Presidential Elections in Peru

Ollanta Humala, a left-wing nationalist, and Keiko Fujimori, the daughter and number one fan of a former right-wing dictator, will shortly compete for the presidency of Peru, after having obtained the first and second places, respectively, in the first electoral round (which took place on Sunday, April 10th). Notoriously unpredictable as the country is when it comes to politics, no one can foresee the results of the runoff. But given the correlation of political forces and interests today, Fujimori has a good chance of winning the elections. This would entail, as Mario Vargas Llosa puts it, “opening the prisons for all the thieves, murderers and torturers –beginning with her father, Alberto Fujimori, and the sinister Montesinos [Fujimori’s lieutenant]– for them to take the streets once again, to show their tongues to everyone who has defended democracy in Peru. The criminals would go directly from prison to the government.”

Keiko Fujimori, a populist vaguely speaking on behalf of liberal capitalism, has a main goal in mind: liberating dear Dad, who is in prison for having led one of the most corrupt and violent administrations in the world –a mafia state whose dealings (as suggested in a previous post) were meticulously recorded by the administration itself, particularly via videos from the Intelligence Service, which were at some point leaked to the press, setting in motion the inevitable, but perhaps temporary, collapse of the regime.

Consider a couple of glimpses into Alberto Fujimori’s administration: Transparency International calculates that Fujimori embezzled roughly 600 million dollars from public funds, which would rank his regime as the seventh most corrupt of the past twenty years –worldwide. Beyond “normal” channels of embezzlement and piracy, Fujimori also used his creativity to procure illegal funds in almost risible ways. For example, he set up a charity organization in Japan to collect funds for “poor children in Peru,” funds that then he gluttonously diverted to his personal account. He reminds me of Garcia Marquez’s Patriarch, in The Autumn of the Patriarch, a banana republic character at once comical and evil, a childishly wicked being who set things up so as to win the national lottery every single time.

But beyond mere thievery, there was also a truly evil side to the regime. Paramilitary operations and death-squads were, as one would expect, part of the regular business of government. Victims varied, terrorist as well as “suspects” and witnesses, including Javier Ríos Rojas, an eight year old boy executed together with his father, Manuel Rios Rojas, both of whom worked selling ice-cream from a cart. The child was found face-down, as though running toward the father, with 12 bullet shots in his body.

Human rights abuses during Fujimori’s regime also include a massive campaign of sterilization of peasant women. This was a sort of Tuskegee operation, where the women were told that they would be given free medical treatment, while, instead, being surgically sterilized.  Fujimori’s former wife repeatedly accused him of battering and abuse.

Alberto Fujimori

All in all, the story of this small, bespectacled, meticulously combed, and poorly spoken man belongs to what Jorge Luis Borges called “the universal history of infamy.”  But never mind any of that. Via Keiko, today Alberto Fujimori anxiously prepares his return, hoping that the forgiving and forgetful Peruvian voters will once again open the dispensary for him and his buddies (while also allowing him to take his revenge on human rights organizations, on the opposition, etc.).

This bizarre situation makes me wonder if we, sociologists or social psychologists, have devised adequate conceptual tools to account for this possible, and almost Freudian, return of the repressed. Or do we need a new conceptual toolbox to account for this odd set of circumstances?

Bourdieu’s theory of symbolic violence might be a candidate here (although it may not be quite what we need). Bourdieu has helped us see that dominated social actors often vivify –literally in-corporate— the unfair “social cosmology” that oppresses them. They incarnate the symbols of their own oppression, thus giving life to the very discourses that burden them. Their own ideas, sentiments, gestures –their lives as lived everyday— become the media that sustain these oppressive discourses.  Symbolic violence, in summary, speaks of a collective embodiment of unfair social structures, a process that creates key aspects of subjectivity, the “nature” of the oppressed; so that the will of the victim of this form of social violence –largely becomes an expression of the will of the world.

Supporting Fujimori are mostly impoverished and generally disenfranchised individuals (as well as those with financial interests tied to the former regime). Was Fujimori a mastermind of symbolic violence, able to create aspects of the habitus of oppressed Peruvians?  Or do we need to risk stepping into the territory of psychoanalytical theory to then speak of a vast operation of disavowal in the country today, an almost traumatic refusal to acknowledge reality?  Freud has been a reviled and scorned figure –but his work keeps on providing ideas that seem to correspond to reality very well. The Fujimoris of the world fit the almost Jungian image of the obscene, emasculating, and yet seductive father.

  • Peter Byrne

    This is a completely one-sided presentation. I LIVE in Lima. I can tell you that the only people supporting Humala are the limousine liberals and the very “impoverished and generally disenfranchised individuals” that you cite as supporting Fujimori. I cannot defend many of Alberto Fujimori’s actions. However, he subdued Shining Path and set Peru on the path of economic reforms that have dramatically reduced poverty. Peru is now in a completely different situation now, making the nasty behavior of Alberto Fujimori very unlikely.

    And Humala? He is a Chavez clone, financed by Chavez. He is responsible for at least one attempted military coup. Now, advised by foreign political advisers, he has changed his tune. I have no reason to believe that he really has changed.

    Not mentioning any of these facts leads me to the conclusion that the author is either uninformed, or has a pro-Chavez agenda.

  • Rafael

    Thanks for the comment Peter. I am also from Lima, saludos. Yes, this is of course a one-sided presentation, as I discuss only Fujimori and not Humala, and as I only discuss Fujimori’s bad points (being a large-scale thief and a murderer who sank the institutional order in my country) and neglect discussing his wonderful side. Hitler also had his good side, all vegetarian and animal lover as he was, a great strategist, a sartorial stylist, as any of the Neo Nazis would agree. But the one-sided accounts of his regime also neglect such good points in part because it is hard to say “sure, he was a mass-murderer but, let us be fair and balanced, also a good guy in some ways” (“so let’s focus on the positive and vote for his kid and number one fan.”) If you vote, my suggestion would be that you consider the notion that voting for Fujimori may be tantamount to legitimizing large-scale thievery and murder. One clarification: the guy who ended Sendero was Kentin Vidal, not Fujimori. Also, if you really think that large scale corruption, etc. sets the basis for progress, then I can only disagree without getting into details.

    Yes, poor and disenfranchised folk will vote for Humala, but as they are not a corporate body it doesn’t follow that poor and disenfranchised folk do not support Fujimori as well. It can happen that some would vote for one and some for the other one. As for the liberals cruising around in their big limos while toasting to the victory of the “Chavez clone,” I can only say that I am not a big fan of Humala at all. But, you know , the lesser of two evils, etc.

  • Chiri Maltrufio

    Another Lima resident chiming in… why do we automatically assume that because Keiko’s father was corrupt, she it to? Should we also assume that since Humala’s parents promote the murder of homosexuals and Chileans and the deportation of non-native Peruvinas, that he does to? Let’s take the candidates for who they are, their agendas and what they promote. The “lesser of two evils” should be apparent.

  • Rafael

    We assume that because she wants to release the thief and murderer from jail, she has repeatedly said that this convict was the best president that Peru has ever had, and because she was a high ranking official, First Lady, during the dictatorship. Hence one could guess that father would have a prominent role if she gets elected. Nothing indicates that Humala’s father would.

  • Laslanian

    reading this and flashing back to the little I knew of Peru when he was President, how about if we appeal to the very nimble and varied concept of hegemony—- and, since I do not know what is going on in Peru right now— possibly also the idea (again a little bit of Freud and a little bit of Bourdieu) that where there is chaos or an overwhelming sense of the unknown or things being in flux, people reach for (any) authority— they prefer a tyrannical father to what they perceive as disorder or chaos or something in between. In a strange way, I think this explains the appeal of Cheney. An ugly, death emanating and chastising figure of control.

  • Rafael

    You are absolutely right in the sense htat Peru is a country largely defined by hegemony. When cell phones first appeared in Peru, for example, having one broadcasted your high status to anyone in range, and people wore them conspicuously attached to their belts, almost as a batch of distinction in the Bourdieuan sense. The informal market quickly reacted to the symbolic value of the phones, fake ones were made by cottage industries, and sold mostly to middle and lower-middle class customers, just for their sheer symbolic value. Folks displayed them as accessories. And there are many examples like that, of people quick to adopt the standards of dominant groups –distorted mirroring, kind of. Of course, there are many other facets of culture that are the opposite of hegemony, but hegemony is part of the culture nonetheless.

    Yet I don’t think that Fujimori’s appeal is hegemonic. As I suggested in the post, I cannot quite put my finger on what explains his appeal, but I am not sure if I’d go with hegemony,. That’s my first reaction, anyways. I have to thinkk about it