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Fujimori dynasty out in the cold as Peru prepares for new president

The Fujimori dynasty has loomed large in Peru’s national politics for more than 30 years but as the country prepares to swear in its new leftwing president, the once powerful clan appears to have run out of road.

Alberto Fujimori, the authoritarian former leader, is in prison for human rights abuses. His daughter, Keiko, has just lost her third consecutive presidential election and if state prosecutors get their way will go to jail for 30 years on charges of heading “a criminal organisation” inside her political party. His son, Kenji, is accused of corruption and after a spell in Congress has largely disappeared from public life.

After coming to power in 1990, Fujimori senior won plaudits for defeating the Maoist Shining Path militants and ending a conflict that claimed some 70,000 lives, while taming hyperinflation, building infrastructure for the poor and setting the stage for Peru’s economic success of the 2000s.

But his legacy as a rightwing autocrat who dissolved Congress and the judiciary in an “auto-coup”, sent in tanks and soldiers and later resigned by fax from Japan to avoid trial over corruption and human rights violations, divided Peru and cast a long shadow over the country’s politics.

Denisse Rodríguez-Olivari, a Peruvian political analyst in Lima, said the war against Shining Path led to leftists of all hues coming under suspicion — “even if they were just organising a community soup kitchen”. During the recent election campaign, some rightwingers tried to paint leftwing president-elect Pedro Castillo as “a terrorist” and Shining Path sympathiser.

Castillo, the former teacher and union activist who will be sworn in on Wednesday, has categorically ruled out a pardon for Fujimori, who is serving a 25-year prison sentence for ordering death squads during his rule. He is not due for release until 2032, when he will be 93.

Keiko Fujimori, who lost June’s bitterly fought knife-edge election run-off, finally accepted defeat last week, 44 days after the vote in which she accused Castillo’s party of fraud. Even then she described the proclamation of his victory as “illegitimate”.

She now faces an uncertain future. Deprived of the immunity from prosecution the presidency would have given her, a date is likely to be set soon for her trial. She denies the charges.

Meanwhile, her party remains a significant force in Peruvian politics, at least for now. It is the second largest in the new Congress and Keiko has vowed to continue her fight to stop Castillo ripping up the constitution her father’s administration drew up in 1993, the year after he ordered tanks on to Lima’s streets to close down Congress.

Former Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori, centre, will be 93 before he comes out of jail if he serves his full term © STR/AFP/Getty

Now 46, Keiko was flung into public life early, becoming Peru’s First Lady at the age of 19 when her father divorced her mother and promoted his daughter in her place.

Given her age (and if she escapes jail), she could run for the presidency again and conceivably win. Elsewhere in Latin America, Brazil’s Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva won a presidential election at the fourth attempt in 2002, and so, in 1970, did Chile’s Salvador Allende.

But the tide seems to be turning against her. In the election five years ago she won nearly 40 per cent of the first-round vote. This year she managed just 13.4 per cent before losing to Castillo in the run-off and then trying to prevent him being declared the winner.

“Having lost her presidential bid three times on the trot and behaved so cynically after the second round, it’s hard to think she can come back as a credible presidential political figure,” said Eileen Gavin, principal analyst at risk intelligence firm Verisk Maplecroft.

Gavin said that “even if the Fujimorista family political dynasty seems to be on its last legs”, the conservative political and business elite in Lima that has supported it for years will evolve and survive.

Keiko’s younger brother, Kenji, might have been the one to keep the Fujimori flame alive, but he has maintained a low profile recently. He was a popular congressman in his sister’s party until 2018, when their simmering sibling rivalry finally exploded.

Peru’s president-elect Pedro Castillo celebrates his election victory, which rival Keiko Fujimori declared ‘illegitimate’
Peru’s president-elect Pedro Castillo, right, celebrates his election victory, which rival Keiko Fujimori declared ‘illegitimate’ © Paolo Aguilar/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Keiko accused Kenji of trying to buy votes in Congress, saying she was sorry her own brother was involved in practices “that do so much damage to us as Peruvians and as a family”. Kenji in turn accused his sister of having “a criminal attitude”.

“Kenji is also under the judicial microscope and, of course, has a history that could also see him prevented from seeking office in future should any of the alleged corruption charges stick,” said Gavin. “At the same time, he is very charismatic politically, and I wouldn’t write him off just yet.”

In keeping with the family soap opera, the two seemed to have made up during this year’s presidential campaign and Kenji made a surprise appearance in support of Keiko at her final election rally.

“This is the Mac-Fujimori-beth family,” said Gustavo Gorriti, a veteran Peruvian investigative journalist who was once abducted on the orders of Alberto Fujimori. “It’s true that Kenji appeared to be reconciled with his sister in the past few weeks of the campaign but since then he’s disappeared again.”

Gorriti said the political atmosphere in Lima was so volatile following Castillo’s victory that anything could happen, including a pardon for Alberto Fujimori or a surprise twist in Keiko’s fortunes. Like many Peruvians, he wondered if she might try to leave the country like her father if the judicial net closed around her.

“Where there’s a Fujimori, there’s always a lawsuit,” he said.


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