Fujimori’s pardon holds up a mirror to Peru’s weak institutions

Fujimori’s pardon holds up a mirror to Peru’s weak institutions

When President Kuczynski pardoned former president Alberto Fujimori on Christmas Eve 2017, Kuczynski’s domestic approval ratings shot up, despite civil unrest and international condemnation. But was this a master class in political dealings, or a blunder that will handicap Peru’s Presidential Palace?

Political backroom dealings do not get more obvious than the pardoning of former president Alberto Fujimori. Three days after surviving an impeachment vote, President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski (PPK) announced that the father of his main political rivals would receive a ‘humanitarian pardon’, allowing the 79-year-old former president to return home. 

Fujimori, who served as the nation’s president from 1990 to 2000, embodies the left-right political divide in Latin America. By many on the left, he is considered a corrupt authoritarian ruler, who violated human rights under the guise of fighting communism. His admirers, however, see the man who recovered a depleted economy and ended the Maoist-inspired Sendero Luminoso guerrilla uprising.

Political fallout

The pardon prompted a wave of international condemnation and several bouts of civil unrest in Peru. Three cabinet members resigned in the aftermath, and several centre-left lawmakers outright dismissed any chance of a reconciliation with the President’s administration, which on the surface would seem to risk undermining PPK’s ability to push his legislative priorities.

The President’s supporters, however, saw the turbulent political environment in a very different light. PPK’s approval rating not only shot up 7 points immediately after issuing the pardon, but he also succeeded in dividing his main political opposition during the final vote on his own impeachment.

The impeachment proceedings were derailed by ten opposition lawmakers led by Kenji Fujimori, dubbed ‘The Avengers’. Kenji’s vote broke the majority secured by his sister, Keiko, head of the right-wing Fuerza Popular party, which currently fields 71 out of 130 congressional seats.

PPK-aligned lawmakers were quick to point out that breaking Fuerza Popular’s majority in Congress was a success in itself. Nevertheless, it remains unclear if Kenji’s lifeline to PPK will evolve into a full-fledged political alliance. What is perhaps more apparent is the rift between siblings.

Fuerza Popular’s communique after the pardon sends a mixed message. It begins by exalting the new-found freedom of the former president, only to criticise “the manner in which it was won”. The communique was followed by a series of social media exchanges between aides and lawmakers which likely aggravated the split. If the political divide between Keiko and Kenji continues, the PPK’s legislative agenda is more likely to inch forward, albeit gradually.

Economic implications

President Kuczynski’s decision to pardon a leader convicted of human rights violations, in addition to his repeated denial of ulterior political motivations behind the pardon, will have economic repercussions.

Peru’s economy is dominated by one sector: mining. The country is currently the third largest producer of copper and zinc in the world and a significant player in the extraction of gold and silver. 

PPK presided over the mining sector’s early growth, first during his tenure as Economy and Mining Minister in 2001-2002, and again from 2004-2005. PPK’s seat in the Presidential Palace will likely continue to favour the mining industry in the country given his business-friendly attitude.  

However, mining alone will not help Peru diversify its economic base and alleviate its high rate of inequality. Peru continues to lag behind middle-income Latin American countries in terms of per capita income, productivity and innovation, largely due to its homogenous economy. Securing the release of a leader convicted of violating human rights is not the best publicity for a country in need of diversified foreign investment.

Industries that are perhaps more sensitive to reputational risk, such as technology, telecom, retail and e-commerce, shy away from the type of headlines that accompanied PPK following Fujimori’s release. Fujimori’s imprisonment was a ground-breaking moment for Latin America, a clear message that all are held equal under the law. His release is a reflection of Peru’s weak institutions. PPK and in the long-run, Peru will now have to convince the private sector that its political elite do not abuse the power afforded to them.

The saga isn’t over yet

Fujimori’s opponents and human rights activists have also signalled their intent to reverse the executive decision, a move not without precedent in Peru. In 2009, José Enrique Crousillat, one of the country’s media moguls found guilty of receiving bribes from Fujimori’s spy chief, was pardoned on humanitarian grounds. He was sent back to prison a year later after being photographed in a supermarket line and bathing in an exclusive resort.  

Fujimori’s pardon was signed and approved in 13 days, a record according to Roger Rodriguez, the former head of the pardon commission who quit his post due to Fujimori’s release. Rodiguez opined: “No humanitarian pardon, even for those requested by prisoners suffering terminal illnesses, start and finish so quickly (…) there are elements here to challenge its validity in court”.

Whether or not the pardon will stand in court will reveal much about the strength of Peru’s judicial institutions.

Categories: Latin America, Politics

About Author

Konrad Petraitis

Konrad Eduardo Petraitis Alfaro is a UK-based corporate intelligence analyst specializing in investment risk and conflict development in Latin America and the Caribbean. A Caracas native, he also resided and studied conflict dynamics in Israel and Tunisia. He holds an MLitt. on Terrorism and Political Violence from the University of St Andrews.