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Peru: coup by President Fujimori and the political situation

RICHARD ACKLAND: In Latin America, they call it auto golpe (?) which, roughly translated, means a coup against yourself. The man responsible, is Peru's President Alberto Fujimori. Of course, he made sure he wasn't removed from office himself, but with the help of the Army, he's removed just about everyone else in Peru. Besides dissolving the legislature, closing down the newspapers and sacking judges, he's been placing key opponents under house arrest. Before going into hiding, the former president, Alan Garcia, declared Fujimori's presidency null and void and said the people could legitimately rebel.

Joining us, now, in 3RN's Melbourne studios, Barry Carr, from the Institute of Latin American Studies at La Trobe University. Thank you very much for your time this morning, Barry Carr.

After decades of instability, it had seemed that much of South America was now much more secure. Many countries are run by democratically elected governments rather than the good old dictatorships. What's gone wrong in Peru?

BARRY CARR: Well, a lot of things have gone wrong in Peru. First of all, Richard, I'd want to point out that things haven't been going too well elsewhere in Latin America in the last couple of months. In fact, in the beginning of February, there was an attempted military coup in Venezuela, so coups, whether they're old-fashioned coups or whether these kinds of auto golpes (?) are in the air, Peru's a country which, by any standards, is in deep trouble. It's one of the poorest countries in the region; it has a very severe national security problem. There are two armed struggle movements - perhaps the best-known of them is Shining Path - that don't, somehow, seem to be capable of being stopped, and Shining Path is now moving out of the countryside and into the cities. The economy, in particular has been going through a whole series of shock adjustments which President Fujimori has been carrying out under IMF advice, so Peruvians are, I think, in great trouble, at the moment.

RICHARD ACKLAND: What are some of the shock measures he's been introducing to the economy?

BARRY CARR: Well, it is the familiar IMF, near-liberal, rational, economic rationalism package that I think a lot of people in Australia are familiar with, cutting back the state sector, reducing real wages, doing away with subsidies on goods, letting prices rip, trying to encourage foreign investment by privatising - the familiar scenario. But that kind of thing in Latin America, especially in a very poor country, has absolutely disastrous implications.

RICHARD ACKLAND: Yes. Well, Peru - correct me if I'm wrong - but I've always thought it had a fairly fine and long tradition of elected governments, and Mr Fujimori, as a Japanese Peruvian, I suppose, came into power with the thought of the people that he would be able to get the economy right, he had good connections with Japan, he'd be able to attract Japanese investment and so on.

BARRY CARR: Absolutely. Yes. Actually, Peru has had periods of military rule and, in fact, had quite a long period of military rule in the middle-late '60s - well, from the late '60s and '70s. You know, I think most people have been very surprised by this action by Fujimori. During the election campaign which he ran against the famous novelist, Mario Vargas Llosa, Fujimori was very much the newcomer and the new boy. He didn't have any clear connections with Peruvian politics so people didn't rally know very much about him. He promised a much less dramatic, much less severe kind of economic policy. All the people in Peru thought that the Japanese connection would bring Japanese cash into the country. In fact, in spite of a recent visit he's made to Japan, that Japanese cash, the dollars, simply haven't been flowing.

RICHARD ACKLAND: Yes. Well, will this move of sacking the congress, sacking the judges, restoring all power to his own hands, really help him, do you think, in developing the economy and getting rid of the Shining Path and getting rid of corruption?

BARRY CARR: Well, I doubt whether any action will do all those things in a very, very short period of time. It's a very dangerous move. He enjoys the support of the armed forces which, of course, is absolutely crucial, but ....

RICHARD ACKLAND: And the populace, it would seem, Barry Carr, too.

BARRY CARR: There is some evidence - I was looking last night, actually, at the results of a public opinion poll put out by an organisation called Opina (?) which is a fairly respected, I gather, organisation. It does seem that ordinary people, particularly poorer people, have been giving their support to Fujimori. I think, in desperate times, people will grab at any straw but, in general, I think that an action which de-legitimises a government at a time when civilian governments are in vogue, doesn't really do very much for the reputation of the state. And certainly, giving the Army a sort of gloves-off go-ahead would only, I think, make the situation much worse. I mean, some people would see the current emergency as being manna from heaven for the armed struggle movements.

RICHARD ACKLAND: Yes. It's about six minutes to six in the evening in Washington. The Organisation of American States has just met and we're trying to get some - we might have some news, developments about that shortly - but they have been looking at the Peruvian situation with a view to what - isolating Peru to bring Mr Fujimori back to democracy?

BARRY CARR: Well, there seems to be a split within the Latin American countries. Most of them have been making very loud noises disapproving the coup, or the auto golpe - the self-imposed coup. A couple of countries with a long history of hands-off, of non-interference in the affairs of other Latin American countries - countries like Mexico, for example - have cautioned against too strong a response. But given that the Peruvian Legislature, the Congress, has actually declared President Fujimori to be, in a sense, no longer President, and given the fact that the Peruvian Constitution of 1979 allows the civilian population to rise up - to use the language in the Constitution - in the cases where presidents act unconstitutionally, it's going to be very, very difficult for governments to take this lying down.

RICHARD ACKLAND: Barry Carr, while you're there and we're still on the sub-continent, I can't leave you - and we've only got a few seconds left - without mentioning Argentina and what seems to be an extraordinary turnaround, there, in the rate of inflation, from something like what - a thousand per cent a year down to about 3 per cent, at the moment?

BARRY CARR: Yes. It's one of those great miracles, also a miracle in Peru where inflation's down to 4 per cent - obviously a considerable achievement - but again, I'd have to ask: At what kind of social cost has that reduction in inflation been brought about?

RICHARD ACKLAND: Yes. Thanks very much for your time, this morning, Barry Carr, from the Institute of Latin American Studies at La Trobe University.