52 Race & Class 51(3)
worker with four children attending a Fujimori rally in the squatter settlement of Huayacan, described Fujimori as ‘a miracle from God because at a hopeless moment a new person arrived who wasn’t like the old faces who failed’.19
While other candidates relied on well-greased party machines, Fujimori enlisted his children, friends and neighbours to run his campaign, which he began by hitching a small stand to his tractor and touring Lima and the surrounding countryside. Whereas most of Fujimori’s campaign workers were youth from Lima’s poor districts and his political movement, called simply Cambio 90, had only two sparsely furnished offices in Lima, Vargas Llosa, his opponent, spent millions on a presidential campaign in a country of extreme poverty.20 His multimillion dollar campaign employed an American political consulting group to provide advice and produce television commercials in support of his candidacy. In one of these political spotlights, a television producer decided to save time by filming a ‘slum’ commercial in the novelist’s backyard. The camera crew set up the props – woven reed mats, battered cooking utensils and an unwashed Indian child. The cameraman carefully framed the shots to avoid the swimming pool and the trappings of an upper middle-class Peruvian household.
Fujimori undoubtedly owed part of his success to the ineptitude of Vargas Llosa and his political handlers. The novelist packed his staff with the fair-skinned sons and daughters of the country’s social elite. At his final campaign rally in Lima, Vargas Llosa made a point of extolling the ‘civilised’ European societies and then compounded the blunder by answering the opening questions at his first post-election press conference in French.21 With his European polish and international literary fame, Vargas Llosa appealed less to Peruvian voters than did Fujimori, a son of Japanese immigrants who emphasised ties to the common people. Again, the comments of a majority of Peruvians attest to this struggle to constitute and determine the national imaginary. ‘Mario didn’t talk about our problems. He didn’t visit the pueblos jovenes.’ And ‘We are the majority. We are a Chinito and cholitos. We are the authentic people of Peru.’22
It was this perceived contest of authenticity that both polarised Peru and propelled Fujimori, a virtual unknown, into the presidency. Member of parliament Enrique Chirinos Soto, who acted as Vargas Llosa’s spokesperson, claimed that there was an unwritten ‘historical constitution’ prohibiting recognition of a firstgeneration Peruvian president and was quoted on Peruvian TV as having said, ‘the election victory of a little Chinaman whom nobody knows cannot be admitted’.23 Opening up Vargas Llosa’s campaign still further to charges of catering to the country’s Europeanising elite, Soto recalled that all Peruvian presidents had been of European origin. Described by the press as a victim of Fujimania, Vargas Llosa reacted to the news of his defeat by commenting on what he perceived as the political irrationality of the indigenous majority. He conceded that a lack of reason (which he attributed to the indigenous and African elements of Latin America) was useful in art but emphasised the danger of such ‘irrationality’ in politics.24
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