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  • Peru's Presidential Coup
  • Eduardo Ferrero Costa (bio)

In what was widely seen as a major setback for democracy in Latin America, President Alberto Fujimori of Peru announced on Sunday, 5 April 1992 that he was dissolving his troubled country's legislature, closing down its courts, and suspending parts of its Constitution in order to form what he called an "emergency government of national reconstruction" comprising himself and key cabinet officials. That same day, the president of the Joint Command and the senior commanders of the three branches of the Peruvian armed forces, together with the director of the National Police, expressed their support for this autogolpe (self-administered coup). Their troops fanned out through the capital city of Lima to arrest prominent opposition leaders and journalists (for a few days) and seize control of key government buildings.

In a nationally televised address that same evening, Fujimori blamed Congress, the traditional political parties, and corrupt judges for forcing him to act. Then he listed his objectives. These were: 1) to modify the Constitution's provisions regarding Congress and the judiciary; 2) to root out corruption in the judiciary and to modernize the antiquated bureaucracy; 3) to restore peace and order to the country through severe internal security measures aimed against drug trafficking and the Maoist insurgents of the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path); and 4) to promote market-based economic reforms and to raise standards of living. To help fulfill his first goal, he announced the formation of a commission of experts that would draft a package of constitutional reforms for submission to a national plebiscite. [End Page 28]

Fujimori's seizure of power was swiftly rejected by most Peruvian politicians, intellectuals, and journalists. World and regional opinion also turned quickly against him. The military and security forces stood by him, however, as did much of the private business sector and most ordinary citizens, who as polls soon showed were backing the president by wide margins. After 12 years of democratic politics following the end of military rule in 1980, Peruvians had begun to grow weary of recurring economic woes, political gridlock, institutional decay, and the terrifying lawlessness wrought by drug dealers and the ultraviolent militants of the Shining Path (which in the early 1990s had started expanding out from its central Andean strongholds in order to infiltrate Lima and the sprawling shantytowns on its outskirts).

Throughout the 1980s, the democratically elected governments of president Fernando Belaúnde Terry (1980-85) of the center-right Popular Action (AP) party and his successor Alan García (1985-90) of the center-left American Popular Revolutionary Alliance (APRA) struggled against these problems to little avail. The administration of President García ended amidst one of the most severe economic crises in Peruvian history. In 1989 alone, inflation rose to 7,000 percent, GNP declined 12 percent, foreign debt spiralled, and misery spread throughout the land.

Meanwhile, terrorism and drug trafficking continued to proliferate. First Sendero Luminoso and then the Tupac Amarú Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) emerged during these years; by July 1990, political violence had taken over 17,000 lives and cost around $20 billion—a total larger than the whole of Peru's external debt at the time.

The party system that arose following the end of military rule in 1980 was highly unstable. Although the traditional parties remained dominant, they were unable to adapt to the novel circumstances that confronted Peru in the 1980s. The major parties often experienced wild fluctuations in voter support from one election to another. AP, for instance, went from a 45-percent share of the popular vote in the 1980 balloting to a mere 6 percent in 1985. The Apristas, meanwhile, went from 27 percent in 1980 to 47 percent in 1985, only to see their support plunge to 19 percent in 1990. Dogged by such uncertainty, the parties remained chronically weak institutions, periodically riven by internal disputes and viewed with distrust by most Peruvians.

The voters' desire for a new leader who was not affiliated with the traditional parties, and who could offer hope and new ideas to a nation wracked by social, economic, and political crisis, led them to elect Fujimori as president in 1990...


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pp. 28-40
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