LAS AMERICAS El Presidente is Not Amused BY GABRIELA BOCAGRANDE ABs a rule, Peruvian Presidents have been treated badly in Texas, you know. Fernando elaunde Terry, when pitched out of Peru by the Army in 1968, was put on a plane in his pajamas and bathrobe and sent to Austin, where the University of Texas was expected to receive him. The University Regents, however, refused to employ him because he did not have a cal science there. And now this. It has come to our attention that on June 10 last, Alberto Fujimori, Perpetual President of Peru, undertook to fly from Kansas City to Dallas as a private person. On that occasion, American Airlines bumped him from first class to coach while an airline employee “interrogated” him about his luggage. Impertinent questions were asked directly of the potentate, such as, “Did you pack your bags yourself?” and “Has your luggage been out of your possession since it was packed?” These are clearly questions designed to fit the pitiable, self-sufficient, middle-class lifestyle of the average steerage traveler, and not the fawned over, body-guarded, and asskissed existence of a Third World President. Fujimori, indignant at the suggestion that he himself would perform such menial tasks, answered “Certainly not” to both questions, whereupon he and his bags were rudely searched by officious and intrusive airline personnel. The headline next day in the Observador of Lima read, “Fujimori returns to Peru hurling insults right and left.” Among the insults hurled was the president’s allegation that traveling on American Airlines was neither as safe nor as comfy as riding on a Lima combi, the minivans that careen through the capital city crammed with lumpen passengers. This was, of course, something of an exaggeration. The combis are actually slightly less appealing than American Airlines, even in coach. As a matter of fact, one week later, June 17, the Republica of Lima reported that a threeyear-old had fallen out of one and been killed. He had been standing near the open door, when the van, driven and operated by 18 THE TEXAS OBSERVER his maternal grandmother, brusquely turned a corner and knocked him out onto the pavement. Little lives are cheap in Peru. In fact, lives of all sorts are cheap in Peru except, of course the president’s, which is, in contrast, quite expensive. National reaction to Fujimori’s indignities at the hands of the Yanqui airline varied after the fact. One writer pointed out the irony of the event. The president, who has been characterized as the Imelda Marcos of international air mileage, has made over 120 trips abroad during his extended reign, more than twenty of them to the United States. The press in Lima has variously described his trips as “secret,” “unnecessary,” “urgent,” “private,” “sudden,” or “inexplicable.” Whatever they are, he usually makes them in his very own 737 Boeing jet. For one reason or another, he traveled commercially on this particular trip, and that was how the bump to coach occurred. Fujimori himself said that he tries to be frugal in his travels, but riding six to a row with nothing but a “Bistro Meal” was too much. Reports did not indicate whether or not the pres ident was forced to sit in the dreaded middle seat from Kansas to Texas. He said that the conditions were “extreme.” One editorial wit in Lima, however, suggested that the distress was not really so bad and that Fujimori should be forced to learn other lessons in humility such as how to wait in line for a social security check or live on a teacher’s salary. That would really be hell. But so what? For the sake of argument, we give in and admit that American Airlines treated the Perpetual Peruvian President with all the good manners accorded a large load of trash. And we’re sorry. But then, American Airlines treats all of us that way. And besides, we’ve discovered that President Fujimori is not all that hospitable to persons of foreign origin in his own country. For example, a month after his return from Dallas, 10,000 or so people gathered near the palace for a “Down with Dictatorship” display. The event erupted after Fujimori crudely at tempted to gag Channel 2 in Lima \(Fre The station had the bad taste to report that the president’s political police secretly tapped the telephones of about 200 mainstream journalists, politi cians, and businessmen. Deeply offended, Fujimori revoked the citizenship of the Is raeli-born owner of the station, Baruch Ivcher. Because Peruvian law prohibits non-citizens from owning a TV station, the channel reported that the President was try ing to punish Ivcher and possibly to take NOVEMBER 12, 1999
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