Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Please, History, Don't Repeat Yourself...

I recently viewed the excellent documentary "The Fall of Fujimori" about Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori. Fujimori was elected President in 1992 on a populist platform, during a time when Peru was being sacked by both radical insurgent groups and abject poverty. As you can probably see from the photo (left), Fujimori's win was surprising, as he championed himself the "President of the People" while, literally, looking nothing like them. (During his administration, Peruvians often chanted "Viva El Chino!" and hailed him as "Our President the Chinaman.")

After being sworn into office, Fujimori declared an unremitting "war on terror" against two insurgent groups: The Shining Path (led by philosophy professor and communist revolutionary Abimael Guzman) and the MRTA (Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement). Without recounting in detail a whole decade of Peruvian history, let me just say that Fujimori's "war on terror" quickly devolved into a terrorist regime of its own. The National Intelligence Service formed death squads to eliminate (what we would now call) "enemy combatants," bribed and puppeteered most of the Congress, effectivly eliminated civil rights and shut down most of Peru's free press. Fujimori even pronounced a "self-coup" at one point, rescinding the Constitution and "suspending" democracy until he could get the country under control.

I highly recommend the film, which really needs to be seen in full to appreciate the comparison that I want to make. But, let it suffice to say that the resonances between Fujimori's administration and our current U.S. administration are more than a bit disturbing. Recently, I've been writing on Derrida's claim (in Rogues) that we must always remember that "the alternative to democracy can always present itself as a democratic alternative." Derrida was, of course, referring to the "suspension" of democracy in Algeria, but the insight here is hardly limited to Algeria (or Peru). Deferrals of democracy or basic democratic practices, in the name of protecting democracy, ought to worry us.

The recent decision to limit the rights of habeas corpus (overturning the Hamdi v. Rumsfeld decision) is scary. Especially given the fact that we still do not know the necessary conditions for being declared an "enemy combatant." Maybe it's too late to plead that history not repeat itself...

[PS- If anyone has ever read the book Bel Canto, I think the hostage situation in an embassy that serves as the central plotline of that story is taken from a similar event during Fujimori's administration. Watch the film and you can't miss the similarities.]


kgrady said...

Leigh, I have to call on you, as my favorite blogger from Tennessee, to say something about the slur campaign against Harold Ford! I thought I'd seen it all. Unbelievable.

Anonymous said...

i met his daughter at a party in manhattan.