Of hope, football, and dirty wars

The Friday before last, June 7, was a real red-letter day in Peru. I have been busy with other writing projects (about which soon) and neglected to blog about it at the time. Still, that lovely, sunny, historic day, and its aftermath are worth turning a lens upon for a moment.

First came the news that ex-president Alberto Fujimori’s request for a presidential pardon had been denied. Lest I sound hard-hearted, let me dig a little deeper. Fujimori is currently serving a 25-year sentence for an elaborate array of charges: sundry human rights violations, like running death squads and ordering kidnappings, plus abuse of power (that is, directing an extensive web of organized corruption). Fujimori has never acknowledged responsibility or wrongdoing on his part, a fact that infuriates the families of victims, of which there are many in Peru. If he had received the pardon, on health grounds that are spurious at best (Fujimori has repeatedly refused medical and psychiatric evaluations by government doctors), it would have been a slap in the face to the victims of Peru’s internal armed conflict, and to their families, and above all the families of Peru’s 15,000 disappeared. And it would have freed Fujimori to rebuild a toxic and hypnotic brand of rightist populism. As one of Peru’s premier journalists has noted, “Fujimori free is Fujimori on the campaign.” So keeping Fujimori in a roomy, well-appointed jail cell, as a sign that even heads of state cannot murder and rob with impunity the citizens that they govern, was excellent news for the country.

Next came the word that “Comrade Artemio,” a Shining Path commander who was captured last year in the Huallaga Valley, had been sentenced to life in prison. While the news about Fujimori overshadowed the news about Artemio (real name, Florindo Flores), this is also a big deal. The rebel commander and prominent drug trafficker was convicted in court, not by the closed trials with hooded judges that prevailed during the Fujimori era. And his conviction for terrorism, drug trafficking, and money laundering serves as an extra rebuke to the murderous proponents of an ideology that has fed upon and destroyed thousands upon thousands of ordinary Peruvians from the jungle and its coca fields, to the streets of Lima, to the killing zones of the southern sierra. This was an exemplary way for Comrade Artemio to become, under sanction of the law, Florindo Flores once and for all.

And then! A 1-0 victory by the Peruvian national team, reigniting hopes for a World Cup bid in 2014. Our television blasted sounds of revelry and panned across joyous scenes outside the national stadium, and later the TV shows put up banner headlines to sum up the night: Ganó Perú: renace la esperanza. Peru won; hope is reborn. It seemed to sum up the day quite nicely.

And yet.

Flores’ lawyer almost immediately promised to appeal the verdict, arguing that his client is a political prisoner. So we haven’t seen the back of “Comrade Artemio” yet, nor of his comrades who cling to relevance and drug rents in the Ene-Apurimac Valley.

On Sunday (June 9), Alberto Fujimori’s daughter, Keiko, delivered a fiery, angry interview on the television show “Cuarto Poder.” She declared that her father was innocent of wrong-doing, that his imprisonment was a political scheme, that the denial of the pardon was in contravention to the wishes of the majority of Peruvians, and that her father would inevitably be free one day. The camera cut to footage of crowds chanting for the freedom of “El Chino,” and in the background loitered the memory of Keiko’s run for the presidency in 2011, in which she finished second only to the current president. She still leads a nominal political party and keeps herself in the press (e.g., in doleful Father’s Day visits to prison). I don’t think we’ve seen the back of her, either, nor of the lingering specter of Fujimorismo and the tortured memories of Peru’s barely papered-over scars from the 1980s.

And then. On Tuesday, June 11, Peru lost 2-0 to Colombia, to face an almost unscalable deficit in the standings. The World Cup looks ever farther away.

I don’t want to suggest that soccer is a universal heuristic for history or politics. But if this sequence of events, the rebirth and descent again of all sorts of hopes, shows us anything, it is that nothing stays settled for long in these matters of power and the nation and the heart.

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