Sofía Macher (picture taken from the website of the Peruvian Truth and Reconciliation Commission.)
During the years that Alberto Fujimori’s dictatorship lasted, we were a kidnapped country. He controlled all information, corrupting many of the media owners, and he created scenes in order to manipulate public opinion.
One of these scenes was the destruction of terrorism and its remnants, which Fujimori used as a political campaign. At the beginning of the Cantuta—Barrios Altos trial, he tried to use the ideas he had before for his current stratagy: in an attempt at political discourse, he denied all charges, alleging that he had saved the country from terrorism and therefore he could not be accused of having committed human rights violations.
The importance of the trial against Fujimori in the democratic history of our country is enormous. Most likely it will not change the convictions of some, who will surely deny all acts that are being unveiled in the trial and stubbornly want to explain the trial as political vengeance, or the abuses committed as inevitable excesses “to save 25 million Peruvians from terrorism” (of course, failing to comment on the corruption charges he faces, having been convicted of one already). But this is already history: inevitably, the next generation will know him as he really was.
Future generations will know history in light of the results of these trials. A chapter of our history is being written that will be an important lesson for future governments of our country. This process marks the end of a chapter.
It is also important for many other reasons. In the first place, it puts the court system itself on trial, and opens the possibility that the courts will recover credibility. Fujimori destroyed the court system and the prosecutor’s office. After the self-coup of April 5, 1992, he installed commissions named by him to administer justice under the pretext of reforming it. When we fought to recover our democracy at the end of the ‘90s, one of the central themes of the dismantling of the dictatorship, among others, was ending the commissions that administered the courts and the prosecutor’s office. Today we have a court system free of the commissions, but still with some mafia-like elements, that is demonstrating to us that it is possible to have a trial that respects due process, in which the rights of the accused are guaranteed, and that delivers justice. The Chief Judge, César San Martín, is doing a good job, but we will have to wait until all appeals are exhausted.
Furthermore, it is important because it is a public trial, and even without knowing the final result, the trial is transmitting an image that speaks for itself: it doesn’t matter how important a person has been; if he is accused of serious crimes, he must respond in court. In some ways it is a sign of the times. Surely it is an image that will be kept in mind by all future governments, as well as by young people who don’t know the dimensions of the Fujimori/Montesinos dictatorship.
Internationally it is an example of the importance of developing judicial processes in one’s own country. Without doubt, these trials are contributing positively to our country’s image abroad. In addition they are strengthening the idea that human rights are a responsibility of the international community, and the understanding that, if universal jurisdiction is not applicable, when serious violations of human rights and crimes of corruption are committed, criminals cannot be given protection and must be returned to their own country so they can be properly judged.
It is also a historic moment for the human rights movement that, against the current, we are taking these cases to the Interamerican court system. The “Barrios Altos” and La Cantuta” cases are emblematic of the ‘90s. When Judge Saquicuray ordered Montesinos and Hermoza, then head of the Armed Forces, to appear in her court for the Barrios Altos case, that same morning an amnesty law was approved that obliged her to suspend the trial, and the members of the Colina Group were immediately released from jail. A lot of water has gone under the bridge since then, and many people doubted that those responsible would ever be put to trial, or that Fujimori would ever by extradited after so many years as a fugitive. But it has happened, thanks to the work of the human rights movement.
To listen now to Fujimori in court, saying that he laments those deaths but that he had no knowledge of them; or that he, who had all the power, never gave orders and that the blame for these crimes is the exclusive responsibility of the military; or that he signed the felicitations, promotions, and payments of benefits to the members of the Colina Group after the killings without knowing or realizing what had happened; these are evidence that we are in another stage, one in which the rules of the game have changed, but in which it will be a challenge to the human rights movement to achieve the dominance of the concepts and values on which a democracy should be built (principals that we also defend when he accuses us of being pro-terrorism).
The importance that these trials have for the victims and their families is another aspect to emphasize. Now we can see ourselves as full citizens of this country, and can see that justice is not exclusively for the country’s rich and powerful. Although the punishment for the crimes that were committed will not return their loved ones to them, it is important that the State finally recognize the crimes and judge those responsible. The trials are being converted into a powerful tool of inclusion, and without doubt will have an impact on the mental health of all of them.
For years these crimes were justified as “inevitable excesses in the fight against terrorism”. The families for years took to the streets to demand justice, and they were ignored and attacked. Now they are seated in the front row of the courtroom, observing the trial. The effect transcends the cases of Cantuta and Barrios Altos; in some way other people who suffered violations of their human rights during the Fujimori regime will see in this trial that justice has also been done for them.
In conclusion, the trial is contributing to dismantle the Fujimori/Montesinos version of the ‘90s and is confirming the version set forth in the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The “self-coup” of April 5, 1992, was an unjustified act that had as its principal purpose the elimination of political opposition and taking complete control of all branches of government in order to weave a net of corruption that he enjoyed with total impunity. We Peruvians should not separate talking about the anti-terrorist fight from the net of corruption he created; terrorism was the pretext that gave them a free hand to steal the country’s money.