Fujimori Re-Imprisonment and Peru’s Forgotten Forced-Sterilization Program

The disgraced former Peruvian dictator’s corruption and other human-rights abuses are well-known, but little attention is paid to how his regime abused indigenous women — with U.S. and U.N. assistance.

Peruvian Andean women victims of forced sterilizations during the administration of Peru's former President Alberto Fujimori protest in Lima Feb. 13, 2014.
Peruvian Andean women victims of forced sterilizations during the administration of Peru's former President Alberto Fujimori protest in Lima Feb. 13, 2014. (photo: Ernesto Benavides/AFP/Getty Images)

In an age when the #MeToo movement has increased the sensitivity toward the rights of women, many would be shocked to realize that a U.S. government agency and the U.N. Population Fund encouraged and financed a program of forced sterilizations in Peru during the 1990s.

Alberto Fujimori, the former Peruvian dictator, was recently ordered back to prison this month after a court overturned his pardon. Imprisoned for human-rights abuses and corruption since 2007, he was pardoned last year by then-president of Peru Pedro Pablo Kuczynski.

The public knows that Fujimori’s crimes include embezzling millions of dollars from the government and operating death squads, but what many people outside of Peru do not know is that Fujimori also oversaw a program of forced sterilizations, as The New Republic noted in an October 2018 article.

The program began in 1993 and ended in 2000. The worst years were 1996 and 1997, when some 200,000 women were forcibly sterilized.

Steve Mosher, head of the Population Research Institute (PRI) in Virginia, first began to hear reports of what was happening in the mid-1990s.

“We got reports that indigenous Peruvian women — descendants of the Incas — were being sterilized and that Chinese ‘technical advisers’ had been brought into the country. Any objective observer would know right away that if you bring in Chinese population-control advisers, you are going to see draconian measures,” said Mosher.

The Peruvian government immediately set targets and quotas for how many women had to be sterilized.

“Any time this happens, government officials will try to meet them. Peruvian doctors and nurses would get monthly quotas on the pain of losing their jobs,” said Mosher.

Government officials would go door-to-door, telling women that a taxi would come to pick them up for the procedures.

“There was a total mobilization, with announcements being made on the radio and banners set up promoting tubal ligations. Women were told that they and their children would not get medical care unless they did it,” said Mosher.


Targeted Genocide?

The sterilization campaigns mostly took place in the highlands of the Andes. Catholic bishops — especially Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani — were the first to alert the world about what was happening and to protest. At the time of the sterilization campaigns, Cipriani was the archbishop of Ayacucho, one of the poorest areas of Peru.

From 1993 to 2000, more than 300,000 poor Incan women were sterilized. More than 24,000 men were forced to have vasectomies. Fourteen women died. Others suffered severe infections, and none would ever have children again. Some women were sterilized without their knowledge or consent.

Pro-family and pro-life groups have called this a targeted genocide.

“As soon as we found out, we hired a production crew, and I sent out an investigator in 1998, David Morrison. He spent a month interviewing men and women. We saw and filmed the clinics where the sterilizations were occurring in assembly-line fashion. These places were extremely unhygienic,” said Mosher.

Morrison also interviewed doctors and nurses who were pressured to carry out the campaign, as well as officials from the Peruvian Ministry of Health — who denied that there had been any coercion.

Mosher set up a news conference at the National Press Club in 1996, bringing in Peruvian victims to speak.

“One woman said that after her sterilization she had become extremely ill. Another woman spoke about how government officials would not take ‘No’ for an answer and kept coming back to the house. When you are poor and government officials tell you that you have to report to a clinic for a procedure, it is very hard to say No. This is an abuse of power. It’s coercion,” said Mosher.

A sad consequence of the sterilization campaign was that health-care resources were diverted that could have been used to help Peruvians with other health-care problems, such as fighting malaria, which became epidemic there between 1993 and 1999.

“The information uncovered by PRI in Peru led directly to the passage of the Tiahrt Amendment. Named for Congressman Todd Tiahrt, R-Kan., the amendment was signed into law on Oct. 22, 1998,” said Carlos Polo, director of the PRI office for Latin America.

“The Tiahrt Amendment defined coercion to include those very abuses which were rampant in the Peru sterilization campaign — quotas, targets, bribery and lack of informed consent.”


U.S. Involvement

An unsettling aspect of the entire Peruvian campaign is the involvement of the U.S. government. The specific agencies that were involved in Peru’s sterilization campaign were the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the NIPPON Foundation (a Japanese nonprofit). It is known that UNFPA donated $10 million for the forced-sterilization campaign.

“An important document was published by E. Liagin with the title ‘USAID and Involuntary Sterilization in Peru,’ in which she analyzes the action[s] made between 1995 and 1997,” said Polo. “According to her, ‘the internal archives of USAID show that in 1993 the United States basically took charge of the national health system of Peru. … The bilateral accord of 1993 that put the United States in such advantageous position, known as Project 2000, was signed by the Peruvian and American authorities in September 1993 and was effective for seven years, ending in 2000. An examination of this document shows that USAID-PERU, the office in Lima of USAID, was in any conceivable form in control of the Peruvian health sector, before and during the years that the abuses took part.’”

In 1999, David Morrison returned to Peru to determine whether the abuses had stopped. Despite promises made by USAID and the Peruvian government that the abuses would cease, Morrison reported that very little had changed.

“Then, in 2000, a new government came to power in Peru. The Congress of this newly elected government authorized the formation of an independent commission to investigate the abuses that occurred during Fujimori’s reign. The report of the Peruvian congressional commission, called the Anticoncepcion Quirurgica Voluntaria, or AQV, Commission, noted that Fujimori’s coercive population-control campaign ‘established demographic
strategies and methods explicitly restrictive and controlling.’ The report concluded that Fujimori should be indicted for genocide,” said Polo.

In 2002, the Peruvian Minister of Health, Dr. Fernando Carbone, apologized publicly in the name of the Peruvian nation to all the women who had been sterilized. Unfortunately, the accusations against Fujimori and officials from the Ministry of Health were dismissed by the Peruvian Congress.


Public Scrutiny

With Fujimori back in prison again, Peru’s dark history of forced sterilization needs to be held up to public scrutiny, according to pro-life advocates.

“We did a great deal of investigations into Peru’s forced sterilizations during the 1990s decade, especially in 1996,” said Marlene Gillete-Ibern, Human Life International’s Latin American adviser. “We brought in victims from Peru, who gave their personal testimony. Definitely, the government of Peru was directly involved, but they were strongly influenced by the U.N. and the U.S.”


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           Register correspondent Sabrina Arena Ferrisi writes from New York.


Heartbreaking Testimonies

“In Piura, Jaime Monzón Tejeda complained that his wife died after a sterilization. She was constantly pressured by the nurses, who said that the operation was quick and painless. She died 22 days later of asphyxia in the brain. (Newspaper El Comercio, 1/24/98.)”

“G.H.C., 28 years old, from Totora … farmer, with three children, illiterate, was operated on in August 1997 in the clinic of Izcuchaca. According to her testimony, the health workers came to her house and forced her to undergo the operation. She said, ‘I did not want it because my husband was not at home, but they took me by force at seven in the morning. I wanted to escape from the hospital, but they did not let me go.’ They told her that she was going to receive some food. She did not sign anything.”

 “Testimony of H.H.H., a Quechua farmer from Anta who was sterilized without her consent, who stated: ‘I cried in front of my husband. Why did they do this to me? What if I become sick? Seeing me so, my husband asked the nurse, ‘Miss, since you did this to my wife, what should I do in case she becomes ill?’ Then the nurse said: ‘You had better be grateful that the government of Fujimori has ordered this help so that you stop begetting children without number. President Fujimori has ordered this help to 300 mothers of the Pampa Anta. Are we trying to cut the throats of people? Any private doctor would have charged you more than 300 soles.’ Saying that, they sent us away.”

Source: Population Research Institute in Lima, Peru