Stunts Poke Fun at Peruvian Politics

12 October 2000

LIMA, Peru (AP) — Mug-shot images of President Alberto Fujimori and his disgraced spy chief stare from black trash bags piled up at anti-government demonstrations.

The bags — imprinted with pictures of a smiling Fujimori and a grim-faced Vladimiro Montesinos dressed in cartoon-like prison stripes — are fast becoming a collector’s item. The images are framed in block letters, declaring: “Put the garbage in the garbage.”

This is how some Peruvians are telling their authoritarian leader to go: by putting on daily street stunts in the plazas of a dozen Peruvian cities.

Another object of the street theater is the weekly ritual, now in its fourth month, of scrubbing red-and-white Peruvian flags in soapy washtubs outside the Government Palace in a symbolic cleansing of Peru’s “dirty laundry.”

Other performances include caged demonstrators wearing Fujimori and Montesinos masks at marches; wrapping the Government Palace gate with yellow construction site tape, embossed with the words “Danger! Mafia at work”; and women with spray cans squirting foam or red paint at riot police in a symbolic fumigation of the palace.

Protesters geared up for nationwide demonstrations Thursday to demand Fujimori’s resignation. But accompanying calls for work stoppages by teachers, health care workers and public transport drivers did not appear to be widely observed.

The demonstrations are provoking passionate debate among Peruvians. But increasingly, the issue isn’t whether Fujimori should relinquish his decade-long hold on power, but how and when.

On Wednesday, Fujimori sounded exhausted as he spoke to reporters at the palace about his plan to leave office in July, four years ahead of schedule.

“I don’t want to leave a nation in chaos and ungovernable, but rather with every possibility of true democracy,” he said.

Fujimori is not the only target of protesters. They also have turned against Montesinos, who eluded a corruption scandal by fleeing to Panama. They want the ouster of his allies in the courts, who quashed a criminal investigation of the spy chief, and of his cronies in the military, who helped spirit him out of the country.

It was a videotape of Montesinos apparently bribing an opposition congressman that on Sept. 16 led Fujimori to call elections in which he said he would not run. On Wednesday, Fujimori ordered the feared spy agency disbanded within 15 days.

In May, Fujimori won a third five-year term in an election tainted by charges of widespread fraud. He has since promised to help repair Peru’s damaged democracy, but most of the demonstrators distrust the promise and want his immediate resignation.

The flag-washing and garbage bags were dreamed up by The Civil Society Collective, a group of intellectuals and artists at the forefront of the protests.

Its members regularly meet for brainstorming sessions to devise eye-catching ways to deliver the anti-Fujimori message, said Juan Luis Hurtado, the 38-year-old sculptor who came up with the garbage bag idea.

They fill the bags with old newspapers or other trash and stack them up at protest sites. Passers-by started snapping up bags as souvenirs and they have become a familiar sight around the capital.

“Our telephones are tapped and there are people in our group who have been threatened,” Hurtado said. But “there comes a time when one has to choose whether we continue to live the way we have been, or shed the fear and start taking action.”

The police, who made liberal use of tear gas in the turbulent weeks after Fujimori’s tainted re-election, have not hindered the peaceful protests.

“They even ask you to slip them the bags because they, too, feel that the garbage is there, in the government,” Hurtado said.

Political analyst Mirko Lauer says such demonstrations fend off battle fatigue among the protesters. They “make fighting for democracy fun, and this fun element is subversive, pervasive and efficient.”

According to Lima media reports, expatriate Peruvian communities have joined in the fun with similar demonstrations in Miami, New York, Buenos Aires, Santiago, Mexico, Geneva, Zurich and Madrid.

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snig·gle (v) — To fish for eels by thrusting a baited hook into their hiding places.