Politics, Fujimori Style

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LIMA: As Alberto Fujimori toured the ambassador's residence before television cameras on Wednesday, he paused for a moment over the dead body of Nestor Cerpa, lying face-up on a curved staircase in the mansion's main hall. Among the bullet holes that riddled Cerpa's body was a single one in the forehead. Having erased with finality the multiple humiliations of the 126-day hostage crisis, Fujimori can credibly claim to have made good on his 1995 re-election campaign vow: to squash terrorism in Peru. Asked at a Thursday press conference whether the country had seen the end of the Tupac Amaru, Fujimori was understandably cautious and said "not necessarily." But despite promises of retribution made by the rebels' international spokesman, nearly all the movement's leaders are now either dead or withering in Fujimori's squalid prisons. Only Hugo Avalleneda, who remains at large, is considered an organizing threat. Fujimori has repeatedly insisted that Peru's widespread poverty does not produce terrorism; instead, he blames terrorists for perpetuating it. Now, with such a dramatic victory under his belt, the President may have to face without excuse what many consider his true Achilles' heel: Peru's top-heavy economy. While inflation has fallen from more than 7,000 percent at the time of his election in 1990 to around 10 percent today, the vast majority of Peru's population remains poor and unskilled. Today Fujimori is riding high, and reportedly considering another run at the presidency in 2000. But after the honeymoon, Peru's economic woes will surely return to haunt him. To survive, Peru's iron-fisted hero of the moment will have to deliver.