If the end justifies the means, it would hard to deny that the legacy of Alberto Fujimori, the disgraced former President of Peru, is largely triumphant. When the political unknown first came to power in 1990 on a populist campaign dubbed "the Fujimori Tsunami," Peru was in a state of crisis, crippled on all fronts by staggering hyperinflation, a vigorous underground drug trade, and the terrorist activities of Shining Path and the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA). Under Fujimori's regime—and, after the "self-coup" in 1992, "regime" is the right word—these problems were more or less contained by his iron-fisted rule. Yet his success exacted a toll on democracy for which security couldn't compensate, and Fujimori was eventually driven out of office in 2000 on a wave of humiliating charges of corruption and abuse of power. Exiled to Japan, where he enjoys non-extradition privileges (in spite of Peru's attempts to end them) he's currently wanted by Interpol on corruption, kidnapping, and murder charges.
Centered around interviews with the fallen dictator, Ellen Perry's incisive documentary The Fall Of Fujimori joins the recent State Of Fear in suggesting that Peru's War On Terror holds some lessons that apply to America's current one. Democracies rely on the protection of civil liberties and a balance between their elective branches, but when these institutions are eroded in the name of security, it opens up opportunities for unchecked abuses at the executive level. In Fujimori's case, that meant a 1992 coup that shut down the country's legislative and judicial wings, the creation of death squads ordered to take out political opponents as well as terrorist leaders, subhuman prison conditions, and the wholesale bribing of public and media officials.
Perry's interviews with Fujimori find him confident and unrepentant, ducking the severest accusations by shifting the blame entirely to Vladimiro Montesinos, the de facto head of Peru's National Intelligence Service and the President's official enforcer. Perry never quite succeeds in pinning down the wily Fujimori, but the facts speak just fine for themselves: There's little chance that a leader so powerful could be oblivious to the directives of his right-hand man. Nevertheless, he maintained popular support until his administration unraveled in 2000, including a whopping 80 percent approval from the public for the coup, which goes to show how much freedom people are willing to sacrifice for order. Fujimori's plans to return to Peru for the 2006 presidential election may sound like the height of self-delusion, but at a time when an American President can brazenly defend an illegal wiretapping program, maybe he has a chance.