LIMA, Peru, July 25 -- Last week they set off in boats from the Amazon jungle. Monday they hopped buses out of the Andean mountains. Wednesday they start marching on the capital.
An estimated 200,000 to 300,000 Peruvians are descending on Lima from the "Four Corners of the Incan Empire" in response to former presidential candidate Alejandro Toledo's call of protest against Alberto Fujimori's third inauguration as president.
Toledo, who dropped from the May 28 runoff election against Fujimori after claiming the contest was rigged, dubbed the three-day protest "The March of the Cuatro Suyos" in reference to the four far-reaching regions of the Incan Empire.
"This country is very angry, this country is very divided," Toledo said Tuesday. He reiterated his claim to bring down the Fujimori regime within the year. When pressed on how he would continue past this week's "Cuatro Suyos" march, Toledo said he would unveil a "shadow Cabinet" of prominent Peruvian economists and other professionals after the march. Their mission, he said, would be to keep an independent eye on how the Fujimori government complies with its claims to reform democracy.
Fear that the protests could turn violent was the subject of conversations in the capital. The Peruvian government has called in an extra 8,000 police from the countryside to bolster a local force of 32,000. They planned to cordon massive sections of the historic downtown to ensure that Fujimori's inauguration -- which falls on the nation's 179th Independence Day and his 62nd birthday -- will not be disrupted. Government resistance to the march surfaced in Peruvian news reports of police stockpiling tear gas and stopping buses headed to Lima citing them for driving with their paperwork out of order.
In preparation for the protests, students fashioned crude gas masks out of 2-liter plastic soda bottles, packaging foam and vinegar.
Fujimori's inauguration and the planned protest to precede it this week mark another art of the controversy that has followed his victory in the problematic presidential elections of April and May. Polls released last week by the Peruvian polling firm APOYO said that while 42 percent of the 500 Limenos asked didn't approve of the protest march, compared to 36 percent for it; they support democratic reforms proposed by the Organization of American States. Poll data also showed that core support for Mr. Fujimori's shrunk to 17 percent compared to a core opposition support of 35 percent.
Fujimori fell just shy of the 50 percent needed for an outright victory in the April 9 first-round election. Fujimori's electoral office took 20 days to report a final tally that daily crept in his favor and ended up 1.4 million votes in excess of the total number of voters. Domestic and international observers accused the Fujimori regime of orchestrating a smear campaign against rivals in the government-influenced tabloid press.
International observers and Toledo withdrew from participating just days before the May 28 runoff election claiming continued dirty tricks and a faulty governmental vote-counting software system. Fujimori won the contest with scratched-out, blank and votes for Toledo, whose name remained on the ballot, accounting for about half of the votes cast.
Since Fujimori's victory, he moved forward with his third 5-year term, the international community has declined to oppose his government and the Toledo-led opposition has slowly continued toward Wednesday's protest.
Fujimori, the son of poor Japanese immigrants, was an unknown academic from an agrarian university when he defeated the famed Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa in the 1990 presidential election. Fujimori was credited with crushing the Maoist terrorism that brought Peru to its knees in the 1980s and early 1990s and salvaged its train-wrecked economy. But in what has been declared by some political scientists as the new mode of South American strongmanship, Fujimori pushed his agenda through authoritative means. He briefly closed congress in 1992 and his party has since controlled it. Fujimori also controls the judicial system, which has re-interpreted the constitution to allow him to seek a second and third presidency.
Observers additionally credited the National Intelligence Service, led by de-facto spy chief and behind-the-scenes presidential adviser Vladimiro Montesinos, with completing Fujimori's firm grip on power. Since the May 28 victory, Fujimori continued with normal day-to-day governance and his trademark public works inspections in the Peruvian interior. In June, the Armed Forces and National Police swore him in early as commander in chief. "The order, security and tranquility (of Peru) will not be interrupted by a new period of anarchy and disorder," Fujimori asserted at the event.
And although Fujimori's party initially lost its majority in congress during the April election, candidates elected on opposition tickets have been trickling over to his party. Opposition candidates claimed in the Peruvian press that the Fujimori forces have offered an additional $10,000 a month during the 5-year term to cross over.
The OAS had a special meeting in early June to address the state of Peruvian democracy. Led by strong Latin American opposition to intervention, the OAS instead sent high-level team led by Secretary -General Csar Gaviria and Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy.
The team proposed a list of 29 reforms including returning independence to the judicial system, improving the state of human rights, restoring press freedoms, revamping the electoral process and restructuring power within the intelligence service and the armed forces. This month the OAS named Dominican Republican Eduardo Latorre as its permanent representative in Lima. Latorre is to move to Peru next month and begin monitoring Fujimori's pledge to re-democratize.
A Carter Center-National Democratic Institute team returned to Peru for post-election observation this month. Although snubbed by the Fujimori government, team members met with the opposition and numerous civic groups before issuing a damning initial statement that called for a shortening of Fujimori's term and new elections since "the election process failed dramatically to meet minimum international standards."
Although a majority of Latin American nations declined to confront Fujimori's victory through the OAS, the majority of their presidents are declining to attend this week's inauguration. Nine Latin American leaders attended the event in 1995, while only two have opted to show this year. The OAS is sending its Assistant Secretary-General for the vacationing Gaviria.
And the United States -- seen by some as the final hammer hanging in the wings -- announced Monday it would send Ambassador John Hamilton to the event and not oppose the Fujimori government.
Protests against Mr. Fujimori -- including a weekly ritual in which Peruvians have symbolically washed Peruvian flags in front of the presidential palace -- have continued in Lima since the elections. The Carter Center-NDI, the British Parliament and the Mexican government of Mexico's recently elected Vincente Fox, among others, have pledged to send observers to the "Cuatro Suyos" march.NEWLN: