Is this the last of Peruvian President-for-Life Alberto Fujimori? On Saturday, he called for a new general election—in which he would not stand—and announced he was dissolving the intelligence service. Fujimori’s surrender came in reaction to the national scandal that erupted last Thursday: His opponents released a videotape showing Vladimiro Montesinos, the head of Peru’s national intelligence service—and Fujimori’s right-hand man—apparently bribing an opposition parliamentarian to switch his allegiance to the ruling party. The tape could explain why 15 opposition politicians abruptly joined Fujimori’s Perú 2000 party after the April election to give him a congressional majority.
In Chile, El Mercurio led its front page Sunday with a story headlined, “Fujimori’s Surprising Abdication,” and El Tercero led with “Alberto Fujimori Leaves the Presidency Because of a Scandal.” El Tercero cited “journalistic sources in Lima” claiming that the source of Thursday’s incriminating video had more than a dozen similar tapes of Montesinos offering cash to opposition members. The paper speculated that the existence of these tapes—and pressure from the United States—led to Fujimori’s decision “to go down with his ship.” Clarín of Argentina suggested that the tapes were made with intelligence service equipment and that other senior members of the service were so disgusted by Montesinos’ blatant corruption that they used them to bring about his downfall. Montesinos has not been seen since Thursday; several papers speculated that he had left the country while others claimed he was detained at a Peruvian air base.
Fujimori did not name a date for the elections, but Peruvian daily El Expreso reported that elections could be held in January 2001. Opposition leader Alejandro Toledo (who boycotted May’s second round of voting, alleging fraud on Fujimori’s part) called for an interim “national unity” government to serve in Fujimori’s place. Others requested that the president resign immediately to avoid constitutional “complications.” (For coverage of the disputed election see this “International Papers” from May 2000.) Britain’s Daily Telegraph described the developments as “the unlikeliest of ends” for Fujimori, pointing out that since he came to power in 1990, he “has seemed determined to remain in office at any cost. He suspended the congress, overturned the constitution and defeated a vicious terrorist insurrection.” It suggested:
While most Peruvians were content to unleash the SIN on terrorists, it became a different matter when the security apparatus seemed to be subverting the democratic opposition. By announcing his departure now, Mr Fujimori will confirm many in their view that he is personally implicated in illegal SIN operations.
The pro-Fujimori El Expreso saw the news as an opportunity to gush about the head of state, saying:
Once again the extraordinary nature of the leadership of this politician is confirmed. [He is] a man capable of changing Peru in a decade, which, without doubt, saw the best government of the century that has just ended and which deserves to be recognized as such.
The opposition La República, whose contempt for the president is such that it always refers to him not by his official title but as “the engineer” (Fujimori’s background is in agricultural engineering), was jubilant. It described Friday’s events as:
[T]he only exit available to a government weighed down by illegitimacy that began with an unconstitutional third term and was confirmed in fraudulent elections that are disputed by national and international public opinion; a government that received its coup de grâce with the propagation of a video that corroborated the spurious origins of the party’s majority, obtained by means of a scandalous buying of congressmen.
Selective vision: Last week’s U.S. visit by Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee received rave reviews in the Indian press. The Statesman of Calcutta slugged its editorial on the visit a “paradigm shift” and declared, “Vajpayee presses the right buttons.” Although the paper applauded the prime minister for finding common cause with the United States by stressing that it is a multicultural nation while its neighbor and rival Pakistan is virtually a theocracy, it wondered how the right wing of his Hindu nationalist party would react to the multiculti statements. The Telegraph, also of Calcutta, applauded the bilateral focus on terrorism and said, “[I]t is clear that India’s engagement with the United States is based on a pragmatic understanding of the convergence of strategic and political interests between the world’s two largest democracies.” Nevertheless, there was an omission in the coverage: The Telegraph said Vajpayee pointed out that “no country has faced as ferocious an attack of terrorist violence as India … over the last two decades” and, referring to Pakistan and Afghanistan, “no region is a greater source of terrorism than our neighborhood.” How about Sri Lanka, where 17 years of fighting between independence-seeking Tamils and the majority Sinhalese have cost more than 60,000 lives? Perhaps the silence is motivated by the memory of disastrous Indian intervention (in 1971 and the early ‘80s) and, more pressingly, the tacit support for the terrorist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam by many of the 55 million Tamils in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, not to mention the presence of Tamil parties in Vajpayee’s ruling coalition.
“Enough is enough”: The Philippine government’s military invasion of Abu Sayyaf’s base to free 22 hostages held by the Muslim extremist group was applauded within the country and damned abroad. (For more on the situation, see this earlier column.) The Philippine Daily Inquirer declared, “Abu Sayyaf have held the entire nation hostage for far too long. … [T]here comes a time when one has to say ‘Enough is enough.’ ” The paper said most of the remaining captives were “walk-in hostages” and that the two French journalists “may have asked for it when they insisted on entering the Abu Sayyaf camp despite the warnings of Philippine authorities.” South Africa’s Independent carried quotes that seem to prove the existence of Stockholm syndrome: A former French hostage said he was “disgusted” with the operation and added of the kidnappers, “I hope that they will succeed in saving themselves.” Le Monde of Paris reported that French President Jacques Chirac chewed out the Philippine ambassador and expressed “concern and disagreement” about the offensive to Philippine President Joseph Estrada. In response, an op-ed in the Philippine Star declared that Estrada should tell Chirac “to go to hell.”