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Arrival in Huamanquiquia: First impressions


Jessica Varat | Posted August 30th, 2009 | Latin America

Quick note: August 30th is the International Day of the Disappeared.  To learn more about the plight of families of the disappeared around the world, or the victims themselves, check out these links:

http://blog.protectthehuman.com/vanished-by-the-state/
http://jdsrilanka.blogspot.com/2009/08/mexico-and-sri-lanka-are-countries.html
http://www.desaparecidos.org/main.html

Stepping off the van into the main plaza of Huamanquiquia, Renzo immediately began to recognize and greet people he had met the last time he was there.  I was amazed at his ability to remember names and faces, and how easily he slipped back into speaking his native Quechua.  We lowered our bags off of the roof and began to make our way down a hill to find the house of the family that would host us for the next few days.  We greeted everyone as we passed, and each new person we ran into remembered Renzo with warmth and affection.  After each brief conversation, Renzo would whisper to me, “Her husband was killed by the Shining Path,” or “His brother was disappeared by the military.”  Often even more personal details would emerge–as we would discover over the next few days, cases of domestic violence and alcoholism are rampant within this community.

We were staying with a family of Evangelicals.  In fact, the father was the pastor of the community’s Evangelical church. Lucky for me, the family–father, mother, and sixteen-year old daughter–all spoke both Spanish and Quechua.  Their house consisted of three adobe structures gathered around a patio: one served as the kitchen and eating area, another as a storage area for our host father’s carpentry work, and the other structure housed the sleeping areas.  We were welcomed and immediately served tea and a corn-based soup for lunch, and then decided to take a walk around town.  It was only fitting that given the kind of work we had come to do, our first stop would be the cemetery.

Clothesline and storage area
Clothesline and storage area

We walked to the cemetery in the company of two local kids who were bringing their goats out to pasture. The main gate of was locked, and realizing that it would probably be more trouble than it was worth to figure out who had the key, we ended up jumping over a rock wall to get in.  As we walked around, Renzo pointed out some of the graves of victims of the Shining Path massacre in 1992.   We were particularly struck by a gravestone that seemed to display the names of two people.  It was explained that after the massacre, the villagers, in their state of fear, quickly buried the victims, and in this case, two bodies were put in the same grave.

Cemetary Huamanquiquia
Cemetary Huamanquiquia
Two people buried in the same grave
Two people buried in the same grave

As we made our way back over the rock wall, I captured this cow ambling up the stairs, seemingly completely aware of where it was taking itself.  For a city girl like me, the notion of animals and humans sharing the streets with a seemingly equal sense of purpose was quite fascinating.

Cow climbing stairs
Cow climbing stairs

Cow climbing stairs

We continued to walk, stopping to chat with each person we came across.  One woman stopped her climb up a steep hill with an enormous bundle of firewood to tell us her tragic story.  Others asked about individual reparations, explaining their current situations of hardship.  I was amazed at how much the women, in particular, wanted to tell their stories.  Many of them had already given their testimonies to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission years earlier, but my suspicion is that with every retelling of the story came the hope that something could be done, and somehow their situation improved.

Speaking of reparations, I just want to make a quick comment on how they have been applied in Huamanquiquia.  Huamanquiquia, like many towns in Ayacucho, has received a “collective reparation” from the government. Collective reparations generally take the form of a public works project, such as a school, new road, or sanitation system. While I think this is a great start, part of me–and I don’t think I’m alone on this–questions the policy of labeling infrastructure projects that the government should be implementing as part of their administrative mandate “reparations.”  Had it not been for the violence they lived through, would these villages not qualify for basic infrastructure projects?  In the case of Huamanquiquia, the collective reparation consisted of the building of a new civic center.  Renzo and I stopped there on our walk through the town. The building is basically a brick shell, located on the plaza.  There are no funds that provide for putting the space to use and its target audience at the moment seems to be little kids playing “see who can kick the ball up onto the second story.”

Civic Center provided by collective reparation
Civic Center provided by collective reparation

Civic Center provided by collective reparation

Fancy plaque on Civic Center
Fancy plaque on Civic Center

Fancy plaque on Civic Center

I found this to be incredibly frustrating and wondered how many other communities have experienced a similar lack of follow-through on the part of the goverment.  As night fell, Renzo and I were invited to a wedding reception and showered with food and drink. It was a wonderful way to end our first day in Huamanquiquia.

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Why go to Huamanquiquia?


Jessica Varat | Posted August 28th, 2009 | Latin America

On Thursday morning, August 6th, Renzo and I awoke at about 6 a.m. to make our way to the bus station.  From there, we would depart for Huamanquiquia, a village in the southern province of Victor Farjardo.  Let me give a little bit of background on why we were going there to begin with.  Renzo’s job as EPAF’s historian consists primarily of researching cases of forced disappearances from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Report, and identifying those cases where families have not yet been given the remains of their loved ones.  He then interviews the family members of the disappeared, witnesses to the human rights violation that occurred, and every once in a while, survivors of the event (usually a massacre or forced disappearance).

The case of Huamanquiquia has a special place in Renzo’s heart.  Two years ago, he spent three months there researching his thesis, which will now be published at the end of the year.  He wrote about the legacy of violence and the villager’s memory of a massacre committed by the Shining Path in 1992 in retaliation for the village turning against them.  Renzo was fascinated to learn how differently the villagers he interviewed and the (now incarcerated) Shining Path members he spoke to had constructed their memories of the event.  However, he was even more struck by the legacy left by the violence–Huamanquiquia, and the annexes of Tinkuq and Uchu, were filled with widows and orphans (in Quechua, the term for orphan is also used to described the widows, as they are seen as having been left without a husband to care for them).   It was during his stay in Huamanququia that Renzo learned about another violent event that the village experienced–a massacre carried out by the military in 1984.  Both Renzo and the directors of EPAF felt a return trip would be necessary to find out what happened in this separate event, which had involved forced disappearances and extra-judicial killings.  And that is how I ended up packed into a small van, roof piled high with luggage, riding along precarious mountain roads to the town of Huamanquiquia.

Sitting in front of us were three women from Tinkuq, wearing the skirts, brightly colored wraps, and bowler hats with fresh flowers typical of the Andean highlands.  Upon realizing Renzo spoke Quechua, one of them began to talk to us.  She was playful. “Why are you taking this poor gringa to Huamanquiquia?” she asked him.  Once Renzo explained her to what we were doing, her eyes widened. She had her own story.  In fact, all three women sitting in front of us had lost a loved one, a child or husband, due to the political violence.   As we jostled along the treacherous road, overlooking canyons hundreds of meters deep, our friend kept asking us exactly where we had come from, and whom we represented.  Renzo explained to me that many people were going to think that we were either from the federal goverment, the Council of Reparations, or one of the many human rights NGOs.  In other words, that we might be able to provide them with something concrete, be it compensation or access to justice in the form of legal representation.

But this is hardly the case with EPAF’s work.  In fact, the overarching goal of EPAF is to empower families to demand the right to know what happened to their loved ones, through calling for exhumations.   We also grappled with the knowledge that throughout our journey, we would have to tell people that the Council of Reparations, which was tasked with compiling a registry of victims who would later receive reparations, was disbanded for lack of funding.  Many families who lost their main breadwinner due to the violence see individual economic reparations as their only hope for rising out of the dire economic situation they were left with when their loved one perished.

Five hours later, we arrived in Huamanquiquia.  As I manuevered my way out of the crowded van one of the women, who had been quiet the whole time, caught my arm. “When will you visit us?” she asked in Spanish.  Renzo had discussed going to Tinkuq to interview the women, and record their testimonies.  “Saturday,” I said, and she nodded in approval.  I’m sad to say that we never got the chance to go to Tinkuq.  The logistics of the trip just didn’t allow for it. But meeting these women so early in our trip made me realize how just how common it is for someone living in rural parts of the department Ayacucho to have lost a loved one as a result of a human rights violation during the conflict.  And the sad thing is that I’m not sure that many Peruvians, especially those that live on the coast, are even aware of that phenomenon.

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Words to action: the humanitarian umbrella


Jessica Varat | Posted August 27th, 2009 | Latin America

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I am taking advantage of being AP’s featured fellow to repost the english version of the web page my friends at EPAF have created for tomorrow’s mass action in Lima.  For those of us that are not in Lima, we can show we care about the plight of the families of the disappeared in Perú (and all over the world for that matter) by sending in a picture holding an umbrella. Here is more information:

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Open Up Your Umbrella! - For the Families of the Disappeared in Peru

In Peru, thousands of families lost their loved ones as a result of forced disappearances during the 20-year internal armed conflict from 1980 to 2000. Today, both the state and society have a moral obligation to help the families search for the disappeared so that they can recover their remains and bury them with dignity.

On August 28th, Peruvians will gather together at 6:30 pm GMT and open umbrellas in the Plaza San Martín in Lima to draw attention to the unresolved issue of the disappeared. We invite you to take part, wherever you might be, by taking a picture of yourself with your umbrella and uploading it to the Open Up Your Umbrella! group on Flickr. (If you don’t have a Flickr account, you can always send your photo to openupyourumbrella@gmail.com, and we’ll upload it for you!)
Better yet, get a group of friends together with umbrellas and take a photo. Make it creative, artistic or just plain fun. The important thing is that you participate and pass the word on to others so that we can raise consciousness about this important issue and make the recovery of the disappeared in Peru a priority once and for all.
There are over 15,000 disappeared persons in Peru, and we hope to have a photo to represent each and everyone of them.

On August 28th at 6:30 pm GMT, open an umbrella, take a picture, and help the cause!


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The mothers of ANFASEP


Jessica Varat | Posted August 25th, 2009 | Latin America

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Meeting with ANFASEP
Meeting with ANFASEP

After a day of touring, Renzo and I made a stop at an NGO colloquially referred to as ANFASEP, translated as the National Association of Relatives of the Kidnapped, Arrested, and Disappeared in Peru.  ANFASEP houses a memory museum that I had wanted to see for a while now, so I was really thrilled to go there and not only see the museum, but also meet with the President and founder of the organization.   ANFASEP was founded in 1983 by a group of mother’s searching for their disappeared children-you may remember a picture of them I posted in the entry where I described my visit to the Yuyanapaq photo exhibit.  It is based in Ayacucho, the region most affected by the internal armed conflict in Perú.

Upon arriving at ANFASEP, we were given a tour of the museum, which consisted of both artistic representations of the conflict, as well as photos, and a display of clothing and other personal effects belonging to the victims of violence.  We were shown a graphic representation of the way in which suspected terrorists were tortured.

Exhibit in ANFASEP Museum
Exhibit in ANFASEP Museum

The next few pieces of art show representations of the war as it occurred both between the terrorists and the military, and the way in which civilians were caught up in the war between the two. Each box represents a different scene from the violence, the bottom level shows a time of peace.

Art in ANFASEP Museum
Art in ANFASEP Museum

But the scenes in the upper part of the work show the horrific atrocities committed by Shining Path, including the rape.

Art in ANFASEP Museum
Art in ANFASEP Museum

The following piece shows the atrocities committed by military, and seems to specifically reference the oven used to burn bodies of those prisoners detained at Los Cabitos military base.

Art in ANFASEP Museum
Art in ANFASEP Museum

After the visit to the museum, we went downstairs to meet with the founding member, Angélica Mendoza (warmly referred to by EPAF staff as “Mama Angélica”) and the current President of the organization. While we waited for them to finish a meeting, I stared at a picture on the wall that was clearly from the earlier days of the group’s fight to find out what happened to their loved ones. I say this because today, their demand “Alive they were taken, Alive we want them back,” is no longer feasible.

An old sign
An old sign

Senora Mendoza’s son was disappeared at the age of 19 and was taken to Las Cabitos.  In our meeting with them, we discovered that the women (and men) of ANFASEP are now hoping to convert a piece of the land where the mass grave is located into a sanctuary, or shrine, to the memory of the disappeared.  Although the picture didn’t come out that well, you may be able to get a sense of what they are advocating for.

Memory Sanctuary at Los Cabitos
Memory Sanctuary at Los Cabitos

Memory Sanctuary at Los Cabitos

Be it the Argentine Mother’s and Grandmother’s of the Plaza de Mayo, or the Israeli grandmothers who monitor checkpoints to make sure that Palestinians are not mistreated by Israeli soldiers, I am proud to see women worldwide are empowered and driven to action by their maternal instincts.  Yet not only mothers, but parents all over this globe should have a special connection to the cause of the search for the disappeared.  Last week, family members from Ayacucho joined EPAF in a special ceremony to receive the remains of their loved ones that had been discovered in the mass grave at Putis last year.  Cu4rto Poder, a news program, filmed a special report on the ceremony and also interviewed the director of EPAF, José Pablo Baraybar.  I want to quote what he said in his interview (and also post the interview in Spanish) because I think it really sums up the special appeal to parents.  He says:

“One question.  If someone had a son or daughter who goes out dancing one Friday night and by Sunday morning, has not returned, how would the parents feel at that moment? Now how do the parents of those children who disappeared over 25 years ago, and have still not returned, feel? Or are they different? Or is that we live in a country where the lives of some are worth more than the lives of others?”

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Arriving in Ayacucho and trauma-tourism


Jessica Varat | Posted August 17th, 2009 | Latin America

In my final blog entries, I plan on describing my recent trip to Ayacucho and reflecting on what I experienced during the four days I spent in the small town of Huamanquiquia. While I have spent most of the summer in the EPAF office in Lima, learning about the challenges faced by family members who hope to learn the truth about their missing loved ones, it was not until recently that I had the opportunity to come face to face with the anguish of family members of the disappeared.

I arrived in Ayacucho a day before we were scheduled to leave for Huamanquiquia in order to spend some time preparing for  the new altitude, which would be about 3,307 meters (about 10,897 feet). I am happy to say that after spending my summer traveling around Peru, I no longer experience severe altitude sickness, but didn’t want to take my chances.  Upon arriving, I was whisked away to the hotel by my good friend and EPAF colleague Renzo to rest for a bit.  Later, we joined a group of Peruvian and international academics and students who were attending a conference on “Memory, Gender, and Ethnicity in the Andes” to visit a few of the more emblematic memorials to the internal armed conflict.  Some of the students we were with had coined our little outing “trauma tourismo,” which is apparently becoming quite the rage in Ayacucho. Indeed, one complaint I heard over and over again is that more foreigners visit these memorial sites than people from the region itself, which made me wonder how much the local population truly wants to remember their traumas.

Before getting into memorials themselves, I want to talk a little bit about the department of Ayacucho in general.  According to the Peruvian Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Final  Report, over 40% of the deaths and disappearances that took place during the years of violence occurred in the department of Ayacucho. It is one of the poorest regions in the country, lacks a strong state presence, and according to the Office “Support for Peace,” harbors a population that suffers from deep-rooted social, cultural, and economic exclusion.  Much of the literature on the conflict points to these greater structural conditions, which existed before the start of the violence, as the reason that the Shining Path’s philosophy first took hold in the rural areas of Perú.

Our first visit of the day was to the cemetery and the grave of Edith Lagos, a female Shining Path member who died at the hands of the military early on in the group’s actions against the state.  Photos of her funeral, attended by thousands, illustrate the early appeal of Shining Path’s message against the state.  Today, fresh flowers are always found on her grave, as seen below.

Cemetary in Huamanga, Ayacucho
Cemetary in Huamanga, Ayacucho

Edith Lagos' grave in a cemetery in Huamanga, Ayacucho

We then visited the mass grave at La Hoyada.  In 1983, the infamous military base “Los Cabitos” was opened and soon became an infamous center for the detention, torture, and extra-judicial execution of suspected terrorists.  When we visited the mass grave site where the military buried their victims-over 109 bodies have been found, according my interview with representatives from the Pro-Human Rights Association In Ayacucho-I was shocked to see the remains of an oven and fuel tank, where the remains of victims were frequently cremated.

APRODEH representatives
APRODEH representatives

Renzo and representatives of the Pro-Human Rights Association of Ayacucho

View of exhumation site with gas tank
View of exhumation site with gas tank

La Hoyada mass grave with view of fuel tank

Finally, we arrived at the University of Huamanga, where Shining Path leader Abimael Gúzman taught and spread his revolutionary philosophy. Remnants of the radical leftist currents can be seen in the names of the dormitories.

Dormitory at University of Huamanga
Dormitory at University of Huamanga

Carlos Marx dormitory at the Universidad de Huamanga, Ayacucho

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Memory Museum comes to my neighborhood in 2011


Jessica Varat | Posted August 3rd, 2009 | Latin America

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According to an article in today’s El Comercio, writer Mario Vargos Llosa was informed that the Peruvian government has agreed to go ahead with the building of a Memory Museum, financed by the German government.  I remember first reading about the controversial Memory Museum a few months before arriving in Peru in this Economist article.  It relayed the government’s reluctance to accept the funds offered by Germany for fear of jeopardizing the country’s focus on the future by highlighting the atrocities of the past.

In the words of the Defense Minister at the time, the museum is “not a priority” in a country where such stark problems, such as poverty and hunger, persist. The minister also mentioned the resurgence of Shining Path violence in the country.  I think the fact that he mentioned this betrayed his belief that the museum would not be impartial in its treatment of the atrocities of the Shining Path, as compared to those committed be the Armed Forces.  An article that followed the recent announcement of the museum shows that this sentiment may have been shared amongst many in the Armed Forces as well.  According to the article, the Armed Forces want to make sure they are given a predominant place in the museum and as such have been sifting through their own photo archives. They believe these photos will offer a “deeper look at the violence produced by terrorism in the 80′s and 90′s.”

I am very curious as to what changed the goverment’s mind about the museum. After a scathing opinion piece published by Vargos Llosa in response to the government’s decision to reject the money, the government reversed it’s recalitrant tone and President García asked Vargos Llosa to head up a commission to investigate how the museum might be built.  The final decision, which was announced this weekend, is to build the site underneath a well-known park in my neighborhood, called the Campo de Marte.  Another important monument, know as the “Eye that Cries” is also located in this park.

The Eye that Cries, a monument to the more than 60,000 killed during the two decades of violence in Perú
The Eye that Cries, a monument to the more than 60,000 killed during the two decades of violence in Perú

"The Eye that Cries," a monument to the more than 60,000 killed during the two decades of violence in Perú

I am quite curious to know how the negotiations between the commission and the government went down. On the one hand, the military seems to be much more engaged in this important piece of reconciliation and recognition than they were in the Truth Commission.  I am not entirely sure what this means in terms of national reconciliation, but perhaps it will help to ameliorate the tensions between the armed forces and human rights groups.  On the other hand, a colleague and I joked about the symbolic impact of the choice of location.   A subterranean museum of memory? Talk about burying the past.

Shining Path struck again this weekend, this time killing three police officers and two civilians in during an attack on a police base in Ayacucho (the attack occurred in San Josí de Secce, which is on the way to Putis).  Sixty “narco-terrorists,” as the are being labeled by the press, attacked the base with guns and tear gas.   The attack itself, combined with the news about the memory museum, really makes me wish this museum had come about years ago so that the seat of political power in this country, Lima, could be exposed to the complexities of the violent conflict.  They would thus be able to draw potentially better  lessons about how the government should act moving forward in response to the terrorist attacks they are now facing.

2 Responses to “Memory Museum comes to my neighborhood in 2011”

  1. Jessica Varat says:

    Where are you from, Karin?

  2. Karin says:

    Coming from a country that is also trying to hide away its history, I’m truly glad that that the Peruvian government (however grudgingly) agreed to this memorial museum. Though it may not directly affect nor cease the amount of violence, it will create awareness, which is certainly what Peru needs in order to begin revealing its past.

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The Challenges we are Facing


Jessica Varat | Posted July 26th, 2009 | Latin America

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In between a trip to the Yuyanapaq exhibit at the Museo de La Nacion and a viewing of the documentary Lucanamarca, this past week was marked by the arrival of three American filmmakers from D.C.  They are here to begin the process of what will eventually become the making of a documentary film on EPAF’s work (you can check out their production company here).  The most fascinating part of their visit so far for me is that it has really illuminated the challenges that EPAF is facing working in Peru at the moment.  Why? Well,  the filmmakers had planned their visit with the hope of filming an exhumation being carried out by the EPAF team.  However, the day before they arrived, something came up and the public prosecutor decided to cancel the exhumation.   Thus, the filmmakers were left without an exhumation to film and so quickly had to come up with an alternative plan.

This setback is illustrative of a greater trend of obstacles that EPAF has faced over the last year, and something I’ve become more and more aware of during my time here. Exhumations, and the complex and extensive process of interviewing family members, examining the remains, and holding clothing exhibitions are highly dependent on the Peru’s judicial system. Now, I know that last week I wrote about the importance of the victim’s achieving retributive justice and I still believe that this is of the utmost importance for true reconciliation to occur in the country.  However, through my experience at EPAF, I’ve come to determine that transitional justice in Peru, when it comes to recovery of the disappeared, is much too grounded in retributive processes.  This does not mean that restorative justice has been completely ignored.  Indeed, the Peruvian Truth and Reconciliation Commission was lauded for their comprehensive report (which will celebrate its six-year anniversary in August) and some of their recommendations have been acted upon by the state.

Nor  does it mean that cases of forced disappearances are being prosecuted in the courts here.  What it does mean is that almost every detail of the exhumation process is dependent on the legal apparatus.  In order to even reach the exhumation stage, a case must be filed with the public prosecutor in the appropriate region (usually where the family of the disappeared are living, or where they suspect the body to be buried).  From this point on, the prosecutor must be involved at every step of the process-which includes being present at the exhumation itself.   This requires a substantial amount of time on the part of the prosecutor. In addition, cases of forced disappearance frequently don’t have a clear defendant.  Many of the forced disappearances were likely carried out by the military and today, the state claims that all records of who was stationed at what based during the time of the violence have been burned.  In the end, these two factors often result in these types of cases not being treated as a priority by the judicial system, and there is no real alternative for but to go through that system.

This dynamic poses an obstacle to EPAF, as they are constantly forced to cancel, reschedule, and often only participate peripherally in exhumations.  It inconvenienced the filmmakers who had arrived hoping to see EPAF in action. But the people it hurts the most are those whose voices tend not to be heard: the families of the missing.   When the cases they file are not prioritized, it means an even longer wait for the recovery of their missing loved ones.  Often, family members know exactly where the grave is located, yet cannot access the remains without the oversight of the judiciary.  Part of my work this summer is trying to examine how this process could be reformed so as to work principally in favor of restorative justice for the victims, without precluding retributive justice in the future.

But getting back to the filmmakers.  They ended up taking a trip to Ayacucho this weekend that I think will prove to be just as interesting as an exhumation. Zack went with them, so I’ll let you read more about it in his blog.  In the meantime, below are some stunning photos from the Yuyanapaq exhibit I mentioned earlier.

Yuyanapaq: To Remember
Yuyanapaq: To Remember

First family organization
First family organization

The dead and the living
The dead and the living

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The few who have achieved justice


Jessica Varat | Posted July 15th, 2009 | Latin America

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My workspace at EPAF is situated directly underneath a wide set of cabinets holding hundreds of fichas, or records.  Every morning when I arrive, I look up at them and read the names of the towns written on the folders. I frequently find myself gazing up at them during the day as well, contemplating their contents. The records form part of an important EPAF initiative called the “Memory Project,” and in the simplest of terms, that is what they are. Memories.  Memories gathered by members of the EPAF team when dispatched to various locations to collect “anti-mortem data” from the loved ones of the disappeared. There, they interview relatives of the disappeared to try and answer the question “What were they like when they were alive?”  This is not solely meant to be a symbolic act of recognition. Indeed, it serves an extremely practical purpose.  If EPAF can discern what clothes the disappeared person was wearing, whether or not they had any dental work, or any broken bones in their lifetime, there is a much better chance that they will be able to make a positive match after the remains of the body have been analyzed.

When I think of the records above me, I can’t help but be overwhelmed by what they mean.  In 2006-07, EPAF, along with other human rights organizations in Peru, calculated that there are close to 15, 000 disappeared persons in Peru.  Yet, it is not until one has the opportunity to meet the families of disappeared in person that one really understand what that number looks like from the other side-the side of the victims.  I recently had the chance to meet and listen to a few of the relatives speak at a ceremony commemorating the 17 years of fighting against impunity in the case of La Cantuta.  For those that don’t know, the Cantuta case refers to a massacre carried out by a Peruvian special intelligence unit (known as Grupo Colina) under the orders of former President Fujimori.  Seventeen years ago this Saturday, members of the Colina group kidnapped and assassinated a group of nine innocent students and one professor, all from the La Cantuta University on the outskirts of Lima.  Last year, the remains of the disappeared were exhumed, examined by EPAF, and properly reburied with the presence of the relatives.

Unlike many relatives of the disappeared in Peru, the relatives of the La Cantuta victims have achieved a great sense of justice.  This year, Fujimori was tried for the massacre, was found guilty, and was sentenced to 25 years in jail (the maximum sentence allotted within the Peruvian penal system).   Other members of the Colina group have also been brought to justice.  Yet this has not made the victims any less vocal about their experiences, nor have they backed away from the call for justice.  I was particularly struck listening to one man, representing the families of victims from another case, as he pointed to the family members of La Cantuta as a great hope for relatives of the missing all over the country.  I immediately thought of those whose records and memories continue to habit the shelves above my desk.

The general mood of the commemoration was a positive one, and for this reason, I am going to post a fun video from one of the musical acts that performed. Listen closely, even non-Spanish speakers might catch some of the broader social injustices that these guys are referring to.

One Response to “The few who have achieved justice”

  1. Andrea says:

    The Special Criminal Court of the Supreme Court announced that the sentence for Alberto Fujimori’s trial for alleged crimes of embezzlement and moral turpitude will be read on Friday, July 17. check this out http://fujimoriontrial.org/?p=668

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“Things will never change”


Jessica Varat | Posted July 8th, 2009 | Latin America

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As any frequent traveler knows, taking a taxi to reach your desired destination can be simultaneously terrifying and rewarding. Terrifying because of the danger one faces when getting into a vehicle with a stranger in a city with little to non-existent traffic laws, and rewarding because it is often a way to learn about what the average person is thinking about in a place where most of your interactions are generally not with the average citizen.

I’ve been fairly lucky so far with my taxis here in Lima. There was one gentleman-a large, mustachioed man hunched over the steering wheel-who proceeded to tell Zack and I of his days in the national police, before he became a taxi driver.  This was all well and good until he began to explain the exact torture methods he used to use to get purchasers of black-market objects to tell him where they bought them.  Needless to say, I left the car quite disturbed and stunned.

But last Friday night I had an unexpectedly fascinating taxi ride home.  After dropping off my friends, the driver and I began to talk-mostly about women’s volleyball in Perú.   I asked him where he was from, to which he replied “Amazonas.” “Where in Amazonas?”  He answered, “Bagua.”  As many of you know from my other blogs, Bagua is the site of a recent violent confrontation between residents from the Amazon region (mainly indigenous) and the national security forces.  The government, after suspending the laws that were being contested, has now sent its prime minister to negotiate with the representatives of the protest groups and of the indigenous groups.  So of course, my first question was in reference to whether he thought they might reach and agreement.  My driver responded, “Maybe, its possible.  But it doesn’t matter because things will never change.”  We then proceeded to talk about the situation and I told him a bit about EPAF and how they had at one point considered going to Bagua to analyze and investigate the remains of the dead.

An underlying sense of despondency permeated his statements, including those about the events in Bagua. “We may never know how many protestors were killed.”  However, the one glimmer of hope, in his perspective, is the same phenomenon that is causing huge inconveniences for the rest of the country.  “Everyone has to rise up at the same time, it’s the only way they will listen.”

This past weekend, the Office of the Ombudsmen released a report that disputed the notion that there are still missing persons in Bagua. While there are still reasons to doubt the veracity of numbers-some do not match up with the testimonies given by bystanders or other protestors-it seems unlikely that a government-appointed investigatory commission will discover anything new in the region.  Yet, I think that when living in the bubble that is Lima, it is important to be aware of the aforementioned sense of despondency that permeates a number of marginalized regions, groups, and mentalities around the country.  This is particularly key for understanding the origin of the national strikes that are taking place in Peru at this very moment.

One Response to ““Things will never change””

  1. Andrea says:

    Hey, you probably already seen this, but the website in general might be interesting for you http://www.livinginperu.com/news-9290-breaking-news-perus-ombudsman-office-rejects-existence-mass-grave-bagua

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Brooms for Crime Prevention


Jessica Varat | Posted June 30th, 2009 | Latin America

Today’s blog doesn’t have much to do with my work at EPAF, but I wanted to use this as a platform to talk about a really interesting crime prevention program that I was reminded of this past weekend while in Trujillo.  A few years ago, when I was still working at the Wilson Center, I edited a book on citizen security in the Americas.  The chapter on Perú was written by Gabriel Prado and Carlos Basombrío, both experts on crime and violence in the country.  In their paper, they describe a pilot project taking place in San Martín de Porres, a district in the province of Lima.  At the time this was written (2005-06), this district had a number of gang-ridden neighborhoods and a dearth of police officers, thus creating a perception of fear and insecurity amongst citizens.

So the local police, along with neighborhood groups, decided to take inspiration from the other youth patrols around the province of Lima and set up a broom factory in the neighborhood.  They would train former gang members in how to make brooms (and other cleaning products), make the brooms during the week, and sell them in the neighborhood on the weekends.  They would receive 40% of the profits from the brooms, and the other 60% would go to the factory.  They would also have the opportunity to take classes in drug prevention, leadership, and STD prevention.   According to the study, the broom factory had a positive effect on lowering the level of gang activity. Interviews showed that the program was not only positive for crime prevention, but also for helping the community to understand the social circumstances that often propelled the youth into gang membership from the start.  If you want to know more about my study, it is all here (in Spanish): http://www.wilsoncenter.org/index.cfm?topic_id=1425&categoryid=34F61C49-AF18-8F3B-9CD0E09642AB4BF1&fuseaction=topics.publications_topics.

This is all related to my visit to Trujillo, I promise. On Sunday, we happened to pass a little fair off of the main square, where various members of the police apparatus were explaining their work to those that stopped by. After a brief saunter around the fair, I came to a booth operated by a bunch of young men wearing matching vests.  They were the guys working in the broom factory and citizen patrol in Trujillo!

Brooms for youth crime prevention
Brooms for youth crime prevention

I was so excited to learn that a project that I had read about a few years ago had spread throughout Perú. Of course, I was also thrilled to come face to face with the same social actors I had read about in the aforementioned work.  While they might not fit directly with the work of EPAF, they do certainly fall under the umbrella of the Advocacy Project’s mission to work with those that are underrepresented and marginalized in society.  Gang members tend to be just that, and I was glad to see evidence of successful, organic, sustainable projects spreading across the country in order to address this issue.

One Response to “Brooms for Crime Prevention”

  1. Rachel says:

    Very interesting, Jess! Keep up the great blogging, I’m enjoying them. P.s. how can I get me a broom like that? I like the colors!

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Fellow: Jessica Varat

EPAF in Peru


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