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Fujimori’s Strange Manhunt Is Grist

November 2, 2000

LIMA, Peru (AP) _ Peru’s favorite comic trio couldn’t have scripted the scene any better.

There, on national television, was President Alberto Fujimori, decked out in combat boots and black leather jacket, rushing from one military installation to another, using sniffer dogs in a frantic search for his shadowy former spy chief, Vladimiro Montesinos.

It was just the sort of material to fill another daily half-hour of ``Los Chistosos″ (the Jokers), a wildly popular radio program that has become a refuge for Peruvians weary of political turmoil. Only this time reality was so strange that the three satirists were hard put to improve on it.

``I am out here and Spielberg is calling me! But I have to tell him to wait,″ one of the Chistosos, Francisco Armas, proclaimed, mimicking the president’s nasal drawl. ``I do, after all, have presidential business to attend to.″

The skit was called ``Fugitivo III,″ a pun on the president’s surname and the legendary, recently reborn U.S. TV series.

The gist was not lost on the audience; to many Peruvians, the Fujimori-led search was a sham staged to convince skeptical critics _ the United States, Peru’s neighbors and its own citizenry _ that the break with Montesinos is final.

The very existence of ``Los Chistosos″ seems like an anomaly in a country where anyone overly critical of the government has risked tangling with Montesinos and a vast web of military and political influence which is believed to cover the security forces, the courts, the tax collection agency and the electoral authorities.

Investigative reporters have had to live with death threats, intelligence agents suspected of leaking critical information have been tortured or murdered, and Fujimori’s government has used legal ruses to grab control of two troublesome TV stations.

Yet ``Los Chistosos″ has survived untroubled, despite a reputation for crossing lines others know better than to even approach. Since debuting in 1995 on Radioprogramas, Lima’s leading radio station, midway through Fujimori’s presidency, it has gained astronomical ratings and become one of Peru’s longest-running comedy programs.

``I don’t know how many times my friends would listen and say ‘What are you doing? That is very dangerous,‴ said Guillermo Rossini, 78, who plays the straight-man narrator to Armas’ Fujimori and the half dozen other impressions of Peruvian movers and shakers provided by Hernan Vidaurre, who completes the show’s cast.

``But these days we have so much credibility with our listeners that there can be no fear.″

One reason the show has remained untouchable may be that it’s so funny. Even Fujimori, being a savvy politician, has let it be known that he listens in and laughs with the rest of the nation.

``Laughter is one of the best ways to get through tough times,″ said another popular broadcaster, Antonio Cisneros. ``Some of the things Peruvians have been through are very tough. Emotionally you can laugh or you can cry. Laughing is preferable and things like this show help.″

Fujimori’s government has been in crisis since September, when videotape surfaced showing Montesinos apparently bribing a congressman to support the president. In the ensuing scandal, Fujimori announced he would step down in July and not seek re-election.

His problems worsened last week when Montesinos failed to win asylum in Panama, returned to Peru and vanished.

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