Alberto Fujimori (1938-) is a Peruvian politician of Japanese descent. An academic by background, he was elected President of Peru three times between 1990 and 2000, although he fled the country prior to completing his third term. A highly controversial figure, he is credited with ending the armed rebellion associated with the Shining Path and other guerrilla groups and stabilizing the economy. However, his administration is considered corrupt and there were many human rights violations during his time in office. He is currently in Peru, facing charges for a number of different crimes.
Fujimori’s parents were both born in Japan but immigrated to Peru in the 1920’s, were his father found work as a tailor and tire repairman. Alberto has always held dual citizenship, a fact that would come in handy later in his life. A bright young man, he excelled in school, and graduated first in his class in Peru with a degree in Agricultural Engineering. He eventually went to the United States, where he earned his master’s degree in Mathematics from the University of Wisconsin. Back in Peru, he chose to remain in academia. He was appointed dean and then rector of his alma mater, the Universidad Nacional Agraria, and in addition was named president of the Asamblea Nacional de Rectores, essentially making him the top academic in all of the country.
1990 Presidential Campaign
In 1990, Peru was in the midst of a crisis. Outgoing President Alan García and his scandal-ridden administration had left the country a shambles, with out of control debt and inflation. In addition, the Shining Path, a Maoist insurgency, was gaining strength and popularity and brazenly attacking strategic targets in an effort to topple the government. Fujimori decided to run for president, backed by a new party, “Cambio 90.” His opponent was the well-known writer Mario Vargas Llosa. Fujimori, running on a platform of change and honesty, was able to win the election: it was something of an upset. During the election, he became associated with his nickname “El Chino,” (“the Chinese Guy”) which is not considered offensive in Peru.
Fujimori immediately turned his attention to the ruined Peruvian economy. He initiated some drastic, sweeping changes, including trimming the bloated government payroll, reforming the tax system, selling off state-run industries, slashing subsidies and raising the minimum wage. The reforms meant a time of austerity for the country, and prices for some basic necessities (such as water and gas) skyrocketed, but in the end, his reforms worked and the economy stabilized. Pleased to see an economically responsible government in Peru, the International Monetary Fund helped secure loans, and foreign investment increased.
The Shining Path and the MRTA
During the 1980’s, two terrorist groups had all of Peru living in fear: the Movimiento Revolucionario Túpac Amaru (MRTA: Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, named after the last ruling Inca, executed by the Spanish in 1572) and the Sendero Luminoso (“Shining Path”). These groups wished to topple the government and replace it with a communist one modeled on Russia (MRTA) or China (Shining Path). The two groups organized strikes, assassinated leaders, blew up electrical towers, detonated car bombs, and by 1990 they controlled entire sections of the country, where residents paid them taxes and there were no government forces whatsoever. Ordinary Peruvians lived in fear of these groups, especially in the Ayacucho region where the Shining Path was the de facto government.
Fujimori Cracks Down
Just as he had done with the economy, Fujimori attacked the rebel movements directly and ruthlessly. He gave his military commanders free rein, allowing them to detain, interrogate and torture suspects with no judicial oversight. Although the secret trials drew the criticism of international human rights watchdog groups, the results were undeniable. In September of 1992 Peruvian security forces severely weakened the Shining Path by capturing leader Abimaél Guzmán in a posh Lima suburb. In 1996, MRTA soldiers attacked the residence of the Japanese ambassador during a party, taking 400 hostages. After a four-month standoff, Peruvian commandos stormed the residence, killing all 14 terrorists while losing only one hostage. For his success in defeating these two groups, Fujimori is credited by most Peruvians for ending terrorism in their country.