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Alejandro Toledo is the president of Peru. He spoke with Global Viewpoint editor Nathan Gardels last week in New York.

NATHAN GARDELS: How are democratic institutions faring in Peru after so many years of Alberto Fujimori and Vladimiro Montesinos, his spymaster?

ALEJANDRO TOLEDO: All our institutions were contaminated in Peru by Fujimori and Montesinos. They had their dirty hands not only in the executive branch, but in the legislative and judicial branch as well as the electoral reform bodies, the constitutional review process, the armed forces -- especially in connection to the war against narco-terrorism -- and all the communication media. We have the lists now of bought-off journalists. Millions of dollars in payoffs cemented loyalty or acquiescence in their crimes.

By and large, the international community let Fujimori get away with his destruction of Peru because he paid the foreign debt and fought terrorists. So the world looked the other way. Human rights violations were ignored. And now we are finding hundreds of bodies of those who disappeared for political reasons. We have set up a truth and reconciliation commission to look into Peru's terrible experiences and sort them all out. Otherwise, impunity would prevail, and that is always a danger for the future.

So, what I have inherited is a very fragile set of democratic institutions and a society corrupted in its very fiber. Social expectations are now very high. People think that if you have democracy after 10 years of corruption, then automatically you will have a job.

It is a tough order to fill. My immediate task is to extricate democracy from the corruption that still envelopes it and establish legal stability while finding a way out of our 4-year-old recession -- something that is not now easy since, through globalization, our downturn is linked to everyone else's.

But the central goal of my presidency is to move the 54 percent of Peruvians living in poverty, often outside the formal economy, above the poverty line through a variety of programs, from property entitlement and microcredit to education. Education is the key -- it is the path that took me personally from a barefoot childhood in the Andes with 16 brothers and sisters (seven of whom died during their first year) to Harvard University as a professor and ultimately to the presidency. Education is the only way up. I am a fanatic on this point.

GARDELS: Even from jail, Montesinos still has influence?

TOLEDO: Yes, I'm afraid that he still has enormous influence over many institutions in Peru, even from jail! With his payoffs and hidden-away files he still blackmails and buys off generals, legislators, judges, journalists and even those who own the media. And because I am determined to respect due process and human rights, there are constraints on what I can do.

The nerve of this man! He wants to go to court to denounce my government for violating his human rights. And he's paid off the judges. And he's paid off the media to help make his case -- $15 million to one TV station alone. If I were a dictator, I could just slap him down or retract the broadcasting licenses of the media on his payroll. But I can't do that. It is frustrating. I can only fight back legally through the courts and the congress.

I know what he wants. His aim is to undermine my government in order to improve his chances impunity, of never having to pay for his crimes.

I wish the United States would just take him away and let me do my job. After all, he worked for them.

GARDELS: Paul O'Neill, the U.S. Treasury secretary, has advanced the idea that it may be time to get rid of all those cumbersome trade treaties and just end tariffs and subsidies altogether in world trade. What would that mean for a country like Peru?

TOLEDO: Well, the road has to go both ways. The U.S. and Europe have asked us in the developing world to open our markets and free up trade. But they have to do the same.

The IMF (International Monetary Fund) says it is against subsidies and protection in agriculture. But who subsidizes agriculture and puts up barriers? The U.S. and Europe, which robs us of our comparative advantage in the crops we grow. And then they have food aid programs for the poor! Excuse me, Mr. O'Neill, but don't tell us one thing and then do something else. Don't give us food; open your agricultural markets.

(c) 2002, Global Viewpoint/NPQ. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate International, a division of Tribune Media Services.

For immediate release (Distributed 2/11/02)