cantuta University.  They voted for the current Peruvian President, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski (‘PPK’).

I do think that it was fear motivating the Peruvian Left who found in university students a willing bastion but voting for ‘PPK’ was a serious error.   And of course, the Left understood Fujimori’s crime in killing innocent people.  Terrorism will not return if the Fujimoristas again have power.

Now that Alberto Fujimori has received the ‘humanitarian pardon’ for his ailing health by Kuczynski, are you grateful for this decision? Or do you think it was an act of convenience from Kuczynski as Fujimori’s son, Kenji, helped him to survive a bid of impeachment?

Fujimori deserved the pardon for having been for me and much of the population the best president that Peru had.  ‘PPK’ was dishonest and he should have pardoned him earlier, not at the precise moment that his position was at risk.

Alexis Castro Robles

 Alexis is a final year BA student at UNSW aiming to do Honours in 2019, focusing in topics relating to Latin American History and subaltern studies.

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