Peru's Fujimori Was Pushed — But Why?

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It wasnít an attack of conscience that prompted Peru's President Alberto Fujimori to step down; it was the very armed forces that had guaranteed his power. The questions that may hold Peruís fate, however, is why the generals made it clear to Fujimori that he had to go, and what their next move might be. Lima was awash Monday in rumors of coups and conspiracies, and itís not hard to see why: New of the planned resignation of a strongman who had defied not only his own countrymen but also his most powerful backers in Washington and the wider Latin American community to steal an election just four months ago came as a bombshell — particularly since the apparent catalyst was the release on national TV of videotape showing Fujimori's shadowy intelligence chief, Vladimiro Montesinos, apparently in the act of bribing an opposition legislator into supporting the president. After all, scandalous as the revelation may have been, dirty tricks by the Fujimori regime are hardly news, and their exposure doesnít quite explain the sudden change of heart on the part of a man who until now has stubbornly clung to power against the odds.

Peru may ostensibly be a democracy, but the security forces continue to play a major role in politics, and Montesinos had long been viewed as the power behind Fujimori's throne. To understand exactly what has happened over the past week, it would help to know just how the videotape depicting him in what appears to be an act of bribery found its way into the hands of the opposition and onto television — an apparent sting worthy of his own intelligence service's political dirty tricks. Observers will be closely watching Montesinos's movements, because while Fujimori also announced the disbanding of his intelligence service on Saturday, it's not yet clear whether the military man accepts that verdict. But Montesinos, whoíd been cashiered from the army in the Ď70s on suspicion of spying for the CIA, is widely disliked among Peruís officer corps, and may have antagonized it by systematically retiring those generals he perceived as enemies and replacing them with his own men. Itís unlikely, now, that the military will be rallying around Montesinos — prompting Fujimori to go is more likely to be a means of getting rid of both a president whose lust for power had imperiled Peruís relations with its neighbors and with Washington, and dispatch his reviled intelligence chief in the bargain.

The reasons for Fujimoriís sudden departure remain murky, but of more immediate concern to Peruvians is the dangers that arise from the fact that he delivered an incomplete announcement. He said he'd quit, but not when and how. Pressure on the streets may grow for the presidentís immediate resignation, but right now thereís considerable uncertainty over how any transition would be managed. And that means Peru could be heading into a political vacuum — something nature, and the military, tends to abhor.