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Ending Peru's masquerade

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Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori's recent decision to call for new elections and not participate has caused surprise and confusion over how the country will be governed in the months ahead. This situation, and the response of the key institutions, show why democracy in Peru today is largely a masquerade. A democracy worthy of the name will be a long time coming to Peru.

Mr. Fujimori's grip on power began to give way this month when a cable news station aired a videotape showing the head of the national intelligence service, Vladimiro Montesinos, bribing an opposition congressman. When Fujimori two days later announced the new elections in a televised address, he also declared he was dismantling the intelligence service.

Since the president's speech, however, it has been unclear when the elections will be, when he will step down, and what, if anything, will happen to his intelligence adviser.

Mr. Montesinos is nominally not even a government official, but instead carries the title intelligence adviser. Yet the only debate in Peru was whether he was the most powerful man in the country, or whether Fujimori was in charge and Montesinos was just a close second.

Montesinos's mysterious aura and low profile enhanced the perception of his power. He almost never appeared in public. When he was seen, it was news. On one occasion I took Barry McCaffrey, the White House drug czar, to see Fujimori. Montesinos was at the far end of the table. Fujimori spoke at length, and never felt the need to call on his aides to comment. Yet because Montesinos allowed himself to be photographed leaving the meeting, the headline in all the Lima papers the next day was "McCaffrey meets with Montesinos."

Montesinos was powerful because he had Fujimori's ear and could get things done. Despite the political cost to Fujimori of keeping such a controversial figure by his side, Montesinos was hardworking, loyal, and effective. Whether it was controlling the judiciary, intimidating the media, or keeping tabs on the military, Fujimori could depend on him.

It also helped that those institutions that could have reined him in - the judiciary, the legislature, and the press - were unwilling or unable to do so. Investigations of wrongdoing, when they were started, never went anywhere because the justice system and the parliament were easily coopted. Those officials who were not bought were fired.


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