The systemic weakness of government institutions had worsened under the administration of Fujimori's predecessor, Alan García, which turned away from the private sector while attempting to control the banking system, leading to the collapse of the entire structure of public administration.
During Fujimori's first term in office, the American Popular Revolutionary Alliance (APRA) and Democratic Front (FREDEMO) parties remained in control of both chambers of Congress (the Chamber of Deputies and Senate), thus hampering Fujimori's ability to get his sponsored legislation enacted.
When Fujimori was president-elect prior to his inauguration into office, he traveled to Japan and the United States in order to meet with top-level officials and request aid for Peru. While in the U.S., Fujimori was told that Peru must adopt a "relatively orthodox economic strategy" and stabilize hyperinflation before being permitted re-entrance into the international financial community, meaning that these policies would have to be implemented prior to the granting of any international aid to Peru. The Congress, however, resisted Fujimori's efforts to adopt policies advocated by the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, especially austerity measures.
In response, Fujimori mounted an auto-coup (Spanish: autogolpe, sometimes Fuji-coup or fujigolpe) on Sunday April 5, 1992.
On the night of Sunday April 5, 1992, Fujimori appeared on television and announced that he was "temporarily dissolving" the Congress of the Republic and "reorganizing" the Judicial Branch of the government. He then ordered the Army of Peru to drive a tank to the steps of Congress to shut it down. When a group of senators attempted to hold session, tear gas was deployed against them.
That same night, the military was sent to detain prominent members of the political opposition. Fujimori is currently on trial for the kidnapping of journalist Gustavo Gorriti and businessman Samuel Dyer, both of whom were detained by the military on the night of the coup.
One of the most criticized moves that Fujimori took was the attempt to arrest former President Alan García, in order to have him face numerous trials. Also contributing to the coup was Fujimori’s desire to remove García, who was serving as a Senator, as a political rival and potential future presidential candidate. However, García managed to escape arrest and sought political asylum in Colombia.
Fujimori issued Decree Law 25418, which dissolved the Congress, gave the Executive Branch all legislative powers, suspended much of the Constitution, and gave the president the power to enact various reforms, such as the "application of drastic punishments" towards terrorists. Fujimori called for elections of a new congress that was later named the Democratic Constitutional Congress (Congreso Constituyente Democrático); Fujimori received a majority in this new congress, which later drafted the 1993 Constitution. Fujimori also set about curtailing the independence of the judiciary and constitutional rights with a declaration of a state of emergency and curfews, as well as enacting controversial "severe emergency laws" to deal with terrorism.
The Prime Minister, Alfonso de Los Heros, and the Minister of Agriculture resigned while the rest of ministers supported the de facto government. Máximo San Román, then the First Vice-president of the Republic, did not support the coup. He was not in the country at the time of the coup, and he was not informed about this move.
The legislative branch responded by activating the constitutional clauses that allow the Congress to remove the president from office. Fujimori was removed and Máximo San Román was formally sworn into the presidency. Prominent politicians supported this move: former President Fernando Belaúnde Terry and most of the Acción Popular Party supported San Román, while former FREDEMO presidential candidate Mario Vargas Llosa called for a civil insurgency to overthrow Fujimori. However, neither the military nor the big majority of the people ever supported San Román, and he never became the de facto president.
There was little initial domestic resistance to the auto-coup. An opinion poll carried out shortly thereafter indicated that Fujimori's decision to dissolve Congress and restructure the judicial system had a 85% approval rating. The economic and political situation was so poor at the time that for many Peruvians things could get only better. At the time, Fujimori's bold and risky economic reforms (the "Fujishock") appeared to be working.
Fujimori himself claimed that the auto-coup was necessary to break with the deeply entrenched interests that were hindering him from rescuing Peru from the chaotic state in which former president Alan García had left it, but critics say that he could never have implemented his drastic liberal economic reform under a democratic government. Another group of Military officers led by General Jaime Salinas Sedó attempted to overthrow Fujimori on November 13.
International reactions to the auto-coup were different: International financial organizations delayed planned or projected loans, and the United States government suspended all aid to Peru other than humanitarian assistance, as did Germany and Spain. Venezuela broke off diplomatic relations, and Argentina withdrew its ambassador. Chile joined Argentina in requesting that Peru be suspended from the Organization of American States. The coup appeared to threaten the economic recovery strategy of reinsertion, and complicated the process of clearing arrears with the International Monetary Fund.
Even before the coup, relations with the United States had been strained because of Fujimori's reluctance to sign an accord that would increase U.S. and Peruvian military efforts in eradicating coca fields. Although Fujimori eventually signed the accord in May 1991, in order to get desperately needed aid, the disagreements did little to enhance bilateral relations. The Peruvians saw drugs as primarily a U.S. problem and the least of their concerns, given the economic crisis, Shining Path guerrillas, and an outbreak of cholera, which further isolated Peru because of a resulting ban on food imports.
However, two weeks after the auto-coup, the Bush administration changed their position and officially recognized Fujimori as the legitimate leader of Peru. The Organization of American States (OAS) and the U.S. agreed that Fujimori's coup may have been extreme, but they did not want to see Peru return to the deteriorating state that it had been in before. In fact, the coup came not long after the U.S. government and media had launched a media offensive against the Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso, or S.L.) rural guerrilla movement. On Thursday March 12, 1992, Undersecretary of State for Latin American Affairs Bernard Aronson told the US Congress: "The international community and respected human rights organizations must focus the spotlight of world attention on the threat which Sendero poses... Latin America has seen violence and terror, but none like Sendero's... and make no mistake, if Sendero were to take power, we would see... genocide." Given Washington's concerns, long-term repercussions of the auto-coup turned out to be modest.
On Monday November 26, 2007, ten former government officials were sentenced by the Supreme Court of Peru for their role in the autogolpe. Fujimori's Minister of the Interior, Juan Briones Dávila, was sentenced to ten years imprisonment. Former fujimorista congressmen Jaime Yoshiyama, Carlos Boloña, Absalón Vásquez, Víctor Joy Way, Óscar de la Puente Raygada, Jaime Sobero, Alfredo Ross Antezana, Víctor Paredes Guerra, and Augusto Antoniolli Vásquez were all also sentenced for various crimes such as rebellion and kidnapping.