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By Andre Vltchek
In 1993, one year after the ‘self-coup’ performed by Alberto Fujimori, his supporters and the military, the office of ‘Coordinadora nacional de los derechos humanos’ (‘National Coordination Office for Human Rights’) in Lima was packed with desperate old women, arriving from every corner of the country. They were holding old photographs of their sons and daughters who had disappeared in recent months and years.
The Director of the office, corpulent, determined and overworked Francisco Soberon and his staff were desperately trying to record information, to file petitions, and inform the foreign press about the situation. Thousands of people were missing, some unaccounted for, some rotting alive in cold, high altitude, high security prisons around Puno and elsewhere having been convicted in emergency trials conducted by judges with their heads and faces covered by masks. The army, police and intelligence services were continuing to rape and torture, to perform extra-judiciary executions, and to ‘disappear’ people who were accused of supporting ‘terrorism’ (read: Maoist ‘Shining Path’ and Marxist ‘MRTA’).
And Alberto Fujimori, President of Peru – agrarian engineer of Japanese descent – and his intelligence chief Vladimiro Montesinos, were in charge!
By then, the civil or ‘dirty’ war was already officially over, with the leaders of both Shining Path and MRTA behind bars. But the witch-hunt continued: people were still dying and disappearing, and the army ruled the mountains, coast and jungle through fear and terror.
Japan continued to provide unconditional generous assistance to this Andean country or, more accurately, to its dictatorship. In the past, it had rarely shown generosity towards South America, despite exporting hundreds of thousands of economic refugees into its countries in the past (today, there is well over a million people of Japanese descent living in Brazil and Peru). When Fujimori became President, everything changed. He was of Japanese stock, after all! There was Japanese blood flowing through his veins!
When the MRTA rebels took over the Japanese Ambassador’s residency in Lima during a lavish party to celebrate the Emperor’s birthday, almost the entire Japanese nation were in no doubt that what was happening was an act of terrorism against their country. At that time, I was working in Lima for Asahi Shimbun — a large Tokyo daily. The news and information flowing from Peru through the Japanese media was being carefully ‘moderated’ to take the ‘sensitivity’ of the topic into consideration.
Still, even so we managed to interview and put on the record the words of Otilia Campos de Polay, the mother of Victor Polay, the then imprisoned leader of MRTA, herself an important figure in Peruvian politics and a co-founder of one of the largest political parties — APRA. She sent this message to the Japanese public: “I know your country well. I visited your ancient cities, saw your holy mountains. Once you were poor and we were rich. Your people came here to live and they were accepted. Now you are rich and we are dirt poor. And you are supporting the dictatorship in our country. Why? Please try to understand our people…”
Fujimori had no interest in solving the problem. He suppressed the information from our interview with MRTA where they declared that all they wanted was to improve conditions of the poor and to be legalized as a political opposition party. He directed the kidnapping of several men from the rescue brigade of the highest mine in the world — Cerro de Pasqua — and ordered them to dig tunnels under the Japanese compound. In April 1997, he ordered an attack which led to killing of all the MRTA members, including a pregnant girl who was shot at point blank range while begging for mercy.
Despite the fact that this act was contrary to all the Japanese government plans, it was never publicly condemned by Japan.
Fujimori tried his best to be a good friend of the United States by his ‘war against terrorism’ and his ‘war on drugs’. And it paid off! His excesses were forgiven by the ‘North’, and his human rights record mostly overlooked.
Many Peruvians, tired of a civil war that had cost at least 35 thousand lives and dispirited by the disastrous economic performance of Fujimori’s corrupt predecessor –APRA President Alan Garcia, were willing to accept his ‘iron-fist’ rule for many years. He defeated the two left-wing movements and curbed hyper-inflation.
However, the price of the ‘victory’ was tremendous: the kidnapping and murders (apparently, Fujimori was fully aware of the existence of the ‘death squad’ known as ‘The Grupo Colina’), the torture (he didn’t hesitate to order the arrest of his wife who publicly criticized his policies – she was then tortured in detention), the growing social disparities, the uncontrollable corruption, and his dark political designs that almost led to a full blown war Peru’s neighbour Ecuador. He controlled the mass media and intimidated and spied on his political opponents. He re-wrote the constitution and stuffed Congress with his own supporters.
Yet still Japan stood aside, offering moral and financial support.
When the ‘irregularities’ became blatantly obvious before the May 2000 elections, even the United States and the Organization of American States expressed their concern. When the then spy-chief Vladimiro Montesinos was caught bribing a Congressman on tape, all hell broke loose. The opposition gained ground and dismissed Fujimori on the grounds of his ‘moral incapacity’.
Fujimori fled to Japan and, to save face, tendered his resignation. Congress refused the offer, and insisted on dismissing him instead.
For more than a decade, Fujimori’s nationality had been a mystery. According to the Peruvian constitution, only a person born in Peru could become the country’s president. Fujimori’s birth certificate had mysteriously ‘disappeared’. As part of my work for Asahi Shimbun, we launched an investigation in Japan, trying to find out whether the certificate existed there, while almost all Peruvian newspapers embarked on searches in their home country. The result was nil. It was widely believed that the secret of Fujimori’s birth was known only to Montesinos, who was therefore in position to blackmail the president and exercise enormous power. According to one theory, Fujimori was born on the boat between Japan and Peru.
The former dictator received a warm welcome in Japan and was granted Japanese citizenship almost immediately. When the Peruvian ambassador to Tokyo — Luis Macchiavello – presented a 700-page extradition request, it was met by a humiliating silence. A later request by Interpol met a similar fate. Japan declared that it had no extradition treaty with Peru, and the Japanese Foreign Ministry said that “We will follow only our domestic laws in deciding how to respond.”
Many people in Peru and other countries in South America found Tokyo’s response insulting. The extradition request had been based on well-documented cases that accused Fujimori, among other things, of being involved in the killing of suspected leftist rebels in Lima in 1991, in the kidnapping and killing nine students and a professor from La Cantuta University in 1992, and in giving Montesinos $15million in severance pay.
In March, Interpol placed Fujimori on its most-wanted list and Peruvian prosecutors threatened to take the case to the International Court of Justice if Japan continued in its obduracy. The only response from Tokyo was that “Japan has no plan to take any sort of action against Mr. Fujimori at this moment.”
By July, Fujimori was laughing and ridiculing the entire extradition process. He declared in Tokyo that he would one day return to Peru, not to stand trial but to head a new Peruvian party – ‘Si Cumple’ (‘Yes, he fulfils promises’).
In Japan, Fujimori is barely recognized as a dictator. The mass media present him as reformist, a fighter against terrorism and, of course, Japanese by blood. At present, there are no serious enquiries or protests by the Japanese public against the treatment of a South American country that once accepted thousands of desperate Japanese immigrants and later became torn by brutal civil war.
Tokyo’s approach is, without doubt, patronizing, humiliating and racist. It shows indifference to the crimes committed by a man who is now holding Japanese citizenship; crimes in which Japan is also implicated by its support for his dictatorship from beginning to end. It is unfortunate that, in many ‘developed countries’, when blood ties are involved, justice and morality become irrelevant.
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