The pardoned ex-strongman

Peru’s Alberto Fujimori, a one-time university dean, rose to the presidency, waged a bloody campaign against insurgents and was sentenced to 25 years in prison for corruption and rights abuses.
The ailing 79-year-old, loved by many for going after the rebels but hated by others for the ruthless, authoritarian way he governed, was released into freedom late on Thursday from a Lima clinic in a wheelchair, after receiving a “humanitarian pardon” on December 24.
He said the pardon ordered by President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski was a “surprise.” In a video filmed from his hospital bed, he spoke to Peru’s citizens, asking them “to forgive me with all my heart.” Fujimori’s decade as president from 1990 were marked by a dramatic series of sieges, massacres and escapades.
He ultimately ended up in jail as a frail, gray figure crippled by back pain and high blood pressure, for which he required frequent hospital stays. A descendant of Japanese immigrants, Fujimori was a marginal figure among political parties but cultivated the support of the armed forces.
Under him and his hardline security chief Vladimiro Montesinos, state forces virtually wiped out the leftist Shining Path and Tupac Amaru rebels. Fujimori also clamped down hard on his political rivals. In 1992, he staged an internal coup, dissolving the legislature with the knowledge of only Montesinos and military chiefs.
“Act first, tell people about it later,” he was quoted as saying. One of the most dramatic episodes of his time in power was a four-month hostage ordeal at the Japanese Embassy in Lima from December 1996.
Commandos ended up raiding the embassy, saving nearly all the VIPs held by Tupac Amaru guerrillas and killing the 14 hostage-takers. That strengthened Fujimori’s reputation for fighting terrorism with a firm hand.
At the same time, he won popular support for boosting the economy of the South American country, a major mineral exporter. His neo-liberal economic policies won him the support of the ruling class and international financial institutions.
But the dark side of his supposed success was revealed when he was found guilty of human rights violations for the murders of suspects by death squads. Fujimori’s downfall began in 2000 after Montesinos was exposed for corruption. The president fled to Japan and sent a fax announcing his resignation.
Congress voted to sack him instead and ban him from public office for 10 years. He was eventually arrested when he set foot in Chile and extradited back to Peru for trial. — AFP