So, the election results are in. In the end, it was extremely close; at one point during the counting of votes, when there was only 10% left to come in, there was only 0.4% between the two candidates. But PPK just scraped it. A positive result? It´s hard to say.
Whilst what we know of PPK has led us to believe that he will by no means improve the quality of life for the majority of Peruvians, we did feel a sense of relief on hearing the results, after everything we had been told about Keiko´s politics and the corrupt dictatorship of her father, who is now in prison for human rights abuses. Anything, we thought, would be better than a repeat of that kind of politics. However, very nearly half of the Peruvian electorate voted for Keiko, and it is clearly important to look at why.
Since our last blog, we have had further conversations with Peruvians about the elections, mainly with the people in the central Amazon where we are currently doing a Workaway Project (more information about Kadagaya in an upcoming blog, and on their website). It has become clear that a lot of people in this region, just like those that Ruth spoke to in Huancavelica, are supportive of Keiko, and mainly because they were supportive of her father. These are some of the poorest people in Peru, from communities that were the worst affected during the period of terrorism and violence under Fujimori in the 90´s, and they view his presidency in a positive light. Why?
First, some context. There may be people who are reading this who are unaware of the horribly bloody period in Peru´s recent history, in which the Communist terrorist organisation Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) and other similar groups such as MRTA (Movimiento Revolucionario Tupac Amaru) brought a wave of violence across the country. I feel it is necessary to say that this is a somewhat biased account, having taken most of what I know on this subject from the museum Lugar de Memoria in Lima, and from people unsympathetic towards these groups, but this is by far the mainstream account, and as far as I am aware, these are facts that cannot be contested. When these two organisations started out in the early 80´s, their objectives were to radically transform Peru into a more equal society with a redistribution of wealth, improved education and a better life for the millions living in the more rural and impoverished areas of the highlands and the jungle. However, this utopian dream soon turned into a distopian reality, as the groups turned to violent means to make the rich and powerful of Lima hear their demands. As well as bomb attacks and assasinations of government ministers, members of these organisations entered the Andes and the Amazon and destroyed the communities that they had claimed they wanted to help. They kidnapped young men and forced them to join their ranks; killed and raped innocent men, women and children; and displaced numerous communities as terrified campesinos fled into hiding.
Into this turbulent period of violence and fear entered Fujimori as president. In 1990, he entered his first term with a large mandate; people were frustrated with the previous president Alan Garcia´s inability to tackle the situation and were hopeful that Fujimori´s hardline approach would stop the violence once and for all and finally restore peace to Peru. The Peruvian people wanted action, and Fujimori certainly gave them that; he sent in hundreds of army officers across the country to crush the terrorist groups. However, as well as successfully arresting, and in many cases killing, members of SL and MRTA, the soldiers also killed many innocent civilians. They were often dressed in very similar uniform to the terrorists; many witnesses in the museum’s video footage commented on the confusion and chaos of the violence. People in these interviews would refer to ´they´, when describing the men who marched into their villages and made their lives a living nightmare, often having no idea which side these men were from.
Fujimori´s unforgiving military response did eventually succeed in ridding Peru of the terrorism it had experienced for fifteen years. But at what cost? How many other innocent lives were lost at the hands of the armed forces sent in by the president? It may never be possible to say. What is clear is that despite Fujimori´s violent approach, many Peruvian people look back at his presidency in a positive light. This is partly down to the mindset that ‘he did what he had to do’, with many people saying that if it wasn’t for him, the terrorism Peru was suffering from would never have been quelled. It is also partly down to the investment and support that Fujimori put into the rural impoverished areas of the country; he handed out uniforms and shoes to school children and improved roads and infrastructure in previously unreachable locations. For those who lived in these areas and saw first-hand the direct impact of this support, it is understandable that they would support him, however short term and superficial these actions actually were in reality. Furthermore, one person we spoke to challenged the commonly held idea that Fujimori was a dictator, arguing that he was elected with large majorities in his first two terms. It was in his third term, when his popularity was falling, that he bribed congressmen in order to stay in government (until he was found out and fled the country). Corrupt he certainly was, but a dictator? Perhaps not.
However positive some of the changes Fujimori implemented may have been, we have heard about a dark tale from Fujimori’s presidency which for me, makes clear once and for all what kind of politician he really was. During his presidency, thousands of women from poor, indigenous communities, were sterilized against their will. Women were often lied to, being told by medical officials they were to have a pregnancy test or another treatment, when in fact they were being sterilized and would never be able to have children again. Many of these women’s stories are only just now coming to light; the response from Fujimori, as well as more recently from his daughter Keiko, has either been that the sterilizations did not happen, or that the women were sterilized voluntarily.
The chilling tales of these women forced against their will, through trickery or physical violence, to undergo sterilization, paints a dark picture of Fujimori’s presidency. This, along with the government’s extreme violence towards innocent civilians during the period of terrorism, and the fact that he ended his presidency under claims of corruption and fraud, before resigning and fleeing to Japan, leads me to fall on the side of the Peruvians who are relieved that his daughter Keiko, who has always supported her father’s politics and actions, did not win the recent elections. However, Peru is clearly extremely divided on this issue, and with many congressmen having been elected from Keiko’s party, Fujimorismo as a political ideology will still have a strong voice within the Peruvian parliament. One can only hope that the Peruvian people put pressure on the newly elected president PPK to implement policies that will benefit all Peruvians and create a more equal society. Unfortunately, most of our friends do not have a great amount of faith in their new president. He was simply the lesser of two evils.