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Authors: Mario Vargas Llosa

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Augusto Ferrando came to see me one night, shortly after that visit to the prison, to tell me that he was prepared, on his program, which had millions of TV viewers in the young towns, to announce that he would leave television and Peru if I didn’t win the election. He was certain that, with a threat like that, countless humble Peruvians, for whom “Trampolín a la fama” was manna from heaven each Saturday, would make me the winner. I gave him my heartfelt thanks, of course, but I remained silent when, in a very vague way, he led me to understand that, by doing a thing like that, he would find himself in a very vulnerable position in the future. When Augusto left, I earnestly entreated Pipo Thorndike not to come to any agreement, for any reason, with the famous TV emcee that might involve any sort of economic reward. And I hope he paid attention to me. The fact is that, on the next Saturday, or the one after that, Ferrando announced, as a matter of fact, that he would end his weekly program and leave Peru if I lost the election. (After June 10, he was as good as his word and moved to Miami. But with his audience clamoring for him, he came back and resumed “Trampolín a la fama,” a turn of events that made me happy: I would not have liked to be the cause of the disappearance of such a popular program.)

The declarations of popular support that most impressed me were the ones of two persons unknown to the general public, who had both suffered a personal tragedy and who, by publicly lending me their support, placed their peace of mind and even their lives in danger: Cecilia Martínez de Franco, the widow of the Aprista martyr Rodrigo Franco, and Alicia de Sedano, the widow of Jorge Sedano, one of the journalists murdered in Uchuraccay.

When my secretaries told me that the widow of Rodrigo Franco had asked for a meeting with me in order to offer me her support, I was dumbfounded. Her husband, a young Aprista leader on very intimate terms with Alan García, had occupied highly important posts within the administration, and when he was murdered by a terrorist commando unit, on August 29, 1987, he was president of ENCI (Empresa Nacional de Comercialización de Insumos: National Enterprise for the Commercialization of Raw Materials), one of the large state corporations. His murder greatly upset the country, because of the cruelty with which it was carried out—his wife and a little son of his very nearly died in the fierce hail of bullets that raked his little house in Naña—and because of the personal qualities of the victim, who, despite being a party politician, was universally respected. I didn’t know him, but I knew about him, through a leader of Libertad, Rafael Rey, a friend and companion of his in Opus Dei. As though his tragic death had not been enough, after his death Rodrigo Franco was subjected to the ignominy of having his name adopted by a paramilitary force of the Aprista administration, which committed numerous murders and attacks against persons and local headquarters of the extreme left, claiming responsibility in the name of the Rodrigo Franco Commando Unit.

On the morning of June 5, Cecilia Martínez de Franco came to see me. I had not met her before either, and I needed only to see her to be aware of the tremendous pressures that she must have had to overcome in order to take that step. Her own family had tried to dissuade her, warning her of what she was exposing herself to. But, making great efforts to control her emotion, she told me that she believed it to be her duty to make such a public statement, since she was certain that, in the present circumstances, that was what her husband would have done. She asked me to summon the press. With great composure, she made her declaration of support for me to the horde of reporters and cameramen who filled the living room; it predictably brought her threats of death, calumny in the press under government control, and even personal insults from President García, who called her a “dealer in corpses.” Despite all this, two days later, on one of César Hildebrandt’s programs, with a dignity that, for a few moments, seemed suddenly to ennoble the regrettable farce that the campaign had turned into, she explained her gesture once again, and again asked the Peruvian people to vote for me.

Alicia Sedano’s public declaration of support for me took place on June 8, two days before the election, without prior announcement. Her unexpected arrival at my house, with two of her children, took both the journalists and me by surprise, inasmuch as since the tragedy of January 1983, when her husband, the photographer for
La República
, Jorge Sedano, was murdered with seven other of his colleagues by a mob of communal landholders in Ica, in the highlands of Huanta, in a place called Uchuraccay, like all the widows or parents of the victims she had frequently been exploited by the leftist press to attack me, accusing me of having deliberately falsified the facts, in the report of the investigating commission of which I was a part, so as to exonerate the armed forces from being in any way responsible for the crime. The indescribable levels of fraud and filth reached by that long campaign, in the writings of Mirko Lauer, Guillermo Thorndike, and other professional purveyors of intellectual trash, were what had convinced Patricia of how useless political commitment was, in a country like ours, and the reason why she had tried to dissuade me from mounting the speakers’ platform on the night of August 21, 1987, in the Plaza San Martín. The “widows of the martyrs of Uchuraccay” had signed public letters against me, had appeared, always dressed from head to foot in black, at all the demonstrations of the United Left, had been unmercifully exploited by the Communist press, and, during the campaign for the second round, had been made the most of to further his campaign by Fujimori, who seated them in the first row at the Civic Center on the night of our “debate.”

What had caused Sedano’s widow to change her mind and back my candidacy? The fact that she suddenly felt revolted by the way she had been used by the real dealers in corpses. That was what she told me, in front of Patricia and her children, weeping, her voice trembling with indignation. The night of the debate at the Civic Center had been the last straw, for, in addition to demanding that they be present, they had obliged her and the other widows and relatives of the eight journalists to dress all in black so that the press would find their appearance more striking. I didn’t ask her about the names or the faces of the “they” to whom she had referred, but I could well imagine who they were. I thanked her for her gesture and her support and took advantage of the occasion to tell her that, if I had reached the situation in which I now found myself, fighting to be elected to the presidency of Peru, something that had never before been an ambition of mine, it had been, in large part, because of the tremendous experience represented in my life by that tragedy of which Jorge Sedano (one of the two journalists killed in Uchuraccay whom I had known personally) had been a victim. While investigating it, so that the truth would come out, amid all the deception and lying that surrounded what had happened in those mountain fastnesses of Ayacucho, I had been able to see from close up—to hear and touch, literally—the depths of violence and injustice in Peru, the savagery amid which so many Peruvians lived their lives, and that had convinced me of the need to do something concrete and urgent so that our unfortunate country would change direction at last.

I passed the eve of election day at home, packing suitcases, since we had tickets to fly to France on Wednesday. I had promised Bernard Pivot to appear on his program “Apostrophes”—the next to the last in a series that had appeared on French TV for fifteen years—and was determined to keep that promise whether I won or lost the election. I was quite certain that the latter would be the case and that, therefore, this trip abroad would be a long one, so I spent several hours selecting the papers and file cards I needed in order to work in the future, a long way away from Peru. I felt completely exhausted, but at the same time happy that everything was nearly over. That afternoon, Freddy, Mark Malloch Brown, and Álvaro brought me the last-minute opinion surveys, from various agencies, and they all agreed that Fujimori and I were so evenly matched that either of the two of us could win. That evening Patricia, Lucho and Roxana, and Álvaro and his girlfriend and I went out to eat at a Miraflores restaurant, and the people at the other tables were uncommonly discreet all evening long, forbearing to engage in the usual demonstrations. It was as if they too had been overcome with fatigue and were anxious for the seemingly endless campaign to be over and done with.

On the morning of June 10, I went once again with my family to vote in Barranco, very early in the morning, and then I received a mission of foreign observers come to act as witnesses of the election procedures. We had decided that this time, instead of meeting the press at a hotel as I had done after the first round, I would go, as soon as the results were in, to the headquarters of Libertad. Shortly before noon, the results of the absentee balloting in European and Asian countries began to come in, on a computer set up in my study. I had won in all of them—even in Japan—with the one exception of France, where Fujimori had obtained a slight advantage. In my room, I was watching on television the last or the next to the last of the soccer matches for the world championship, when around one in the afternoon Mark and Freddy arrived with the first projections of the vote in Peru. The surveys had been wrong again, for Fujimori was ten points ahead of me throughout the country, with the exception of Loreto. This difference had increased when the first results were announced on television, at three that afternoon, and some days later the official computation count, by the National Election Board, would certify that he had won by 23 points (57 percent to my 34 percent).

At five in the afternoon I went to the headquarters of Libertad, at whose doors a great crowd of downhearted supporters had gathered together. I conceded that I had lost, congratulated the winner, and thanked the activists of Libertad. There were people who were openly shedding tears, and as we shook hands or embraced, a number of men and women friends of Libertad made a superhuman effort to hold back their tears. When I embraced Miguel Cruchaga, I saw that he was so moved he could barely speak. From there I went to the Hotel Crillón, accompanied by Álvaro, to greet my adversary. I was surprised at how small the demonstration by his partisans was, a thin crowd of rather apathetic people, who came to life only when they recognized me, some of them shouting, “Get out of here, gringo!” I wished Fujimori luck and went back home, where, for many hours, a parade of friends and leaders of all the political forces of the Front came by. Outside in the street, young people staging a spontaneous demonstration stayed until midnight, singing refrains in chorus. They came back the next afternoon and the one after that and stayed till far into the night, even after we had turned out all the lights in the house.

But only a very small group of friends of Libertad and of Solidarity found out the hour of our departure and came to the plane in which Patricia and I were embarking for Europe, on the morning of June 13, 1990. When the plane took off and the infallible clouds of Lima blotted the city from sight and we were surrounded only by blue sky, the thought crossed my mind that this departure resembled the one in 1958, which had so clearly marked the end of one stage of my life and the beginning of another, in which literature came to occupy the central place.


A large part of this book was written in Berlin, where, thanks to the generosity of Dr. Wolf Lepenies, I spent a year as a fellow of the Wissenschaftskolleg. It was a salutary contrast with the preceding years to devote my entire time to reading, writing, conversing with my colleagues at the Kolleg, and struggling with the hieroglyphic syntax of German.

Early in the morning on April 6, 1992, I was awakened by a phone call from Lima. It was from Luis Bustamante Belaunde and Miguel Vega Alvear, who, at the second congress of Libertad, in August 1991, had taken my place as president and Miguel Cruchaga’s as secretary general. Alberto Fujimori had just announced on television, to everyone’s surprise, his decision to close Congress, the lower courts, the Tribunal for Constitutional Rights, and the National Judicial Council, to suspend the Constitution, and to govern by decrees. The armed forces immediately supported these measures.

In this way, the democratic system reestablished in Peru in 1980, after twelve years of military dictatorship, had its very foundations destroyed yet again, by someone whom, two years before, the Peruvian people had elected president and who, on July 28, 1990, on taking office, had sworn to respect the Constitution and the rule of law.

The twenty months of Fujimori’s administration were very different from what his improvisation and his conduct during the campaign had made Peruvians fearful of. Once elected, he soon divested himself of the economic advisers whom, between the first and second rounds of voting, he had recruited within the precincts of the moderate left, and sought new collaborators within the sectors of entrepreneurs and the right. The portfolio of minister of finance was entrusted to a turncoat from Popular Action—Juan Carlos Hurtado Miller—and advisers and collaborators of mine in the Democratic Front were placed in important public offices. The man who had made of the rejection of the economic shock treatment his warhorse in the electoral battle inaugurated his government with a monumental decontrol of prices, while at the same time reducing at one stroke import tariffs and public expenditures. This process would then be accelerated by Hurtado Miller’s successor, Carlos Boloña, who imposed on the country’s political economy a clearly anti-populist, pro-private enterprise, pro-foreign investment, and pro-market bias, and initiated a program of privatizations and a reduction in the state bureaucracy. All this with the approval of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, with whom the government began to negotiate the return of Peru to the international community, renegotiating the payment of its debts and their financing.

Thereupon, in Peru and in many other places it began to be said that, even though defeated at the ballot box, I had vicariously won the election—one of those famous “moral triumphs” that conceal Peruvian failures—because President Fujimori had appropriated my ideas and put my program for governing into practice. His brand-new critics from within, the APRA and the parties of the left, said as much, as did the right, and the entrepreneurial sector in particular, which, relieved by the new president’s change of direction, finally felt free of the insecurity of the Alan García era. The result was that this thesis—this fiction—in the end became the incontrovertible truth.

This has been, I believe, my real defeat, not the superficial one of June 10, because it perverts a good part of what I did and everything I tried to do for Peru. That thesis was already untrue before April 5, and is much more so since the power play whereby Fujimori deposed senators and congressmen who had a legitimacy as unquestionable as his own, and restored, with a new mask—as in those Kabuki melodramas where, beneath the masks of many characters, there is always the same actor—the authoritarian tradition, the reason behind our backwardness and barbarism.

The program for which I had sought a mandate and which the Peruvian people refused to give me proposed placing public finances on a sound footing, putting an end to inflation, and opening the Peruvian economy to the world, as part of an integral plan to dismantle the discriminatory structure of society, removing its systems of privilege, so that the millions of impoverished and marginalized Peruvians could finally accede to what Hayek calls the inseparable trinity of civilization: legality, freedom, and property.
And to do so with the acquiescence and the participation of Peruvians, not under cover of darkness and treachery, that is to say, by fortifying, instead of undermining and prostituting, in the process of economic reforms, the newborn democratic culture of the country. That project contemplated privatization not merely as a recourse for doing away with the fiscal deficit and endowing the state’s depleted coffers with funds, but as the swiftest way in which to create a mass of new shareholders and a capitalism with popular roots, to open the market and the production of wealth to those millions of Peruvians which the mercantilist system excludes and discriminates against. The present reforms have put the economy on a sounder footing, but they have failed to further justice, because they have not broadened in the slightest the opportunities of those who have less, so as to enable them to compete on equal terms with those who have more. The distance between what Fujimori’s administration has accomplished and my proposal is an abysmal one, whose measure, in economic terms, is that between a conservative and a liberal policy, and between dictatorship and democracy.

Nonetheless, having put a stop to runaway inflation and imposed order where the demagoguery of the Aprista government had created anarchy and a terrible uncertainty in the face of the future earned President Fujimori considerable popularity, kept alive by communications media that supported with a sense of relief his unexpected somersault. This enthusiasm went hand in hand with an increasing loss of prestige suffered by political parties, all of which, commingled in an irrational amalgam, began to be attacked by the new leader of the country, from the first day of his administration, as responsible for all the nation’s ills, the economic crisis, the administrative corruption, the inefficiency of institutions, the trivial and paralyzing maneuvering in Congress.

This campaign, preparatory to the self-coup of April 5, had been conceived, apparently, even before the new administration took office, by a small circle of Fujimori’s advisers, and orchestrated under the direction of a curious individual, with a dossier straight out of a novel, someone the equivalent, in the present regime, to what Esparza Zañartu had been for Odría’s dictatorship: a former army captain, a former spy, a former criminal, a former lawyer for drug dealers, and an expert in special operations named Vladimiro Montesinos. His meteoric (but secret) political career began, it would appear, between the first and second rounds of voting, when, thanks to his influence and contacts, he caused every trace of the suspicious deals involving the buying and selling of real estate of which Fujimori was accused to disappear from the public registers and judicial archives. From then on, he was to be Fujimori’s adviser and right-hand man, and his contact with the Army Intelligence Service, an agency which, long before, but above all after the abortive attempt at a constitutionalist uprising led by General Salinas Sedó, on November 11, 1992, was to become the backbone of power in Peru.

Instead of a popular rejection in defense of democracy, the April 5 coup earned broad backing, from a social spectrum that went from the most depressed strata—the lumpenproletariat and the new migrants from the mountains—to the very top, and also included the middle class, which appeared to mobilize en masse in favor of the “strongman.” According to the opinion surveys, Fujimori’s popularity increased at a dizzying rate, and reached new heights (above 90 percent) with the capture of the leader of Sendero Luminoso, Abimael Guzmán, in which many naïvely believed they saw a direct consequence of the replacement of the inefficiencies and shiftiness of democracy by the swift and efficacious methods of the recently instituted regime of “national emergency and reconstruction.” Other cut-rate intellectuals, with good syntax and this time with a liberal or conservative background—at the head of them my old supporters Enrique Chirinos Soto, Manuel d’Ornellas, and Patricio Ricketts—hastened to produce the proper ethical and juridical justifications for the coup d’état and to turn into the new journalistic mastiffs of the de facto government.

Those who condemned what had happened, in the name of democracy, soon found themselves political orphans and victims of a campaign of vituperation that was articulated by the hack journalists of the regime but had the endorsement of a substantial part of public opinion.

This was my case. Once I had left Peru, on June 13, 1990, I had decided not to participate further in professional politics, as I had between 1987 and 1990, and to abstain from criticizing the new government. I held to that, with the one exception of the brief speech I gave, on a lightning trip to Lima, in August 1991, to turn the presidency of Libertad over to Lucho Bustamante. But after April 5, 1992. I felt myself obliged, once again, plucking up my courage so as to overcome the visceral disgust that political action had left in my memory, to condemn, in articles and interviews, what seemed to me to be a tragedy for Peru: the disappearance of legality and the return of the era of strongmen, of governments whose legitimacy is founded on military force and public opinion surveys. Consistent with what, during the campaign, I had said would be the policy of my administration toward any dictatorship or coup d’état in Latin America, I asked the democratic countries and international organizations to penalize the de facto government by applying diplomatic and economic sanctions—as had been done in the case of Haiti, when the army overthrew the legal government—in order, in this way, to aid Peruvian democrats and discourage potential planners of coups d’état in other Latin American countries which (as has already been seen in Venezuela) might feel encouraged to follow Fujimori’s example.

This position has, naturally, been the object of strident recriminations in Peru, and not only by the regime, the traitorous military leaders, and the journalists in their hire but also by many well-intentioned citizens, among them any number of former allies of the Democratic Front, to whom seeking economic sanctions against the regime appears to them to be an act of treason against Peru. They find themselves unable to accept the clearest lesson of our history: that a dictatorship, no matter what form it adopts, is always the worst of evils and must be fought by every available means, for the shorter the time that it remains in power the less damage and suffering will be inflicted on the country. Even in circles and persons I thought would be the least inclined to act by way of mere conditioned reflexes, I perceive a shocked stupefaction at what seems to them to be my lack of patriotism, an attitude dictated not by convictions and principles but by the bitterness of having suffered a defeat.

This is not something that I lose sleep over. And perhaps being so unpopular will enable me in the future to dedicate all my time and energy to writing, something at which—I touch wood—I trust that I am less inept than I am at undesirable (yet indispensable) political action.

My last reflection, in this book that has been difficult to write, is not optimistic. I do not share the broad consensus that appears to exist among Peruvians, that through the two electoral processes held in Peru after April 5—one for a Constituent Congress and one for a new role for town councils—legality has been reestablished and the government has recovered its democratic credentials. On the contrary, I think that these measures have served, rather, to make Peru go backward politically and that, with the blessing of the Organization of American States and many Western foreign offices, there has been restored in the country, with just a slight touch of makeup, the very old authoritarian tradition: that of caudillos, that of military power over civilian society, that of force and the intrigues of a coterie over institutions and the law.

Since April 5, 1992, an era of confusion and of notable paradoxes has begun in Peru, one that is very instructive as regards the unpredictability of history, its slippery nature and its surprising zigzags. A new antistate and anticollectivist mentality has spread in vast sectors, infecting many who, in 1987, courageously fought for the nationalization of the financial system and now enthusiastically support privatizations and the opening up of the economy. But how can one not deplore that this advance is weighed down by a simultaneous popular repudiation of political parties, of institutions, of the system of representative government and its autonomous powers that supervise and balance each other, and worse still, by the enthusiasm of vast sectors for authoritarianism and the providential caudillo? What purpose is served by the salutary reaction of the citizenry against the moth-eaten traditional political parties, if it tolerates the enthronement of that aggressive lack of culture that goes by the name of
culture, that is to say a contempt for ideas and morality and its replacement by shoddiness, vulgarity, con games, cynicism, jargon, and gibberish, which, to judge by the municipal elections of January 1993, appear to be the attributes most appreciated by the “new Peru”?

The support for the regime is based on a tissue of contradictions. The entrepreneurial sector and the right hail in President Fujimori the Pinochet that they were secretly yearning for, the military officers nostalgic for barracks coups have him as their transitory straw man, while the most depressed and frustrated sectors, which racist and anti-establishment demagoguery has penetrated, feel that their phobias and complexes have somehow been explained, through Fujimori’s deliberate insults of the “corrupt” politicians and “homosexual” diplomats, and through a crudeness and vulgarity that gives these sectors the illusion that it is, at last, “the people” who govern.

The rhapsodies of the regime—grouped, above all, on the newspaper
and the TV channels—speak of a new stage in the history of Peru, of a social renewal, of the end of political parties made up of bureaucratized and encysted hierarchies, blind and deaf to the “real country,” and of the refreshing leading role being played in civic life by the people, who now communicate directly with the leader, without the distorting mediation of the corrupt political class. Isn’t this the old refrain, the eternal monotonous singsong of all the antidemocratic currents of modern history? In Peru, wasn’t it the argument of General Sánchez Cerro, the caudillo who, like Fujimori, also captured the fervor of “decent people” and “the plebs”? Wasn’t it the argument of General Odría, who suppressed political parties so that there would be an authentic democracy? And is it any different from the ideological justification of General Velasco, who wanted to replace the rotten “partidocracy” with a participatory society, freed from that trash, the politicians? There is nothing new under the sun, except, perhaps, the fact that the reborn authoritarian harangue is now closer to fascism than to Communism, and can count on more ears and hearts than the old dictatorships. Is this something that should make us rejoice, or instead feel terrified as we face the future?

BOOK: A Fish in the Water: A Memoir
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