Alberto Fujimori was born in Lima on July 28, 1938, to parents who immigrated to Peru from Japan in 1934. His father owned a prosperous tire repair shop in Lima, until it was confiscated by the government in the wake of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Although Fujimori's parents remained Buddhists, and his mother never learned lo speak Spanish, their five children were raised as Spanish-speaking Roman Catholics. Alberto attended a Catholic high school and earned an undergraduate degree from the National Agrarian University. He later earned a master's degree in math from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. His continued educational pursuits led to his eventually becoming an agronomist. He became rector of the National Agrarian University and president of the Association of University Rectors. Fujimori also hosted a widely viewed political talk show on the state television station. Prior to being elected to the presidency, Fujimori's political experience was limited to his participation in two government commissions.
Fujimori claims to be descended from a Japanese noble warrior, and during the 1990 campaign for the presidency, he appeared at photo sessions on several occasions wearing a kimono and brandishing a samurai sword. Fujimori is estranged from his wife, the former Susana Higuchi. Her outspoken criticism of some of her husband's associates and her charges of corruption among some of Fujimori's advisors led the President to relieve her of her role as First Lady, and to ban her from the presidential residence. The couple have four children, and their daughter Keiko, who has been the most supportive of her father's political aspirations, has assumed many of the official duties vacated by her mother.
Rise to Power
An agrarian engineer with no political experience or even party affiliation, Fujimori initiated his bid for the presidency late in 1989, well after the other candidates had begun campaigning. Dwarfed by the expensive, splashy campaign of front-runner Mario Vargas Llosa, Fujimori's low-key, low-budget, grass roots organization went virtually unnoticed by analysts. In the first round voting on April 8, 1990, Fujimori and his Cambio '90 (Change '90) party came within two percentage points of Vargas Llosa. The run-off, set for June 1990, was considered by most to be a dead heat. On June 10, 1990, with no support from Peru's traditionally influential sectors, Alberto Fujimori soundly defeated Vargas Llosa, with 57% of the votes, becoming the first ethnic Japanese head of state outside Japan.
The 1995 campaign again pitted Fujimori against a figure of international renown--former Secretary General of the United Nations, Javier Peréz de Cuellar. This time, however, Fujimori was the overwhelming favorite. Fujimori limited his campaign to personal appearances at ground-breakings and initiations of infrastructure improvements, and allowing his record to speak for itself. He did not address any of the issues being raised by other candidates. Despite frequent pessimistic polls showing erosion of his support, Fujimori again captured the presidency on April 9, 1995, with 64% of valid votes cast; Peréz de Cuellar captured 22% of the vote. The president's party also gained majorities in both houses of Congress, thus assuring Fujimori's control over Peru's direction in the next five years.
Inaugurated on July 28, 1990, Alberto Fujimori took the helm of a nation in crisis. Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) guerrillas controlled over half the national territory; GDP had declined 22%, and personal income had eroded 63% in the previous two years; over 70% of Peruvians lived in abject poverty; inflation was 7,650%; and the nation was in default on its foreign loans. Fujimori made it clear that he had two goals: to eradicate Sendero Luminoso and to set the economy back on track. With no legislative base from which to accomplish these goals, but armed with sweeping emergency powers, Fujimori pushed through enormous amounts of legislation and economic reforms which initiated Peru's re-entry into the world economic community. Some of his anti-terrorist legislation alarmed Congress, which began to openly question Fujimori's commitment to due process.
On April 5, 1992, Fujimori dissolved the Congress and the judiciary, suspended the Constitution, and assumed dictatorial powers in what has come to be called an auto golpe (self-coup). The military backed this maneuver in return for a freer hand in combating terrorism and a blind eye towards their involvement in drug trafficking. The Peruvian people also supported the president, due to widespread contempt for allegedly corrupt politicians and judges. In response to a general outcry from the international community, Fujimori announced that a constituent assembly would be elected in November 1992, to rewrite the constitution. In the November elections, Fujimori's party won 45 of the 80 seats in the assembly, the best showing for any of the other 17 parties was 6 seats. The first act of the new assembly was to declare Fujimori a constitutional president. Despite the democratic trappings, Fujimori remains highly autocratic and delegates little, preferring to remain in control of almost all aspects of his administration.
Fujimori vowed to correct the economic situation without hurting the poor. Nevertheless, he was forced to impose austerity measures under IMF guidelines for renegotiation of the nation's foreign debt. Despite brutal ramifications of the "Fujishock" for the poor, the reforms turned Peru's economy around in extremely short order. Inflation fell dramatically, the economy became productive, the state initiated an aggressive privatization plan, and foreign investment nearly doubled after Fujimori's agreement to abide by IMF economic guidelines. In 1994, inflation was 350%, and GDP growth was 12%, the highest in the world. In 1995, inflation is expected to be 10%, and GDP growth should be 5 to 8%. The privatization that is occurring in Peru brings with it enormous costs; not the least of which is job losses in a nation already plagued by unsustainable levels of unemployment and underemployment, estimated at no less than 50%, but possibly as high as 90%. Somehow Fujimori must balance continued economic streamlining with job creation on an almost unprecedented scale. Tax collection, aggressively pursued from the beginning of Fujimori's presidency, has increased dramatically, and the proceeds have been used to finance desperately needed infrastructure improvements.
Perhaps the single most important accomplishment of Fujimori's presidency was the capture on September 12, 1992, of the leader of Sendero Luminoso, Abimael Guzmán Reynoso. Captured along with him were computer tapes outlining the structure of the terrorist organization and lists of other leaders. Within months, other leaders were captured, tried, and sentenced. Guzmán pled guilty to being the leader of the Sendero Luminoso and was sentenced to life imprisonment.
In the twelve years between its inception and the capture of Guzmán, the war with Sendero Luminoso claimed more than 20,000 lives, disrupted basic services, and necessitated the placement of nearly 50% of the national territory under emergency law. Army frustration with its inability to win the war led to widespread human rights violations, which were not discouraged by Fujimori in the period after the April 1992 coup. An increase in Sendero Luminoso activity in spring 1995, led Fujimori to ask Congress to pass an amnesty law for those who commit human rights violations while combating terrorism.
In January 1995, Ecuador crossed a long established border with Peru, thus initiating a limited war between the two countries. In July 1995, the two countries established a demilitarized zone in the area of the disputed border, in order to resolve the issue peacefully. Peru is also likely to become active in the international weapons market, as Fujimori fulfills a promise to replace much of the outdated Soviet military equipment.
One foreign policy issue that Fujimori must address is that of Peru's role in international drug-trafficking. Peru currently supplies about 50% of all coca on the world market. Fujimori rejects plans for crop eradication, arguing that such a plan places undue hardship on subsistence farmers who eke a meager existence from coca production. Rather, he proposes a more gradual program of crop substitution, whereby coca would be replaced by legal crops and the government would make the infrastructure repairs necessary to ensure that the new crops could be brought to market. Peru is a full member in good standing of a variety of international organizations, including the Organization of American States, the United Nations, and the Andean Pact common market.
End of Presidency
After a video was released depicting Fujimori's intelligence chief bribing an opposition congressman for support, Fujimori quelled the uproar by calling an election in September, 2001, in which he did not run.