Peru's Fujimori gets 25 years
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
LIMA, Peru -- Former Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori was convicted and sentenced to 25 years in prison Tuesday for death squad killings and kidnappings as his autocratic government battled the Shining Path insurgency in the 1990s.
The court convicted the former leader, who remains popular in Peru, of "crimes against humanity," including 25 murders by the military hit squad. None of the victims, the three-judge court found, were connected to any insurgency.
Presiding judge Cesar San Martin sentenced Fujimori, 70, to 25 years in prison, only five fewer than the maximum.
Victims' family members nodded with satisfaction and shed tears in the courtroom as the verdict was read.
"For the first time, the memory of our relatives is dignified in a ruling that says none of the victims were linked to any terrorist group," said Gisela Ortiz, whose brother was killed.
Fujimori, who proclaimed his innocence in a roar when the 15-month televised trial began, barely looked up, uttering only four words -- "I move to nullify" -- before turning, smiling and walking out of the courtroom at the Lima police base where he has been held and tried since his 2007 extradition from Chile.
His children shook their heads in disgust and groaned in exasperation. Fujimori's daughter Keiko, a 33-year-old congresswoman, called the conviction foreordained and "full of hate and vengeance." She said it would only strengthen her candidacy for the 2011 presidential race.
"Fujimorism will continue to advance. Today we're first in the polls and will continue to be so," she said outside the courtroom. She has vowed to pardon her father if elected.
Although none of the trial's 80 witnesses directly accused Fujimori of ordering killings, kidnappings or disappearances, the court said the former mathematics professor and son of Japanese immigrants bore responsibility by allowing the Colina group to be formed.
It said Fujimori's disgraced intelligence chief and close confidant, Vladimiro Montesinos, was in direct control of the unit.
And it noted that Fujimori freed jailed Colina members with a blanket 1995 amnesty for soldiers while state security agencies engaged in a "very complete and extensive" cover-up of the group's deeds.
The Colina group was formed in 1991. In its first raid, using silencer-equipped machine guns, the group killed 15 people at a barbecue, including an 8-year-old boy. The intended victims, it turned out, lived on a different floor. The following year, the group "disappeared" nine students and a leftist professor at La Cantuta University.
In both cases, the killers targeted alleged sympathizers of the Shining Path, which was killing Peruvians with nearly daily car bombings. The group was devastated by the September 1992 arrest of its charismatic leader, Abimael Guzman, but some 500 Shining Path remnants remain active in Peru's jungle, financed by the cocaine trade.
Fujimori also was convicted of two 1992 kidnappings: the 10-day abduction of opposition businessman Samuel Dyer and the one-day kidnapping of Gustavo Gorriti, a journalist who had criticized the president's shuttering of the opposition-led Congress and courts.
In the trial, prosecutors presented declassified cables showing that U.S. diplomats including then-Ambassador Anthony Quainton repeatedly questioned Fujimori and his aides about reports of extrajudicial killings by his military.
"He never wanted to talk about it very much. He always, of course, said that human rights abuses were not tolerated by his government," Quainton, now an American University professor, told The Associated Press by phone from Washington.
Fujimori has already been sentenced to six years in prison for abuse of power and faces two corruption trials, the first set to begin in May, on charges including bribing lawmakers and paying off a TV station.
His 10-year presidency ended in disgrace in 2000, when videotapes showed Montesinos, now serving a 20-year term for corruption and gunrunning, bribing lawmakers and businessmen. Fujimori fled to Japan, then attempted a return five years later via Chile.
The verdict appeared to be the first time a country has convicted one of its democratically elected former presidents of human rights violations. In neighboring Chile, dictator Augusto Pinochet avoided trial for health reasons until his death at 91.
But Fujimori remains remarkably popular and his successors have maintained his market-friendly policies. Peru had Latin America's strongest economic growth from 2002-2008, averaging 6.7 percent. A November poll found two-thirds of Peruvians approve of Fujimori's rule.
In his final appeal Friday, Fujimori cast himself as a victim of political persecution, saying the charges against him reflect a double standard. Why, he asked, isn't current President Alan Garcia also being prosecuted, since it was from Garcia, who also preceded him in office, that Fujimori inherited the messy conflict that would claim 70,000 lives.
Garcia denies responsibility for human rights abuses during his 1985-90 administration -- and has the power to pardon Fujimori.
Human rights advocates called the verdict historic.
"What this verdict says is that these crimes did in fact happen and that Fujimori was in fact responsible for them, and that's something Peruvians needed to hear," said Maria McFarland, senior Americas researcher at Human Rights Watch, who was in the courtroom.
"For so many years, certain sectors in Peru have said that you have to look the other way and refused to acknowledge what happened."
Associated Press writers Carla Salazar and Andrew Whalen contributed to this report.