In another chapter in the wacky soap opera that is Peru, on Sunday an army officer and 50-100 soldiers staged a mini-revolt—which failed to set off a wider uprising, though the rebels are still at large and have several hostages—after President Alberto Fujimori dismissed the three commanders of the armed forces.
The back story: Fujimori promised in September to step down after 10 years of controversial rule, when a videotape showed his right-hand man and spymaster Vladimiro Montesinos bribing an opposition politician. (Click here for more on that scandal.) Montesinos fled to Panama, seeking political exile, but as Britain’s Independent put it, “the Panamanians were reluctant to be seen as a dumping ground for clapped-out political strongmen and dragged their feet.”
Spurned, Montesinos returned to Peru last Monday, telling Peruvian radio from a secret hideout that operatives from the various radical groups and drug cartels he had battled in his years as head of the intelligence service had traveled to Panama to kill him, making him fear for his life. Opposition politicians suggested instead that his homecoming was linked to Fujimori’s call for a general amnesty for soldiers and intelligence operatives implicated in human rights and election abuses. First Vice President Francisco Tudela resigned from the government over the “tragic link” between the amnesty plan and Montesinos’ return.
Fujimori spent much of last week leading an unsuccessful Keystone Kops-style manhunt for the fugitive Montesinos through Lima’s suburbs. Alejandro Toledo, Fujimori’s main opponent in the April elections, suggested to Argentina’s Clarín that the dramatic events of last week are nothing more than a show for the television cameras and that Fujimori and Montesinos are still in cahoots. He said the shake-up of the military leadership is “just a rotation. Don’t be fooled. This isn’t a radical change. Montesinos still controls the armed forces.” An editorial in Peru’s anti-Fujimori daily La República called Fujimori and Montesinos “twin souls to the end” and was also unconvinced that the two men had fallen out. It claimed that the president himself had authorized Montesinos’ plane to land in Peru and that he was protecting him in a secret military installation. A bizarre piece in Clarín repeated several unsubstantiated rumors that might explain Montesinos’ hold over Fujimori; the least libelous is that the Rasputin of Lima has a copy of Fujimori’s original birth certificate, showing his birth place as Kunamoto, Japan, which would make him ineligible for the Peruvian presidency.
Eyes on the prize: European papers joined their American counterparts in making presidential endorsements. Britain’s Observer headlined its editorial, “Gore for President: Bush would be bad for the world.” It predicted: “A Bush presidency would see a harshening of American society and a deepening of its social faultlines. In Bush’s America, the rich would become richer, while moves to reform gun controls and judicial application of the death penalty would be set back a generation. A Bush administration would also rewrite his country’s relationship with the world, rejecting cautious internationalism in favour of a new US unilateralism.” The Daily Telegraph, meanwhile, declared, “Bush is best … the pleasanter and more emollient figure.” The editorial approved of Bush’s free-market tendencies, concluding: “Mr Bush will do what a president should—preside benignly over this extraordinary prosperity. He will be good for America, and for the world.” Spain’s El País announced, “Europe prefers Gore,” and concluded:
Bush worries Europeans more than his rival. If he gets to the White House and sticks to his promise, he will force Europeans to do exactly what they always say they want to do and don’t do: make military and diplomatic efforts to achieve more autonomy. Therefore, and although they prefer Gore, perhaps a corrective like Bush wouldn’t be bad for Europeans.
A press free enough to attack: When Hong Kong journalists asked Chinese President Jiang Zemin if Tung Chee-hwa, the territory’s chief executive, was “the emperor’s choice” for re-election in 2002, he responded with a finger-wagging tirade against the Hong Kong hacks. The South China Morning Post said the president failed to observe the first rule of damage limitation: “never—no matter what the provocation—lose your cool.” The editorial concluded that the circuslike atmosphere of Friday’s photo call could be avoided if the Hong Kong media had more access to mainland leaders: “[I]f more formal press conferences were held … questions could be posed and answered in a more considered and thoughtful way.” The Chinese-language Apple Daily headlined its story, “Jiang Zemin throws tantrum, loses stature.” The Hong Kong iMail concluded:
Some mainland officials obviously find it hard to accept perfectly reasonable and straightforward questions that are too close to the truths they’d rather not talk about. Nor can they understand such questions aren’t born out of malice. The sad truth is mainland officials are not used to media that say anything other than what they want them to say.
There goes the neighborhood: The Times of London carried a remarkable obituary for Nauzer Nowrojee, who took over his family’s shop in the remote Himalayan town of McLeod Ganj in 1938. With the departure of British colonial forces and the partition of India in 1947, the area was virtually abandoned, but in 1959 Nowrojee heard that the Dalai Lama and 80,000 of his followers had fled Tibet and crossed into India. He made contact with the Dalai Lama and persuaded him to move to McLeod Ganj, which is still the home of the Tibetan government-in-exile and Nowrojee’s general store. The transformation of the former British hill station into a place of pilgrimage for film stars, activists, and converts to Buddhism annoyed the shopkeeper, however. In 1998, he told an interviewer, “Unfortunately, it’s getting overcrowded. It’s filthy and noisy with too much pollution.”