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Fujimori not likely to bow out


WASHINGTON -- Despite his recent proclamation to the contrary, the reign of Peru's unscrupulous President Alberto Fujimori could be far from over.

Hopefully, the strongman's reputation for being disingenuous will cast a healthy skepticism on his recent call for new elections (in which he professes he will not run) and keep the international community wary of his intentions. Such acts of selfless patriotism have been a rarity in his public life.

With a record of dissolving Congress, violating international human rights standards with impunity and trampling his personally inspired constitution, he has given Latin America's brand of democracy a bad name. After having learned all the wrong lessons from his former Rasputin-like mentor, Valdimiro Montesinos (the ex-intelligence chief who helped him run Peru as a dictatorship in everything but name), it is clear that Mr. Fujimori's massive ego will not allow him to easily relinquish power.

What most democrats want to hear is a clear and irrefutable announcement that Mr. Fujimori will be stepping down in short order and turning all authority over to a caretaker government charged with staging new elections. What is far more likely, however, is that he will attempt to manipulate his way back into power before July's inauguration of the victor in March's presidential election.

Mr. Fujimori's penchant for masking his strong-armed tactics with an ostensibly democratic agenda has provided the State Department and other weak-willed hemispheric actors the pretext to overlook his excesses.

His infamous April 1992 coup against himself, which dissolved Congress and the judiciary and suspended the constitution, granted the armed forces and Mr. Montesinos' corrupted National Intelligence Service (SIN) wide discretion in the dirty war waged against Peru's two leftist rebel movements.

His decisive victories over them were not only cast in a river of blood of thousands of innocent civilians, accompanied by massive human rights abuses, but added to Mr. Fujimori's already disturbing arrogance that he need not make any concessions to public opinion or open up the political process.

Finally, his most recent offense, the stealing of May's presidential election after discharging judges who had voided the constitutionality of his candidacy, undermined the White House's claim that it successfully had democratized Latin America. Lamentably, Mr. Fujimori's successes in anti-guerrilla and anti-drug efforts were enough to levy him immunity in Washington for his brutal acts.

Given this tainted past, it should come as no surprise if Mr. Fujimori reneges on his promise to step down. Even if March's elections are held, he still will maintain the presidency until July 28, giving the wily tyrant ample time to hatch a scheme to retain power. Predictably, Mr. Fujimori would sinisterly claim that "for the good of the nation" he reluctantly had decided to run again for office, or serve out his five-year term, citing the anticipated instability afflicting Peru as a call requiring one more sacrifice, however much he yearns for private life.

Another possibility is that Mr. Fujimori will run for a fourth term in 2006 even though the constitution strictly prohibits more than two terms in office. His blatant stealing during May's elections (in which Mr. Montesinos orchestrated the fabrication of 1 million forged signatures) proved once again that Mr. Fujimori has no respect for his own nation's constitution, much less the ethics of fair play; if he does decide to retain power after July, he will likely resort to whatever illegitimate tactics are required.

In fact, the videotapes showing Mr. Montesinos bribing an opposition legislator to switch support to Mr. Fujimori, that forced the embattled president to sack the SIN director and send him into exile in Panama, reveal the abysmal moral caliber of the regime.

It's not too far-fetched to assume that if Mr. Fujimori could regain the military's favor, which was shaken by the senior command's loyalty to Mr. Montesinos, he could stage a coup to recapture power. Mr. Fujimori's shady rule has heavily depended upon Mr. Montesinos' dirty tricks and indefatigable efforts to use every form of skullduggery to advance the president's unprincipled career.

Based on a decade of rule, it's painfully clear that Mr. Fujimori was never a friend of democracy or even elementary human rights. As long as he physically remains in office, Peruvians have good reason to feel unsafe and believe that they haven't seen the last of him, while the international community should fear some form of October surprise from Mr. Fujimori, to democracy's and the region's detriment.

Larry Birns is the director of the Washington-based Council on Hemispheric Affairs. Julie Dasenbrock is a research associate there.

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