Commentary: A good precedent set by convicting Peru's Fujimori

This editorial appeared in The Miami Herald.

Former President Alberto Fujimori of Peru earned a special place in Latin American history when in 1992 he shut down Congress and the courts and personally assumed the full powers of the state. This auto-golpe, a phrase that describes the "self-coup" in which he overthrew his own elected government, is Mr. Fujimori's lasting contribution to the vocabulary of dictatorship and will forever be associated with his name. Now he holds another shameful distinction: the first elected president in Latin America to be found guilty of human-rights abuses by a court sitting in his own country.

His conviction by a three-judge panel in Lima last week is a noteworthy accomplishment. Using a deliberately low-key approach, the court built a painstaking case over 16 months to hold Mr. Fujimori accountable for his misdeeds, which included the massacre of 15 people by a death squad authorized by the former president.

Coming just days before the impending Summit of the Americas, the verdict says more than any diplomatic communique possibly could about the quality of justice that Latin American societies are capable of and deserve. It is the ultimate fate of power-mad leaders who believe they can escape accountability forever.

The tragedy of Mr. Fujimori is that he could have been a great national hero. An obscure university professor, he came to power by promising to defeat the Shining Path insurgency and bring Peru back from the brink of chaos. He accomplished the mission, but his methods were reprehensible – death squads, secret police, bribery, rigged elections, stolen money, hidden bank accounts. He nearly destroyed the country in order to save it, and most Peruvians turned against him. The adage that power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely, certainly applies – in spades.

To read the complete editorial, visit The Miami Herald.

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