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Fujimori is man of the moment, but euphoria may not last

April 26, 1997

LIMA, Peru (AP) _ President Alberto Fujimori has emerged once again as Peru’s man of the moment, riding a surge of popularity following the bold hostages rescue. But the euphoria may not last.

Fujimori, already credited with taming economic chaos and quelling the political violence that bloodied the 1980s and early 1990s, is as much a hero as the two commandos killed in Tuesday’s raid, which saved 71 of the 72 captives.

``It is what Fujimori knows how to do best: Assume his role in difficult moments,″ wrote commentator Jaime de Althaus, deputy director of the pro-government Expreso newspaper.

Peruvians aren’t accustomed to a leader ``doing what has to be done,″ he said.

In a country characterized by vacillation and unreliability, Fujimori is seen by many as a role model _ someone to lead Peruvians to stability and prosperity. But others say the heady success of the Entebbe-style raid will only harden Fujimori’s already arbitrary and authoritarian rule.

Friend and foe alike are praising the lightning strike as a masterly move that came out of nowhere and succeeded as nobody thought an armed intervention could _ perhaps not even Fujimori, despite his claims to the contrary.

Polls show most Peruvians now believe a military rescue was the only solution, in contrast with surveys before the attack that had most saying the opposite _ that negotiation was the only way out.

Poet Anthony Cisneros, an observer of Peruvian society and culture, said most Peruvians really believed a rescue was necessary, but doubted their armed forces could pull it off.

``Nobody expected this efficiency, this speed. In military terms it was a First World job, not Third World,″ Cisneros said. ``This has given us back a little dignity.″

The raid hardly seemed the work of a military that only days before was mired in scandal over accusations of torturing and killing its own intelligence agents.

Fujimori, who before the raid appeared to have slumped to one of the lowest points in his seven-year political career, came out looking like a true commander-in-chief.

Not one to delegate authority, he was on the scene minutes after the raid ended, even as explosions continued inside the booby-trapped building.

He said he barely escaped injury when an armor-piercing anti-tank device exploded in a room he had just inspected.

The use of force to resolve crisis is only likely to fortify Fujimori’s already close ties to the military, which date to his 1992 coup when the armed forces backed him in closing Congress and the courts.

This, say his critics, will only make him more autocratic.

``The authoritarian Fujimori regimen will take political advantage of what happened in the Japanese ambassador’s residence,″ said Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa, whom Fujimori defeated for the presidency in 1990.

The success of the assault not only resolved the drawn-out hostage standoff, but a slew of other problems for the president.

His popularity jumped 30 points overnight from a near record-low 35 percent, and talk of a political crisis in his government was silenced.

But Peruvians have long shown themselves to be cynical of politicians, even Fujimori. Miguel Jugo, co-director of Peru’s Pro-Human Rights Association, said Fujimori will run into problems as he tries to be more authoritarian.

``It is going to clash with public opinion,″ he said.

Jugo noted that a poll by the independent company Apoyo showed 90 percent of those queried after the rescue still wanted an investigation into the accusations of torture and assassinations of intelligence agents. The poll had a margin of error of 5 percent.

Peruvians by and large are relieved by the end of the hostage crisis, which was a nagging worry on the public psyche for 126 days. But analysts say it may give Fujimori only brief respite from political and economic problems that had seen his popularity steadily decline last year.

``Like all euphoria, it is going to last for a moment and afterward you have to continue worrying about real life,″ Cisneros said.

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