Peruvian Opposition Fails to Sap Wide Support for Fujimori Coup
PERU'S marginalized parliamentarians, led by constitutional Vice President Maximo San Roman, are expected to make their first bid today to mobilize the opposition. They have called a "day of national dialogue," inviting all sectors of the population to participate.
But their chances of rallying popular support look slim. Three and a half weeks after his suspension of the Constitution, President Alberto Fujimori's popularity continues unchecked. The public has demonstrated euphoric support at rallies across the nation for his promise to end government corruption and crack down on terrorism. In addition, relations are apparently excellent with both the armed forces, which backed the April 5 coup, and local businessmen.
The commission sent by the Organization of American States (OAS) to help speed a return to constitutionality has come and gone.
"They were like psychoanalysts," said right-wing parliamentarian Enrique Ghersi after his interview with the OAS team. "They listened but made no comment - we did all the talking."
At present, there is little else for Peru's elected senators and deputies to do. They now enjoy unrestricted freedom to meet and discuss, but a decree late last week set hefty prison sentences for them, or any other officials deposed by the new regime, if they "usurp their functions."
In an uncompromising clarification, President Fujimori said, "as long as they just meet, there will be absolutely no problem. But a jail sentence awaits them if they promulgate a law."
Constitutional lawyers, of course, argue that it is Fujimori who is acting illegally. But undaunted, he continues to decimate the judiciary and fill vacant posts with his own appointees. While prior to April 5 Senate ratification was required for high-level appointments, now approval of his choice by an unquestioningly loyal Cabinet is enough.
Ever since he took office in July 1990, Fujimori has gained political mileage by denouncing corruption in the judiciary. In the last few weeks, numerous people charged with terrorism have been released without facing trial. Low wages have left Peruvian judges, like many other public officials, susceptible to bribery.
Last week, the purge continued with another 134 judges sacked in Lima and the town of Callao alone. Thirteen of Peru's 28 Supreme Court judges had been dismissed 10 days earlier. The courts were closed for three weeks after the coup, and it is unclear whether there will be sufficient personnel to function as they reopen this week.
Fujimori has picked Maria Herminia Drago as comptroller general of the republic, the nation's top watchdog job. Dr. Drago, a widely respected lawyer, hit the limelight as the state prosecutor in the case of illicit enrichment brought last year against former President Alan Garcia Perez.
Fellow lawyers expressed surprise that she would accept a post in an unconstitutional regime. Her justification, however, is typical of the attitude of many Peruvians cooperating with the new administration: "I'm not a politician ... but I am absolutely convinced that there was need for change. And given that need, I believe all people of conscience should lend their support." There is speculation that her appointment may herald the reopening of the Garcia case.
Meanwhile, the ex-president, who evaded an April 5 attempt to arrest him, remains in hiding. Opposition to the status quo, virtually confined at present to politicians, intellectuals, and sectors of the communications media, is now clustering around First Vice President San Roman.
Out of the country when his running-mate suspended the Constitution, San Roman returned to Peru 10 days ago to be sworn in as the genuine constitutional president by a quorum of the dissolved Congress. He has yet to reveal names of his "parallel Cabinet" in what he calls the "government of national reconciliation and democracy."
Spot television polls in the streets of Lima and other major cities, however, indicate little public support for San Roman and his band of deposed congressmen.
"Mr. Fujimori's cleverly orchestrated campaign of many months to discredit Congress has really paid off," says one Western diplomat. "Peruvians are having a field day vilifying the very same parliamentarians they themselves elected two years ago."
More encouraging for a concerned international community is a weekend opinion poll showing that 90 percent of Peruvians favor a return to constitutionality, although there is almost universal agreement, even from deposed congressmen, that certain elements of that 12-year-old Constitution must change. Fujimori has issued a timetable that provides for two plebiscites, or "popular consultations," on the constitutional reforms his administration will propose.
"But it's impossible to hold a plebiscite on something so complex," says Alberto Quispe Correa, an expert on constitutional law. There are growing calls for a constituent assembly to debate proposals. San Roman has included a constituent assembly in his proposal for an interim government to restore democracy by April 1, 1993.
Last week's OAS mission brought breathing space for Peru in terms of international reaction. Its report and proposals for reconciliation between the de facto government and the opposition are due on May 23. Well before then, however, recently ratified Finance Minister Carlos Bologna is expected to travel to Washington to appease multilateral creditors. He will take a "letter of political intent" sketching out the government's commitment for a return to democracy.
Unless international financial aid is quickly unfrozen, the Peruvian economy is heading for trouble, says local economist Augusto Alvarez. "Even though the government may intend to maintain a tight rein on economic policy," he warns, "Fujimori is heavily dependent on the opinion polls - and he may have to spend extensively to conserve his popularity."
Monday's replacement of feisty Central Bank president Jorge Chavez with an apparently more malleable official is seen by Mr. Alvarez and other local economists as the first official sign of "macroeconomic populism" they fear may wreck the economic progress made in 21 months of austerity.