GW Law School, March 2008
We arrived at the airport in Lima excited to be attending two days of the Fujimori trial as international observers. Although the trial is seldom covered by the US press, as soon to be lawyers working on an amicus brief for the Peruvian court, we knew the issues well. We had read about the internal war against the Shining Path, about the Inter-American Court’s decisions on La Cantuta and Barrios Altos, and thought we would certainly arrive in a country where everyone would be celebrating the trial of their corrupt and immoral ex-president. We exited the gate and our car was waiting for us. As we piled into the car we began conversing with our driver and when Fujimori came up in conversation we were surprised to hear not condemnation but praise! The ex-president had helped them out of financial disrepair; he had ended the country’s internal war against the Shining Path terrorists; things were better because of the Fujimori regime. Interesting.
The next day was spent at trial and after a long tiring day I decided to use my free time to relax and get a manicure. Banter with the manicurist ensued and the conversation ended with the same conclusion: Fujimori should be let free. The next night on our way to dinner we passed a huge poster downtown honoring the ex-president- “Viva el Chino” it proclaimed. Had we gotten it wrong? Was this man on trial, so vilified in the US, actually loved by his countrymen in Peru?
The answer we came to by the end of our trip seemed to be yes and no. Things were not as black and white as we had initially expected. Although there are many “Fujimoristas” out there that pledge their undying love to the ex-president and there are many that praise his economic achievements, it would be wrong to say that his legacy of fear and persecution have been forgotten. The many human rights organizations actively engaged in this trial and the students and other non profit groups dedicating their time and effort to following this proceeding cannot be overlooked. Then of course there are the families of the victims who are present at the hearing every day, reliving their painful past in hopes that justice will prevail. Even the people we talked to that expressed content with Fujimori’s economic policies when asked about the alleged human rights abuses admitted this was a stain on his presidential resume. Of the people we talked with that praised his economic policies or the decline of the Shining Path, I think even many of these people will admit that no one has the right to subrogate another person’s human rights for the good of the state.
Although the situation was not quite as ‘white’ as we had believed in the beginning, it was not as ‘black’ as we feared after our initial conversations either. In essence what we learned is that the legacies of Fujimori’s presidential regime are many. Those who were directly affected by the internal war against the Shining Path will never forgive him. While poor farmers who only know Fujimori from when he visited their town to build irrigation ditches will remember him as bringing change. Therefore some may remember him as an endearing man who saved the country from economic downfall, while others may remember him as a dictator who systematically contributed to violations of human rights throughout the country.
This political climate is also visible at the trial itself. Seating in the visitors’ room is divided; half for the plaintiff and half for the defendant — in this trial this roughly equates to one side for Fujimoristas and one side for the others. Surprisingly to us the Fujimorista side was well populated on the days we attended and even more entertaining was that as Fujimori entered the court room the Fujimorista side would stand in homage to the ex-president and wave at him fervently. The other side was also rather full, representing the families of the victims and members of various organizations. This divide of the visitors’ room is illustrative of the ideological divide of the country. In Peru there are pro Fujimori newspapers and anti-Fujimori newspapers; pro-Fujimori political parties and anti-Fujimori political parties even pro-Fujimori facebook pages and anti-Fujimori facebook pages.
In the end these views, while important to the country’s internal politics should not affect the foundations of this case. While meeting with the judges and various attorneys working on this trial one thing was clear: their focus was on the law and the evidence, not on the politics. The judgment of this case remains to be seen, and the politics behind it are undoubtedly heated, but as we boarded our plane to leave Peru we were confident the decision will be largely free from the political overtones of the case and based on the facts that come up in the search for truth and justice.