U.S. cautions Fujimori, halts Peru aid

April 07, 1992|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- The United States halted aid to Peru last night to pressure President Alberto K. Fujimori into reversing his sudden assumption of dictatorial powers.

Mr. Fujimori and the Peruvian military closed radio stations and magazines, detained opposition figures and placed legislative leaders under house arrest yesterday after suspending the constitution late Sunday. The prime minister resigned and was replaced. Justice and labor ministers also resigned.

The seizure of total control by Mr. Fujimori and the military marked the third serious threat to democracy in the hemisphere since autumn, when Haiti's military ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who remains in exile. A subsequent attempted coup in Venezuela was crushed.

Mr. Fujimori, in an announcement, said that legislative and judicial corruption were shackling his efforts to improve Peru's economy and combat a 12-year-old insurgency by Maoist guerrillas that has so far claimed 25,000 lives.

But his move aggravated fears of growing instability in a continent where democratic institutions are struggling to overcome a history of frequent dictatorships and economic chaos.

It was also a public affront to the United States. It occurred just as a senior State Department official, Bernard Aronson, was arriving in Lima for discussions with Mr. Fujimori on long-term anti-drug cooperation.

The U.S. aid suspension included all economic and military aid, but not humanitarian relief funneled through non-government organizations.

It includes $45 million in 1991 aid that is still in the pipeline and $275 million that the Bush administration had requested from Congress for the current fiscal year.

Organization of American States ambassadors, struggling to reach common ground, agreed last night to call a meeting of OAS foreign ministers, probably next Monday or Tuesday, officials said. A similar meeting was called following the Haiti coup amid high hopes that the organization was finally showing some strength.

Initial American reaction avoided outright condemnation, recognizing the colossal problems of economic hardship and corruption Mr. Fujimori has confronted since his election in 1990.

The State Department called Mr. Fujimori's suspension of its constitution an "unjustified action against democracy," while recognizing that Mr. Fujimori inherited severe problems.

It called for immediate restoration of constitutional democracy, including the legislative and judicial branches of government, freedom of the press, civil liberties and release of those who had been detained.

The reaction, here and elsewhere in the hemisphere, was restrained compared with the strong denunciations that followed the violent ouster of Mr. Aristide.

It reflected a hope that Mr. Fujimori would change his mind. It also was motivated by the United States' huge stake in Peruvian anti-drug cooperation.

About two-thirds of the world's coca, the raw crop for producing cocaine, grows in Peru's Andes Mountains.

Since 1989, the United States has mounted a major effort to enlist Peruvian police and military in combating the growing strength of Peruvian narcotics traffickers and the Colombians who process the final product.

The effort includes military aid and training both for the military and police, and economic aid to lure coca-growing peasants into producing other crops.

One of its aims was to get Peru's military to step up its assault on Shining Path guerrillas controlling much of the coca-producing Upper Huallaga Valley so as to produce a safer climate for drug-control actions.

But the effort has been slow getting under way and has yet to make a big dent in drug supplies to the United States.

In the meantime, the notoriously brutal Shining Path has expanded its operations and stepped up attacks in and near Lima.

U.S. officials say all U.S.-Peruvian programs, including counter-narcotics cooperation and the Drug Enforcement Administration's use of a base at Santa Lucia to mount operations in the Upper Huallaga, are under review.

In Peru yesterday, Mr. Aronson canceled his planned meeting with President Fujimori as inappropriate, but met with Foreign Minister Augusto Blacker Miller to relay the U.S. reaction.

He also appealed for the release of noted journalist and author Gustavo Gorriti, who had been arrested at 5 a.m. yesterday. The Peruvian government later announced it would release Mr. Gorriti.

Mr. Aronson's request to meet with Senate President Felipe Osterling was denied, but he spoke with the lawmaker by telephone.

An aid suspension was urged yesterday by Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, D-Conn., who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's hemispheric subcommittee, and the Washington Office on Latin America, a think tank here.

Alex Wilde, OAS executive director, said Mr. Fujimori had chosen to lead Peru down "a very dark road. The Peruvian military, which has a terrible human rights record, is no longer accountable whatsoever."

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