A YEAR after his military-backed coup, Peru's President Alberto Fujimori is unrepentant. "If we hadn't taken the step, we'd probably be on the verge of collapse by now," he says. "That would have been historically irresponsible - I don't regret it."
One year ago today, Mr. Fujimori dissolved Peru's two-chamber Congress and suspended the Constitution. He claimed that inefficient politicians and corrupt judges were blocking progress on the antiterrorist and counternarcotics fronts and that entrenched opposition in Congress was blocking his vital economic reforms.
Fujimori can claim dramatic advances against Peru's two guerrilla groups. Although countersubversive experts claim that it was more a stroke of good fortune than a direct result of a new government strategy, last September's capture of Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) leader Abimael Guzman Reynoso has proved a major blow to the 13-year-old Maoist organization.
While Sendero hit squads still carry out sporadic bombings, their attacks appear to lack coordination. Almost every week another cell falls.
Congresswoman Lourdes Flores Nano, one of Fujimori's ardent critics, admits that "Sendero Luminoso is no longer a threat to the Peruvian state." According to Fujimori, 90 percent of top-level Sendero leaders are behind bars serving life prison terms. His pledge to have the country pacified by 1995 now has a more convincing ring.
This success in the field of pacification has done much to maintain the president's popularity. More than halfway through his term of office, opinion polls give Fujimori an approval rating in excess of 60 percent.
"The Peruvian people, like people all over the world, want a three-way attack on corruption, violence, and inefficiency," he explains. "And I'm the first president who's coming up with the solutions." Economic successes
On the economic front, Fujimori can point to several successes. Inflation has been tamed; the bloated and inefficient state bureaucracy has been severely pruned; and state-owned companies are being sold off.
Deregulation and attractive new legislation have been drawing foreign investors to Peru. Lima's small stock market was the second most profitable performer in the world last year. Chinese and Chileans, Americans and Australians are lining up to buy into Peru's state-owned telecommunications, mining, fishing, and electricity companies.
The major downside to last April's coup was international community reaction. Normalization of long-disrupted relations with multilateral organizations and the commercial banking system had consistently been a top priority for the Fujimori administration. But last April's dissolving of Congress brought the process to a grinding halt.
Multilaterals and previously friendly governments immediately froze financial assistance to Peru. It has taken almost a year for vital aid to be finally unblocked and has cost the country some $600 million, estimates Jorge Chavez, a former Central Bank president.
There are other areas where anticipated progress has been slight or non-existent. The promised war on drugs - last year, Peruvian police with Drug Enforcement Administration assistance, captured only 1 percent of the estimated 600 metric tons of cocaine base produced annually in Peru. Peruvian Air Force units now control a handful of small airports formerly used for flying drugs to Colombia, but allegations of Peruvian military involvement in drug rackets continue unabated.
Reform of the justice system is another area where progress has been all but imperceptible. Hundreds of judges at all levels have been fired and replaced.
"But the new appointees are generally as corrupt as their predecessors and the system itself remains as inefficient as ever," says a foreign legal expert working in Peru. "All that's happened is that the executive has tightened its control over the judiciary."
Foreign diplomats in Lima are also concerned at what they interpret as excessive executive control over the new, slimmed-down Congress. Fujimori's alliance party, hastily convened last November for elections demanded by the international community, enjoys an overall majority in Congress. It dominates the commissions and the drafting of a new constitution.
It seems likely that immediate presidential reelection, opening the way for Fujimori to continue in power until the year 2000 or longer, will be written into that constitution. Fujimori's support
Fujimori denies he is "obsessed with the idea of reelection." But he also makes it clear that "the people must decide. Their will is sovereign." A referendum is expected later this year.
But, while Peru's institutions look fragile, Fujimori is confidently consolidating his popular support.
He tirelessly visits Lima's shanty-towns or embarks on whirlwind trips to Peru's remotest provinces, opening schools, donating computers, and inaugurating small drinking-water and sewage systems.
Secure in the support of high-ranking Army officers and the people at large, "Mr. Fujimori's looking as if he could be around for another 20 years," concludes one senior diplomat in Lima.