Magazine article The Spectator

Sing a Song of Freedom

Magazine article The Spectator

Sing a Song of Freedom

Article excerpt

Lima

HE's gone. The only ethnic Japanese to have been president of another country has returned to the land of his fathers. For ten years, Alberto Fujimori seemed determined to stay in office at any cost, changing the constitution, dissolving congress and sacking the supreme court. But, barely six months after controversially proclaiming his third election victory, he has been brought down by a good old-fashioned corruption scandal.

On the day the news came through, I decided to test the public mood at Lima's bullring. Bullfight aficionados are, politically at least, The Spectator readers of Peru. For most of the last decade, these back-slapping, cigar-smoking hombres would have expressed, if not enthusiasm, at least quiet approval of a regime which had cured inflation and stamped out the terrorist insurrection. Not any more.

Even before the action started, the crowd was boisterous. They growled their approval whenever a right-wing politician entered the arena. They stood and cheered when they spotted Fernando Belaunde, the octogenarian former president. Then, just before the opening ceremony, a group of men in the cheaper, shadeless seats started singing the national anthem. Within seconds we were all on our feet, punching the air as we belted out the refrain, `We're free, and shall be for ever!'

Later, as the third bull thundered into the ring, the crowd noticed a congressman who had turned coat to join Fujimori after he had been elected. Mockingly, they started tossing coins at him - a reference to another opposition MP who was secretly filmed being bribed to switch parties.

The release of this film two months ago marked the beginning of the end for Fujimori. For the man apparently offering the bribe was Vladimiro Montesinos, a storybook rascal and Fujimori's chief adviser. Only now is the full extent of Montesinos's villainy emerging, as hundreds of millions of pounds - the proceeds of trial-rigging and extortion - are discovered in secret overseas accounts. It is difficult to find a crime with which the former spy chief has not been charged: corruption, fraud, money-laundering, torture, tax evasion, drug-trafficking, even murder.

Peruvians are realists. They understand that their government might occasionally have acted outside the law, especially in its campaign against the Shining Path rebels. But the sheer brutality of Montesinos's methods - and the fact that they seemed also to have been used against the democratic opposition - caused unfeigned revulsion.

At first, the President tried to save himself by sacrificing his lieutenant. In a moment of pure opera bouffe, Fujimori personally led a search for the former head of security, at one stage climbing a lamp-post to harangue his supporters. As his accompanying cortege brought chaos to the roads, Peruvians were treated to the sight of the President of the Republic personally directing the traffic. A few days later, the government announced that plastic surgeons had been told to report any suspicious characters seeking to change their appearance.

But the scandals just kept coming. Roberto Escobar, brother of the Colombian drugs baron, Pablo, claimed that Fujimori's election campaign had been funded by the cocaine cartels. Human-rights groups alleged that his regime had authorised the kidnapping and torture of its opponents. Like a scarred old fighting bull, Fuji kept looking for a gap in the ring. …

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