Cover Story | 4/15/2009 12:00:00 AM
¿The mirror effect?
Since Colombia fights a war against terrorism, some have tried to compare the cases of Alberto Fujimori, former Peruvian President convicted last week, and current Colombian President Alvaro Uribe. To what extent they are really comparable.
Gustavo Petro, opposition senator of the left-wing Polo Democrático political party, already mentioned the case last Tuesday after Fujimori’s 25-year conviction was known. “What happened in Perú is very similar to what is happening in Colombia –he said to news program CM&-. It is nearly like a mirror, both societies acclaim dictatorships, both believed that that was the mechanism to end violence and war and both allowed public power to concentrate in the hands of one person”.
The truth is that, at first sight, there are many similarities in the history of these two presidents. There are minor coincidences like the fact that they started their presidential aspirations with an approval rate of less than 4 per cent in the polls, that they created their own political parties in order to avoid being discredited by the political class, and that one of their main proposals as candidates was to end subversion.
But the most important reason that makes people identify them is their career as heads of State. The two of them were elected the first time to take on terrorism, which was causing problems in their respective countries and both of them carried out the task not only with the same method, a firm hand, but also with such a success that they were both reelected for a second period with an overwhelming majority in the elections.
Both Fujimori and Uribe presented at the beginning of their terms special laws to tackle terrorism (Fujimori’s was called “peacemaking law” and Uribe’s was “antiterrorist”), both proposed concentrating power, in areas with public order offences, in the hands of a political-military command (the famous rehab zones Uribe proposed that were then rejected by the Constitutional Court), and they both had serious problems to get them approved in Congress. At the end, both proposals were declared unconstitutional.
Both governments were forced to tackle, during the first years, terrorist attacks which frightened, like never before, the ruling class in the respective capitals: a car bomb which killed 25 people in the exclusive area of Miraflores, in Lima, and a powerful explosive which destroyed the El Nogal private club, in Bogotá, and left more than 30 dead.
To be reelected, both heads of State had to change the constitution. They both did it and won their second term in office in the first round of the elections, Fujimori with 64 per cent of the votes and Uribe with 62 per cent. And both of them, in their second term, reached unprecedented levels of popularity thanks to spectacular rescues which then became icons of the fight against terrorism. Fujimori rescued 72 diplomats who had spent 146 days as hostages in the Japanese embassy and Uribe rescued, in Operation Check, 15 kidnap victims who had been more than six years held by Farc rebels. And if all that were not enough, they both achieved what their predecessors were not able to: claim military victories against the top leaders of the guerrillas. Fujimori captured ‘Abimael Guzmán’ of Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) and the Colombian armed forces were able to kill ‘Raúl Reyes’.
Nobody can deny that there are many formal similarities between Fujimori and Uribe. But the truth is that reality has many shades of gray. When it comes to doing an analysis about topics like concentration of power or alleged penal responsibilities, there are many differences.
There is a big one between the so-called self-coup that Fujimori led in 1992, in which he dissolved Congress and suspended judicial work and the way in which Uribe has expanded his influence in other branches of public power. In both cases, the effects are perverse of the democratical scheme of weights and counterweights. Nevertheless, unlike Uribe, Fujimori didn’t respect the means to achieve the ends. Whereas in Lima the military took over newspapers and censored information and more than 20 people were detained on the night that Fujimori announced the self-coup, in Bogotá the reelection was approved in Congress, then by the Constitutional Court and finally ratified by the voters.
The other two cases which Uribe’s detractors bring up to look for analogies are the ‘false positives’ and an alleged identification with paramilitary groups. But when it comes to evaluate those situations it can be concluded that Uribe did completely the opposite from what Fujimori did in the cases for which he was convicted.
In the 710-page judgment by the Peruvian court that convicted Fujimori it is stated that the President not only had political responsibility but that he also knew about and accepted the ‘dirty war’ activities by the death squad known as Grupo Colina. Apart from that, he started a “hectic activity, complex and extensive, to hide the facts, limit the responsibility to those involved and finally grant amnesty”.
Regarding the ‘false positives’, although it is an atrocious episode and an enormous political scandal, up to now no one has accused the president of complicity. On the contrary, it was Uribe who was in charge of dismissing 20 officers –including three generals- and seven non-commissioned officers and put their cases in the hands of the Fiscalía –the prosecutor general’s office- so that it can investigate what level of responsibility they had in killing young and poor people who were subsequently presented as guerrilla casualties.
And as far as the paramilitary groups are concerned, it was Uribe who dismantled these organizations with a controversial negotiation process. Although in Colombia private armies have not been totally eliminated, the fact is that the scale of this phenomenon is less than what it was when Uribe arrived to the presidential palace and that the majority of the paramilitary leaders are in prison and some of them have even been extradited. Many of the politicians involved are also in jail.
Another chapter in which at first sight there could be elements to compare is the abuse of the intelligence services. In both governments there have been accusations of wiretapping and following the opposition. But one thing is the 10-year plot created and controlled by Vladimiro Montesinos to tape, bribe, blackmail, smuggle arms and even kill and another thing is the problems in DAS (Administrative Security Department), a scandal caused more by a lack of leadership than by a Machiavellian leader.
In this story of two presidents there is still a long part to be written. Alberto Fujimori spent ten years as President and Alvaro Uribe is still in his seventh year. It was exactly before his second reelection that the Peruvian started to have problems. It was through a shameful episode of judicial tricks that he was able to seek his third term in office. The Constitution only allowed him to be reelected once and he made Congress approve the so-called “authentic interpretation”, according to which, since the Constitution had been approved in 1993, his election in 1990 did not count and his reelection in 1995 should be considered his first term. As for that, the truth is that the referendum for the second reelection in Colombia also seems to need a series of tricks and a few “authentic interpretations” to make 2010 possible instead of 2014.
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