Patti Smith rocks Peru Fujimori-pardon protest

Patti Smith and Lenny Kaye, at right, at the Jan. 11 rally in Washington Square Park. Photo by Fujimori Nunca Más PEX

BY BILL WEINBERG | For a few moments on the evening of Thurs., Jan. 11, Washington Square Park rang to shouts of “People have the power!” — the title of Patti Smith’s 1988 populist anthem. These cries were directed appreciatively at the punk rock legend herself,  who showed up in the square to briefly join a rally by some 100 people, mostly New Yorkers of Peruvian origin, in solidarity with the protests now shaking the South American country.

Smith, accompanied by her longtime guitarist Lenny Kaye — who live in the West and East Village, respectively — stood for several minutes with the cluster of protesters, amid the banners and flags. With her long gray braids, she looked a bit like Willie Nelson without the beard. Kaye was an older version of his lanky self, remembered from album covers in the late ’70s — his rock ’n’ roll mane also gray, but shaggy as ever. Inevitably, the pair became the center of attention.

Called upon to say a few words, Smith picked up a Peruvian flag that was offered to her and urged the crowd: “Stay united and give each other support, and don’t let people who have no love in their hearts rob you of yours.”

She then took her leave, with a parting, “Thank you! God bless you all!”

This was the third protest held by New York-area Peruvians since the political crisis that erupted in the Andean nation on Christmas Eve. That night, Peru’s imprisoned ex-dictator Alberto Fujimori was pardoned by the scandal-embattled sitting president, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski. After a decade behind bars, Fujimori was transferred from his prison cell to a private clinic, in what looks like a sleazy deal with the hard-right fujimorista bloc in Congress to keep Kuczynski in power. Although supposedly ailing, Fujimori has since left the clinic.

Lima and several other cities across Peru exploded into protest at the news. The lead contingents at many of the Lima demonstrations have often been groups of survivors of Fujimori’s atrocities and “disappearances.”

Recalling Fujimori’s convictions for overseeing death-squad massacres, some human-rights advocates in Peru have called on the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to declare the pardon illegal.

The first solidarity rally here in New York was Dec. 28 at the Mohandas Gandhi statue in Union Square. A second was held Jan. 3 at the Peruvian consulate. And when a new round of protests was called across Peru for Jan. 11, the same New York network again responded.

“There are 3 million Peruvians outside the country. We want them to be counted,” said Mirka Hermoza, one of the rally’s organizers.  “So, we said, why don’t we do what they’re trying to do in Peru here in New York?”

The body that called the rally was Fujimori Nunca Más (Fujimori Never Again), a working group of Peruanos en el Exterior, or PEX. The event opened with a ceremony honoring Pachamama, the Quechua earth goddess, with a small makeshift altar arranged on the ground. The centerpiece was an embroidered Andean cross, a traditional Inca symbol indicating the four directions. A big red-and-white Peruvian flag presided over the main rally, with numerous banners reading, “El indulto es un insulto” (The pardon is an insult).

“There were no grounds for him to be pardoned,” Hermoza said. “He was in jail for violations of human rights. He sterilized thousands of women, and he was never even tried for that.”

Among his many other massive crimes, Fujimori carried out a campaign of forced sterilization of peasant women during his period in power in the 1990s. More than 300,000 women — overwhelmingly poor and indigenous — were coercively sterilized under the program, obviously motived by fear of the peasantry’s demographic advance amid a mounting guerilla insurgency in Peru.

Hermoza, who was born in Lima and now lives in Brooklyn, admits she fears that “dark times are coming” to Peru. “But we will unite with the struggles there,” she said.

Hermoza said her group is now looking forward to the International Women’s Strike, planned for March 8, with a focus on reproductive freedom and misogynist violence. This is of particular relevance to the group, given both the history of sterilization abuse and the “disappearance” of women under Fujimori. Peruvian activists recently launched the #NiUnaMenos (Not One Woman Less) campaign against the wave of “femicides” in the country.

Fujimori Nunca Más-PEX plans to have a visible presence at the March 8 activities in New York.

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