Fujimori’s pardon reopens wounds for victims of Peru’s state terrorism
In the darkest days of Peru’s internal conflict, Melissa Alfaro hoped to transform her country through journalism. At 23, she got her first full-time job at the left-leaning weekly Cambio, but her dreams were cut short as the Peruvian state under the then president, Alberto Fujimori, fought terror with terror.
Alfaro was returning to the magazine’s office after a morning covering congress on Thursday 10 October 1991 when she stopped off to pick up the mail from the porter. Moments later her colleagues heard an explosion.
“They found her dead. She had opened a letter bomb which had blown up in her face. It destroyed her,” recalled her mother Norma Méndez, 71, weeping at the memory.
An investigation found that the explosive gel in the bomb was used exclusively by the Peruvian military and matched the material used in a string of attacks on leftwing figures whom they accused of sympathising with rebels. But Méndez holds one man responsible for her daughter’s murder: Fujimori.
Like many others in Peru, she was forced to relive her trauma when the country’s current president, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, granted a humanitarian pardon to the former strongman. The 24 December announcement prompted a wave of outrage: tens of thousands marched in Lima against the pardon under which Fujimori, 79, was released less than halfway through a 25year sentence for corruption and authorising death squads. He was freed from hospital last Friday.
Many Peruvians believe that Fujimori should never have been pardoned, not just because of the gravity of the crimes for which he was convicted but because of the many more alleged human rights violations for which he never faced trial – and probably never will.
“There are many cases linked to Fujimori’s anti-subversive policy which have not been considered – and for which Fujimori would have responsibility as an indirect perpetrator,” said human rights lawyer Gloria Cano.
Fujimori fled to Japan in 2000 amid growing evidence of rigged elections and rampant graft, but he was arrested during a trip to Chile in 2005, and extradited two years later to face trial.
Finally, Méndez believed she would get justice for her daughter’s murder.
But Fujimori could only be tried for the cases linked to his extradition, including the two most notorious death squad killings: the 1991 Barrios Altos massacre in which 15 people, including an eight-yearold, were shot, and the 1992 kidnap and murder of nine university students and their professor.
Fujimori’s pardon – seen by many as a backroom deal struck to protect Kuczynski from impeachment on corruption charges – consisted of a humanitarian pardon on health grounds and a presidential pardon that, in theory, removes all possibilities for future prosecution. Fujimori could, however, face a further human rights case due to a technicality, said Cano, who represents the families of six farmers who were tortured and killed in the village of Pativilca in 1992.
The Pativilca case was opened in February 2017 after Chile’s supreme court added the case to its extradition file. It must stay open for 24 months, raising the possibility that a judge could require Fujimori to attend a hearing – and thus revoke the presidential pardon.
Fujimori’s pardon has no precedent for the international court of human rights, said Diego GarcíaSayán, a former justice minister.
“It is the first time someone convicted of grave human rights violations has been granted a humanitarian pardon in the more than 30 years of the court’s existence,” he said.
For Méndez, Kuczynski’s pardon was an “act of treason”. The only person charged over her daughter’s murder was an army captain who admitted in 2004 to preparing the letter bombs, but was later released when the case did not come to trial.
So although Fujimori was never tried for her daughter’s murder, his sentencing in 2009 brought her “some comfort”, she said.
“Now this new year feels like 1992 all over again.”
“We lived those 10 years [of Fujimori’s government] in terror. If you were against the government you were a terrorist,” said Méndez.
After her daughter’s murder, troops would park outside her family home and ask neighbours where they lived, she said. To make matters worse, as more evidence of death squad killings under his command emerged, Fujimori pushed through an amnesty law in 1995 that exempted military personnel from imprisonment or prosecution over human rights crimes during the preceding 15 years.
Now Méndez cradles a placard that she carried at the protest last month, bearing a black and white photo of her daughter.
“Before she left the house that day she told me: ‘Mamá, I will always be with you.’”
‘They found her dead. She had opened up a letter bomb which had blown up in her face. It destroyed her’
‘Act of treason’ … Norma Méndez holds a poster of her daughter, who was killed by a bomb