Decline of The West
by George Szamuely

May 18, 2000

Holy Toledo: The Canonization of Alejandro Toledo

Here we go again. The US Government is again deciding the elections of another country. The Clinton Administration has come to the conclusion that President Alberto Fujimori of Peru is no longer "acceptable" as the leader of his country. Starting some months ago Washington launched a campaign to make sure that a Fujimori election victory would be seen as illegitimate. We have seen the process many times before. "Independent" election monitors, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and foreign diplomats pour into a country. They spend their time prattling endlessly to journalists – always "off the record," of course. They criticize every aspect of the coming election. Meanwhile, the US Government, the European Union, the Organization of American States issue threats about dire consequences if "flaws" are not rectified immediately. Military cooperation will cease, sanctions will be imposed, and loans withheld. The voters see the writing on the wall. They understand that the "flaws" are not the problem. Their democratic preferences are. They have to vote for the "correct" candidate.

The "correct" candidate – or the Clinton Administration’s man – in Peru is Alejandro Toledo. He has served in the Peace Corps, has a PhD from Stanford, a Belgian wife, teaches at a business school and has worked at the World Bank. Fujimori, on the other hand, has fallen out of favor in Washington. He does not follow orders. According to a Business Week Fujimori has turned out to be a disappointment. Despite his "overwhelming victory in the 1995 poll, the much-predicted second wind never materialized. Privatization income, for instance, fell to a mere $300 million in 1999. That was down from a peak of $2.6 billion in 1994….What’s more, the President has backtracked on plans to auction off remaining state assets. Playing up to voters’ concerns that privatization of state-run utilities will result in tariff hikes, he has ruled out the sale of Lima’s water company, Sedapal, and the country’s largest electricity generating plant, Mantaro." Clearly Alberto is not a follower of Washington’s "market democracy" ideology. The "international community" has a long track record of backing the wrong horse in Peru. Back in 1990 Washington supported the candidacy of the famous Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa. In 1995, Washington backed former UN Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuelhar. Fujimori easily trounced both of them.

In April Fujimori trounced Toledo, though you would never have gathered that from the hysterical media coverage. He won 49.87 percent of the vote; Toledo won 40.24 percent. In America we call a result like that a "landslide." Fujimori seemed to be heading for a clear first round victory. Fraud, cried Toledo and his supporters and threatened civil unrest. The US Government supported them. According to the Washington Post, it "started with comments from Ambassador John Hamilton here in Lima, moved on to warnings from the State Department and the White House and culminated in a congressional resolution threatening sanctions." According to Time’s Latin America bureau chief Tim McGirk: "The fact that it supposedly took over 24 hours to tally the last 7 percent of the vote suggests that what was actually happening was that Fujimori was coming under a barrage of criticism and warnings of dire consequences if he claimed a first-round victory." White House spokesman Joe Lockhart sounded menacing: "We expect there will be a run-off, and I think serious questions will be raised if the vote count indicated something otherwise….It’s very, very important as far as the legitimacy of these elections that the international community and the people of Peru have faith in the process." In other words, there will be a second round irrespective of what the actual election results were. The United States decides whether elections are legitimate or not. The United States decides if the people of Peru should "have faith in the process.

Facing overwhelming pressure, Fujimori was left with little choice but to announce that he had indeed fallen short of an outright victory. But what was the evidence for fraud? According to the Washington Post, the "three days of delay in announcing ballot tallies triggered the suspicions of US and other international observers. These were sharpened by computer failures and the fact that official results, announced little by little, seemed to give Fujimori more votes than indicated by five independent ballot samples, including one conducted by the Organization of American States." This is pretty slender stuff. Eduardo Stein of the OAS has stated that he "did not have evidence that the vote count on election day was adulterated." Not to worry though, he hastened to reassure us, "fraudulent activity could not be completely ruled out."

According to David Scott Palmer, who was a member of the OAS observer mission to Peru in April: "The vote itself was free and fair. There were many challenges and difficulties, from polling places opening up to two hours late, to political propaganda too close to polling places, to a few cut ballots (4 in all), to some defaced ballots (22 in all)….But people could and did vote massively, without interference or systematic partisan influence, and their votes were duly recorded, placed into sealed transparent envelopes, and distributed to the Office of Electoral Processing, the Armed Forces, the National Electoral Tribunal, and every political party representative present at each table (up to 10, though in the 300 or so that I personally visited, there were never more than five, and as few as one)….In my judgment, any statement that the vote itself was fraudulent is irresponsible. The problem, as I view it, is that politics in Peru has become very polarized over recent weeks, with the media on both sides (opposition and official) making all sorts of unwarranted extrapolations. Politicians themselves, including Toledo, have also made some statements about the vote and the voting process that in my judgment are not warranted on the basis of what actually happened."

The US Government seized on a bogus "fraud" issue to interfere in the crudest way imaginable in the democratic process of another country. Congress was as bad as the Administration. The House of Representatives passed a resolution, approved by the Senate, warning that if the election was considered unfair by international observers, the United States would "review and modify as appropriate its political, economic and military relations with Peru." Clinton subsequently signed this resolution into law. Any election can be dismissed as "unfair." One might call a US Presidential election "unfair" when only half of those eligible to vote bother to do so. It might also be thought "unfair" that third party candidates are not permitted to take part in Presidential debates. Or that media access depends on having vast resources at one’s disposal, which in turn depends on kowtowing to special interests. And so on.

It is becoming increasingly clear that there is very little the Fujimori Government can to placate its critics. They are not interested in the process. They just want him gone. The OAS election observation mission is now calling on Fujimori to reconsider the date for the second round of the presidential election. The election is scheduled for May 28. According to Eduardo Stein that does not leave enough time for reforms. The other day, a New York Times story led with the following piece of editorializing: "Two weeks before the final round of Peru’s presidential election, international observers say they again have serious concerns that President Alberto K. Fujimori may be preparing to steal enough votes to ensure he wins a third term. A month ago Peru came close to turmoil as opposition candidates and election monitors accused the government of widespread vote tampering after a campaign marred by smear tactics and dirty tricks. A crisis was averted only when electoral authorities announced that Mr. Fujimori had fallen just short of an outright first-round victory." In typical Times fashion, assertion follows assertion, each presented as a self-evident matter of fact. There is the grating assumption about the purported neutrality of "international observers" – who are usually either in the pay of, or working for, other governments. How can one know ahead of time that someone "may be preparing to steal enough votes to ensure he wins a third term"? As for "smear tactics and dirty tricks," such things, of course, are unheard of in the United States.

The story goes on: "International election observers, however, say privately that they believe the government is manipulating them by agreeing to make changes that are more cosmetic than real….A report last week by the Atlanta-based Carter Center and the nonprofit National Democratic Institute…said that unless there were ‘immediate and comprehensive improvements’ in the administrative and technical procedures of the runoff, ‘Peru’s election process will ultimately fail to meet minimal international standards for democratic elections.’" First of all, the National Democratic Institute, funded as it is by the US Government, is in no sense a disinterested observer. Second, whatever the Peru Government does it is never enough. Peruvians are being served notice that if they vote the wrong way, the election will be declared a fraud.

The US State Department is now on the Government of Peru to "remedy remaining deficiencies." It too is concerned about "the limited time remaining to effectively remedy these conditions." According to the New York Times, "‘If Fujimori wins, there still will be a crisis of credibility’, said Rafael Roncagliolo, director of Transparencia, a Peruvian election monitoring group largely financed by the Clinton administration." Here we have a "Peruvian election monitoring group" financed by the US Government and openly declaring that a Fujimori election victory would have no "credibility." Credibility with whom? Obviously with the only people that count: the US Government and its paid supporters in Peru. The people of Peru can take a hike. Alejandro Toledo has already promised to re-examine the Lori Berenson case. He knows which audience he needs to win over. Let us hope that the people of Peru will refuse to be bullied into voting for a candidate whose true allegiance is to Washington.

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