Follow up after Peru's 'election'

Consecuente is a Spanish word with no real English equivalent. The dictionary definition - consistent - fails to capture the ethical dimension of a word used in Latin America to signify a willingness to take responsibility for one's words and actions. Politicians who keep promises and hold to their principles are called consecuente. Hypocritical is a good opposite.

The members of the Organization of American States (OAS) - the governments of the US, Canada, Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, and 29 other Latin American and Caribbean countries - now have to show they are consecuente with regard to Peru. In early March, the OAS sent a mission to monitor and verify the integrity of Peru's presidential elections. No OAS initiative in recent memory has been more widely praised. Headed by former Guatemalan Minister of Foreign Affairs Eduardo Stein, the mission has been applauded for the professional quality of its work and its willingness to speak out.

Just days before the May 28 date set for the runoff vote between the two leading votegetters in the first round, the OAS delegation announced it had suspended its monitoring effort because the election "would not truly represent the will of the people." The delegation stated the electoral process was "irregular" and "far from being free and fair." This meant President Fujimori (who was seeking his third term against an unexpectedly strong challenger Alejandro Toledo) had rigged the elections, and rejected the OAS mission's request for a brief postponement to allow some leveling of the playing field.

Fujimori has been officially declared the winner, but the OAS assessment (parallel to all other independent electoral monitors) means there is no justifiable basis for Fujimori to retain power. He has not won the right at the ballot box to continue in office. Manipulating an election to obtain power is not much different than ousting a sitting president to achieve that same goal. Neither is it legitimate. True, Fujimori may have been popular enough to win fairly, but the fact is he chose instead to cheat.

In 1991, the OAS approved resolution 1080 obligating member governments to respond collectively to interruptions of democracy. It called for an immediate meeting of the Organization's council and the adoption of "efficacious, timely, and expeditious procedures to ensure the defense of representative democracy." The resolution has, with varying degrees of success, been invoked four times, once against President Fujimori when he closed down the Peruvian Congress in 1992. At the time, international pressure forced some concessions from Fujimori, but these did little to constrain his power.

Eight years later, Fujimori has violated another pillar of constitutional rule, the electoral process. Once again the OAS member governments have an obligation to call him to task - particularly since it was an OAS mission (authorized by member governments) that substantiated the violation. As required by resolution 1080, an emergency meeting of the OAS Council has been called for this week to recommend a course of action to the hemisphere's foreign ministers - who'll be meeting next week at the annual meeting of the OAS General Assembly. The US government has already denounced the elections as invalid. At a minimum, the foreign ministers and the governments they represent should join with the US in declaring unambiguously that Peru is no longer governed democratically. They should also call on Peru promptly to hold new presidential elections. One way to accomplish this would be to have the details negotiated between the Fujimori government and the opposition forces led by challenger Alejandro Toledo.

It is better not to consider stronger sanctions against Peru. The prospect of sanctions would make it harder to gain consensus among hemisphere's governments for any action at all. And the threat of sanctions may stiffen Fujimori's resistance to making any concessions. If, however, the Peruvian authorities refuse to budge, then Peru's suspension from the OAS should be considered.

This is the time for the US and other Western Hemisphere governments to show they are consecuente - that together they can take responsibility and follow through, that they are ready to act on their professed commitments to defend democracy.

*Peter Hakim is president of the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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