The adoring crowds who hailed him as “El Chino” (the Chinaman) were not the only ones to misjudge Alberto Fujimori, whose roots are in Japan. A scholarly agronomist, he leapt into power as champion of Peru’s indigenous poor. As president, from 1990-2000, he tamed the country’s hyperinflation, crippled narcotrafficking, and defeated the terrorist organization Sendero Luminoso. He also created a brutal, corrupt dictatorship that ended when he fled to Japan and faxed his resignation back to Lima.
The Fall of Fujimori, the riveting P.O.V. entry that KLRN-TV will be broadcasting July 18 at 10 p.m., begins and ends in Japan. Interviewed by filmmaker Ellen Perry, the fallen leader is diffident and courtly.
The Fall of Fujimori
Writ. & dir. Ellen Perry
“Peru is a very interesting country,” he states, his blandness belying the image of a fearsome fugitive sought by Interpol on charges of graft, kidnapping, and murder. If this were a feature production, the part of Fujimori would have to be played by someone capable of combining banality and monstrosity.
“Hollywood actors pale next to my husband,” says Susana Higuchi, a civil engineer who, before divorcing Fujimori and while still living in the executive mansion, campaigned against him in her own bizarre bid for the presidency.
Before explaining the fall of Fujimori, Perry, whose persistence gained her extraordinary access to her exiled subject, reviews his improbable rise. She uses file footage and commentary from journalists, politicians, and diplomats, as well as Keiko Sofia Fujimori, who assumed the duties of Peru’s first lady when her mother abandoned the role, to paint the portrait of a South American caudillo with an Asian face who built schools, roads, clinics, and a police state. Putting an end to a terrorist movement that had claimed more than 35,000 lives, he transformed the government into an instrument of terror. Following the “Autogolpe” (self-coup), in which he dissolved the Congress and reorganized the courts to serve his interests, Fujimori ruled Peru unchecked. Ignoring constitutional restrictions, he even began a third term in office. His high times as president came with the capture of terrorist leader Abimael Guzman and the commando raid on the Japanese embassy that freed dozens of hostages after a four-month siege.
Vladimiro Montesinos, Fujimori’s shadowy alter ego, was conducting a covert operation of extortion, torture, and murder. When as many as 2,000 incriminating videos surfaced, Montesinos fled to Venezuela, and the Fujimori regime unraveled. Though he had always professed Peruvian identity, Fujimori now claimed Japanese citizenship and took refuge in a country that refused to extradite one of its own. When Perry catches up with him, he is unrepentant. “I never committed a single crime,” he insists. And looking back toward the Andes, he announces: “I believe it’s my duty to return and fight for the people and lead Peru once again.”
Perry’s film concludes before the latest twist in the Fujimori telenovela. Declaring himself a presidential candidate in the 2006 elections, Fujimori flew back to South America. He was arrested in neighboring Chile, where he currently awaits a judicial ruling on extradition requested by the government of newly elected Peruvian President Alan García. The fall of Fujimori has entered a grotesque winter of discontent.
- Steven G. Kellman