Virginia Review of Asian Studies

Volume 16 (2014): 1-10

Arbulú: Fujimori



[Editor’s note: Ivy Arbulú, Professor of Spanish and Latin American Literature and Culture at Mary Baldwin College from 1995 until her death in May, 2013, wrote this article for VRAS in 2001. We republish her work here in tribute to her brilliant career at Mary Baldwin. We feel that this article on Alberto Fujimori continues to be of great interest to the Asian Studies community. The 2001 issue is available in many libraries, but the on-line version has been lost.

I have invited Dr. Arbulú’s husband, Jorge Secada, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Virginia andNEH Distinguished Visiting Professor of Philosophy, SUNY College at Potsdam, to write a foreword to this piece. Dr. Secada discusses significant aspects of Dr. Arbulú’s career and scholarship and then updates Fujimori’s life and career after his surprise election in 1990.]

Foreword by Jorge Secada

Ivy Arbulú (1959-2013) was an exceptional teacher and a sensitive, imaginative, and disciplined scholar.

With characteristic modesty, when asked about her work, she would describe herself as a “teacher of Spanish.” From 1995 until her death, however, she was a Professor of Spanish and Latin American Literature and Culture at Mary Baldwin College in Staunton, Virginia. She also held visiting appointments at the University of Virginia and the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú. Her students give testimony of her excellence, integrity, and dedication as a teacher. She was a mentor and example to many. Perhaps the most telling recognition of her formative influence is provided by those who say she inspired fear in them, fear of letting her down and not performing to the best of their abilities.

Since early on in life, Dr. Arbulú was attracted to literature. Gradually, and with the strength of character and determination that characterized her, she constructed a life devoted to its study. Her alma mater was the Catholic University in Lima and she later did her graduate work at the University of Virginia. Her first two theses, one at each of these institutions, were focused on novels by two distinguished Latin American authors, Historia de Mayta by Mario Vargas Llosa and Hasta No Verte Jesús Mío by Elena Poniatowska. Nonetheless, they both dealt squarely with issues arising in the theory of narrative fiction. She chose them precisely as a means to engage with questions regarding the construction of literary prose and the relation between reality, description and testimony, ideology and the role of the author.

But her true passion was poetry and poetics, particularly those of the Spanish Golden Century. Her main work, soon to be published in Lima by the Fondo Editorial de la PUCP, is Confieren los Poetas: Garcilaso y la tradición poética española en las Anotaciones de Fernando de Herrera (Poets Confer: Garcilaso and the Spanish poetic tradition in the Annotations by Fernando de Herrera). There, arguing against established critical views, she showed how Herrera sought to “promote… the renovation of [the Castilian] poetic tradition” by placing it on the side of the Latin and Italian traditions, and substituting Garcilaso de la Vega as paradigm in place of Petrarch. Throughout this work she combined erudition and scholarship with her rare literary sensitivity, her capacity to grasp form and expression and bring to light the deeper meaning of poetic works.

Afterwards, Arbulú studied “the recreation, imitation, and transformation of poetic texts from… the great masters” in the poems of contemporary Peruvian poet Rosell di Paolo, thus revaluing this “mode of composition… common… since classical antiquity until the Romantic cult of individuality and originality” undermined it. In recent years, she developed her interest in the other Garcilaso, the Inca. During several semesters, both in Virginia and in Lima, she offered her extraordinary course, “Visions of the Andes.” Unfortunately, her premature passing deprived us of the fruits which, in time, her rich mind would have yielded on this subject.

Arbulú’s talent for insightful perception was also applied beyond the confines of literature. Indeed, its true measure is gauged in her capacity to understand human phenomena and culture wherever they were on display. In December of 2010, she read a paper at the IV Congress of History in Debate in Santiago de Compostela in Spain. She had been invited to participate in a section devoted to Barak Obama’s recent election. Appealing to the history of Latino US literature, Arbulú showed how the significance of that election “is not so much recognition as it is assimilation: finally [a historically exploited… and excluded] minority has come to be integrated” into the dominant culture. Her lecture is available at: .

It is this ability to understand human affairs in their full and telling complexity, joined to the rigour and care with which she invested in all her scholarly work, which is manifest in the brief piece which this journal has decided to reprint in this issue. Originally written in 2001, it deals with the election of Alberto Fujimori as President of Peru in 1990. Arbulú gives a concise but revealing picture of that process. She here combines what she knew from personal experience with careful research and perceptive and imaginative deduction. Note, for instance, when she speculates that the marginal State TV channel where Fujimori had hosted a rather stale academic and technical program does have a wide audience outside Lima “where most [other] channels are not available” and that therefore “in rural areas many people must have seen and heard Fujimori” already when he launched his candidacy as an obscure outsider unknown to and ignored by the national media and elites.

Towards the end of the article Arbulú suggests that Fujimori’s not being recognized by the media and the established intelligentsia and political classes was actually one of his major assets, if not the decisive one. Having painted in broad outline the specific social circumstances of Peru in 1990, as well as the more permanent features of this “quite … diverse country [where there are] 50 cultures and almost as many languages [are widely] spoken,” her final conclusion was that in a country of outsiders, it was an outsider who could appeal to the majority of Peruvians. This ending is revealing – as is the very title she chose, “Foreigners in Their Own Land” – both of some of the most interesting aspects of the subject of the article and also of the typical understated manner in which Arbulú displayed her gifts and put forward her claims.

At the time this article was written, Alberto Fujimori’s decade as President of Peru was coming to an end amidst allegations of massive corruption and abject criminality backed by explicit audiovisual evidence, much of it actually taped by Fujimori’s closest advisor, the rasputinian figure, Vladimiro Montesinos. The effects of his ten years in power are still at the core of Peruvian consciousness, and they are very difficult to assess.

During his rule, the terrorist activities of the Shining Path were definitely confronted and stopped, the State came to function with an efficiency and equity rare in Peruvian history, and, most importantly, the basis for economic order and good management, which have resulted in an unprecedented period of high economic growth and development, were laid. But throughout his time in office, Fujimori operated outside the law. In 1992, he illegally closed parliament, and then went on to change the constitution to allow for his re-election. In a clean referendum he did, however, gain the support of a small but clear overall majority for this coup and the subsequent constitutional changes. More significantly, he orchestrated an extensive network of corruption aimed at preserving power, including buying off both members of the opposition in Congress and the owners of the national media as well as minor figures in the entertainment and the arts, activities which were recorded in videos that triggered his downfall when they were made public, possibly leaked by a combination of disgruntled former collaborators and the secret services of the Peruvian Navy which had become alienated from the autocratic regime.

Among the very many other transgressions of his rule, a couple are worth mentioning. The first is one which particularly offended Arbulú. Fujimori’s Ministry of Health presided over the forcible or covert sterilization of a great many impoverished women, thereby marring an otherwise successful campaign for birth-control which reduced population growth to the levels of developed countries. The combination of chauvinism, discrimination and abuse of power which comes together in these crimes against defenseless women, and the easiness with which some of his followers would brush them aside or justify them by appeal to their consequences, led her on many occasions to protest with indignation: “They wouldn’t react like that if it was women in Miraflores or San Isidro [posh suburbs of Lima]!” Finally, during Fujimori’s time in power and under the protection of his regime, paramilitary groups were created in order to conduct the fighting with the Shining Path on its own violent terms. As it turned out, these groups did not contribute to the demise of the terrorists, but they did participate in the killing and torturing of many innocent people.

Fujimori fled Perú in November, 2000, and took asylum in Japan, invoking his, up to then secret, double nationality. He participated actively in Japanese politics and was even a candidate for the House of Councilors of the National Diet, albeit a humiliatingly unsuccessful one. Still, he became an uncomfortable figure in Japan and was made to come to terms with the fact that he could not continue to be a burden, souring Japan's international relations with Perú and with other countries. He left and tried to reside in Chile, but was eventually extradited on many counts to neighboring Perú.

In 2007 Fujimori faced the first of several trials and is currently serving long concurrent prison terms for murder, kidnapping, robbery, corruption, usurpation of functions, and various other charges. He enjoys special treatment while confined in a converted police station. Unrepentant, he continues to deny any wrongdoing while claiming he is a victim of political persecution. Unlike many Peruvians who defend or condemn Fujimori without qualification, Arbulú was torn by his current situation. On the one hand, she would remark that he had been "our President" and deserved to be treated with dignity. But she would always go back to the fact that his crimes were monstrous, he was unrepentant, and he appeared not to care for the damage he caused to Perú by undermining trust in institutions and public life.

Fujimori’s political legacy has been kept alive by his family and his political associates and followers. His daughter Keiko was elected to the Peruvian Congress in 2006 and was runner-up in the presidential elections of 2011. His son Kenji won a seat in Congress in 2011. Alberto Fujimori continues to generate intense debate, and the evaluation of his regime and its place in Peruvian history is the subject of continuing discussion. The combination of success and crime, of efficiency and illegality, is sometimes defended amongst Fujimori’s advocates as necessary pragmatism. With a clearer sense of the limits of what is morally permissible and what is pragmatically useful in the longer term, and also a decade and a half of continued openly democratic life in a country which is still very difficult to manage, the majority of Perú’s diverse population has kept the “fujimoristas” in the minority. Siding with this majority, Arbulú was an unwavering opponent of Fujimori and his followers.

Ivy Arbulú never had a chance to write on the significance of Fujimori’s government, as opposed to his initial election. She did, however, reflect on it continually and a considerable amount of what I myself have written over the years on that topic in several columns in the Peruvian national daily Dairio 16 is the direct result of conversations we had. Still, it is one more irreparable loss to all those who knew her or would have read her that she never had the opportunity to address this subject with the discipline and solidity of her research and, above all, the self-effacing but penetrating gaze with which she illuminated all that she saw.

Jorge Secada Scottsville VA May 2014

Dr. Arbulú’s Original Article:

Alberto Fujimori’s election as President of Peru in 1990 was a stunning event both in Peru and abroad. In Peru Fujimori’s victory was a surprise because in a matter of weeks, if not days, he had snatched the presidency from world-known author Mario Vargas Llosa, who had been considered the favored candidate. For the rest of the world the surprise was that a Nisei, a second generation Japanese, had been elected president of a mainly Andean country.

During the first half of the 1990s I was frequently asked why we Peruvians had elected a Japanese president. My immediate answer to that question was: “Alberto Fujimori is not Japanese; he is Peruvian.” But I knew that the question implied another question: How is it possible that a primarily Andean country had elected the son of a Japanese immigrant, a “foreigner,” as its leader? What most mystified foreigners was that Peruvians had elected a president who did not seem Peruvian and, therefore, did not seem representative of the ethnic majority of his country.

This frequent questioning led me to reflect on the role Fujimori’s Japanese ancestry had played in the electoral process that led him to victory. The explanation of Fujimori’s success lies not in racial or ethnical issues, but in the political crisis Peru was immersed in towards the end of Alan Garcia’s government. Yet his ethnic and social status did play an interesting role in the electorate’s psyche.

First, let us picture the situation in Peru in 1989. Towards the end of Alan Garcia’s presidency (1985-1990), people thought Garcia, his government, and the political parties who made up the Congress had submerged the country in a generalized crisis at all levels, political, social, and economic:

During the second half of 1989, a series of indicators of ungovernability generated in the society a strong demand for answers from the political elite: first, the economic crisis and inflation were at all-time levels; second, strategic sectors of the working class were going on strike frequently...[1] In the third place, we must take into account the war front, which was as important: Shining Path’s[2] offensive of 1989 was designed to prevent the city council elections from taking place, and included a series of actions intended to “besiege Lima.” Thus, in different parts of the country “armed strikes” took place, together with a wave of selective assassinations of mayoral and city council candidates. These crimes became almost a daily occurrence. Also, during 1989, the activities of Comando Rodrigo Franco, an obscure paramilitary group associated, by many indications with people in the Interior Ministry and the Police, intensified. (Tanaka170-171; author’s translation)

Adding to this critical situation, Alan Garcia and his political party, APRA, were the subject of intense criticism, due to their inability to rule the country, fight terrorism, and control hyperinflation. At the same time, the United Left – an important alliance of socialist parties – was engaged in bitter internal fights, which resulted in a division that weakened them significantly. In this context, it is not difficult to understand why Peruvians were tired, disappointed, and skeptical of politicians and the traditional party system and were looking for new, fresh, independent figures who would offer them some hope.

Analysts point out that the nationwide municipal elections of 1989 were the first indicator that the Peruvian electorate was veering away from the traditional political parties and giving strong support to independent candidates. Socialist Martín Tanaka claims that the election of independent candidates, particularly of Ricardo Belmont as Mayor of Lima – which has 7 million inhabitants, or a third of Peru’s population – showed that the population was disappointed with the ruling class and the political parties for neither addressing nor giving answers to the main problems that concerned Peruvians. (169)

This tendency could be seen in the presidential campaign which took place in 1989-1990. A new, independent person appeared on the political scene and raised the hopes of Peruvians, namely Mario Vargas Llosa.[3] Since the day he denounced and opposed Alan Garcia’s attempt to nationalize the banking system in August, 1987, Mario Vargas Llosa became the leader of the opposition to the government. In view of the great support he received, Vargas Llosa decided to get seriously involved in politics. In August 1988, he founded the Movimiento Libertad (“the Freedom Movement”), a movement which would bring together those independents who supported Libertad’s Plan for Governing, which was described by Vargas Llosa as:

[A] realistic program for putting an end to privileges, government handouts, protectionism, and state control, opening up the country to the world and creating a free society in which everyone would have access to the market and live under the protection of the law. (153)