Devil’s Bargain

How a secret deal with the Fujimori clan struck a painful blow to Peruvian democracy.

President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski of Peru looks on during a meeting with US president Donald Trump (not pictured) in the Oval Office of the White House on February 24, 2017 in Washington, DC. Olivier Douliery - Pool / Getty

Marly Anzualdo was getting ready to celebrate Christmas Eve in Callao, a port city on the outskirts of Lima, when she learned that President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, better known as PPK, had pardoned former president Alberto Fujimori. Convicted of human rights violations and corruption in a landmark 2009 case, Furjimori had served less than half of his twenty-five-year sentence.

To Marly, the pardon felt like a personal insult, especially since it came just days after the anniversary of her brother’s disappearance. Kenneth — or Kenny, as Marly still calls him — was an outspoken advocate for social justice. A student leader, he rallied against corruption and helped families search for their missing loved ones, all “disappeared” by state security forces. He had become a thorn in the side of the Fujimori regime.

On the evening of December 16, 1993, Kenny left the university with a group of friends and boarded a bus home. On the way, three agents of the dreaded Army Intelligence Service intercepted the vehicle. They forced Kenny into the back of their car and drove off into the night. It was the last time Kenny was seen. He was just 25 years old.

At first, that was all Marly knew. But now, after years of rumors, testimonies, and investigations, she can piece together a little more about her brother’s last moments.

A few days before his disappearance, Kenny had accompanied Martin Roca Casas’s father to the public prosecutor’s office. Martin, another student activist, had vanished two months earlier, and Kenny had been the last person to see him alive. Kenny’s kidnapping took place just days before he was set to give his statement.

After abducting him, the agents took Kenneth, as they did Martin, to the General Army Headquarters, a squat concrete building commonly referred to as the pentagonito — the little pentagon. Once there, security forces most likely tortured him to death to send a message to other would-be agitators. They would have burned his body in one of the on-site crematoria and scattered his remains somewhere on the building’s grounds.

After her brother’s disappearance, Marly became a prominent figure in the campaign for justice for the victims of Fujimori’s regime. At each stage of the lengthy battle to put Fujimori behind bars, Marly worked tirelessly, staging sit-ins, pickets, and marches to keep the memory of her brother alive. This time was no different.

After the “Christmas pardon” was announced, Marly and thousands of other enraged citizens took to the streets, facing down the national police’s barricades, riot gear, and tear gas. Despite the crackdown, the protests grew, and Lima’s Plaza San Martín soon became the center of resistance. Rallying around the hashtag #ElIndultoEsInsulto (The Pardon Is An Insult), tens of thousands of protesters filled the square over the next month, carrying Peruvian flags, photographs of Kenneth and other victims of the Fujimori regime, and signs calling the current president a traitor.

Reviewing PPK’s path to the presidency, it’s hard to disagree with the protesters’ assessment. He only narrowly made into the second round of the 2016 election after trailing far behind Keiko Fujimori, Alberto Fujimori’s daughter and leader of the right-wing party Fuerza Popular (Popular Force). Almost twenty points behind Keiko, PPK secured his razor-thin 0.24 percent margin only thanks to a last-minute endorsement from the left-wing candidate Verónika Mendoza.

But the deal Kuczynski and Mendoza struck was precarious. A staunch neoliberal and former Wall Street investment banker, PPK’s economic plans differed from Keiko’s hyper-capitalist strategy in only the most superficial ways. The progressive left supported him begrudgingly, in hopes of “stop[ping] the advance of fujimorismo,” as Mendoza put it in her endorsement speech.

PPK did promise not to grant Fujimori amnesty — a pledge his prime minister, Mercedes Aráoz, repeated just three days before the pardon was announced. Kuczynski claimed he made the decision on humanitarian grounds, citing an unspecified but “serious, nonterminal illness.”

“There is absolutely nothing humanitarian about the pardon,” Marly tells me firmly:

PPK has made a mockery of our constitution, of the victims’ right to justice, he has sneered at the pain and the struggle of the families who have spent so long searching for their disappeared loved ones. He has shown mercy for the killer, not for his victims.

While the amnesty deal devastated people like Marly, it was by no means unexpected; months of calculated political wrangling preceded the announcement. PPK pardoned Alberto Fujimori to save his own skin. The chaos that has followed reveals that the current president has a lot in common with his predecessor.

Simmering Chaos

From the beginning of his presidency, PPK has found himself under attack from Keiko Fujimori and Fuerza Popular, who enjoyed a comfortable majority in congress. The first casualty was Education Minister Jaime Saavedra, who was ousted in December 2016 amid allegations of diverting funds from the education budget.

Just ten months later, after a two-month teachers’ strike, the opposition attempted to oust his successor, Marilú Martens. Hoping to prevent the loss of a second education minister, then-Prime Minister Fernando Zavala, also facing demands to resign, called for a vote of confidence in the government.

The move proved disastrous, with congress voting by a margin of 77-22 to force PPK to reshuffle his entire cabinet. Meanwhile, Fuerza Popular had been slowly filling the constitutional court with more amenable judges and laying the groundwork to impeach the attorney general, who was investigating irregularities in Keiko’s campaign funding.

The coup de grace was supposed to come with an impeachment vote late last December. The argument hinged on the revelation that, while PPK served as Minister of Economy and Finance, his company, Westfield Capital, received $782 million dollars in illegal payments from the Brazilian conglomerate Odebrecht, whose web of bribery and graft has entangled much of Latin America’s ruling class, including Keiko Fujimori.

Fuerza Popular and its allies strongly supported impeachment, but the Peruvian left was divided: eager to oust a president who had become a symbol of the region’s rightward turn but wary of handing power to the fujimoristas.

After more than eleven hours of deliberations, it seemed as if Kuczynski’s fate was sealed. But, when the final tally arrived, it was eight votes short of the two-thirds majority needed to oust the president. Ten dissenting deputies from Fuerza Popular hugged and cheered on the chamber floor — their abstentions guaranteed Kuczynski’s narrow victory.

Kenji Fujimori, Keiko’s brother and the dark horse of the Fujimori clan, led this breakaway group. Rumors immediately began to circulate about the shady deals required to convince Kenji and the other “Avengers,” as the dissenters called themselves, to defy Keiko.

Soon, one of their members let slip that he had received a call from Alberto Fujimori prior to the final vote, pleading “do not abandon me.” That night Kenji ominously tweeted, “The time has come!” accompanied by a clip from the final scene of the Lion King, when Simba takes the throne as his father’s spirit watches approvingly. Despite Kuczynski’s promises, it was clear that the pardon was coming — and it arrived just three days later.

In late January, “a source close to the president” revealed to Reuters that the deal had been months in the making, and that Kuczynski had brought Kenji on board at least three months before the impeachment vote in an attempt to save himself and use the Fujimoris’ squabbling to fracture Fuerza Popular.

In reality, the move decimated what little support PPK had left. In the days after the announcement, several lawmakers resigned from his party, including the ministers of the interior, culture, and defense. Another cabinet reshuffle followed. At last count, PPK’s approval rating sat at a dismal 19 percent.

Meanwhile, Kenji’s popularity has surged past his sister’s, and more disgruntled Fuerza Popular lawmakers are reportedly planning to defect to Kenji’s Avengers.

The Man Behind the Pardon

Even today, Alberto Fujimori sharply divides Peruvian society. Despite the mass demonstrations throughout Peru and around the world protesting the pardon, about half of citizens agree with PPK’s decision. While many remember Fujimori as a brutal dictator who ruled with an iron fist, other circles credit him with crushing the Shining Path Maoist insurgency and bringing stability to the nation’s faltering economy.

A former rector of the National Agrarian University, Fujimori rode onto Peru’s political stage on the back of a tractor in 1990. He defeated novelist Mario Vargas Llosa in an upset and became president of a country plagued by hyperinflation and violent insurgency.

Immediately reneging on campaign promises, he set about enacting “Fujishock” — a series of drastic neoliberal reforms that sold off public holdings, slashed government subsidies and employment, and created a new currency, the Nuevo Sol. Peru’s poorest felt the effects immediately, as prices of everyday goods like bread and milk doubled, and the cost of cooking gas increased twenty-five-fold overnight. International financial institutions celebrated Fujimori’s extreme austerity, and Peru’s elites reaped the rewards of the ensuing surge in foreign investment.

Fujimori revealed his authoritarian streak early. Facing an opposition-dominated congress in 1992, the president launched a self-coup. He suspended the constitution, purged the judiciary, and parked a tank in front of congress, teargassing the chamber when opposition lawmakers tried to hold session.

He drafted a new constitution that altered term limits and granted him unprecedented power, then declared a state of emergency that allowed the use of force against insurgents and political opponents alike — making Fujimori dictator in all but name. In fact, during his very messy and very public divorce two years later, his wife, Susana Higuchi, openly denounced him as a “tyrant.”

Nowhere was Fujimori’s authoritarianism more visible than in his crusade against Shining Path. After over a decade of bloody insurrection, most Peruvians would eagerly support anyone capable of putting down the armed Maoist rebellion. Active members of the Peruvian military under the banner of the infamous Grupo Colina death squad launched a campaign of violence, which, a trial later determined, had Fujimori’s express support.

Massacres ravaged the country. At Lima’s La Cantuta University, nine students and one professor were kidnapped and murdered because of their supposed links to Shining Path, later proven to be nonexistent. In the northern province of Santa, Grupo Colina murdered nine peasant farmers and put up Shining Path graffiti in an apparent false-flag operation. At Barrios Altos, six armed men shot up a neighborhood barbecue, killing fifteen people, including an eight-year-old boy.

Each massacre and disappearance created outspoken activists: Carmen Amaro Condor, whose brother was murdered at La Cantuta, Rosa Rojas, who lost her husband and son in Barrios Altos, and, of course, Marly Anzualdo.

These women have gradually dispelled the culture of silence that Fujimori crafted during his reign, which he enforced not only through violent repression but also through systemic attacks on critics and the freedom of the press. In 1991, state forces letter-bombed the offices of the left-leaning magazine Cambio, killing twenty-three-year-old journalist Melissa Alfaro. On the night of his coup, Fujimori ordered the kidnapping of opposition journalist Gustavo Goritti, and, in the run-up to the 2000 election, he bugged and bribed media outlets.

Fujimori also conducted an outright ethnic cleansing campaign. Under the guise of “family planning” and supported by USAID and the United Nations Population Fund, his regime forcibly sterilized at least 300,000 indigenous women between 1995 and 2000.

In hundreds of recorded testimonies gathered by the Quipu Project, survivors describe a system of inhumane treatment and racism, where officials, eager to meet sterilization quotas, would openly mock their victims, telling them that they “breed like rabbits.” In many instances, women were imprisoned until they had the operation. In others, doctors would secretly anesthetize and sterilize women who had just given birth. Today, thousands of women living in the indigenous villages of the Andes and the Amazon bear the scars of these botched surgeries; they are still clamoring for justice.

The cumulative effect of these scandals eventually sapped Fujimori of his support. He began his third term in 2000 facing international condemnation, in the wake of an election marred by allegations of fraud and widespread abstention.

Not even two months after his inauguration, the press received incriminating videos showing Vladimiro Montesinos, director of the National Security Service, bribing opposition politicians to join the ranks of the fujimoristas. Montesinos, who had personally orchestrated the disappearances of Kenneth Anzualdo and Martin Roca Casas, helped Fujimori embezzle some $600 million from the Peruvian treasury.

Fujimori fled to Japan, where he tried to resign via hotel fax. Congress, however, refused to accept it, opting instead to dismiss him because of his “permanent moral incapacity.”

After evading extradition efforts for five years, Fujimori was arrested when he arrived in Chile to launch his fourth presidential campaign. The ensuing trial, in which he was convicted of abuse of power, human-rights violations, kidnapping, graft, bribery, and unlawful association, was hailed as an historic achievement. It was the first time a democratically elected leader was convicted of human rights-violations in his own country.

In her summary of the trial, Jo-Marie Burt wrote that any pardon attempt would face challenges: under international law, those convicted of violating human rights cannot be pardoned, and, under Peruvian law, those convicted of kidnapping cannot be pardoned. Ironically, Fujimori added that provision himself as part of his crusade against Shining Path.

Fujimorismo Redux

With his blatant disregard for the law and violent suppression of peaceful protestors — not to mention the international condemnation — it is hard not to see reflections of Fujimorismo in Pedro Pablo Kuczynski’s Peru.

By making this Faustian bargain with the Fujimori clan, Kuczynski has sacrificed any semblance of political integrity in the name of clinging to power for as long as he can. Ordinary Peruvians have already seen through his machinations. PPK couched the pardon in the language of reconciliation, even going so far as to declare 2018 the “year of dialogue and national reconciliation,” but 78 percent of Peruvians recognize the pardon for what it was — a cynical power play — and his dismissal. To that end, Peru’s left-wing opposition has launched a second impeachment vote second impeachment vote.

Meanwhile, proceedings in Peruvian courts and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in Costa Rica will likely overturn the pardon, and Fujimori will soon stand trial over yet another massacre, this time of six peasants in the town of Pativilca. Should Fujimori lose either of these cases, PPK will have to choose between abandoning his alliance with Kenji and openly defying the law. Having alienated his political allies, the international community, and his voting public, PPK is clearly living on borrowed time. It is unlikely that he will see his mandate through to 2021. Regardless of how he leaves office, the question remains: who will benefit from the fallout of these scandals? Will beleaguered Peruvians turn to one of the Fujimori siblings or to Peru’s ascendant left?

For Marly, what matters more is what this betrayal means for Kenneth, for her family, and for her country. Forced once again to fight simply to be heard, she still manages to find the energy to denounce Fujimori, both in the courts and in the streets. Now, facing unabashed corruption, all she can do is hope: “I hope with all my heart that the pardon is rescinded, for the good of my country and for justice.”