Fujimori is Pinochet With an Asian Face

The rift between Peru and Japan over the hostage crisis in Lima is confounding pundits who have emphasized the Japanese heritage of Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori. But, as the Japanese themselves are beginning to understand, just about the only thing Japanese about Fujimori is his appearance and surname. In every other respect, Fujimori is a classic Latin American dictator by plebiscite -- a Peron or Pinochet with an Asian face.Given the culture gap, there is little chance that Fujimori and Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto will see eye-to-eye at their hastily convened Toronto summit. The differences are well illustrated by the offices the two men hold. Hashimoto is a prime minister, accustomed to the give-and-take of a parliamentary system. He is used to showing respect for adversaries, to negotiation and compromise. That is how he rose to the pinnacle of Japanese politics -- and any deviation from that path could cause him to lose his position. Fujimori, by contrast, has never held any but executive office, first as a university president, and now as president of the country. His style is autocratic. When confronted with resistance from the Supreme Court and Congress, he dissolved both in an "auto-coup" and replaced them with a rubber-stamp legislature and judiciary. This is not a man who will want to negotiate, either with guerrillas or foreign leaders. Force is Fujimori's political tool of choice. Though he seeks legitimation through elections, like Peron and Pinochet, the army has been his primary source of power. From the outset, he surrounded himself with generals, and gave military intelligence a free hand. That led to his greatest triumph--the seizure of Abimael Guzman, the brutal leader of the Maoist Shining Path insurgency, which helped stabilize the country and paved the way for economic recovery. The generals returned the favor by rolling tanks through the streets of Lima in support of Fujimori's "auto-coup." Yet the intransigent ruthlessness that served him well against Shining Path is a liability now as he confronts more reasonable insurgents with a flair for public relations.It is one thing to place a Guzman in solitary confinement on an island fortress. It is another to place more mild-mannered political prisoners--including a young woman from the U.S. --in unheated mountaintop isolation cells, subjecting them to physical and psychological privation intended to slowly destroy minds and bodies. This policy of terror--in violation of Peru's obligations under international human rights treaties -- backfired when the country's second largest insurgency -- Tupac Amaru -- seized the generals who were the architects of the terror when they gathered for a party at the Japanese ambassador's residence.Fujimori has been visibly shaken by this tour de force. It has exposed Peru's human rights violations to international scrutiny and given the Japanese a wake-up call on the limits to ethnic diplomacy. As the Japanese reconsider the wisdom of investing so heavily in the country, Peru's economic boom is jeopardized.Unable to use force, Fujimori has been paralyzed. He is unprepared to concede anything, least of all respect for the rights of captives, which, as an autocrat, he would regard as a sign of weakness. So he bides his time, searching for an opportunity to catch the guerrillas off-guard. That is the reason for the taunts, garbage, and rocks being flung into the embassy compound by soldiers, and for the tanks and the helicopters that buzz the residence. Unfortunately for Fujimori, it is just as irritating to his Japanese patrons. The sight of Peruvian security forces flipping their middle fingers toward the embassy can't help but cause them to wonder whether there is any kernel of Japanese sensibility in Fujimori.Of course there is not, and there's a good reason for it. Japan is one of the world's most homogeneous societies; Peru, one of the least. Peru's majority population, mainly Quechua speaking, is descended from the Incas, yet descendants of European conquerors and Asian immigrants dominate the economy and politics.Ironically, Fujimori capitalized on this divide to win the presidency -- when he challenged the candidate of the Spanish upper class, the indigenous population flocked to his banner. Now he is acting even more like an agent of the elite than the candidate they rejected, and they continue to be excluded from the benefits of the boom. As elsewhere in Latin America, the effort to maintain order in a deeply divided society is the source of Fujimori's authoritarianism. It is not only his top priority but the key obstacle the Japanese must overcome if there is to be a non-violent resolution to the hostage crisis.


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