Peruvians enraged over President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski's pardon for authoritarian leader Alberto Fujimori were expected to march on Thursday in the biggest protests yet against the two men since the Christmas Eve measure was announced.
The size and impact of the protests could be an indication of whether the uproar over the pardon locks Kuczynski's already weak government into a political crisis, or peters out as he revamps his Cabinet and seeks new allies in Congress.
At least 40,000 people were expected to march in the capital Lima, and demonstrations were also planned in cities across the country and in foreign capitals, said Jorge Rodriguez, a representative of one of the activist groups organizing the protests.
“This isn’t just a march against the pardon, it’s also against President Kuczynski. We want him and all corrupt politicians out,” he said.
Kuczynski cited medical grounds when he announced the pardon for the 79-year-old Fujimori, erasing his convictions for graft and human rights abuses less than halfway into a 25-year prison sentence, and shielding the former president from a pending trial.
The timing, three days after Fujimori’s loyalists in Congress unexpectedly saved Kuczynski from a motion to oust him, sparked speculation among critics that it was payback.
Fujimori, 79, governed Peru with an iron fist for a decade after being swept to power by a populist wave in 1990 elections.
While many consider him a corrupt and ruthless dictator, others credit him with pulling Peru from economic ruin and quashing a violent leftist insurgency.
U.N. human rights experts called the pardon a major setback for the rule of law in Peru and an appalling “slap in the face” for Fujimori's victims.
Kuczynski, 79, reiterated on Thursday that the pardon was not the result of a political pact, saying it was fundamentally about forgiveness. “The country can’t remain divided by political struggles that only hold the country back from continuing to make progress,” his office said in a statement.
On Tuesday, Fujimori apologized to the Peruvians he said he “disappointed.” Speaking from a hospital bed in a video message, he thanked Kuczynski for the pardon and promised to support the president’s call for national reconciliation.
Fujimori’s opponents said it was too little, too late.
“We suffered from his murders ... he still hasn’t acknowledged his crimes,” said Norma Mendez, the mother of a journalist killed in 1991 in what Peru’s truth commission deemed an extrajudicial attack by government agents.
Protests against the pardon over Christmas ended in clashes. Kuczynski, a 79-year-old former Wall Street banker, survived last week’s effort by opposition members of Congress to remove him over alleged links to a corruption scandal. The president denied any wrongdoing.