LIMA (Reuters) – Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski pardoned former authoritarian leader Alberto Fujimori late on Sunday, triggering Christmas Eve street clashes as protesters denounced the decision as part of a crude political deal.
The decision clears Mr Fujimori of convictions for human rights crimes and graft when his right-wing government was in power from 1990 to 2000, and could define Mr Kuczynski’s legacy and rewrite political alliances.
At least two ministers in Mr Kuczynski’s cabinet who objected to the pardon told him they wanted to resign, and Mr Kuczynski might reshuffle the cabinet as early as this week, a government source said.
Two ruling party lawmakers quit his party as his political group planned next steps.
Mr Kuczynski, a former Wall Street banker who vowed as a candidate not to pardon Mr Fujimori, based his decision on a medical review that found Mr Fujimori suffered from “a progressive, degenerative and incurable disease”, according to a statement from the president’s office.
Late on Sunday, Mr Fujimori was taken to hospital from prison by ambulance to treat a drop in blood pressure and abnormal heart beat.
But many in Peru saw the pardon as part of a quid pro quo. Three days earlier, Mr Fujimori’s loyalists – led by his lawmaker son Kenji – unexpectedly saved Mr Kuczynski from a vote in Congress that nearly removed him from office.
In a video Mr Kenji shared on social media, a gray-haired Mr Fujimori, connected to tubes in hospital, was seen smiling after reading Mr Kuczynski’s announcement of the pardon on a cellphone with Mr Kenji.
“To save his own skin he cut a deal with Fujimori’s supporters to infamously pardon a corrupt killer,” said Veronika Mendoza, a leftist leader who competed against Mr Kuczynski in last year’s presidential election.
Mr Kuczynski’s center-right government has repeatedly denied that a pardon for Mr Fujimori was part of political negotiations.
Mr Fujimori is a deeply divisive figure in Peru. While many consider him a corrupt dictator, others credit him with ending an economic crisis and bloody leftist insurgency when in power.
“He’s the best president Peru ever had,” said Maria Luisa Cuculiza, a friend and former minister of Mr Fujimori, adding that he no longer had any political ambitions.
“He doesn’t want to return to politics. He just wants to be a good grandfather,” Ms Cuculiza said.
Police fired teargas at scores of Mr Fujimori’s opponents in downtown Lima, who waved pictures of the victims of a bloody counter-insurgency campaign during his term.
Officers in riot gear stood guard at Mr Kuczynski’s house in the capital’s San Isidro financial district as protesters called for the march to make its way there.
Mr Fujimori’s family and supporters cheered the pardon as a long-overdue vindication for a misunderstood hero.