Thursday, January 31, 2013

Too Sick for Imprisonment? Video of Fujimori Challenges Calls for Presidential Pardon

The emergence of new footage of Peruvian ex-president Alberto Fujimori, who is serving a 25-year prison sentence for authorizing death squad killings during his 1990-2000 rule, has dealt a major blow to the movement to pardon the former leader on humanitarian grounds.  The video, which was obtained by La Republica and released yesterday, was recorded in July 2012 and seems to show Fujimori in good health.

In the video, the ex-president speaks with prison officials about a whitefly infestation in the garden he tends to in the facility. He appears to be in good spirits, and is seen laughing and chatting comfortably with his prison guards. At one point Fujimori orders them to buy a liter of insecticide to combat the pests.

The footage clashes with the image of Fujimori presented by members of his family and his legal team, which has filed a formal appeal asking President Ollanta Humala for his release on health grounds. The former leader has undergone three surgeries for tongue cancer since he was jailed in 2007, and his relatives say that he suffers from depression and low blood pressure. In October pictures emerged of the ex-president lying in bed, looking pale and sickly, and served to boost the case for his pardon.

Humala, for his part, has maintained that the question of pardoning Fujimori on humanitarian grounds is a purely legal issue, and a special commission has been tasked with investigating the merit of Fujimori’s request. Still, the fact that polls have shown that some 70 percent of the Peruvian public supports a pardon no doubt influences his position on the matter.

On the other hand, pardoning Fujimori may be a political liability for Humala. Considering how much support he has lost from his base on the left (and among members of his own party in Congress) for embracing the mining industry, he may not be able to afford the hit to his leftist credentials that a pardon for the former leader would bring. And now that clear reason to doubt reports of Fujimori’s ill health has emerged, the backlash would be even stronger.

News Briefs
  • As talks between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) begin again today in Havana after a one-week break, Semana reports that the two parties are clashing over the rebel group’s recent capture of two policemen, and the FARC’s announcement that it reserves the right to detain what it refers to as “prisoners of war.” Colombia’s head negotiator, Humberto de la Calle, characterized the detention of the two police officers as reason to question the FARC’s willingness to end the conflict, and made it clear that the government views the incident as a kidnapping.
  • After controversially voting last week not to fine Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s PRI party over allegations that it bought votes during last year’s presidential election, Mexico’s electoral commission met yesterday to discuss whether to fine the leftist alliance that backed candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador for financial irregularities in its campaign. Milenio reports that the while commission has signaled that it is in favor of fining Lopez Obrador’s progressive coalition, it voted yesterday to postpone making a final decision on the matter.
  • Taking a break from its coverage of President Hugo Chavez’s battle with cancer, the Associated Press looks at what may be a much more pressing issue for Venezuelans: the worst food shortages the country has seen in years. The AP reports that shortages have become so problematic that some bakeries are simply unable to make bread due to a lack of wheat flour.
  • Bolivia’s El Deber reports that diplomatic tensions between Bolivia and Chile have been heightened after the arrest of three Bolivian soldiers in Chile who allegedly crossed the border without authorization. Following the arrest, the two countries’ governments have traded barbs on security policy and their long-running border dispute.
  • An Argentine court yesterday dismissed an appeal by oil giant Chevron, clearing the way for the company’s assets to be seized in order to pay damages to plaintiffs in Ecuador, where Chevron has been convicted of polluting the southern Lago Agrio region from 1964 to 1992, affecting 30,000 inhabitants.
  • On Tuesday, the deputy mayor of the Honduran port city of La Ceiba was assassinated by unknown gunmen, according to La Prensa. HRN Radio reports that at least six sitting mayors, deputy mayors and mayoral candidates have been killed in the country in the past year alone.
  • Police say that the owner of the Brazilian nightclub where at least 230 died in a fire over the weekend attempted suicide while in custody. According to CNN, club owner Elissandro Spohr attempted to hang himself in the Santa Maria hospital where he is being treated for smoke inhalation.
  • Meanwhile, Spanish news agency EFE reports that at least 20 municipalities in Rio Grande do Sul, the state where the tragedy took place, have canceled Carnaval celebrations this week as a sign of respect for the victims of the fire.
  • The New York Times reports that Yoani Sanchez, the leading dissident blogger in Cuba, has received a passport from the government, a demonstration that anti-Castro activists in the country will be allowed to travel under new visa regulations despite concerns. However, the Miami Herald notes that another dissident, Angel Moya, was denied a passport amid charges that he did not serve the full extent of a 20-year prison sentence.
  • Human Rights Watch released its annual World Report (.pdf) this morning, detailing the state of human rights recognition in 14 countries in the region. The report’s most in-depth analyses focus on rights abuses in Colombia, Mexico, Venezuela and Cuba, which HRW refers to as “the only country in Latin America that represses virtually all forms of political dissent.”

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