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."



Shutdown Watch: America's Trade Agenda Flounders

Trade talks between the United States and the European Union are on hold, China is promoting a rival Asian trade bloc in President Obama's absence, and Jason Furman, the chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, is apparently answering his own phones.

With the shutdown of the U.S. government about to enter its second week, the impasse on Capitol Hill is having clear ripple effects in the global economy. And that's bad news for Washington.

Try as he might, Obama just can't seem to execute on his so-called pivot to Asia -- the administration's much-trumpeted shift in foreign policy priorities away from the Middle East and toward the Asia. Regional heads of state gathered on the Indonesian island of Bali on Monday for a regional summit and deliberations on a cornerstone of the White House's "rebalancing," the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement that would open Asian markets to U.S. goods and cement U.S. ties with the region. The U.S. president was supposed to attend that meeting. Instead, he's sequestered in Washington trying to broker a deal to end the government shutdown. Secretary of State John Kerry is attending in his place, but with the talks unlikely to meet their 2013 deadline, it's Obama's absence that's making all the headlines. Kerry, for his part, tried to put on a brave face. "Do not mistake this momentary episode in American politics as anything more than a moment of politics," he said. "This is an example of the robustness of our democracy."

Meanwhile, Chinese President Xi Jinping is seizing the moment to make the case for a rival trade bloc. The TPP, which so far does not include China, is viewed in Beijing as an effort to contain the country's regional ambitions. As a result, Chinese diplomats are pushing their own trade group, a move lubricated by generous amounts of Chinese development spending. That effort is being matched by a diplomatic push. On Thursday, Xi became the first foreigner to address the Indonesian parliament, and his efforts at regional diplomacy are leaving regional observers stunned. "You have this sharp contrast between Xi Jinping and Obama, so people will conclude that China is a near neighbor and it is committed," Li Mingjiang, China program director at Singapore's S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, told Agence-France Presse.

The Asian trade agenda isn't the only trade initiative that's floundering. Facing a shortage of manpower and trade talks on two different continents, U.S. officials were forced on Friday to postpone trade talks with the European Union. Imagine being the official trade representative of the most powerful country in the world -- and having to call your European counterpart to inform him that you can't make a meeting because you're a wee bit short-staffed at the moment.

If that isn't enough to convince you that U.S. authorities are emerging from the shutdown with egg on their faces, just consider this silly piece of D.C. theater that played out in the pages of the Washington Post on Friday:

On Wednesday, an official from the International Monetary Fund called the White House Council of Economic Advisers, hoping to schedule a future appointment with Jason Furman, the panel's chairman. Furman, one of four people still working in the office, answered the phone himself; IMF staffers were soon buzzing about a government in such disarray that one of its top economists has to answer his own phone.

You can't help but get the sense that the world is standing around snickering behind America's back.