A picture of Peru's former President Alberto Fujimori who was serving a 25-year prison sentence is seen outside Centenario hospital after President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski pardoned him, in Lima, Peru, December 25, 2017. The sign reads: "Lord have mercy and forgive those who hate me". (Photo by Geraldo Caso/NurPhoto/Sipa USA)
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Five hours before Christmas Day, a press release from the Presidency of Peru bore the news that Pedro Pablo Kuczynski had given his approval to the humanitarian pardon of Alberto Fujimori, who was sentenced to 25 years in 2009. The pardon allows the autocrat to walk free after twelve years in jail. He was convicted for having command responsibility in the Barrios Altos and La Cantuta massacres, in 1991 and 1992, and he was also sentenced on charges of corruption, robbery and aggravated kidnapping. Kuczynski accelerated the pardon in order to avoid being deposed by the Fujimorista majority in Congress. The deal sparked protests by the anti-Fujimorista camp: every day since Christmas Eve, they are staging marches in Lima and in a third of the regions in the country.
The former banker and current president of Peru has spent a year and a half under the pressure and facing the parliamentary obstruction of People’s Force, the party led by Keiko Fujimori, his rival at the 2016 elections. Five of his ministers have been questioned or censored, and finally dismissed or forced to resign.
During the presidential campaign, Kuczynski promised not to pardon the convict, but he justified his change of mind, on the night of Monday 25 December, saying that he had since "followed with concern the progressive deterioration of Alberto Fujimori's health".
Several human rights specialists point out that some procedural defects in the process could lead to the pardon being declared null and void
Fujimori has a heart condition and suffers from high blood pressure, and he went through two tongue cancer surgeries in 1997 and 2008. Doctor Elmer Huerta, one of the most renowned Peruvian oncologists, has commented that his ailments are typically those of a person his age (79 years) and that no available studies prove that prison is a factor favouring cancer recidivism.
However, the medical board that recommended the humanitarian pardon stated that Fujimori’s health was "failing”, and that he had been diagnosed with “a high-risk cancer in the oral cavity".
Several human rights specialists, including Carlos Rivera, the lawyer of the La Cantuta victims, point out that some procedural defects in the process could lead to the pardon being declared null and void. The date of the medical board’s recommendation does not fit with that of Fujimori’s filing of the request for pardon. In addition, a doctor who has been treating Fujimori’s leukoplakia in the past decades was himself a member of the medical board that recommended the presidential grace.
The killings at Barrios Altos and La Cantuta have motivated resolutions by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR), which the Peruvian State has to comply with. Jurisprudence of this supranational entity indicates that the State "should refrain from resorting to means such as amnesty, pardon, prescription and the establishment of conditions limiting or excluding liability, as well as to measures seeking to prevent criminal prosecution".
Rivera has sent a request to the IACHR asking the Court to check the Peruvian State’s compliance with both resolutions, which have been contravened by Fujimori's pardon. He is determined to challenge the pardon also in the Peruvian courts.
José Burneo, a lawyer who specializes in international criminal law and who participated in one of the marches in the center of Lima against the decision of Kuczynski on Monday 25 December, commented that the president of the Inter-American Court could issue a provisional ruling against the pardon, which is a speedier option than waiting for the ordinary session of the Court, due to be held at the end of January.
The political party level
Meanwhile, three congressmen from Peruvians for Change - Kuczynski's party - and the Minister of the Interior have resigned following the announcement of the pardon. It is anybody’s guess if other members of the cabinet will step down, because the pardon has changed the political context.
The pardon and Alberto Fujimori’s subsequent support for Kuczynski's call for reconciliation and for "turning the page" sets out a new contex
When on Thursday, 21 December, the President saved himself from the "presidential vacancy" promoted by People’s Force, Alan García’s APRA and the leftist Broad Front, analysts speculated that Kuczynski would oust at least four of his ministers. Prime Minister Mercedes Aráoz, very close to APRA, because she suggested he should resign when the Fujimoristas released a document from the Brazilian company Odebrecht about payments made to a company owned by Kuczynski - and to another owned by a partner of his – when he was a minister of Alejandro Toledo’s government and in 2012. Also Foreign Minister Ricardo Luna, close to Fujimori, who refused to send a request to the Organization of American States (OAS) to send observers to the parliamentary session which was to vote on the dismissal of the Head of State. The Minister of Justice too, because he did not legally assist the President when he was being harassed by the list of payments and reimbursements by Odebrecht, and finally the Minister of Health, who also did not support him in the midst of the biggest political crisis that the former banker has experienced since he came to power in July 2016.
The pardon and Alberto Fujimori’s subsequent support for Kuczynski's call for reconciliation and for "turning the page" sets out a new context: that of an outright collaboration between Peruvians for Change (who has now 15 seats in Congress, after the resignations) and People’s Force. The ministers linked to Fujimorism and APRA could be part of that explicit partnership and would no longer operate in secret.
The fragmented indignation in the streets
Investigative journalist Gustavo Gorriti has famously said that anti Fujimorism is the "largest party in Peru" and that, even though it is not exactly a political formation, it is a sector of the population that is activated in times of crisis and takes to the streets.
On Thursday 21 December, Prime Minister Aráoz said that "the government does not negotiate pardons", while the Defense Minister and several congressmen of the ruling party convinced other parliamentarians to vote against Kuczynski’s dismissal assuring them that Fujimori’s pardon "was not on the agenda". However, 48 hours later, the President pardoned him. The lie outraged a large sector of the population, especially young people, who since the night of 24 December, Christmas Eve, have been gathering in Lima’s city center to protest against Kuczynski and to shout "Fujimori never again".
The demonstrators assembled before midnight one block away from the President's house and were repressed by the police. Police violence happened again on Tuesday afternoon in the historic center of Lima and in the nearby neighbourhoods when some 5.000 people rallied there. Demonstrations were also held in eight other cities in the country. Mobilizations will continue in the coming days to resist what protesters consider a return to the authoritarianism of the 90s.
The political situation in Peru is serious. A new alliance has been formed. And it has come to be as Alberto Fujimori, the autocrat, has been pardoned.