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A DXer Looks at Alberto Fujimori

By Don Moore

A slightly edited version of this article was originally published in the March, 1995 issue of The Journal of the North American Shortwave Association in the Latin Destinations column.


Hola amigos! Whether you like to DX small tropical band stations or listen to the larger broadcasters, Peru should provide something interesting in the next month as a very unusual presidential campaign there heads towards a climax in the April 9th elections. The roots to this election go back to 1990, when just weeks before the election well-known Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa, running under a conservative coalition ticket, was the hands-on favorite to win. No one else was even close. (Vargas is the author of the Peruvian radio novel Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter.) Then out of nowhere, came the independent candidacy of Alberto Fujimori, a university professor of Japanese descent. Two months before the election, few besides Fujimori's students and neighbors would have known who he was. But, in the April election, Fujimori came in a strong second and denied Vargas the necessary 50% for an outright victory, forcing a June run-off. The Fujimori tidal wave continued, and he won the run- off with 56% of the vote.

A Tough Job

Being president of Peru was certainly going to be a lot more demanding than giving lectures and grading papers. The economy had shrunk by about a fifth in the previous two years and prices had increased by 20,000 percent in the previous five. Unemployment and underemployment, always a problem in Latin America, were especially high. Corruption was rampant. And the Maoist Shining Path Guerrilla movement and the smaller Tupac Amaru movement were operating in almost all parts of the country, including Lima itself.

Vargas' solution for Peru's economic troubles had been some serious conservative fiscal medicine and Fujimori won by campaigning against this. But upon taking office, he proposed the exact same measures that Vargas had endorsed. As everyone feared, the economy was thrown into a real roller-coaster, but Fujimori gained some key support. As Fujimori was not associated with any political party, however, he had little support in congress and trouble making all his proposals a reality. He also made enemies by going after corrupt politicians, including his predecessor Alan Garcia, who was found to have embezzled millions of dollars while in office.

Citing on-going economic troubles, political corruption, and the guerrilla war as reasons, in April, 1992, Fujimori dissolved congress, suspended the constitution, and imposed censorship. He became a sort of elected dictator in the eyes of many, including foreign governments who began to shun Peru. Yet, the economic measures he pushed through began to work. Meanwhile, he gave the army a free hand in dealing with the guerrillas. It was brutal, but they were winning. The capture of the Sendero's main leader in a Lima safehouse helped fragment the guerrillas, who were soon defecting by the hundreds.

Today, the guerrillas have all but been defeated and Peru has the fastest growing, most dynamic economy in Latin America, perhaps the world. Inflation was down to eighteen percent last year, and should be under twelve this year. But, while upper-class areas of Lima and other cities are thriving, most of the "Peruvian Miracle" has not filtered down. At ten percent, unemployment is higher than when Fujimori took office, and around 75% of Peruvians are considered to be underemployed. Many previously middle-class people have joined the ranks of the poor. Extreme poverty has risen from 20% to at least 30%. Yet, ever since Fujimori dissolved congress and took on the big problems, he has enjoyed solid political support of over half the population, sometimes much more.

Is Fujimori a dictator? Some say he is, but obviously many Peruvians don't care. After dissolving congress, Fujimori called elections for a national assembly to write a new constitution. Then, elections were held for the public to ratify the new constitution. Other elections were held for municipal offices across the country. In not one of these three elections were there any serious allegations of tampering and Fujimori's forces won in each one.

Now, Fujimori himself is running for reelection. The old constitution forbade presidents being reelected, but the new one dropped that provision. Fifteen candidates are running against him, the main ones being former UN Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar and Alejandro Toledo, a Lima economist who, like Fujimori five years ago, came out of nowhere onto the political scene last fall. However, Perez de Cuellar has trouble cracking 20 or 25 percent in the polls, and Toledo hovers around ten percent, while Fujimori consistently polls well over the fifty percent he needs for a first-round victory. Both Perez de Cuellar and Toledo are running as independents, as are a few minor candidates. For all purposes, it is an election without political parties, at least at the presidential level!

A Marital Spat

Several months ago, the election turned into a real soap opera, when Fujimori's wife, Susana Higuchi, decided to divorce her husband and denounced him for his high-handed politics. At one point, Fujimori and the children (who remained loyal to their father) were living in the Ministry of Defense building while Higuchi was still in the Presidential Palace because guards, apparently under orders, wouldn't let her leave. The real bombshell came when Higuchi announced that she was planning to run against her husband for president. Polls gave her little support, and Fujimori's government pointed out that the new constitution included a clause prohibiting relatives of the president from running for office.

Did Fujimori have ESP, some wondered? But Higuchi's supporters countered that if she divorces him she is no longer a relative and gathered the necessary signatures to put her on the ballot. But then something strange happened. The night before the deadline when they were to present their petitions to the National Election Board, there was an unexplained blackout only on the one block where Higuchi's headquarters was. And somehow all the necessary accompanying documentation and records on their computer system got erased. Sorry, no extension, the Election Board said, quashing any possibility of a husband-wife showdown for president. Since then, however, Higuchi's supporters have formed an alliance with a federation of retired military and police and she is running for congress - although the issue of whether or not she can legally do this as a presidential relative was still undetermined the last I heard.

So what does this mean for the listener? Certainly there should be some good analysis on the major broadcasters on the days leading up to and following the election. And, if you tune in to Peru's tropical band stations, expect to hear lots of lengthy impassioned speeches in the evenings for the next month, and strings of political ads at all times of day. Speeches will generally be live, with crowd noise, clapping, etc, in the background. So far this has been a very cut- throat election, and all signs are that that won't change. In fact, in early December when a civic organization attempted to get the candidates to sign an "Honor Pact" to campaign cleanly and without violence and to not bring in other candidates' personal lives, only six candidates would agree to sign it, with Alejandro Toledo the only one of the big three. Fujimori is very opportunistic, so who knows what he may do. Some have even accused him of intentionally starting the current border conflict with Ecuador as a way to gather more political support under a patriotic banner.

Unfortunately, politicians don't tend to give station identifications during their speeches, however, so IDing who you are hearing may be more difficult! One station you won't hear any election coverage from, however, is Radio Nacional. The election board has forbidden the government radio and TV station from airing anything that might be construed as support for any candidate. So amigos, go after some Peruvian DX in the next month to feel the atmosphere of presidential politics, Peruvian style. Hasta luego, Don.

1996 Addendum: Alberto Fujimori won the April, 1995 election with well over fifty percent of the vote, thus avoiding a runoff election.


This article is copyright 1995 by Don Moore. This website is maintained by Don Moore,
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