Former President Alan Garcia, who fled corruption charges and went into exile in 1992, has re-emerged at the center of Peruvian politics by making ambiguous remarks suggesting that the military should overthrow President Alberto Fujimori.
"The door is open for a civilian and military response to President Fujimori's permanent coup d'etat," Garcia told foreign correspondents Thursday in a telephone interview from Colombia, where he lives in exile. He called for "a democratic coup" that would prevent Fujimori from making any attempt to steal next year's presidential election by stuffing the ballot boxes.
Garcia's comments were published with great fanfare here, and they elicited condemnations from Fujimori and most opposition leaders. In response, Peruvian government prosecutors began to prepare papers seeking to have the former president extradited.
When the Colombian government asked Garcia for a clarification, he said his comments had been misunderstood and that he did not favor a violent overthrow.
But despite his waffling, Garcia has seized the spotlight to continue attacking the government and encouraging speculation that he could return at the risk of arrest to lead the opposition.
On Friday, in a telephone interview with Peruvian journalists that was televised nationally, Garcia asserted that Fujimori was isolating Peru internationally by rejecting the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
"The brutality of the regime continues to increase," he said. "We are all almost absolutely certain that we are on the brink of a fraudulent re-election."
Garcia has not received this much attention since he fled Peru in 1992 to escape charges that he stole millions of dollars from the treasury and deposited the funds in a Swiss bank account. Garcia has rejected the charges, saying they are politically motivated.
Since late last year, Garcia has suggested that he would like to return to Peru to run for Congress next year. But at the urging of Fujimori, Congress recently enacted a law prohibiting anyone who faces corruption charges from running for office.
Fujimori appeared to relish the reappearance of Garcia as an opposition figure whom he can easily outmaneuver. He said that Garcia's assertion "shows there is complete freedom of expression in Peru," despite criticisms.
"I find it inexplicable that the same people who decry my supposed coup are proposing coups themselves," Fujimori told reporters, referring to his 1992 dismissal of Congress and the Supreme Court. Then he reminded reporters of Garcia's stewardship.
"It took us 10 years to recover," he said. "Finally we now have one of the most stable countries in the region for investment."
Fujimori said he would decide whether to run by the end of the year, but his removal of three judges who ruled that such a run would be unconstitutional has led most political analysts to believe he has already decided.