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Peru’s Ex-President Is Tweeting from Prison

Peru’s Ex-President Is Tweeting from Prison

The Letter from Birmingham Jail it is not. Since September, former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori, who is serving out a 25-year sentence for human rights abuses in the 1990s, has been engaged in a particularly rare form of opposition politics, tweeting out political commentary to his now-10,000 followers from behind bars.

Last month, the Twitter account — along with an accompanying Facebook page — launched with an inaugural YouTube message and photo montage of Fujimori, along with a written message to his queridos amigos announcing that he would be sharing his thoughts and memoirs on social media, and that "some young people and close collaborators" would be administering the accounts: 

Since then, Fujimori appears to have discarded the memoir idea in favor of political rants and campaign slogans — made all the more bizarre by the fact he’s sitting in a prison cell. "Today more than ever!" Fujimori recently exclaimed in response to a tweet by his daughter, Keiko, asserting that her political party was united in the face of efforts to divide it.

Fujimori regularly heaps criticism on the current Peruvian government under President Ollanta Humala — all of which is pretty rich for a man found guilty of creating a death squad that murdered 25 of his own people during a brutal campaign to wipe out the Maoist guerrilla group Shining Path. Earlier this month, for instance, Fujimori humbly suggested that Peruvian leaders do more to create an "atmosphere of social peace for welfare and growth."

"Strikes, roadblocks, and protests against for absurd measures," he observed at another point. "Is the Ollanta-Nadine government deaf? Or just incapable of governing?" 

The brutality that eventually landed Fujimori in prison was also, arguably, at the root of his popularity as president. He was elected in 1990 as Peru was being ravaged by both the ruthless Shining Path insurgency and an annual inflation rate of almost 7,600 percent. Fujimori claimed sweeping emergency powers for himself and launched an aggressive counterterrorism campaign, culminating in the establishment of the Colina Group death squad, which was responsible for forced disappearances and massacres in 1991 and 1992. On Twitter, Fujimori is quick to remind his followers that he rescued Peru from the "1990 apocalypse" and presided over a decade of "true reforms."

Needless to say, Peruvian authorities aren’t amused by Fujimori’s budding social media presence — so they haven’t yet gone so far as to shut it down. Peruvian Congressman Yehude Simon, who was imprisoned under Fujimori’s rule, has called the government "weak" for allowing the jailed former president to use Twitter (Fujimori’s lawyer, William Paco Castillo, has told Peru’s El Comercio that his client uses a phone inside the prison to dictate tweets to his employees). Some have speculated that the account is part of a public relations campaign by Fujimori, who earlier this year was denied a pardon on the grounds that he was not terminally ill, to generate support for a house arrest bid before Peru’s Supreme Court. And on Friday, Justice Minister Daniel Figallo announced, bizarrely, that the government would "regulate" Fujimori’s Facebook and Twitter messages, pledging that any profits from Fujimori’s resulting memoir would go toward civil reparations for victims of the former leader’s reign of terror in the 1990s. That prompted Fujimori to accuse the government of trying to "expropriate" his memoirs — just like Peru’s former dictator Juan Velasco Alvarado expropriated private property and enterprise in the late 1960s.

For, now, though, the main beneficiary of the former president’s tweets appears to be Fujimori himself. He recently thanked his Twitter followers for making his account "trend" — adding that they are his "greatest therapy."