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Peru's Opportunity Now

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This decade's spread of freedom and democracy in South America has been remarkable. Peru's President Alberto Fujimori invoked the "principles of democracy" as he hailed the victors and mourned the dead in his military solution to the Lima hostage crisis. Now he has the opportunity to revitalize democratic principles in his own country, giving the lie to those who predict increasing sway by the military in the aftermath of Tuesday's raid.

Washington was wise to say immediately it wouldn't second-guess the decision to attack the terrorists - all 14 of them killed, along with two of 150 raiders and one of 72 hostages (who was wounded and died later). And Washington would be wise now not to be too big-brother in urging reform of authoritarian practices - torture by police for example - that were blamed for Mr. Fujimori's decline in recent popularity polls. Here is where the positive example and exhortation of South America's other emerging democracies could provide valuable peer pressure.

Peru is not the only land where the move to free enterprise is accompanied by strain - look at the former controlled economies of Eastern Europe. The main publicized demand of the hostage-taking Tpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) was for release of several hundred comrades in prison, which Fujimori categorically rejected. But MRTA guerrillas also operated in the name of a greater share in prosperity for the poor. Both the MRTA and the larger Shining Path group of revolutionaries have faded under Fujimori's antiterrorist campaign. But questions of income disparity - no news in the "old" South America of elites and peons - are not likely to fade unless free markets are seen to bring increased opportunity for all.

The MRTA should know that reform will not come through more violence, which it threatens in revenge for Fujimori's raid. He has shown he does not shrink from the threat of violence. And he does not need the threat of violence to be moved in the direction of fuller implementation of the democratic principles he espouses.

Controversy continues over whether he persisted long enough in the peaceful hostage negotiations urged by Japan, which legally owned its ambassador's Lima residence where the hostages were captured and held. But the deed is done, the time for healing is at hand.


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