LIMA, Peru – Peruvian leader Pedro Pablo Kuczynski has pardoned former strongman Alberto Fujimori, convicted of grave human rights abuses, on dubious health grounds in an act that has provoked harsh criticism and protests.
Fujimori had been in prison since 2005 and was in the midst of what was effectively a life sentence for violations of human rights (including kidnapping, torture and murder), embezzlement and the use of public money in order to discredit political opponents.
Fujimori, 79, a Lima native born to Japanese immigrant parents, served as President from 1990 to 2000 on behalf of the right-wing Change 90-New Majority party.
“The President of the Republic, using the powers afforded to him by the Constitution of Peru, has decided to grant a humanitarian pardon to Mr. Alberto Fujimori,” read an official government statement to the media.
“A medical board has evaluated Mr. Fujimori and determined that he suffers from a progressive, degenerative and incurable disease and that prison conditions pose a serious threat to his health and life,” the statement continued.
The move came just days after Fujimori was moved from his quarters at the National Police’s Special Operations base in eastern Lima to an upscale, private clinic for medical attention related to low blood pressure, a move that has been repeated countless times since he was incarcerated.
Following similar episodes in the past, Fujimori had filed for a presidential pardon on health grounds. He took the same action this time but finally received the decision he desired.
Kenji Fujimori, the convicted’s youngest child and parliamentarian (who has been linked with scandals himself), thanked Kuczynski in the name of the entire family for the “magnanimous gesture” and said that they are “eternally grateful.”
The decision was controversial not only in its content but in its timing: Kuczynski, who is one of the many politicians in the region associated with receiving bribes or campaign funds from Brazilian construction goliath Odebrecht in return for lucrative contracts, faced an impeachment proceeding last week.
He lied about receiving funds from Odebrecht as he first denied the allegations but later admitted that he accepted “clean” money through his company Westfield Capital, which “advised” Odebrecht for many years while he served as a Minister in several prior governments.
Kuczynski survived his impeachment hearing as the necessary two-thirds (87 votes) congressional majority needed to oust him was not met.
This was a surprising development as his own party, the center-right PPK, only has 18 seats while the firmly anti-Kuczynski opposition has 81. This meant that only 6 other parliamentarians needed to be swayed in order for the president to be ousted.
Instead, the seemingly impending impeachment vote reached only 79, 8 votes short of the necessary number.
The reason was very peculiar; there were 10 abstentions from members of the right-wing Fuerza Popular (Popular Force – FP).
Why is that peculiar? Because the FP is a party founded and led by Keiko Fujimori, politician and daughter of Alberto Fujimori, and it was the party that initiated the impeachment proceedings due to the leader’s “moral incapacity.” In addition, the staunchly anti-Kuczynski party’s head lost the 2016 presidential election to ‘PPK’ by the narrowest of votes – 50.12 percent to 49.88 percent.
Given the tense history shared between Kuczynski and the FP, why would 10 of the Fujimorist party’s members abstain from voting against their own process of impeachment, not to mention after they have continuously used their congressional majority to vote down all of Kuczynski’s presidential proposals and force out many of his ministers?
Verónika Mendoza, the head of the left-wing Broad Front coalition and a now-former backer of Kuczynski whose support allowed him to win the presidency, immediately announced that a secret plan was hatched out between the president and the FP in which they would save him from impeachment in exchange for his pardon of Alberto Fujimori, the party’s spiritual icon.
Furthermore, Mendoza said Kuczynski explicitly promised just last week to her party that he would not pardon Fujimori in order to get the 10 anti-impeachment votes (or abstentions) from the Broad Front’s parliamentarians.
The allegation was strongly denied by Kuczynski himself as well as his government immediately after he survived the impeachment process. Just three days later, however, Fujimori was inexplicably granted the presidential pardon.
Several independent doctors and medical associations in Peru and in the region insisted that there was absolutely no evidence that Fujimori’s condition had worsened from previous pardon rejections, nor was there any evidence that his imprisonment was causing health issues given the intensive level of care he was given in the police prison.
Known as “Peru’s most expensive prisoner,” Fujimori enjoyed many luxuries while he was jailed at the police base including a private home within the complex with an ornate garden, an art studio, his own 24-hour nurse and a special diet tailored to him.
Within hours of the pardon announcement, several thousand Peruvians gathered at Lima’s primary square, the Plaza San Martín, to protest against the decision and the following day, nearly 10,000 came out to protest again.
Similar protests are still being held or are planned in Lima and several other major cities, especially on the 28th of December when Kuczynski and Keiko Fujimori are scheduled to appear before the Attorney General’s Office due to their Odebrecht implications.
Meanwhile, some 500 people gathered and chanted “traitor” and “corrupt liar” just outside the gates of Kuczynski’s home before they were dispersed by security forces.
Three of the PPK’s parliamentarians left the party and more departures may be coming as his Interior Minister stepped down from his post. Meanwhile, several human rights groups said they will appeal the pardon at the national level and before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
On Tuesday morning, Fujimori shared a video on his official Facebook accounted in which he thanked Kuczynski from his hospital bed but in good spirits. Fujimori also thanked his followers for their support and even apologized and asked for forgiveness from those Peruvians who were “disappointed” with his rule without ever mentioning specific acts.
For his part, Kuczynski made a televised appearance and in a winded, bumbling speech said that he made the “most difficult decision of his political career” in pardoning a man that “committed serious errors and excesses” but insisted on a need to “turn the page because justice is not revenge.”
In making his decision, Kuczynski has alienated himself from his own base and from other anti-Fujimori parties, both left-leaning and right-leaning. Ironically, the only support he has right now is from a sector of the FP, the party whose candidate he defeated and the party that tried to impeach him. Once the novel effect of the pardon wears off, however, local and foreign political analysts are fully expecting that the FP will throw Kuczynski under the bus in order to finally achieve executive power; it is only a matter of time.