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Volume 61 / Social Sciences

GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS: PERU


PHILIP MAUCERI, Professor of Political Science, University of Northern Iowa.


THE ABRUPT RESIGNATION IN NOVEMBER 2000 of Alberto Fujimori as president brought to a close one of the most controversial governments in Peru's recent history. Having won election in 1990 amidst economic crisis and growing political violence, Fujimori was credited with producing a remarkable turnaround in the country's political and economic fortunes by the mid-1990s. The capture of Sendero Luminoso leader Abimael Guzmán and the return of economic growth fanned Fujimori's popularity and contributed to his landslide re-election in 1995. Yet, starting with the 1992 autogolpe, which suspended the 1979 Constitution and formal democratic institutions, the regime's commitment to democracy had been questioned. In light of the regime's accomplishments, many Peruvians as well as foreign governments and agencies were willing to overlook its authoritarian tendencies, including draconian antiterrorism laws, evidence of military ties to paramilitary activities, human rights abuses, centralization of power in the presidency, and manipulation of the media.

During Fujimori's second term in office, these authoritarian tendencies accelerated. Of particular concern was the growing influence of presidential advisor Vladimiro Montesinos, despite long-standing evidence of his ties to human rights abuses, drug trafficking, and extortion. The administration gave special attention to controlling the media, extorting and repressing both media owners and journalists to limit critical reporting. Shortly after winning re-election, the administration turned its attention towards sweeping away all stumbling blocks to a third term of office. This effort was aided by a reliable majority in the Congress that helped remove the Constitutional Tribunal judges who opposed the possibility of a second re-election.

Despite an increasingly sluggish economy and growing social protests, the administration's political use of new clientelist programs and its control of a compliant state apparatus suggested a triumphant landslide. Yet this was not to occur. The first round of voting in April 2000 was marked by fraud and manipulation, and was widely denounced by election monitors. Presidential candidate Alejandro Toledo refused to participate in the May run-off with Fujimori, guaranteeing a Fujimori victory and a widely perceived illegitimate government. When the first of many videotapes showing Montesinos bribing a congressman was broadcast on television, Fujimori resigned and went into exile in Japan. After a brief, but generally well-received transition government led by Valentín Paniagua, new elections were organized in 2001. In the wake of a closely fought campaign with APRA leader Alán García in May 2001, President-elect Alejandro Toledo faced the daunting task of reviving Peru's democratic institutions, meeting the often contradictory expectations of diverse social groups for reforms, stimulating the economy, and dealing with a series of personal scandals.

An important debate to emerge in the literature regards the nature of the Fujimori regime: Was it democratic, authoritarian, or perhaps a hybrid? The majority of the essays found in Tuesta (item #bi2001005755#), and the works of Atwood (item #bi2004001359#), Conaghan (item #bi2004001361#), and Cotler and Grompone (item #bi2004001363#) come down definitively on the authoritarian side, while Levitsky is more ambiguous (item #bi 00006830#) and Schmidt prefers the "delegative" democracy label (item #bi2002002991#). Ultimately this debate may be enhanced both by the incorporation of new information concerning the inner workings of the administration and by comparative analysis with other regimes.

The near total collapse of the party system by the mid-1990s and the continued dominance of "independents" occupied many analysts, including Degregori (item #bi2001005751#) and Lynch (item #bi2002003314#) who concentrate on "antipolitics," as well as Tanaka (item #bi2001000302#), Levitsky (item #bi 00006830#), and Planas Silva (item #bi2002003805#). However, a detailed electoral analysis of the decade still remains to be done. During this period, institutional analyses—particularly of the judiciary, congress and the bureaucracy—have also been scant. Still, there are some notable analyses here. Guerra-García looks at executive branch reforms (item #bi2002003307#); Rospigliosi offers a definitive study of the role of the military (item #bi2004001369#); and Dammert reviews corruption during the Fujimori period (item #bi2004001364#). New revelations should provide an opportunity for revisiting these issues. Demonstrating the enormous controversy generated by the role of the media during the Fujimori period, four of the works reviewed here, by Fowks (item #bi2001005754#), Macassi Lavander (item #bi2002003313#), Toledo Brückmann (item #bi2001005759#), and Wood (item #bi 00002861#), focus on how governmental officials used and manipulated the media.

The unraveling of the regime and the transition in 2000–01 has yet to be fully treated, although García Calderón (item #bi2001004732#), Conaghan (item #bi2004001361#), and the Comisión Andina de Juristas (item #bi2002003806#) provide useful starting points for future study of these events.


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