the biggest mafia in Peru’s history. He’s now Fujimori’s hostage,” said one lawmaker.">
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  • Former dictator Alberto Fujimori (L) and President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski.

    Former dictator Alberto Fujimori (L) and President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski. | Photo: Reuters

Published 31 December 2017

“Our president just gave himself away to the biggest mafia in Peru’s history. He’s now Fujimori’s hostage,” said one lawmaker.

As Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski scrambled to save his presidency following a corruption and graft scandal involving construction giant Odebrecht, he found himself short on allies in his own party and saw the opposition closing ranks against him in what he described as an attempted “coup.”

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However, the president, who has only been in office for a year and a half, found unlikely allies in members of the opposition and jailed former dictator Alberto Fujimori, who called on his own loyalist officials to save Kuczynski from impeachment.

The day before the Dec. 20 vote as Congress spent hours debating the impeachment, a still-imprisoned Fujimori received visits and phone calls from at least seven of 10 lawmakers who broke from party ranks to keep Kuczynski in office, according to prison records and interviews with two of the lawmakers last week.

Kuczynski ultimately survived the vote through his dirty dealings when the ex-dictator's 37-year-old lawmaker son Kenji Fujimori drained votes away from the main opposition Fuerza Popular party led by his sister Keiko Fujimori.

The motion failed by eight votes, as at least 87 votes were required to approve an impeachment. A triumphant Kuczynski later crowed about the “reconciliation and reconstruction” of “one single force, one single Peru.”

Three days later, Kuczynski put his words about “reconciliation” into action, pardoning the brutal right-wing authoritarian Fujimori, who was serving a 25-year sentence for grave human rights abuses committed in the course of stifling opposition and waging a counter-insurgency on the guerrilla movements that resisted his rule in the countryside. His abuses included a number of atrocities committed by death squad paramilitaries, executions by firing squads, and widespread corruption during his brutal 1990-2000 rule.

While many believe his rule was marked by ruthless kleptocracy, conservatives in the South American nation credit Fujimori with pulling Peru from economic ruin and showing no hesitancy in quashing a leftist insurgency, despite the terror it inflicted in Indigenous and poor communities. An Ipsos poll showed 56 percent of Peruvians favor the pardon.

Kuczynski’s decision sparked unrest, resignations and prolonged the biggest political crisis Peru has seen this century.

Kenji Fujimori has sought to challenge his sister's control of the right-wing opposition, courting the neoliberal center-right government of Kuczynski’s government while the Fuerza Popular party has consolidated control of Congress. Both Kenji and his sister Keiko are seen by increasing segments of Peru's population as early potential contenders in 2021's presidential race.

A government source told Reuters that Keiko’s bloc is expected to be reduced to half its size while the group of 10 rebel lawmakers led by Kenji could see its growth treble to about 30 or more members now that Alberto Fujimori is free.

Kuczynski’s decision, which cleared Fujimori’s convictions for graft and human rights crimes less than halfway through his 25-year prison sentence, has been slammed by human rights advocates as an insult to Fujimori’s victims and a blow to the global fight against impunity.

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Activists and lawyers contend that the process used by Kuczynski to grant the pardon was riddled with irregularities and could be revoked by courts.

“A humanitarian pardon isn’t an absolute right of the president. It must be reasoned logically and can’t violate fundamental rights,” said Jo-Marie Burt, a political scientist at George Mason University and senior fellow at human rights group the Washington Office on Latin America.

Any new bipartisan right-wing bloc would help former Wall Street investor Kuczynski’s technocratic government last for the duration of his term after a tumultuous first 17 months in office that were marked by clashes with supporters of his former electoral opponent, Keiko.

There are already signs that Kuczynski's scandalous cliffhanger recovery is benefitting him in polls.

In an Ipsos poll published in local daily El Comercio on Saturday, Kuczynski’s approval rating rose 7 points from two weeks ago to 25 percent, even as 63 percent saw the pardon as the result of a political deal to save his own skin.

“This was the exclusive decision of the president. At no point was it about a deal with Kenji or Alberto Fujimori,” Kuczynski’s office said.

Fujimori’s opponents have said Kuczynski walked into a trap.

“Our president just gave himself away to the biggest mafia in Peru’s history,” said Marisa Glave, one of several leftist lawmakers calling for Kuczynski to resign. “He’s now Fujimori’s hostage.”

Human rights advocates see the dubious “humanitarian” pardon as an insult to Fujimori’s victims and a blow to the global fight against impunity, overstepping Peru's legal framework through a secretive process riddled with irregularities and a conspiracy of the country's unaccountable wealthy elites.

Activists and lawyers say the process via which Kuczynski granted the pardon was secretive, riddled with irregularities and could be revoked by courts.

The pardon for Fujimori was approved in 13 days after Kuczynski received a recommendation from a three-member medical board that included one of Fujimori’s personal physicians. By Peruvian standards, the process was unusually fast and lacking in transparency.

“No humanitarian pardon, even for those requested by prisoners suffering terminal illnesses, start and finish so quickly,” said Roger Rodriguez, the former head of the pardons commission who quit his most recent ministerial post as human rights director in protest.

“This was no humanitarian pardon. It was a political pardon,” said Rodriguez. “There are elements here to challenge its validity in court.”

Earlier this month, Kuczynski reversed earlier denials and admitted that he lied about taking money from Odebrecht. He denies any wrongdoing, claiming that the money he took was a legitimate consulting fee.

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