Former Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori today apologised to the nation for wrongs committed under his government in the 1990s.
In a videotaped message from his hospital bed Tuesday, the convicted human rights criminal acknowledged that some people were "defrauded," and he asked to be forgiven "with all my heart."
It was the ailing ex-leader's first apology since he was sentenced to 25 years in prison for human rights abuses. The 79-year-old was due to serve 14 more years in prison, but President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski controversially pardoned him on Christmas Eve and granted his release.
The president said Fujimori was let go for humanitarian reasons, but many believe it was political payback to the ex-leader's supporters for blocking an effort to impeach Kuczynski last week. Many believe Kuczynski struck a secret backroom deal to protect him from the corruption charges level against him.
The pardon has sparked large protests across the country. Thousands of Peruvians took to the streets beginning on Christmas Day to protest the pardon granted to Fujimori. The Sunday pardon came three days after abstentions by lawmakers from a party led by Fujimori's children caused the failure of the vote in Congress.
Fujimori, 79, was serving a 25-year sentence for the killings of 25 people in a campaign against the leftist Shining Path terrorist group. Thousands of people protested across the country carrying posters with elder Fujimori's face and the words "murderer" and "thief."
In a message to the nation late Monday, Kuczynski called for an "effort at reconciliation," urging the protesters to "turn the page" and not be carried away by hate and "the negative emotions inherited from our past."
Kuczynski was accused of lying about his financial ties to the Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht, which paid hundreds of millions in bribes to public officials across Latin America in order to win lucrative public works contracts. Fujimori's powerful lawmaker daughter, Keiko Fujimori, led the impeachment drive in Congress but legislators loyal to the ex-president's son Kenji, also a lawmaker, killed the effort by abstaining.
Kenji Fujimori has long pushed for his father's release from prison and Kuczynski's opponents said the pardon was clearly payback for the abstentions that ended the impeachment drive.
With Kuczynski under criminal investigation for his Odebrecht ties and weighed down by an 18 percent approval rating, observers said his long-term political survival still appears to be in jeopardy.
"The pardon opens a Pandora's Box – the haste with which it was taken makes Kuczynski even more vulnerable," said Jose Carlos Requena, an analyst with political consulting firm 50+1.
Kuczynski's business, Westfield Capital, received US$782,000 from Odebrecht more than a decade ago. Kuczynski had denied any ties to the company until the evidence was made public this year. He later said that none of the contracts in question contained his signature and he had no knowledge of the payments.
Fujimori was moved to a clinic Saturday for what his doctors said was heart arrhythmia. His supporters said he would remain there until he was healthy enough to leave.
Fujimori filed a request seeking a medical pardon more than a year ago, citing deteriorating health. He has said on his Twitter account that he suffers from arrhythmia, for which he has been hospitalised several times this year. He was moved to a clinic on Saturday after suffering a drop in blood pressure. Keiko Fujimori and one of her brothers, Kenji, visited the clinic Sunday night.
Supporters of the former leader gathered outside the clinic to celebrate his pardon Sunday night. "He was a brave man, the best Peruvian president of all time," said Juana López.
Jose Miguel Vivanco, executive director of Human Rights Watch, said on this Twitter account that the pardon "was a vulgar political negotiation in exchange for Kuczynski's stay in power." Amnesty International demanded that Kuczynski "clarify the doubts about the lack of transparency and respect for due process."
Eduardo Dargent, a political science professor at Pontifical Catholic University of Peru, predicted the president’s decision would prove to be "his worst mistake." He said the pardon was a "mockery" for people who voted for Kuczynski in his run-off election fight with Keiko Fujimori.
Peruvian law provides that no person convicted of murder or kidnapping can receive a presidential pardon except in the case of a terminal illness. Three previous requests from Fujimori for pardons since 2013 were rejected after doctors said he did not suffer from incurable illness or severe mental disorder.
Kuczynski's statement said a medical board had evaluated Fujimori and determined that "he suffers from a progressive, degenerative and incurable disease and that prison conditions mean a serious risk to his life, health and well-being."
Human rights violations
The 79-year-old Fujimori, who governed from 1990 to 2000, is a polarising figure in Peru. Some Peruvians laud him for defeating the Maoist Shining Path guerrilla movement, while others loathe him for human rights violations carried out under his government. Human rights groups quickly criticised the pardon.
Fujimori would have been in prison until age 93 if he had severed his full sentence. He was first convicted in 2009 and sentenced to 25 years in prison for his role in the killings of 25 people, including an eight-year-old boy, during his administration. He later drew four more convictions, the most serious one charging him with knowledge of the existence of death squads financed with public money that killed civilians accused of being Shining Path members.
His decade as president from 1990 and the years that followed were marked by a dramatic series of sieges, massacres and escapades. They ended with him in jail, a frail, grey figure crippled by back pain and high blood pressure.
A former university president and mathematics professor, Fujimori was a political outsider when he emerged from obscurity to win Peru's 1990 presidential election over writer Mario Vargas Llosa. Fujimori was a marginal figure among political parties but cultivated the support of the Armed Forces.
Peru was being ravaged by runaway inflation and guerrilla violence when he took office. He quickly rebuilt the economy with mass privatisations of state industries. Defeating the fanatical Shining Path rebels took longer but his fight won him broad-based support.
Fujimori also clamped down hard on his political rivals. In 1992, he staged an internal coup, dissolving the legislature with the knowledge of only Montesinos and military chiefs.
"Act first, tell people about it later," he was quoted as saying.
His presidency collapsed just as dramatically as his rise to power, however. After having briefly shut down Congress and put himself into a third term, Fujimori fled the country in disgrace in 2000 after leaked videotapes showed his spy chief, Vladimiro Montesinos, bribing lawmakers. Fujimori went to Japan, his parents' homeland, and famously sent in his resignation by fax.
Five years later, he stunned supporters and enemies alike when he flew to neighbouring Chile, where he was arrested and extradited to Peru. Fujimori's goal was run for Peru's presidency again in 2006, but instead he went to trial and was convicted of abuse of power.