Today's date:
Winter 2001

Trust and Transition

Alvaro VARGAS LLOSA, the London correspondent for ABC Madrid, was active in the presidential campaign of the novelist Mario Vargas Llosa against Alberto Fujimori and more recently in protests against Fujimori's election earlier this year.
Lima, Peru-Recently I was asked to give testimony before the prosecutor in charge of one of the many criminal or civil actions that have been brought against Vladimiro Montesinos, the man who, together with Fujimori, governed Peru like a '40s Banana Republic during the last ten years.

This particular case was brought against Mr. Vladimiro Montesinos, Fernando Dianderas and Juan Carlos Mejía (the other two being key men in the system of repression) by a group a organizers of the Marcha De Los Cuatro Suyos (The March of the Four Suyos), a massive mobilization of Peruvians in the thick of Fujimori's dictatorship that was infiltrated by government agents in order to cause death and destruction in July of last year.

I was one of the organizers accused of the violence that, in the end, was revealed to have emanated entirely from the government secret services. After the march, which proved to be the beginning of the end for Montesinos and Fujimori, a few of us had to go underground, emerging a couple of days later in order to face what we thought would be jail, as well as to initiate a criminal action against the cited three, in the hope that one day, many years hence, a decent prosecutor could take the gangsters who have ruled Peru to a respectable court of justice.

A few months later, there I was, the dictatorship having partially collapsed, being asked to bear testimony before the prosecutor, totally unsure as to whether the woman in charge was someone with the will and authority to do justice or simply a Montesinos stooge asking for a statement in order to then open a case against me.
Facing that dilemma, I realized two vary important things about transition from democracy to dictatorship that I am sure many others, in Eastern Europe, Chile or Indonesia, also discovered, in their own way, through their own personal experience, when it was their time to go from an "ancien régime" to a free society.

The first is that no institution can be built on anything other than trust in order for it to function, and that the degree of trust that a society gains during a transition is a determining factor in the success or failure of that transition.

The second is that the end of a dictatorship is never the end of the factors that produced that dictatorship or of the fight for liberty. In having to make a decision about legitimizing, with my presence, the nascent institution that was wanting to be-or appear to be-a public prosecution service, I had to measure how much trust I was prepared to give to that democracy for which I, with a million others, took to the streets between April of 2000, after the fraud that stole an election whose real winner had been Alejandro Toledo, and the end of the year, with the collapse of the Fujimori regime.

It was clear to me that I was, as a citizen, with real power in my hands, if I agreed to play the game-that is to bear testimony, making a huge leap of faith, I would be contributing to the origin of an institution that might one day be respected.
That is no small thing. The social transformation of Peru since the beginning of massive rural migration to the cities, which has had economic dimensions such as the black economy, religious ones such as evangelical cults proliferating in the shanty towns, and cultural ones, such as "chicha music," has had a decisive political expression in the rejection of political parties and institutions.

That in itself is what produced Fujimori's dictatorship. If we had had stronger institutions, he would not have been able to preside over a coup d'Etat in 1992.
In accepting or rejecting the occasion to contribute as a citizen to a nascent institution, I was also making a choice between a society full of distrust and rejection of institutions, and one where institutions begin to be rebuilt on the citizens' trust.

The second dilemma, of course, is more complicated, because it has to do not only with the fact that important aspects of the old régime are in place, sometime visible sometimes invisible, but also with the fact that the authors of that regime are still alive and kicking.

Fujimori uses Japan as a base from which to wage his personal war of blackmail and treason with his great "hero" and spymaster of yesterday, Vladimiro Montesinos. Montesinos himself, no lesser a "mafioso," hiding somewhere in Peru, is still controlling vast sectors of the prosecution and justice systems, Parliament and, at low levels, the army.

Like every society in transition, we are facing the question of how much punishment is legitimate or how much is simply revenge, of how much forgiveness and reconciliation it is morally right to put before justice for the victims.
It seems you never completely beat dictatorship, you never completely win freedom and justice. We will have to decide, in the immediate future, whether we do away with the last vestiges of the old regime, in the elections that will take place in April, not only by flattening the representatives of that regime at the polls, but also by choosing the president who will preside over a real break with the past.

It was, unprecedentedly, the citizens-civil society, not the politicians or a faction of the military-that brought down the dictatorship, a new type of dictatorship, sophisticated and cunning, where nothing appears to be what it is, a sort of 21st century dictatorship one might liken to the Perricholi, that lovely lady from Lima who covered her face with a veil so that Limeños could only imagine what was behind.

It will now also be the task of Peruvian citizens to build, through active participation, almost every institution from scratch, including the political parties.

In the end, I decided to testify. As I came out I asked all Peruvians with small or big information to be trustful and come forward.

It takes more courage sometimes to be a citizen during transition or democracy than to face tanks and police thugs in the streets. But the only way not to ever have to face tanks and police thugs in the streets again, and employ so much energy against the forces of evil in human form, is to have the courage, this once, to trust and help rebuild institutions for democracy in countries ravaged by dictatorship.

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