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Saturday, Sept. 27, 2003
Peruvians divided over Fujimori
Expats cite political, racial concerns in extradition debate
OSAKA -- With Japan facing mounting international pressure to extradite disgraced former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori, the nation's Peruvian community is divided on the matter.
Having been president of Peru since 1990, Fujimori fled to Japan in November 2000 and was subsequently removed from office by Peru's Congress, which had declared him morally unfit to lead the nation.
In September 2001, Peru's Supreme Court charged him with the forced disappearance and murder of nine students and a professor at La Cantuta University in 1992, as well as the murder of 15 people in Lima in 1991. The crimes were believed carried out by death squads on Fujimori's orders. The court also ordered him placed in detention.
Interpol issued a warrant for his arrest earlier this year, and in late July, the Peruvian government formally asked Tokyo to turn him over via its embassy in Japan.
But Japan claims that, as it does not have an extradition treaty with Peru, it cannot expel Fujimori, who was granted Japanese citizenship after he arrived. Fujimori maintains he is innocent.
"Over 50 countries have said they would detain Fujimori if he stepped on their soil," said Peruvian human rights activist Francisco Soberon, who visited Japan last week to drum up support for Fujimori's extradition.
"Japan is protecting an internationally wanted fugitive."
Human rights groups in Japan and Peru argue that Japan, as a signatory to the United Nations Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhumane or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, must extradite anyone found in its jurisdiction who is alleged to have committed torture, or else have its own judicial authorities try the case.
But Peruvians here are split over whether extradition is a good idea.
"I don't think there is any question that Fujimori is a criminal, and that he should be returned to Peru to stand trail for the murder and disappearance of Peruvians while he was president," said Luis Ortiz, a Peruvian in Osaka.
Others feel Fujimori is the victim of a witch hunt.
"I support Fujimori, because I think the charges against him are politically motivated by his enemies back in Peru," said Richard Bellacorta, a Peruvian who has lived in the city of Fukuoka for six years and is active in the local Peruvian community.
And then there are those who see the issue as one that has less to do with politics than it does with race.
"A lot of Japanese-Peruvians I know feel it is unlikely Fujimori would be in this much trouble if his parents had not been Japanese," a second-generation Japanese-Peruvian in Nagoya said.
The man would only identify himself as Kimura, stating that the issue was "too sensitive to discuss" with his friends.
But Bellacorta, Kimura and Ortiz all agree that opinions on Fujimori tend to vary depending on who is doing the talking.
"Older Peruvians who came to Japan before Fujimori became president in 1990 (were able to follow events) and seem to be far more against him than younger Peruvians, who do not understand what went on during the Fujimori years," Bellacorta said.
Activist Soberon said his conversations with Peruvians in Japan, as well as with Japanese-Peruvians in Peru, validate Bellacorta's assessment.
Also, when asked about a recent poll in Peru that indicated Fujimori is still very popular, he said the former president has always enjoyed a certain degree of support.
"There are certain groups in Peru who did very well economically under Fujimori, and they obviously continue to support him," he said. "In Japan, Fujimori enjoys the support and protection of powerful rightwing politicians and the mainstream media, and because neither Japanese nor younger Peruvians in Japan have really been told about Fujimori's crimes, they think he's the victim."
John Guarraro, another Peruvian who has lived in Fukuoka for more than a decade and who supports Fujimori's extradition, said this lack of information effectively represents a wall between Peruvians and Japanese on the Fujimori issue.
"We Peruvians in Japan discuss among ourselves whether Fujimori should be sent back, and whether his economic policies were good," he said. "But we find it difficult to discuss these things with our Japanese friends."