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Tuesday, May 18, 1999

Half a biography of Fujimori

Staff writer
THE PRESIDENT WHO DARED TO DREAM: Alberto Fujimori of Peru, by Rei Kimura. Worcester, U.K.: Eyelevel Books, 184 pp., $14.90 (paper).

Peru and Japan just celebrated the 100th anniversary of the first Japanese immigrants' arrival in Peru on April 3, 1899. President Alberto Fujimori, himself the son of Japanese immigrants who landed in the 1930s, is one of the most successful presidents in Peru's history, having saved the country from terrorist insurgency and hyperinflation in the early 1990s. These factors point to a unique relationship linking Japan and Peru.

Here is a compact, self-published biography of Fujimori celebrating his accomplishments and Japanese ancestry. Rei Kimura describes how Fujimori's family dealt with poverty and racial prejudice in the 1940s along with the upheaval of World War II.

By outlining the steps in the man's career, Kimura succeeds in explaining how his personal triumph was possible against all odds.

Despite being studious and soft-spoken, Fujimori is also a stubborn and fearless politician, as seen most dramatically in 1997 when he ordered a military assault on the Japanese ambassador's residence in Lima to rescue 72 hostages held by Tupac Amaru rebels.

An acknowledged hero, Fujimori does have his flaws, however. In particular, his dictatorial style has led to doubts about his commitment to democracy. Recently the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists labeled Fujimori one of the 10 world leaders who most violates press freedoms. Peru's intelligence services have been linked to human-rights abuses, torture and campaigns to intimidate Fujimori's political opponents.

Thus, Fujimori is an intriguingly complex person. Unfortunately, Kimura makes no attempt to explore the man's many fascinating contradictions and instead focuses only on his good side. She seems to be making a valiant attempt to put Fujimori in line for sainthood, in fact, by piling on page after page of praise.

Readers will naturally become suspicious of Kimura's shameless adulation: "Alberto was undoubtedly the best child in the family. Thoughtful and responsible, he seemed always to be absorbed in his own world of studying and planning for the future." At the end of the book she bluntly states, "No one can deny Alberto Fujimori his designation as the 'greatest Latin American leader of the century.' "

In places, Kimura does mention some of the criticisms that have been leveled against Fujimori, but she quickly brushes them all aside with the excuse that firm measures have been necessary to remedy Peru's desperate situation.

The scheduled end of Fujimori's presidency in 2000 is drawing near. Instead of quitting while he is ahead, however, Fujimori is apparently trying to reinterpret the Peruvian Constitution to wangle a third term for himself. Kimura wholeheartedly supports this legally doubtful juggling.

In places, this book reads just like a re-election campaign brochure: "There are definite advantages to electing Fujimori to a third term as president. It will ensure a continuity of his highly successful policies and reforms, and as the success story of Chile has shown, continuity can do more good than harm in a country like Peru where economic, social and political recovery are still too new and fragile to be disrupted."

Thus, for readers who already admire Fujimori, this book can provide an enthusiastic pep-rally experience. For critical thinking about the Peruvian president, it is necessary to look elsewhere.

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