Authoritarian democracy works for Peru

January 27, 1994|By Georgie Anne Geyer

Tambo, Peru -- THE MINUTE you see maverick Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori in action, you realize that some original Japanese-Peruvian political force of nature has been loosed upon the world.

We boarded the small, modern bus that would take us all across an area where until recently the murderous Sendero Luminoso ("Shining Path") terrorists would have made us notches in their guns. Even then "El Chino" was in charge.

It was he who said when to close the doors, he who told his bodyguards running alongside exactly when to leave, he who with a twinkle in his eye sought out an ostentatiously modest seat for himself.

"El Chino," as the people affectionately and mistakenly call him, was most himself later in the day when asked about American pressures upon him over human rights. "I don't accept pressure," he told our small group of international bankers and journal ists as we covered the beautiful region of Huancayo -- just up the Andes six hours by car from Lima. Then he smiled as he added, "It's not my personality."

It surely is not. Indeed, Mr. Fujimori is such an original leader -- and more than likely a presage of the style of leaders to come -- that an entire new vocabulary has grown up around his efficient, Oriental management style: Fujishock, a Fujimorazo, Fujicolor Peruano, authoritarian democracy, the man who broke the establishment with one blow, an authoritarian populist, a results-oriented leader.

Back to El Chino and the muchachos on the bus, the charming Mr. Fujimori began telling us the extraordinary story of how he defeated Sendero Luminoso Maoist terrorists who were responsible for 26,000 deaths and $22 billion in material damage in Peru.

"It was a complex strategy," he said as we bounced down the roads in this mountainous area. "First I ordered the army and police to work with the people to get intelligence. We began to capture some of them.

"Then we found the weapons. I ordered the security forces to create a confrontation. If they had weapons, kill them. I had the military judiciary take the terrorists' cases because the civilian judiciary was totally corrupted -- in my first 18 months as president, they freed 220 terrorists."

Next, he took control of the jails and the pro-Sendero universities. He gained the admiration of even his enemies when he repeatedly marched into those universities alone to face the Sendristas.

Later in this fascinating day, we dropped in unannounced at the Universidad Nacional del Centro in Huancayo, formerly a veritable arsenal of Sendero. The students went wild for him -- to the point of nearly overturning the bus as they tried to get his re-election posters.

It was not surprising that, when he went out into the crowd to speak to them, his first words, spoken with his slightly self-deprecating smile, were: "Applause, please!"

All day long, it was applause everywhere, plus Mr. Fujimori's excellent sense of humor. A man who likes a fight, he has been battling the mayor of Huancayo. "Fuji," as he is also called, showed us how the mayor's road was a potholed mess (it was), but his own new road from Lima was an asphalt beauty (it was). In typical Fuji humor he had painted a bright yellow line to demarcate the civil works of the past from those of the future.

Above all, that is the way he sees himself -- as a results-oriented man of the Latin American future who has broken the hold of both old political traditions: the formal "democrat" of the upper classes who ran everything for themselves and the traditional Marxist left.

The descendant of Japanese settlers here, Mr. Fujimori is a talented mathematician and agronomist in place of the old lawyers and theological ideologues who for so long dominated Latin American politics. He runs the government through a Toshiba 4400 computer and is asking Japan for 600 parabolic antennas to connect interior towns to Lima. But he also loves to hang out the window of the bus, throwing re-election posters to the enthusiastic people.

He doesn't want to form a political party, he says, because "the people would reject it -- they think political parties exist only to feed corruption."

On trips such as these, which he makes constantly, he tells the xTC people, "Don't tell me what works, tell me what doesn't work." And the people respond with enormous enthusiasm everywhere, because, as one Indian woman said to me, "Whatever he promises, he does."

In short, President Fujimori represents for Peru a new mentality. And increasingly he is being emulated elsewhere for his successful mix of authoritarian democracy, and modern management and technology.

Georgie Anne Geyer is a syndicated columnist.

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