Peru's Congress last week cleared the last of the obstacles for
President Alberto Fujimori to seek a third, consecutive five-year
term. It voted last week against holding a referendum on whether Mr.
Fujimori can seek reelection.
This is the boldest example of what many call a democracy-
threatening trend to allow reelections in Latin America.
Most constitutions in the region forbid the reelection of
incumbents in an attempt to prevent the return of the dictatorships
that once plagued the region.
But recently a number of countries have amended their
constitutions to allow for one presidential reelection.
Peru was on the forefront of this new trend when, in 1993, it
rewrote its Constitution allowing for two presidential terms.
Argentina followed closely on Peru's heels amending its
Constitution in 1994, allowing Carlos Menem to be elected to a second
term in 1995.
In 1997 Brazil amended its Constitution, clearing the way for
Henrique Cardosa to run again this coming October.
Panama held a referendum Sunday to decide whether President
Ernesto Perez Balladares can run again in presidential elections in
May, and the Dominican Republic is considering a similar measure.
Panama has special interest, because whoever is elected in May
will take office in September, just a few months before the US hands
over the Panama Canal and military bases there in December.
Peru's move to allow Fujimori a third consecutive run at the
presidency is a first in the region.
The caudillo backlash
These recent constitutional changes, some worry, are the latest
incarnation of a recurrent trend in Latin American politics. In the
19th century, dictatorships were the rule in Latin America. By the
turn of the century a backlash against caudillo, or strongman-style
politics, sparked revolutions and led to the writing of "no-
reelection" constitutions throughout the region.
But despite these constitutional restrictions, autocratic rule
returned to the region once again with the rise of military
dictatorships in the 1960s and 1970s. By the early 1990s
democratically elected governments had largely returned to the
But the defeat of the referendum effort has many Peruvians crying
Recent polls showed over 70 percent of Peruvians are in favor of
holding a referendum and 68 percent would have voted against
"The government has taken away our right to decide and to be
consulted," says Angel Delgado of Foro Democratico, the group that
collected signatures for the referendum. "Instead of a referendum we
get reelection by means of a government that is vertical,
authoritarian, and abusive of power."
Argentina provides a stark contrast with Peru's recent
developments. Just over a month ago President Menem looked as if he
would be the first Latin American president to seek a third term in