Peru’s forced sterilization trauma haunts election

June 9, 2016 6:12 am


Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori/AFP
Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori/AFP
LIMA, Jun 9 – The doctors told Victoria Vigo her third child must be born by Cesarean. It was safest, they said — she was seven months pregnant and there were complications.

They cut her open — but they didn’t stop there. Without telling her, they also tied her fallopian tubes. She would have no more children.

Her baby died, and Vigo became one of 300,000 people campaigners say were forcibly sterilized by the Peruvian state in 1996 and 2001.

Next month, thousands of them hope to learn whether the courts will at last agree to investigate charges against the man they blame: the president at the time, Alberto Fujimori.

“What most upset me was the death of my son. But what’s more, I heard they had sterilized me. I felt impotent, angry,” Vigo told AFP by telephone.

“I wasn’t expecting it,” she said. “I was outraged. The doctor had never come and talked about the decision with me.”

Vigo, 32 at the time of the operation, sued the doctor who sterilized her.

“He said he was following orders,” she recalled.

Five years later, a court awarded her $2,500 in compensation.

What she really wants is for Fujimori and his former health ministers to go on trial.

– ‘Crime against humanity’ –

Fujimori’s government called it a “reproductive health and family planning” program.

Rights groups say it was something much darker.

“Fujimori said he wanted to guarantee that women could decide how many children they wanted to have,” said Maria Ysabel Cedano, leader of the Peruvian women’s rights group DEMUS.

“In practice, what he wanted was for poor women and men to stop reproducing,” she said.

“Those most affected were poor (indigenous) women, Quechua speakers in rural areas, young women.”

Peru’s first lady at the time was Fujimori’s daughter, Keiko. She now wants to follow in her father’s footsteps by becoming Peru’s leader.

Officials are counting the last votes from a presidential election on Sunday.

Fujimori’s rival Pedro Pablo Kuczynski had a slim lead Wednesday with more than 99 percent of the ballots counted.

Keiko Fujimori, 41, has promised to compensate the victims of the forced sterilizations. She has not admitted the state was to blame.

Kuczynski has described the sterilizations as “a crime against humanity.” He says the state owes the victims compensation.

“That reassures me somewhat,” said Alfonso Ramos, 56. His sister Celia died in 1997 after a botched sterilization in the family’s home city of Piura.

He says health officials came repeatedly to his sister’s house pressuring her to agree to be sterilized.

“She did not want to. She resisted,” he said. “They offered the family food and medicine if she would do it. And in the end she did.”

Celia Ramos was in such pain after the operation that doctors gave her a second anesthetic, her brother said. That gave her a heart attack. She fell into a coma and died weeks later.

She was 33 and had three young children. “The state has never compensated them to help repair the harm done,” her brother said.

“It is frustrating but even so I think that one day there will be justice.”

– ‘Unhealthy and dangerous’ –

State prosecutors had been expected to announce in February whether they would formally investigate the victims’ charges against Fujimori and his ex-officials.

The date of that hearing was postponed. It is now expected in early July.

DEMUS said the hearing was postponed due to “political interference” to protect Keiko Fujimori’s election chances.

According to the rights group and Peru’s state ombudsman, around 300,000 people were sterilized under the program. Of those, Cedano estimates that 23,000 were men who were made to undergo vasectomies.

Amnesty International’s regional director Erika Guevara-Rosas last year called it “one of the most serious human rights violations in the Americas.”

Cedano says doctors were pressured to meet quotas for sterilizations.

The evidence, she says, is in documents filed by lawyers for more than 4,000 people who are suing the Peruvian state.

Alberto Fujimori is already in jail serving a 25-year sentence for massacres of alleged terrorists in the early 1990s.

The state prosecution service declined to pursue a case against Alberto Fujimori in 2014 over the sterilizations.

Instead it brought charges against six doctors. It said there was not enough evidence to show that Fujimori had pursued a deliberate policy of forced sterilizations.

Victims appealed that decision.

Despite the painful memories of her father’s rule, Keiko Fujimori won virtually half the votes in the election, and her party won a majority in Congress.

“That this could be done with impunity and that many people justify it… and that a political group capable of doing that could be elected — that is really unhealthy and really dangerous,” Cedano said, wiping away tears.

“It is painful and outrageous. What happened to those women could have happened to anyone.”


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