Fujimori's Failure in Peru

This setback to democracy in Latin America was not a result of economic austerity measures of a simple military takeover

THE self-inflated coup by Peru's Alberto Fujimori raises a complex, often overlooked element in the quest for peace and prosperity in the developing world. This setback to democracy in Latin America was not a result of economic austerity measures or a simple military takeover, but a failure of effective governance. Now Peru is being thrown into political turmoil that will be difficult to overcome.

Before the events of April 5, Peru was already struggling with one of the region's most intractable internal conflicts: a ruthless military battling Latin America's most brutal guerrilla movement, Shining Path, and drug traffickers successfully co-opting both sides to protect their growing business.

The way out of this quagmire, people hoped, was through democracy, the slow process of strengthening political institutions and developing the political consensus needed to sustain and facilitate the economic and social policies crucial for stability.

It was precisely Mr. Fujimori's frustration with the cumbersome process of political negotiation and compromise, however, that seems to have led him to dismantle the congress and judiciary, actions for which he had no constitutional authority. It was corruption in those two branches, he argued, that led him to accept a leading political role for the armed forces, at a time when they were finally in retreat from politics elsewhere in the region.

Fujimori's turning to the military to fight corruption is difficult to understand, given the widespread allegations of their involvement in drug trafficking. Moreover, congressional corruption in Peru, as elsewhere in Latin America, has been limited to pork-barreling and influence-peddling related to specific legislation. It pales in comparison with what goes on in the executive branch, which controls an array of government agencies. The more serious problem with congress was the public perception that i t was engaged in irrelevant politicking and doing nothing to improve the country's situation.

As for the judiciary, legitimate charges of corruption should have called, not for militarizing the judicial system, but for strengthening its independence, such as through budget increases to fund protection for judges and pay them a decent living.

The fault lies not just with Peru's congress and judiciary, but with Fujimori himself - his inability to govern, his lack of ability to reach out and develop the support needed to sustain his government and policies. Having outlined the prosperous and free Peru he envisioned, he failed to come up with a credible strategy for getting there.

Why this failure? Fujimori, an improvised politician, lacks the experience and sensitivity to manage the political process through responsible leadership and through skilled negotiation and compromise. Elected narrowly in a runoff vote, he lacked the political base that only an organized political party or strong political movement can provide. Such a political base is vital to sustain and legitimize any government's social and political policies. The immediate popular support for the coup will be diffic ult to maintain and translate into the consensus needed to restructure Peru's political process.

Fujimori's failure was not due to lack of foreign support. Under his administration, Peru has received more foreign assistance - from the United States and multilateral lending institutions - than almost any other Latin American country. His actions should serve notice to lending agencies that politics, not just economic policies, are key to successful reform.

Those who have praised Fujimori's economic policies must now acknowledge what is clearly a monumental political failure: He has brought disgrace to his country and dealt a blow to democracy throughout the Westerm Hemisphere.

The Organization of American States (OAS), which held a special foreign ministers' meeting April 13 and sent a mission to Peru this week, faces the dilemma of calling to task an elected president who has derailed his own country's democratic process.

Unlike in Haiti, where the regional organization is struggling to reinstate an elected president overthrown by his military, in Peru, returning the country to the democratic fold will require a careful effort to assist the president in normalizing the political process. This challenges the OAS to do more than simply isolate Fujimori, should he continue to refuse the foreign ministers' demand to restore democracy.

A more constructive approach, using the OAS's diplomatic resources, would assist Fujimori and leaders of Peru's major political forces in working out a plan to return the country to constitutional rule. A mechanism for this type of action exists in the OAS's newly created Unit for Democratic Development, which has a mandate to provide assistance in electoral matters and in strengthening political institutions.

The problem of governance is central to the success and consolidation of democracy. It is a problem that will require more attention from supporters of democracy in the developing world. Recognizing its role in the case of Peru presents regional leaders with a clear opportunity to use constructive multilateral diplomacy, of the kind the United Nations has so effectively employed, to resolve this latest crisis.

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