Fujimori: Neo-liberalism, Neo-sultanism, and Corruption
On November 16, 2007, the Latin American Program hosted a seminar featuring the work of Wilson Center Public Policy Scholar Javier Diez Canseco, a former Peruvian member of Congress and chair of a congressional commission investigating corruption during the administration of former President Alberto Fujimori. During his stay at the Wilson Center, Diez Canseco conducted research on the ways that neo-liberal economic reforms in Peru in the 1990s gave rise to systematic corruption that gutted Peruvian democracy.
According to Diez Canseco, economic reforms in Peru transferred enormous volumes of capital from the state to private hands through programs of privatization. This economic process, which was common all over the world, gave rise to widespread corruption that lasted for the entire decade. Unlike in the past, the Fujimori government was not infiltrated by a mafia; rather, corruption took possession of the state itself, linking the president and "de-facto powers," including military, political and business elites, in a vast web of conspiracy.
Fujimori was arrested in Chile during an attempt to return to Peru several years after his government collapsed in 2000. In September 2007, the Chilean Supreme Court accepted the Peruvian government's request to extradite Fujimori to face criminal charges, including two counts of human rights abuse and five counts of orruption. Diez Canseco stressed the importance of adjudicating such crimes as a tangible expression of change in Latin American and Peruvian politics with respect to the impunity of those in power. Diez Canseco indicated that the trial of Fujimori will create complex judicial and political conditions as the ation grapples with and seeks to overcome Fujimori's legacy. Diez Canseco also challenged the widely-held view of Fujimori as an outsider to Peru's political system, highlighting his relationships with the military and intelligence communities, technocrats, and members of the business community.
Peruvian Ambassador to the United States Felipe Ortiz de Zevallos agreed that Peru was in a state of "national collapse" when Fujimori was elected in 1990 but suggested that the situation was more complex than Diez Canseco had indicated. Indeed, one-third of Peruvians supported and continued to support the policies and actions taken by Fujimori. De Zevallos further claimed that the corruption charges against Fujimori were significantly inflated, so much so that in 2000, at the end of Fujimori's presidency, Transparency International rated Peru as the fourth least-corrupt country in Latin America.
Anthropologist Deborah Poole, director of Latin American Studies at The Johns Hopkins University, explained how corruption can affect society at all levels, producing certain types of authoritarian power and leading to the dismantling and erosion of communities. She noted that in such circumstances the predominance of corruption actually replaces more commonly accepted understandings and practices of governance. Poole concluded that Fujimori's trial itself is a test of democracy in Peru and in the region as a whole, and that the past must be confronted openly and honestly.
A Working Paper by Javier Diez Canseco will be published by the Latin American Program in the late Spring of 2008.