Fujimori's Failure in Peru This Setback to Democracy in Latin America Was Not a Result of Economic Austerity Measures of a Simple Military Takeover

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THE self-inflated coup by Peru's Alberto Fujimori raises a complex, often overlooked element in the quest for peace and prosperity in the developing world. This setback to democracy in Latin America was not a result of economic austerity measures or a simple military takeover, but a failure of effective governance. Now Peru is being thrown into political turmoil that will be difficult to overcome.

Before the events of April 5, Peru was already struggling with one of the region's most intractable internal conflicts: a ruthless military battling Latin America's most brutal guerrilla movement, Shining Path, and drug traffickers successfully co-opting both sides to protect their growing business.

The way out of this quagmire, people hoped, was through democracy, the slow process of strengthening political institutions and developing the political consensus needed to sustain and facilitate the economic and social policies crucial for stability.

It was precisely Mr. Fujimori's frustration with the cumbersome process of political negotiation and compromise, however, that seems to have led him to dismantle the congress and judiciary, actions for which he had no constitutional authority. It was corruption in those two branches, he argued, that led him to accept a leading political role for the armed forces, at a time when they were finally in retreat from politics elsewhere in the region.

Fujimori's turning to the military to fight corruption is difficult to understand, given the widespread allegations of their involvement in drug trafficking. Moreover, congressional corruption in Peru, as elsewhere in Latin America, has been limited to pork-barreling and influence-peddling related to specific legislation. It pales in comparison with what goes on in the executive branch, which controls an array of government agencies. The more serious problem with congress was the public perception that it was engaged in irrelevant politicking and doing nothing to improve the country's situation.

As for the judiciary, legitimate charges of corruption should have called, not for militarizing the judicial system, but for strengthening its independence, such as through budget increases to fund protection for judges and pay them a decent living.

The fault lies not just with Peru's congress and judiciary, but with Fujimori himself - his inability to govern, his lack of ability to reach out and develop the support needed to sustain his government and policies. Having outlined the prosperous and free Peru he envisioned, he failed to come up with a credible strategy for getting there.

Why this failure? Fujimori, an improvised politician, lacks the experience and sensitivity to manage the political process through responsible leadership and through skilled negotiation and compromise. …