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The Politics of Self-Destruction in Peru

Peru's President Alejandro Toledo has invented a new extreme sport, a soccer game in which he is the sole player. Instead of kicking the ball to win, he aims so that his opponent scores. This explains why, with more than half of his term left, the man who led a popular movement to unseat former President Alberto Fujimori holds a mere 7% popularity rating today - the lowest ranking of any Peruvian leader since 1980, when democracy was re-established.

Toledo assumed the presidency planning to dismantle the corruption that marked Fujimori's administrations and end the reign of his crooked chief of intelligence, Vladimiro Montesinos. Toledo claimed that he would send all dishonest officials to prison - words that captured the imagination of Peruvians, who yearned to see criminal politicians brought to justice.

All this resolve was shattered by revelations about Toledo's personal advisor, César Almeyda, whom he appointed to head the new National Intelligence Board. Almeyda secretly met with Army General Oscar Villanueva, the presumed "cashier" of Montesinos's mafia. Villanueva was a fugitive from justice and Almeyda knew that he should turn him over to the police. Instead, he sought information from Villanueva, supposedly to use against the government's enemies.

Toledo later claimed that he was wrong to trust Almeyda, but few believed that the president had not known what Almeyda, a trusted confidante, had done. Toledo had every reason to seek Villanueva's help: as everyone knows, despite being locked up at the Callao Naval Base, Vladimiro Montesinos continues to exercise influence and can find ways to bring down Toledo's government.