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