Fujimori hands power to himself

Latin America's new democratic leaders share a taste for dictatorial rule, writes Phil Davison

It could have ended up like a Monty Python sketch. But the President of Peru, Alberto Fujimori, found a reasonably decorous way of handing over the the presidential sash to himself yesterday to start his second five-year term. Barring imponderables, he will be in power in the 21st century.

The world has almost forgotten how Mr Fujimori got the chance to run again - by dissolving a hostile congress in an army-backed "do-it-yourself- coup" in 1992 and re-writing the constitution.

A decade after Latin America appeared to shake off the era of jackboots and bayonets and usher in democracy, the region has regressed to one of quasi-dictatorships, personality cults, dynasties and army-backed regimes.

Mr Fujimori, who also celebrated his 57th birthday yesterday, is undoubtedly popular. But is he a democrat? Echoing a Latin American leader who has been in power for 36 years, the Cuban President, Fidel Castro, Mr Fujimori insists his country needs him. His kind of "direct democracy" is tailor- made for Peru, he says. "I know my actions are creating enemies. Still I believe that what I'm doing is right for the majority of the country."

After he bent the rules to run again, with the backing of the bayonets, many Peruvians, believe that he provoked the border conflict with Ecuador earlier this year to boost his popularity. When his wife, Susana Higuchi, tried to run against him for president, she was expelled from the palace and barred from the race.

Among those attending yesterday's inauguration ceremony in Lima was a beaming Argentine President, Carlos Menem. Was he thinking of the similarities between himself and his Peruvian counterpart? Mr Menem also was re-elected earlier this year, with about 50 per cent of the vote.

Half the Argentine electorate did not seem to mind that Mr Menem, through horse-trading with the opposition, had managed to get the constitution re-written, to allow him to run for a second successive term. In power since 1989, he, too, will take his country almost through the rest of the century (cutting the presidential term from six to four years was a quid pro quo for the chance to run again).

Convinced that he, too, is his people's saviour, Mr Menem has given notice that he may run again in the year 2003, as he cannot run for a third straight term in 1999. Previously he had said he might still be in power in 2013 when he will be 83. Few thought that he was joking.

Like Mr Fujimori, Mr Menem dumped his wife, Zulema, when he saw her as a liability. Like the Peruvian President, Mr Menem has given his daughter Zulemita - Mr Fujimori's is called Zeiko - the title and role of First Lady. And like Mr Fujimori, Mr Menem has surrounded himself with a clique of his own ethnic group. The Argentine President is the son of Syrian immigrants, Mr Fujimori of Japanese.

A look at the map of Latin America shows the rocky road that hard-won democracy faces.

In Brazil, Latin America's largest nation, congressmen of President Fernando Henrique Cardoso's Brazilian Social Democratic Party (PSDB), who have a clear congressional majority, have launched moves to change the constitution to allow him to run again in 1999. Mr Cardoso, who took office on 1 January, has so far said he is not interested. Politicians, however, have been known to change their minds.

In Chile, where democracy is only half a decade old, the continuing power of the former dictator, General Augusto Pinochet, has been highlighted by the rising tension between the army, of which he remains commander- in-chief, and the civilian government of President Eduardo Frei.

General Pinochet is widely believed to have approved a protest by army officers last weekend over the jailing of a former senior Pinochet aide, Brigadier-General Pedro Espinoza, for ordering the 1976 Washington car bombing of a dissident Chilean diplomat, Orlando Letelier.

In Paraguay, rumours of an imminent military coup have buffeted the first freely-elected President, Juan Carlos Wasmosy, since democracy was restored two years ago.

In Panama, due to take control of the vital Panama Canal from the US at the turn of the century, the man in charge, President Ernesto Perez Balladares, belongs to the party that supported the military dictators Omar Torrijos and Manuel Antonio Noriega.

Ignoring Mexico, a Jurassic park where the dynosaurs of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) are in their seventh decade of uninterrupted rule, Central America has shifted significantly towards the right. The shadow of military rule or family dynasties has re-emerged over the continent.

In Nicaragua, which was ruled by the Somoza family dictators for decades, then by the revolutionary Sandinista brothers, Daniel and Humberto Ortega, through the Eighties, President Violeta Chamorro, who cannot run again next year, still hopes to keep power in the family.

Her son-in-law, Antonio Lacayo, widely seen as the power behind the throne, resigned as her chief of staff yesterday. The reason? He wants to dedicate his time to overturning a constitutional amendment that bars him, as a relative of a current president, from running himself next year.

Life and Style
A teenager boy wakes up.
life
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Critics say Kipling showed loathing for India's primitive villagers in The Jungle Book
filmChristopher Walken, Bill Murray, Scarlett Johanssen Idris Elba, Andy Serkis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett and Christian Bale
Life and Style
food + drink
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Playing to win: for Tanith Carey, pictured with Lily, right, and Clio, even simple games had to have an educational purpose
lifeTanith Carey explains what made her take her foot off the gas
Arts and Entertainment
A still from Duncan Campbell's hour-long film 'It for Others'
Turner Prize 2014
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hadley in a scene from ‘Soul Boys Of The Western World’
musicSpandau Ballet are back together - on stage and screen
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Ed Stoppard as Brian Epstein, Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Elliott Cowan as George Martin in 'Cilla'
tvCilla review: A poignant ending to mini-series
News
i100
Life and Style
Bearing up: Sebastian Flyte with his teddy Aloysius in Brideshead Revisited
lifePhilippa Perry explains why a third of students take a bear to uni
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Alan Sugar appearing in a shot from Apprentice which was used in a Cassette Boy mashup
artsA judge will rule if pieces are funny enough to be classed as parodies
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Trust Accountant - Kent

NEGOTIABLE: Austen Lloyd: TRUST ACCOUNTANT - KENTIf you are a Chartered Accou...

Geography Teacher

£85 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: randstad education are curre...

Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Group: You must:- Speak English as a first lang...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£17000 - £18000 per annum: Randstad Education Group: If you are a committed Te...

Day In a Page

Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

Inside the E15 'occupation'

We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
Witches: A history of misogyny

Witches: A history of misogyny

The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style