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All the president's women rally behind Fujimori
LIMA, Peru (Reuters) -- In the toughest moments of his decade in power, all the president's women have come to the aid of Peru's Alberto Fujimori.
When a corruption scandal involving his spy chief escalated out of control last month, it was his 25-year-old daughter Keiko Sofia he turned to before dropping the bombshell that he would quit in 2001 after calling elections four years early.
Keiko Sofia has since crusaded to patch up her father's image, but it fell to Peru's veteran "iron lady," Congress head Martha Hildebrandt, to put her political life on the line to save the president from what she called plots to oust him.
Fujimori, whose rule has been marked by his authoritarian style and who famously locked his former wife out of the presidential palace when their marriage fell apart, has made some fierce female foes.
But not Hildebrandt. A tough cookie like her mentor, she gave a passionate display of unswerving loyalty this month in a censure vote in Congress, which she survived by a whisker.
"We are four women defending the principle of loyalty -- loyalty to Fujimori," she told reporters before the vote, flanked by her three women deputies, rebutting opposition charges she ran Congress with arrogance and had to go.
She warned the dramatic censure vote, which the government won by just four votes, opened up the possibility that the opposition could begin congressional steps to declare Fujimori unfit to stay in office -- a charge denied by the opposition.
For most of his rule, he has enjoyed a compliant Congress, ready to rubber-stamp his policies and block probes into alleged government abuses. With Hildebrandt still at the helm, it will be easier for Fujimori to leave power on his own terms, with a Congress likely to shelve further corruption investigations into his government, political analysts say.
Fujimori's female following has been a permanent fixture since the former university professor burst onto the political scene from the obscurity of academia in 1990.
One of his early fans was Martha Chavez, an outspoken lawyer and former head of Congress who entered Fujimori's circle in 1992 after the president dissolved Congress and awarded himself key powers in a "self coup" to tackle a moribund economy and leftist guerrilla violence.
Apparently immune to the incredulity of critics and journalists, Chavez has defended Fujimori to the hilt from allegations of human rights abuses.
She once said some university students who disappeared in 1992, whose bodies were later found buried in the outskirts of Lima, must have staged a "self-kidnapping." In fact, the case was later proved to be the work of paramilitaries.
"They (the women) submit willingly to a supreme power in a bid to gain recognition for themselves and to remain behind the throne," Catalina Salazar, a sociology professor at Lima's Catholic University, told Reuters.
But women have also been in the frontline against Fujimori.
Women led the bloodiest commandos in the Maoist Shining Path guerrilla group, which, with the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, waged a war on the state in the 1980s and early 1990s in which some 30,000 people died, analysts say.
"Women were even military chiefs and sometimes they were the ones who delivered the 'coup de grace' in executions of officials or of the military," said Raul Gonzalez, an expert on Peru's guerrilla period.
For Fujimori, it may also be true that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. Ex-wife Susana Higuchi is a leading critic and regularly denounces what she calls his "corruption of 10 years in power" from the opposition benches in Congress.
Higuchi, who has four children with Fujimori, first clashed with the president in 1992 when she said his family was behind the allegedly illegal sale of clothing donated to Japan.
Nonetheless, Keiko Sofia, who took her mother's place as Peru's first lady after her parents' divorce, has taken it upon herself to spring to Fujimori's defense.
"His mistake was not to realize the size of the problem caused by the presence of (spy chief Vladimiro) Montesinos, about whom I had received information that was in no way positive," she told a recent television interviewer.
"My father trusted him, but now he has realized," she said, adding she had helped draft Fujimori's bombshell speech to the nation in which he said he was quitting early.
Many Peruvians could barely believe Fujimori had no idea who he was dealing with in Montesinos, his top aide for a decade, who ran Peru's notorious national intelligence service (SIN) amid charges he profited from drug lords, authorized death squads and ordered political foes tortured and hounded.
Montesinos is now seeking asylum in Panama.
"Fujimori has known how to capitalize on women," sociologist Julio Pacheco at Lima's San Marcos University said. "He knows that in Peru they are more loyal than men when you want to get things done."
Copyright 2000 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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