Peru's ex-president Alberto Fujimori asks for forgiveness from Peruvians he let down, as protests grip the country two days after his pardon for human rights crimes. His son, Kenji Fujimori, shared images and video on social media of his father's reaction to the news of the pardon. (Reuters)

Alberto Fujimori, the former hard-right autocrat who led Peru in the 1990s, has offered an ambivalent apology for his administration’s endemic corruption and serious human rights abuses after his abrupt early release from prison.

In a Facebook video posted Tuesday, Fujimori, 79, expressed his “profound gratitude” to President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, vowed to support national “reconciliation” and apologized to those he disappointed “with all my heart.”

But his words are unlikely to assuage mounting anger over the pardon, which has convulsed Peru and sets up a power struggle within the Fujimori family, the dominant force in politics here, with its Popular Force party holding a large majority in the single-chamber Congress.

It has also led to unrest in the streets: Police corralled demonstrators in Lima on Christmas Day, and nationwide protests are scheduled for Thursday.

Kuczynski announced the surprise reprieve, on the grounds of ill health, on Christmas Eve — three days after 10 Popular Force members of Congress broke party ranks to rescue him from an impeachment vote over alleged corruption. The pardon has been widely interpreted as political horse-trading between the president and Fujimori’s congressman son, Kenji Fujimori, who has long campaigned for his father’s release.

Police clashed with protesters in Lima, Peru, Dec. 25, after Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski pardoned former authoritarian leader Alberto Fujimori. (Reuters)

“The transactional nature of this pardon is so evident,” said José Miguel Vivanco, director of Human Rights Watch’s Americas division. “The message is that if you have political influence, you can get special treatment before the law. It goes against the tide of progress against impunity in Latin America.”

Fujimori remains revered by many Peruvians for taming hyperinflation and overseeing the defeat of the ferocious Maoist insurgents of Shining Path, who killed an estimated 28,000 people. But others loathe him for presiding over a rampant kleptocracy, unilaterally dissolving Congress, holding rigged elections and orchestrating extrajudicial massacres. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison in a televised 2009 trial widely seen as a model of due process.

The Popular Force party, led by Kenji Fujimori’s older sister Keiko Fujimori, dominates Congress with 71 of the 130 seats, and had been waging a no-holds-barred campaign against the Kucyznski administration for months before pushing the impeachment vote. Her younger brother’s mutiny appears to have opened up a split within the party.

Keiko Fujimori, 42, who was runner-up in the 2011 and 2016 presidential elections, is widely presumed to view her father’s freedom as a threat to her control of the party. She blocked a bill that would have allowed him to serve his sentence from home and has twice suspended Kenji Fujimori from Popular Force for his criticism of its conservative stances on issues including LGBT rights and child abuse in the Catholic Church.

She attempted to visit her father at the Lima clinic to which he had been rushed on Christmas Eve for cardiac issues but stayed 10 minutes, raising the prospect that the former president had refused to see his daughter. Kenji Fujimori had arrived in the ambulance with his father and is thought to have stayed the entire evening by his bedside.

The surprise pardon has left Keiko Fujimori’s allies scrambling. One of her most outspoken supporters in Congress, Héctor Becerril, shifted from insisting that her father would never accept clemency from the “corrupt” Kuczynski to suddenly declaring his release “great news.”

“It’s impossible to know how this will play out within the Fujimori family,” said Eduardo Dargent, a political-science professor at Pontifica Universidad Catolica del Peru. “This could mean the breakup of Popular Force. But Keiko might also come to an arrangement with her father and brother.”

Another loser appears to be Kucyznski, who had previously vowed never to pardon Alberto Fujimori. “His word has become worth little or nothing,” Dargent said. “He is now seen as someone who would do anything to save his skin.”

In a televised address to explain the pardon, the president — whose election victory is widely attributed to anti-Fujimori voters — talked about his predecessor’s “excesses and errors” and called for an end to the “hatred” of the former strongman. He made no mention of the families of Alberto Fujimori’s victims, whom he has refused to meet.

Many who had cautioned against impeaching Kuczynski have now turned on him. The hashtag #PPKtraitor trended on Twitter, and three of the 18 members of Congress in Kuczynski’s Peruvians for Change party have resigned from the group.

Kucynski’s lawyer, Alberto Borea, who had mounted an impassioned defense before Congress, noted on his Facebook page how he had been “surprised” by Alberto Fujimori’s liberation. He added: “I have always fought against the dictatorship and firmly reject the pardon.”

Meanwhile, doubts surround the legal basis for the release. Peru’s best known doctor, Elmer Huerta, a former president of the American Cancer Society, said that the former president is not seriously ill.

Diego García Sayan, a former president of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, warned that the pardon could be appealed, either to Peru’s constitutional court or the regional court, particularly because it shields Fujimori from future prosecutions.

“That interferes with the rights of the victims, the right to truth and the obligation to investigate these serious offenses,” García Sayan said.