Former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori may be heading home soon, if Chile’s Supreme Court decides to extradite him back to Peru to stand trial for corruption and sanctioning death squads during his 1990 to 2000 presidency. For Peruvians, it’s the latest chapter in a bizarre political saga that saw their leader resign via fax after fleeing to his ancestral homeland of Japan at the height of a political scandal in 2000, only to fly to Chile five years later in an attempt to run for president again in Peru.
Carlos Penny, a former senior officer at Citibank who runs an investment firm in Lima, says Fujimori may have been trying to salvage his reputation in Peruvian history by trying for one last shot at power. Although wildly popular among the poor and some business leaders for wiping out the Shining Path insurgency and reviving the economy during his rule, Fujimori faced widespread allegations of human rights abuses, bribery and misuse of government funds – prompting his dramatic departure from the country. “He became convinced that he was the saviour of a country under siege,” says Penny. “He probably believed that Peru still needed him.”
Fuijimori’s legacy may yet resonate in Peru’s next presidential race in 2011. His daughter, Keiko, who is currently a member of Peru’s Congress, is already being touted as a possible candidate. Keiko became Peru’s unofficial first lady at the age of 19 during her parent’s separation in 1994 and remained in the country after her father fled.
Max Cameron, a political science professor at the University of British Columbia who has written two books on Peruvian politics, says the 69-year-old former leader could have won the 2006 election because of the gratitude felt for his starting to unite the socially polarised country. Denied a place in the 2006 election, though, Fujimori set his political sights on Japan, running for a seat in parliament in July while still under house arrest in Chile. His political party called him “the last Samurai”. Fujimori lost badly.
The tit-for-tat competition between rivals China and Taiwan for international allies is being played out these days in the streets of San José, Santo Domingo and Managua. Taipei has gone into diplomatic overdrive to hold on to its Latin- American diplomatic partners after Costa Rica – its lynchpin to the region – abruptly switched allegiances to Beijing. The defection, which Costa Rica said was purely economic, left Taiwan with only 24 diplomatic allies worldwide – down from a 1969 high of 67.
Richard Bush, a China-Taiwan expert at the Brookings Institution, says many countries in the region have traditionally supported Taiwan because of their fierce opposition to communism. But he says some are starting to realise that “the China of today is not the China of 20 or 30 years ago.”
Taiwan is clearly worried. President Chen Shui-bian invited Guatemalan leader Oscar Berger to Taipei in June, and Vice President Annette Lu embarked on a tour of the Dominican Republic, Guatemala and Paraguay weeks later to shore up their support.
Nicaragua is another story. Despite Taiwan sinking $260m (€190m) of investment into his country, President Daniel Ortega has taken a decidedly leftist stance since being voted back into office last year, suggesting that Nicaragua could tip over to China.
Which country do you think has the best brand image and why?
If I had to pick one country with a consistently great image across the world, I would pick Switzerland – where political neutrality, social safety, national wealth, first-class infrastructure, engineering precision, dramatic natural beauty and a deep culture of design excellence have really helped to build the Swiss brand image over the years.
Which country would you like to see get a brand makeover and why?
The vast majority of countries need some serious help in the brand image department, including the United States. The US has some wonderful brand attributes – tremendous personal freedom, a strong work ethic, a sense that anything is possible, friendly people and a huge diversity of cultures – which have helped our country become a “superpower” over the years. But, to be frank, we’ve got some stains on that brand image now, largely because of political realities and our huge sense of self-interest. The “how” part of reclaiming the US brand is the same as when all great brands need to be refreshed or recast. We need to find the compelling, resonant and differentiating truths about ourselves, then make those attributes more relevant to the audiences we need to reach.