Having just moved to Lima, Peru to begin nine months of investigations on the Japanese Peruvian community, one thing has immediately become clear: from countless chifa (Chinese food) restaurants to swanky tea shops in Miraflores to K-pop-themed newspapers sold by street vendors on every corner, the Asian diaspora is immediately visible. Peruvian society is multicultural, multiracial, and multilingual, and this is most evident in the nation’s capital, where people of all colors, shapes, and sizes reside.
Over the weekend, my roommates and I took a nine-hour bus to Ayacucho, a city in the mountains. Now a popular tourist destination, Ayacucho was once a major hub for the terrorist group Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path), which perpetrated mass violence against a mostly indigenous community in the 1980s.
As we ascended mountain roads on our way to nearby towns, I spotted the same signs over and over. They were painted on the walls of buildings, in bright colors:
Fujimori vive en el corazón del pueblo
(Fujimori lives in the heart of the people)
In addition to signs praising Peru’s controversial former president, those supporting Fujimori’s daughter, Keiko, abounded.
Keiko Presidente 2011
(Keiko for President 2011)
It’s been two years since Keiko Fujimori ran for the presidency and lost to current president Ollanta Humala. Her father is currently behind bars for bribery, massive human rights violations, and embezzlement, among other weighty charges. Yet the pro-Fujimori signs far outnumbered the occasional pro-Humala signs. I spotted a few of the latter as we drove through, but their scarcity only seemed to emphasize the lasting legacy of Humala’s predecessor.
Fujimori’s enduring popularity in the mountain regions surrounding Ayacucho makes sense, since the former president is widely credited with putting a stop to Shining Path’s reign of terror. Fujimori also brought economic prosperity to the country and fostered the political ideology of Fujimorismo, which emphasizes free markets. His nearly decade-long reign (from 1993-2000) has obviously made a significant impact on the Peruvian people, especially those who suffered from the brutality of Shining Path.
Yet the public remains divided on the legacy of Fujimori, and for good reason. In a Global Transparency Report from 2004, Fujimori ranks seventh on a list of the world’s most corrupt leaders. Though the report acknowledges that these ten “are not necessarily the 10 most corrupt” due to the secrecy surrounding the actions of many controversial leaders, it states that “the estimates of funds allegedly embezzled are extremely appropriate.”
Even thirteen years after Fujimori left office, his reputation invites potent disagreement. In a February 2013 article in the newspaper El Comercio, a string of user comments reflects the clash of opinions:
Liberen a Fujimori todo lo bueno que hizo por el Peru
(Free Fujimori for all the good he did for Peru)
Para refrescar la memoria – Corrupcion en entidades publicas – Saqueo de cajas de la Policia y Ejercito – Esterilizacion forzada a 500,000 mujeres – Trafico Ilicito de Drogas – Chantaje y Extorsion
(To refresh your memory – corruption of public entities – taking the salaries of the police and army – forced sterilization of 500,000 women – illicit drug trafficking – blackmail and extortion)
El NUNCA va ha morir!!!!!, porque la paz y el progreso no se puede matar, es invencible, ALBERTO FUJIMORI vive en el corazón del pueblo y allí se quedara para siempre
(HE’S NEVER going to die!!!!! Because one cannot kill peace and progress, they’re invincible, ALBERTO FUJIMORI lives in the heart of the people and there he will stay forever)
I’m keen to explore more about what Fujimori means—and continues to mean—to Peruvians. These preliminary impressions suggest a great deal about his political legacy, but what also interests me is how members of the Japanese Peruvian community might perceive him—and how his race factors into this perception. More on this later.