λ ‘Readings in Nonviolence’ features extracts from our favourite books, pamphlets, articles or other material on nonviolence and related areas, or reviews of important works in the field (suggestions and contributions welcome)
Moving beyond conflict to being a ‘post-conflict’ society is a very difficult path; it is also very difficult to move from being a ‘post-conflict’ society to something more positive. This is obvious from the fifteen years since the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland where it took nine years to have some sort of stable government and where effective government is still a long way off. This is aside from all the issues to do with victims, divisions, and other still unresolved issues, not least truth, reconciliation, and dealing with the past, in the Northern Irish situation.
We all have a tendency to think of ‘our’ conflict as special, and of course it is, every conflict is unique. But there are also many commonalities and common difficulties. In this instructive and perceptive account of the situation in Peru, Sylvia Thompson sheds light on where Peru has and has not got to in the period after armed conflict there.
10 years on…
Still searching for Truth and Reconciliation in Peru
By Sylvia Thompson
The years from 1980 to 2000 saw Peru in an internal armed conflict that claimed 69,280 lives and left another 10,000 “disappeared”. 79% were country people whose mother tongue was Quechua with particular regions of Peru suffering more. These people found themselves between two “fires”, the ‘Shining Path’ guerilla group (and the smaller MRTA) and the forces of the state (army, police & navy), suffering assassination, massacre, forced disappearance, arbitrary execution, torture, sexual violence, hostage taking, violence against children and huge destruction of communal and private property.
On 28 August 2003 the Truth & Reconciliation Commission/la Comisión de la Verdad y Reconciliación/CVR www.cverdad.org.pe delivered its final report in a ceremony at Government Palace in Lima, having completed its work of investigation into the causes of the conflict and giving its recommendations on how to compensate the thousands of compatriots for the damage/hurt caused; to avoid a repetition of these tragic events, and to begin the process of reconciliation.
Ten Years Later
Ten years later found me at the Garden of Remembrance usually called El Ojo que Llora / ‘The Eye that Cries’ in Lima at another ceremony to mark the event. This was my first visit and it was impactful…a small stone represents each person who died, laid out in a kind of labyrinth with the eye that continually cries at its centre (a huge ancestral stone with a constant trickle of water from the ‘eye’). See www.espaciosdememoria.pe
I was drawn downward to walk among the stones reading names and ages. I was struck by the enormity of the tragedy and the indiscriminate nature of it…age and gender were obviously no protection.
The Sendero Luminoso or Shining Path Maoist group, founded by Abimael Guzman, wanted to do away with the “old order” so they had many targets including community leaders and anyone involved in “social action”. The CVR report states that the ‘Sendero’ were responsible for 53.68% of the killings & the smaller guerilla group MRTA (Movimiento Revolucionario Tupac Amaru) for 1.8% and then when the armed forces and police became involved this accounted for the other 37.26% (this may help you understand how people were caught between the “two fires”). Initially the conflict was in the Sierra or mountainous area with some areas suffering more than others (e.g. Ayacucho, Junín, Huánuco) but Lima suffered too and only then was it taken more seriously!
Even more poignant in this history are the ”missing Peruvians” or the disappeared now put as high as 15,731. These were people simply taken away under force and never seen again, sometimes whole families and even communities. That day in the Garden of Remembrance we were given a small booklet examining the progress, or not, in the recommendations of 10 years ago. In this the CVR notes 4644 burial sites but at least 64,632 are known to exist. Only 13% of the ‘disappeared’ have been recovered with human remains given over to 920 families allowing them at least some “closure” in the mourning of their loved ones.
The recommendations of the CVR report fall broadly under 3 categories: 1) Institutional Reforms to ensure rights and prevent violence; 2) Integral reparations to victims (this includes symbolic, health, education, citizenship, economic and collective or communal) and 3) the recovery and identification of the remains of the disappeared to establish how they died and who were the perpetrators.
Around the time of the anniversary I attended five related events: a two-night seminar organized by the Columban Missionary Centre, a public event in my local municipality organized by the Diocesan Pastoral Social Committee, the event in the Garden of Remembrance organized by a number of groups, mainly Para Que No Se Repita (‘So that it will not happen again’) www.paraquenoserepita.org.pe and the Human Rights Association www.aprodeh.org.pe , an event in a nearby Columban parish, and a theatrical event, and so my thoughts and reflections have emerged from all of these plus two more.
Shortly after I arrived in Peru in Sept 2011, I visited the National Museum’s 4th Floor to see the dedicated permanent exhibition of the conflict years one rather bleak Saturday morning…it was even bleaker inside! For the most part I was alone, no queue or big crowd here and most of the Peruvians I have met have never visited. It was not an easy few hours. This permanent exhibition is called “Yuyanapaq” (a Quechua word meaning to remember “Para Recordar”). The tour takes you through 23 rooms or spaces outlining some of the more significant events of the 20 years including the impact of the armed conflict in Ayacucho, the conflict and the universities, the prisons, Tarata (a bombing in Miraflores, Lima)… a bombing that reputedly lead to the murders of the 9 students and professor from the university at Cantuta, and Barrios Altos..the latter was part of the evidence that lead to the sentencing of President Fujimori. In January 2012 I also visited Ayacucho and one of its museums dedicated to the conflict years as experienced there.
At the event at my local municipality one of the two former CVR commissioners present reminded us one of one of the underlying causes, that of injustice, social inequality and poverty and sadly reminded us that these remain with us.
It would appear that many are choosing to forget. One can understand part of this on behalf of survivors, others say ‘why reopen old wounds?’ but the sad reality as portrayed by the young actors in their short drama entitled “Open Wounds” left the audience wondering ‘what kind of society can be built on a generation of hurt and unresolved injustices?’. Many of those economically poor survivors moved to the relative safety of the periphery of Lima but mostly to a life of greater poverty in barren environments with few work prospects.
At the event in the Garden I was also given a large red badge which read ‘Nunca Mas’‘, ‘Never Again’ which I have been wearing since…mostly people don’t seem to notice it. This was the catch cry of that short theatrical piece presented at the opening of the Seminar in the Columban Centre..which left us with an overriding memory of the trauma of looking for a disappeared person. Indeed it had such an impact on the night’s speaker, a former CVR commissioner Dr Rolando Ames, that he could hardly deliver his prepared speech. He told us of his work on the commission of listening to thousands* of witnesses and victims all over the country …he was still impacted as indeed we all were. On the second night we heard the moving testimony of another Commissioner Padre Gaston Garatea who told us that he had simply “no more tears to cry” after his work on the commission. This was followed by a moving personal account by Zussetty, whose father, a teacher near Ayacucho, was forcefully taken away and murdered. Then, fittingly, we inaugurated a small Garden of Peace in the grounds, each of us carrying the name of a disappeared victim.
That inequality, the fact that the people in the Sierra appeared to be considered second class citizens or perhaps not even citizens, was highlighted for me at the Garden of Remembrance when a group of relatives of victims, themselves also victims in a way, mostly women wearing their very distinctive traditional dress, were given a huge welcome on arrival … I felt that at least for a few hours, they mattered.
The overall aim of all the events was to remember in order to build a more just and inclusive Peru. It was a privilege to be part of each event…at one stage in the street parade in downtown Lima I found myself behind the banner of the Peru Feminist Movement who were remembering in a special way the injustice and violence done to women at that time, because as so often, rape was used as a weapon of war and countless women were violated in this way including the Ashkenazi women in the jungle or selva, whose whole communities were enslaved.
In my local street parade I walked beside Magna, mother of Luis, one of the murdered Cantuta students….the scars and the victims are never very far away, though much remains unspoken.
In the closing words of some of the victims for the 10th anniversary they called for the 28th August to be known as the ‘Day of the Victims’, they called too for more memorial areas where they can mourn their loved ones and the inclusion of this history in school books so that such episodes will never happen again, NUNCA MAS.
When time came to write this I too was sensing a degree of loss, that of Seamus Heaney, so just one line from him to capture many of my emotions and experiences during the events to mark the 10th anniversary of the Final Report of the CVR…encounters, information and longings for peace and justice which I hope will continue to “……catch the heart off guard and blow it open”** not only in me and in those who are still seeking truth and reconciliation here in Peru but, more importantly, in those who should be doing so!
*The CVR based their testimony on more than 17,000 interviews of victims of the violence, both civilians and military personnel in all parts of Peru.
** From ‘Postscript’ by Seamus Heaney.
Three photos from the Garden of Remembrance / ‘The Eye that Cries’ in Lima are on the INNATE photo site.