Dr. César Rodríguez Rabanal is a renowned Peruvian doctor and psychoanalyst. He lived for more than 20 years in Germany, has taught in various universities around the world and has written on the issues of poverty and violence in Peruvian society. In addition to his academic activity, he was president of the Democratic Forum (1993-2002) and later advisor in social affairs to former Peruvian president, Alejandro Toledo. In the following interview with Praxis Institute for Social Justice, Dr. Rodríguez shares his views on Peruvian society’s understanding of government as well as its reaction to the trial of former president Alberto Fujimori.
You worked in the Democratic Forum and later advised Alejandro Toledo. What was the Democratic Forum exactly?
Toledo recruited various leaders in the Forum to form part of his government. The Forum was founded a year after Fujimori’s coup, in 1993, and we recruited people from the most diverse sectors of civil society, political parties and cultural and social organizations. All of us who were against the dictatorship, who came from the right, left or center, or who were independent were in the Forum. We were the ones who collected 1.5 million signatures to call a referendum to stop Fujimori’s reelection. In other words, the Forum played a very important role in the struggle against Fujimori. And none of us in the Forum earned a salary, on the contrary, each of us had to pay a monthly sum to maintain the office.
So you believe that Fujimori’s government was a dictatorship?
No, it’s not what I believe, rather what it was. There’s no doubt.
But Fujimori still has a significant level of support, including people who recognize that he was a dictator but still back him. Why do many Peruvians support dictatorship?
There are two important groups. One is the absolute majority of people who live on the margins of existence here in Peru. In the cities, here in the ‘cones’ [marginal areas] as well as in the provinces, the people live poorly; they’ve never had the opportunity to think and develop opinions regarding institutions, defense of civil rights, the importance of long-term thinking. Thus this majority of Peruvians believe that solutions must be fast and decisive.
Therefore, they only survive, without the intellectual or psychological opportunity to develop a more differentiated vision of the world. They believes that the only way to fix things is through magic, with the help of God, dictators, arms, etc.— of whatever can change things very quickly, from one day to the next. They will always support authoritative options like Fujimori or whoever promises to put a quick end to the country’s evils. [The dictator says,] “Are there terrorists here?…then we’ll finish with the terrorists. Is there hunger? We’ll end hunger.” Of course none of this is true, it’s all an illusion that corresponds with the psychological, social and historical situation of this sector.
And what is the other group?
On the other extreme, there is a sector in the Peruvian high, privileged class that in the era of Fujimori or during dictatorships, supported Fujimori while he did the dirty work; he eliminated the ‘cholos’, considered to be annoying and irritating, and also introduced the neoliberal model to Peru.
And do you think that this mentality has changed?
It hasn’t, because this country’s conditions have not changed. Alan García has come to power, he’s allied himself with the radical sector of the Catholic right wing, the Opus Dei. He has made alliances in Congress with the ‘fujimoristas’ [Fujimori supporters] who have very dictatorial attitudes. Though the system is not a dictatorship, the system is formally democratic, the style of governing is indeed authoritarian. Thus Peru grows macroeconomically, but only a small group benefits from this while the majority feels very frustrated. They see that Congress is a disgrace — indeed, it’s a disaster — [because] the standard among Peruvian politicians is very low, very poor. Thus the idea that we have to close this, kick everyone out, and the need for a strong man who fixes everything easily surfaces. And that’s how we go about our lives, dreaming of saviors.
So what is the perception that Peruvians have of democracy?
Peruvians have a poor understanding of democracy as not only a formal system but also an attitude in life. It is a small group of Peruvians who have really incorporated the idea of democracy in the fullest sense of the word, understanding that democracy is not just about electing a president, Congressmen, regional authorities every five years, but rather understanding democracy as a civilized form of interacting with others, treating others respectfully, respecting gender, thinking of your children and family. If we define democracy in this way, I would say it’s a minority in Peru that follows this idea of democracy.
And how would you explain the increase in Fujimori’s support since his extradition?
Well, I think there is an important factor which is, first, the frustration among Peruvians who dreamed of living better but who still don’t. Secondly, there is also, undoubtedly, identification with “this poor man who’s in prison and being tried.” And there is a sector that identifies with this gentleman being tried. Why? Because there is a large number of Peruvians who are poor, who are abused by the police, by judges and by others and thus sympathize with him. Thus it is easy to imagine why a sector of Peruvians identify with the victim Fujimori, who is being accused for an abhorrent injustice, and on the other hand they are frustrated with the formal democratic system that has not brought about an improvement in their lives.
Do you think that Fujimori’s trial will contribute to the country’s reconciliation?
Reconciliation is a very big word. It’s a process that I experienced in Germany where reconciliation was often talked about after the Nazi past. But I would say that even Germany is very far from that — despite all its efforts — in a country with a well-developed culture. I think that in Peru we are also very far from reconciliation, but it is a very important experience for many people that there is justice that proceeds according to civilized norms that can be publicly discussed even if the current government doesn’t contribute to it — as seen by the fact that the national television channel does not broadcast the trial. Thus I would say that reconciliation is very extensive, very ambitious. But it is certainly important even if a very complicated process and requires a lot more. It’s a good example to see judges and state prosecutors and lawyers who act differently from what Peruvians know as justice.
How is it that those who criticize the government or who express non-conforming opinions are accused of being “terrorists?”
This happens in all primitive societies. That is to say, this tendency of finding a scapegoat — someone who will take responsibility for everything. Whoever I don’t like, whoever criticizes me is bad and evil. Thus here it’s very easy to slap the terrorist tag on critics from the opposition. The argument over the issue of MRTA’s status has to do with this tendency.
But this happens in other governments as well, right?
Of course. In the United States, too. Overall, the difference here is that it’s directed against other Peruvians. On the other hand, in the United States, Bush’s famous ‘Axis of Evil’ says ‘everyone over there is bad.’ Now, it is also insinuated that there are Axis of Evil accomplices within the US. In principle, it’s not something unique to Peru, it’s a world phenomenon, but is more intense in primitive countries.
Is this what happened with the letter that Aprodeh [Association Pro Human Rights] sent to the European Parliament?
Of course, because Francisco Soberón [director of Aprodeh] has said things that are not untrue. The European Parliament asked him whether MRTA [the Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement] is a dangerous organization or not and he said that it’s not because MRTA doesn’t exist. It was not a philosophic definition of whether it’s a terrorist group or not — the Europeans are not interested in that. It was simply to determine what organizations today represent a threat to European security. But in Peru, there’s a majority in the political sector as well that’s very interested in accusing human rights and civil organizations, putting them all in the same grouping [as terrorists]. They’re interested in maintaining the idea of terrorist groups, like the MRTA and Shining Path. Thus in no way will they accept the proposal that these no longer exist because [their existence] justifies spending, the purchase of arms, authoritative positions, as well as accusations against opponents.
 Word that can be used both endearingly and scornfully for Peruvians with olive or dark skin, usually descendents of the indigenous population or inhabitants of the Andes.