Extraditing Fujimori: The Other Dictator in Chile

[Note: This article was originally published on NACLA News, a new source of news and analysis on Latin America and the Caribbean produced by the North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA).]

Upon the death of brutal dictator Augusto Pinochet, Uruguayan author Eduardo Galeano summed up the feeling of many Chileans in concluding, “Death ultimately beat justice.” In a cosmic twist of irony, Pinochet died on International Human Rights Day—December 10—while eluding punishment for his crimes. 

Upset about the snail’s pace of legal proceedings against Pinochet, local human rights activists hope Chilean courts will act more swiftly in bringing to justice another authoritarian former president accused of corruption and grave human rights abuses: Alberto Fujimori. Problem is, he’s Peruvian—well, sort of.

Fujimori governed Peru for a decade until 2000 when amid an unfolding corruption scandal he famously tendered his resignation via fax while on a trip to Japan. For five years he stayed there, taking advantage of his Japanese citizenship—something he inherited from his parents, both Japanese immigrants to Peru—to shield himself from repeated extradition requests from Peru and two separate international arrest warrants. Then, on November 6, 2005, for reasons that are not entirely clear, Fujimori flew to Chile, where, once his presence became known, police arrested him. The 68-year-old disgraced former president has been in legal limbo ever since.

Peruvian authorities originally asked that Fujimori, who has been indicted on various charges in his native Peru, be immediately surrendered to them. Chile, however, left the decision in the hands of its Supreme Court, following protocol set by a 1932 extradition treaty between the two countries. As stipulated in the treaty, the Court’s decision will hinge on whether there is enough evidence (from a Chilean legal perspective) to support the Peruvian indictments. In other words, Peruvian prosecutors must show that the crimes for which Fujimori has been charged in Peru are equally serious crimes in Chile.

Those crimes include 10 counts of corruption and two counts of human rights violations. Prosecutors have suggested among other things that Fujimori had direct knowledge of and may have ordered violent “anti-subversion” operations carried out by the so-called Colina Group during his government’s war against the Shining Path guerrilla group. An infamous death squad, the Colina Group is blamed for at least two massacres in the early 1990s: one in the Barrios Altos neighborhood of Lima, the other at the University of La Cantuta. Twenty-five people, including a small child and a professor, were murdered in the two massacres.

While awaiting the Court’s decision, Fujimori was supposed to remain in a Santiago jail cell, but as the extradition case dragged on, and with no ruling on the foreseeable horizon, a panel of judges voted to temporarily release him. After making a bail payment of less than $3,000, Peru’s one-time leader took up residence in Santiago’s upscale Las Condes neighborhood. He’s since been spotted traveling around the country on fishing trips and playing golf. Fujimori even used his sojourn in Chile to marry for the second time—to a 39-year-old Japanese businesswoman named Satomi Kataoka. At the time of the wedding, Fujimori issued a statement calling it “the happiest day of his life.”

What happens next, though, is anybody’s guess. In November, Orlando Álvarez, the Chilean judge in charge of the case, officially ended the procedure’s so-called investigative period. Following that announcement, attorneys were to have just 20 days to present their closing arguments. After that, Álvarez promised, he would reach a decision—probably by the end of the year.

But because Fujimori’s defense team has appealed the judge’s decision to close the case, it could be another month or two before the appeal is resolved, and then the two sides will still have to deliver their closing arguments. The Court, furthermore, is scheduled to take a vacation period in February, meaning a final ruling may not come until April at the earliest.

Helena Marambio, representative of Amnesty International in Chile, is skeptical of short-term timelines. “There’s been enough time to investigate,” says Marambio, “but it’s nothing out of the ordinary that an extradition case drags on. Extradition cases can go on for five years or more.”

Another person following the case closely is Raúl Paiba, president of the Santiago-based Committee of Peruvian Refugees in Chile (CRPC). Paiba, a former university professor, fled from Peru in July 1992, a few months after Fujimori dissolved Congress, suspended the constitution and purged the judiciary to amass unlimited powers in what’s been called a “self-coup” (or autogolpe).

Under the Fujimori regime, Paiba had suffered threats and harassment for years, and was even arrested on trumped up terrorism charges in 1991, accused of being a member of the Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA). He was held for five months and tortured for 14 days. Although he was released, Paiba continued to face daily harassment.

For Paiba, the autogolpe, was the last straw. “After the self-coup of April 5, 1992, Fujimori began enforcing the law with faceless courts,” remembers Paiba. “And all of us that had already been tried, that had been accused of terrorism and tried by civil courts were sent back to jail to be retried in faceless military tribunals.”

The threats he was receiving also intensified. “They shot at me in the street, not to kill me, but to scare me—three times,” he says. “Later, my neighbor told me that someone was taking photos of my daughter.” The Human Rights Committee and the Archbishop of Trujillo suggested he leave the country. Taking their advice, Paiba crossed the border into Chile, and nearly 15 years later he’s still here.

In Santiago Paiba met others forced to flee Peru. Together they formed the CRPC, which is composed of former union leaders, one-time heads of student organizations and other activists. In short, the group is made up of those targeted by Fujimori’s draconian policies.

Although the Fujimori case in Chile has drawn little public attention of late, Paiba predicts the Supreme Court will eventually rule in favor of his extradition. Indeed, rights groups have amassed a mountain of evidence against the former president, particularly in relation to the La Cantuta and Los Barrios massacres. A 2004 Human Rights Watch report noted, “There is evidence, including statements by Colina Group members, that Fujimori knew of the existence and operations of the Colina Group beforehand but did nothing to stop them, rendering himself potentially criminally liable. Nor did he take steps to punish the crimes after they occurred.”

More recently, International attention has turned to yet another case of alleged human rights violations committed under the Fujimori regime. Last month, a Peruvian judge issued a new international warrant for Fujimori’s arrest, this time in relation to the so-called Castro Castro case. On May 6, 1992, Peruvian government forces launched an all out assault on the Miguel Castro Castro high-security prison in Lima. The attack, using planes, heavy artillery, grenades and machine guns, lasted three days, leaving 42 prisoners dead and some 200 wounded. The Fujimori government justified the violence as an attempt to quell a prison riot, but evidence later surfaced suggesting that most of the victims were shot in the head, apparently executed.

Prosecutors did not include the Casto Castro case in arguing for Fujimori’s extradition, but the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Human Rights Commission (IAHRC) is reviewing the case. The IAHRC, which is to shortly decide on the Castro Castro case, could in turn influence the Chilean Supreme Court’s pending decision.

Still, those who would like to see Fujimori extradited to Peru worry that a Peruvian trial is unlikely. “I think the Court is going to rule in favor of extradition,” says Paiba. “But, since he’s free right now, he’ll go to the Japanese Embassy.” According to Marambio, Amnesty International has the same concern: “The possibility exists that he could flee to the Japanese Embassy and return to that country. That’s something that’s very worrying to us.”

Even if Fujimori returns to his country to be tried, Peruvian authorities may lack the political will to carry out a lengthy prosecution. One reason is that Fujimori’s Alliance for the Future (AF) party has greatly increased its representation in Congress. In the recent general elections, voters, for instance, turned out in droves to award Keiko Fujimori, daughter of the ex-president, a seat in Congress. In fact, she was the top vote getter by far among all congressional candidates. Keiko has been Fujimori’s main representative in Peru and openly campaigned for her father to be freed and returned to Peru. And one of Fujimori’s lawyers, Rolando Souza—also a member of Congress—presides over the legislature’s Foreign Relations Committee.

The recent election of Alan García from the APRA party has complicated matters further. During his pervious disastrous stint as Peru’s president (1985-1990), García directed a government alleged to have committed its own human rights violations. And since the election, Garcia’s APRA has forged an alliance with Fujimori’s AF to drive through controversial legislation. AF and APRA recently joined forces to approve a widely criticized bill that gives the state increased control over the finances of non-governmental organizations. In the past, some of these organizations are the very groups leading attempts to prosecute both García and Fujimori over corruption and human rights abuses.

It’s hard to say what’s been motivating this new alliance between the two parties other than opportunism. During his 1989-1990 campaign to replace García as president, Fujimori was certainly a vocal critic of the man who has since returned to govern the country.

For Raúl Paiba, though, the explanation is quite simple. García and Fujimori, in his opinion, have one major thing in common: both have pending human rights charges against them and thus have a shared interest in preserving their mutual impunity.

Paiba adds: “These days, Alan García isn’t actually asking for Fujimori’s extradition. [Former President] Toledo asked for it. Alan García, on the other hand, is saying exactly what Chilean authorities are saying, which is to leave it in the hands of the legal system.”
Amnesty’s Marambio puts it more succinctly: “Personally, I don’t think there’s much will (to try Fujimori) in Peru.”

Benjamin Witte is a writer based in Santiago, Chile. He can be reached by email at: benwitte(AT)hotmail.com.

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