The Fall of Fujimori

January, 2006, Documentary

Directed by:Ellen Perry


The Fall of Fujimori

For those experiencing increasing levels of unease about the direction in which the Bush Administration is taking America, there's a new documentary that provides a beautifully wrought note of warning. No, it's not the ballyhooed, Michael Moore look-alike "Why We Fight", but rather this devastatingly observant portrait of Peru's once (and future?) president, Alberto Fujimori, who first ran, then ruled that country during the last decade of the 20th century. As a cautionary tale about the price a nation pays when it surrenders its civil liberties, "Fall" has no peer.

Of Japanese descent, Fujimori is a native-born former Peruvian university professor who left academia to run for political office during the tumultuous years when a terrorist group known as The Shining Path brought violent revolution to Peru.  The citizens of his country, long grown accustomed to democratic government, but increasingly weary of the bloodshed, (which ultimately claimed more than 10 times the number of victims as did the 9/11 attacks here in the U.S.) overwhelmingly elected him. Fujimori took office in 1990 on a promise that he would do whatever it took to rid the country of the violence that had seized it. In 1992, he dissolved Peru's elected national congress and ruled as a virtual dictator, finally bringing the terrorist uprising to a successful conclusion by capturing the head of The Shingling Path, (who also turned out to be a university professor.) 

With the terrorist crisis behind him, Fujimori decided to re-write the constitution, giving himself greatly expanded powers which he then employed through a secret arrangement with an official in Peru's secret police who proceeded to corrupt members of the legislature and judiciary with secretly videotaped bribes and payoffs. When this blatant abuse of power was finally exposed, Fujimori fled the country and spent the first five years of this decade living in Japan, beyond the reach of Peruvian authorities. He allowed documentarian Ellen Perry to interview him extensively there and she's combined that material with archival newsreel footage of the tumultuous events that occurred during his term of office.  

Like Enron's Kenneth Lay, Fujimori comes across as an affable if not downright avuncular chief executive, who finds not a hint of error or evil in his despotism. Roaring around the country in a flack jacket more suitable for a samurai, he clearly relishes the image of himself as "the man in charge". Of course, Fujimori claims complete ignorance about his subordinate's corrupt activities and insists that, having voluntarily given up his office, he should be allowed to reclaim it in Peru's upcoming presidential election. (He's currently in jail in Chile, awaiting extradition for his role in the sorry mess he left behind.) His oblivious reaction to the charges filed against him would make this a tale of banana-republic politics were in not for the dreadful cost to Peru's civil and legal institutions.

In 83 crisply delivered minutes, Perry provides a chillingly detailed portrait of egomania that for 10 long years was married to near-total political power. Convinced of his own personal innocence and certain that he is still just what Peru needs in a leader, Fujimori convicts himself out of his own mouth. It's hard not to draw comparisons with a certain former baseball team owner from west Texas.

This is one cautionary tale that deserves a much wider audience than it's likely to get. Whatever your politics, see it, even if that means waiting a few months for its DVD release.  

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