Crackdown in Peru

April 08, 1992

Peru's army is inept at combating one of the last virulent Maoist rebellions in the world, the Shining Path, which has come down from the mountains and made inroads in Lima itself. But the army proved better Sunday at closing Congress, arresting opposition leaders, seizing broadcast stations and patrolling the boulevards of the capital. President Alberto Fujimori, the dark horse elected with such great hopes in July 1990, now rests his reforms on tanks, repression, decree and censorship. It is a coup from the top.

President Fujimori's attempts at free-market reform and success battling inflation have been honest. His frustrations at corruption, at leftist politicians' craven kowtowing to the Shining Path, at the power of the drug rings and at obstruction are genuine. Probably many Peruvians today welcome his coup, as many Filipinos welcomed President Ferdinand Marcos' imposition of martial law in the Philippines in 1972, creating one of the most hated and corrupt dictatorships of recent times that ended only in popular revulsion against it.

The question often asked is whether the end justifies the means. What often prompts the question is something else, whether the means become the end: Dictatorship for the sake of dictatorship, martial law for the sake of martial law, a strong man to make the nation safe for strong men.

The rise of democracy in Latin America in the past few years has been remarkable. But it is fragile, as the failed coup against the elected presidency in Venezuela made clear. President Fujimori

has allied with the army against police and others, perhaps as pre-emptive protection. Argentina, Spain and the United States were properly quick to express alarm and dismay at events in Lima.

Peru, President Fujimori said, "cannot continue to be weakened by acts of terrorism, drug trafficking and corruption." So he cracked down on opposition, dissent and freedom of speech. Whether this will in any way curb the rampant terrorism, drug trafficking and corruption remains to be shown.

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