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Peru's next step

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Peru is in the midst of yet another political crisis. After his reelection six months ago, Alberto Fujimori's presidency went into a nose dive. He went abroad earlier this month and faxed his resignation back. His whole party has sunk to the point where, until elections next year, the interim president will be an opposition congressman.

A new, elected president won't end Peru's endemic political instability, however, for the very reasons that brought the nation to this point. Peru's democracy still can't ensure an honest government any more than it did with President Fujimori.

After ruling for a decade, he rammed a third five-year term for himself down his countrymen's throats in rigged elections last May. He was able to do that because he had successfully undermined Peru's already weak democratic institutions. That weakness is the fundamental problem with democracy in Peru and much of Latin America. Because of it, presidential power rarely has any effective checks or balances.

The legislatures are "debating societies," filled with politicians who are mainly interested in peddling their influence. The judicial systems serve only those who can afford to buy justice. Such institutions practice their own brand of corruption and do nothing to inhibit it in the executive branch.

This institutional weakness did not start with Mr. Fujimori. His immediate predecessor, Alan Garcia, was famously corrupt and remarkably inept. In spite of this, Mr. Garcia served out his term and then exiled himself to Paris, where he has been enjoying his riches ever since.

This time, however, a videotape aired on local television of a congressman being bribed by Fujimori's right-hand hatchet man, Vladimiro Montesinos, started the process that brought Fujimori down.

Fujimori's fall was hastened earlier this month when the opposition took over the presidency of the congress and new revelations showed Mr. Montesinos had amassed at least $58 million in overseas bank accounts. People found it hard to believe that Montesinos did not share some of his ill-gotten gains with Fujimori, and the loss of control of Congress opened up the possibility of investigations that Fujimori would not want to come home for.

So Fujimori called it quits from Japan, where it appears he will remain indefinitely. Since his parents were born in Japan, he could stay there as a citizen and avoid having to shop around for political asylum.

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