TWO weeks after using troops to dissolve Peru's Congress and shut down its courts, President Alberto Fujimori has consolidated his move to dictatorial rule with remarkable ease.
Mr. Fujimori's main worries now are the negative international reaction to his autogolpe, or self-coup, and the threat from domestic guerrillas.
Fujimori announced April 16 that he would invite the political parties represented in the dissolved Congress to take part in a
"national dialogue" May 1 on changes to Peru's 1979 Constitution - set aside by the president on April 5. He said social and business organizations would also participate.
In calling political talks, Fujimori is heeding a resolution passed at a meeting of foreign ministers at the Organization of American States (OAS) in Washington on April 13. The OAS stopped short of imposing economic sanctions, but called for the "urgent reestablishment" of democratic institutions in Peru.
The OAS also urged member countries to "take into account" the speed with which democratic institutions were restored in evaluating their aid programs. Both the United States and Germany have suspended non-humanitarian economic aid to Peru, while Venezuela has announced it is suspending diplomatic relations.
Fujimori's call for dialogue was followed by his dissolution April 17 of Peru's regional assemblies, which he criticized as obstructions to economic reforms.
The autogolpe, coming two months after dissident soldiers narrowly failed to topple Venezuelan President Carlos Andres Perez, suggests that a decade of civilian democracy in Latin America is under increasing threat.
Fujimori has admitted an "error of judgment" on international reaction to his coup. Saying he failed to calculate "the image which could be transmitted by tanks, machine guns, and soldiers," he said he hoped friendly countries "will understand ... that on the road we were on it wasn't possible to find solutions to economic [problems] nor those of terrorism."
Fujimori has promised a plebiscite on his actions within six months and says he hopes a new constitution will be in place within 18 months. He has the support of the armed forces and private business, and the strong backing of Peruvian public opinion for his "Emergency National Reconstruction Government."
Ranged against him are Peru's political parties, intellectuals, and a section of the news media. Maximo San Roman, elected first vice president on Fujimori's Change 90 ticket in 1990, returned to Lima from the US Saturday night. Following Fujimori's suspension of constitutional rule, members of Congress declared the presidency vacant and swore in the second vice president, Carlos Garcia Garcia, as acting president pending Mr. San Roman's return to Peru.
But the opposition so far has been out-maneuvered. The coup was preceded by a systematic campaign - described as "psychological warfare" by an intelligence source involved in it - in which the government laid the blame for Peru's many ills on Congress and the judiciary.
Peruvians - who have suffered a decade of misgovernment, economic depression, and political violence - accepted Fujimori's message. Opinion polls show 70 percent to 85 percent support for his actions. No one else to blame
But the polls also show that a majority do not realize they are now living under a dictatorship. That may change in coming months, since Fujimori will have no one else to blame if things go wrong - particularly with an economic policy that has tamed hyperinflation but threatens to bring a chain of bank collapses and company bankruptcies.
"The polls are true: People are desperate, and they want to believe that this is a quick and easy solution to their problems," says Aurelio Lloret de Mola, vice president of the Chamber of Deputies. "When they realize it isn't, their opinions will change." Mr. Lloret spent a week under house arrest after the coup.
Fujimori's toughest internal challenge is the Maoist guerrilla group Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path), which has spread from the Andean countryside to the shantytowns of Lima in the past 12 years.
Since the coup, Sendero has exploded three car bombs at police and military targets in Lima, killing seven people. Military confrontation
Officials say the new government will beat back Sendero by giving broad powers to the intelligence agencies and greater resources to the armed forces, and by improving military morale with wage increases and equipment purchases. Police, supported by troops, have already taken charge of two Lima prisons where more than 400 suspected Sendero supporters are held. And the Army is planning an offensive in the Huallaga Valley to break Sendero's grip on a large portion of the lucrative cocaine trade.
Sendero backers have long sought this kind of confrontation, convinced that increased repression will attract recruits. The Army has long been criticized for violations of human rights, and with the military now free of constitutional restraints, some analysts fear the worst.
"There's going to be a bloodbath in the next few months," says sociologist Marcial Rubio. "There isn't a political plan against Sendero - this is a military plan."
Even in the best case, results may come slowly. "Even if this is the most efficient dictatorship in repressive terms," a high-ranking intelligence source says, "we're talking about a minimum of six to seven years."