In 1992, not long after assuming the presidency, Fujimori found himself faced with a hostile congress dominated by opposition parties. He often found himself with his hands tied, unable to enact the reforms he felt were necessary to fix the economy and root out the terrorists. As his approval ratings were much higher than those of congress, he decided on a daring move: on April 5, 1992, he carried out a self-coup, dissolving all branches of the government except for the executive branch, which he represented. He had the support of the military and the people, who agreed with him that the obstructionist congress was doing more harm than good. He called for the election of a special congress, which would write and pass a new constitution. He had just enough support for this, and a new constitution was enacted in 1993.
The self-coup was a mixed success for Fujimori: it did allow him the freedom to act as he saw fit to fix the problems with the economy and terrorism. The 1993 constitution, largely drafted by his supporters, was an added bonus. However, the self-coup was condemned internationally. Several countries broke off diplomatic relations with Peru, including (for a time) the United States. The OAS (Organization of American States) chastised Fujimori for his high-handed action, but eventually was placated by the constitutional referendum.
Fujimori separated from his wife, Susana Higuchi, in a very public 1994 divorce. She aired a lot of dirty laundry about their relationship, calling him a “tyrant.” She even threatened to run against him for president. Although the divorce was damaging to Fujimori’s image, far worse were the various scandals involving Vladimiro Montesinos, head of Peru’s National Intelligence Service under Fujimori. Montesinos was caught on video in 2000 bribing an opposition senator to join with Fujimori, the ensuing uproar caused Montesinos to flee the country. Later, it was revealed that Montesinos was involved in far worse crimes than bribing politicians, including drug smuggling, vote tampering, embezzlement and arms trafficking. It was the myriad Montesinos scandals that would eventually force Fujimori to leave office.
Downfall of Fujimori
Fujimori’s popularity was already slipping when the Montesinos bribery scandal broke in September 2000. The people of Peru wanted a return to democracy now that the economy was fixed and the terrorists were on the run: they were a sick of Fujimori’s semi-dictator status. He had won the election earlier the same year, by an extremely narrow margin, amidst allegations of vote fraud. When the scandal broke, it destroyed any remaining support Fujimori had, and in November he declared that there would be new elections in April of 2001, and that he would not be a candidate. A few days later, he went to Brunei to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum. As things had gotten uglier in his absence, he did not return to Peru, but rather went to Japan, faxing his resignation from the safety of his second home. Congress refused to accept his resignation, instead voting him out of office on charges of being “morally disabled.”
Exile in Japan
Alejandro Toledo was elected President of Peru in 2001 and immediately began a vicious anti-Fujimori campaign. He purged the legislature of Fujimori loyalists, brought charges against the exiled president and accused him against crimes against humanity for allegedly supporting a program to sterilize thousands of Peruvians of native descent. Peru asked for Fujimori to be extradited on several occasions, but Japan, which still saw him as a hero for his actions during the Japanese ambassador residence crisis, steadfastly refused to turn him over. Montesinos, arrested in Venezuela in 2001 and extradited back to Peru, has spent the intervening years in prison and as new charges against him continue to appear, it is likely he will be there for a long time.
Re-election Run and Capture
In a shocking announcement, Fujimori declared in 2005 that he intended to run for re-election in the 2006 Peruvian elections. Despite the numerous allegations of corruption and misuse of power, Fujimori still fared well in polls taken in Peru at the time. On November 6, 2005, he flew to Santiago, Chile, where he was arrested by request of the Peruvian government. After some complicated legal wrangling, Chile decided to extradite him, and he was sent to Peru in September of 2007. He is currently in Peru facing a variety of charges from graft to illegal arms dealing.