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Human Rights Trump Impunity: Final Days amidst the Battle over Memory

Karin Orr | Posted September 16th, 2010 | Latin America

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“We are a people. A people does not throw its geniuses away, And if they are thrown away, it is our duty as artists and as witnesses for the future to collect them again for the sake of our children, and if necessary, bone by bone.” –Alice Walker

It has been a little over a week since my return from Peru. As I had previously mentioned, in my time there, I recognized what I felt was a clear division between those who are determined to forget Peru’s violent past and by those who are fighting to remember. Within my last few days in Peru, that divide materialized through two pivotal events. As I was packing to head North, most of EPAF’s staff had already headed to Peru’s Southern department of Ayacucho, in order to prepare for the event of “Art for Memory”. EPAF had collaborated with students, artists, and human rights organizations in preparing for this exhibit where various art works in memory of Peru’s disappeared would be displayed. The exhibit was meant to re-visualize Peru’s 15,000 disappeared through different art mediums within Ayacucho, the region that was highly impacted by the violence. A week prior I had gotten a taste of what works would be exhibited in my attendance at a week of events devoted to discussions on memory titled “Debates Por La Memoria” at San Marcos University. The events were organized by EPAF and Taller de Estudios sobre Memoria Yuyachkanchik to both commemorate the 7th Anniversary of the final Truth and Reconciliation Report and in honor of the International Day of the Disappeared.

Panels of the carpet of the disappeared, footprints and all
Panels of the carpet of the disappeared, footprints and all

In this week, devoted to remembering, I had attended the screening of documentary film, ‘Chungui: Horror Without Tears’, which tells the story of cultural anthropologist, Edilberto Jimenez, after his first trip to the small town of Chungui where an estimated 1,300 people were killed between 1983-84 alone. As victims of both Shining Path and the armed forces, this film follows Jimenez in his journey in gathering these survivors’ testimonies which he then visually recreates through detailed illustrations. As a retablito (maker of boxes with modeled figures inside) Jimenez creates 3D figures that shake the core of the viewer. Since Quechua is typically not a written language I found Jimenez’s strategy to preserve memory as an effective way to chronicle the memory of those they lost, without forgetting the violent past. I also marveled at the ability of even the most horrific scenes possessing their own nuanced beauty through Jimenez’s visionary recreations.  Creativity was also present in the works of student artists at San Marcos.

As for the art works that I were exhibited in San Marcos, each one, was politically charged in that they were meant to be used as campaign tools to raise awareness on the disappeared. Amongst them was a large ‘carpet’ comprised of 15,000 panels that each had the names of those who were registered as disappeared in Peru. The carpet, I was informed, was designed to demand attention through its size and to obstruct the path of the passer by and by doing so, forcing the viewer to witness the visually abrasive sum of those numbers.

Carpet made up of 15k panels of the names of the disappeared
Carpet made up of 15k panels of the names of the disappeared

Arte-Correo (Mail-Art) “Pitando por Memoria” (Painting for Memory) on the other hand, took a more personalized approach and much like the Scarf of Hope, its success was reliant on the participation of the family members of the disappeared. They were asked to visually recount what their missing family members were wearing the last time they were seen and then filling in the empty human figure.

Colored postcard for the Arte Correo campaign
Colored postcard for the Arte Correo campaign

The image on the template of the Arte-Correo is used in the antemortem data collection of forensic investigation, when investigators are conducting interviews with the family members, and collecting evidence that would help them identify human remains. The Arte-Correo is not only intended to put a face to the thousands of statistics that the disappeared have become, but also to circulate these now personalized images through postal mail.

Watch My Video on Debates por la Memoria

The second pivotal moment that merits special attention, was Peruvian President Alan Garcia’s passing of Legislative Decree No. 1097. This decree placed statute of limitations to human rights crimes committed during the country’s internal armed conflict 1980-2003. This decree would have meant that any investigations on human rights violations that occurred between 1980-2003 would be suspended, forensic investigations would no longer be given legal permission, and regulations would have provided conditional liberty for those who are currently being prosecuted for human rights violations, including torture, forced disappearances and extrajudicial killings. To learn more about the specifics of the decree, read here, or to hear an interview with Professor of Political Science at George Mason, Jo-Marie Burt, click here.

However, what accompanied this executive order was also a flood of protest within civil society, both in Peru and with the involvement of the international community. Organizations Asociación pro Derechos Humanos APRODEH, Amnesty International, Equipo Peruano de Antropología Forense, and La Asociación Nacional de Familiares de Secuestrados, Detenidos y Desaparecidos del Perú – ANFASEP, among many others, joined the public outcry at this decree, that if passed would have ensured impunity. Notorious Peruvian writer, Mario Vargas Llosa, recently thereafter, wrote a letter that said he was resigning as director of the Museum of Memories because of the decree, which he wrote was ‘amnesty in disguise’ for human rights violators. The Museum of Memories are devoted to maintaining the memory of the atrocities committed during the conflict by all perpetrators of the violence as a historical reminder that ‘Nunca Mas” (never again) would conflict escalate to that level of violence in Peru.  In response to these waves of protest (along with a vigil in front of the Palace of Justice in Lima) Congress annulled the decree keeping it from taking effect. To learn more about the decree being revoked read here.

Family member of the disappeared holds up her pastilla with her disappeared brothers name
Family member of the disappeared holds up her pastilla with her disappeared brothers name

The debate over this decree of impunity was symbolic of the battle between impunity and human rights, as if implemented it would have kept victims, from even possessing the possibility (or the hope as I had mentioned before) of attaining justice for the forced disappearances of their loved ones. And so, in my final hours spent in Peru, the determination of survivors to fight for justice overcame that risk towards impunity, and even as I landed far North of Peru’s beautiful vast Andes, away from the hidden communities that one might otherwise think were forgotten, I was reassured that social unrest will always keep Memory alive, until conditions permit them to properly bury their past, even if necessary, bone by bone.

2 Responses to “Human Rights Trump Impunity: Final Days amidst the Battle over Memory”

  1. acai berry says:

    Have you given any consideration at all with converting your current site into Spanish? I know a few of translaters here which would certainly help you do it for free if you want to contact me.

  2. Namron Toi says:

    Hopefully these atrocities will never be forgotten but in time also forgiven. Time heals all wounds. Justice must also be met and may it prevail for those who have disappeared.

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Personal Profile: Meet Nelson Rivas

Karin Orr | Posted September 15th, 2010 | Latin America

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As a young Peruvian who was born at the same time and location when and where terrorism struck in Peru, Nelson Rivas, tells me his story. Whether it’s about being a family member of the disappeared, internally displaced by the conflict, or the impact that racism against Quechua speakers has had in his life, his present line of work as a Researcher for EPAFs department of Memory, has been a testament to his resilience when growing up during Peru’s political violence. I had the pleasure of working closely with Mr. Rivas who constantly impressed me with his extended knowledge of the region of Ayacucho; from its in-depth violent past, optimistic prospects for its future, and endless promises for its people. Nelson shared everything from the different types of flowers that were in season in Ayacucho, the region’s many folk tales, to sharing his knowledge of one of the region’s Native languages. As truly a man of his time and an instrument to voice the voices of the voiceless,  I felt Nelson exemplified the importance of knowing one’s history while actively pursuing a better future for those who remain impacted the most by Peru’s violence. So please don’t forget to watch, Social Anthropologist and EPAF Researcher, Nelson Rivas, on his journey to preserve memory in Peru.

One Response to “Personal Profile: Meet Nelson Rivas”

  1. Karin Orr says:

    I forgot to thank Nelson in my video for letting me interview him and for teaching me so much while I was working with him. Si estas leyendo este por favor, escuchame a decir “Muchas gracias y abrazos a ti!”

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“In Your Name I Reaffirm My Hope”

Karin Orr | Posted August 31st, 2010 | Latin America

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Watch My Video on The Eye That Cries Here

What’s in a name? I’ve asked myself that question a number of times and in Peru I’ve found the answer to be, that behind it there is a strong human association, a person, and an identity. The significance of a name has never been so profound for me until working with EPAF and speaking to survivors of the conflict who still grieve their disappeared family members. In all of the interviews I conducted with survivors they shared with me the full name of each missing family member, as an affirmation of that persons existence. I understood that that disappeared person’s name was important to share, and to say aloud, even if with only a stranger, as that name represents what is left of that person through their loved ones’ memory. It is also a name that has been politicized because of the battle over memory and the continual struggle to be reunited with them, even if that reunification is brought in the form of truth.

The Eye That Cries
The Eye That Cries

This significance became even more known this past Monday when I joined EPAF staff members and other members of civil society at the commemoration ceremony in honor of the upcoming VII anniversary of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission at the memorial piece, “El Ojo Que Llora” (The Eye That Cries).  As I had previously mentioned in my blog devoted to this memorial site, The Eye That Cries has been a very controversial public display within Peru because of the consistent battle over memory and whose memory to mourn. The stones that surround the memorial site have the names of victims, perpetrators, and bystanders of the conflict. It is a mourning site but also a stone devoted to remembering a brutal history as a reminder that never again should it repeat itself.

Newly Inscribed Stones w/ Names of Victims
Newly Inscribed Stones w/ Names of Victims

EPAF has an entire crew devoted to maintaining and validating the memory that these family members of the disappeared cherish, as in most cases, it is all they have. But in addition, memory is used to extensively document information necessary for the recovery of the human remains, for the moment when the graves are granted government permission for investigations. This is also known as ante mortem data, or information that fill in the gaps for the forensic investigation, such as what that person was wearing the last time he/she was seen or any physical disability that might easily mark their remains. The scientific aspect of this work is that it isn’t discriminatory in whose remains are recovered.

Last Monday, in an effort to retain the memory of those that were killed and disappeared, the Peruvian public, were invited to reset the stones that surround the sculpture. The stones had originally had the names of victims written in permanent marker but due to pollution, weather conditions, and the violent attack on the sculpture in 2007, many of the names have now faded. Therefore, the Unique Register, created by the Council of Reparations, is now working to inscribe the names so that their names are permanent.

Throughout the day, youth, scholars, artists, cultural groups, and social organizations came to the sculpture to reset the missing stones. Organizations, Amnesty International, Pro Derechos Humanos (APRODEH), Arte por la Memoria, Caminos de la Memoria, Coordinadora Nacional de Derechos Humanos, Paz y Esperanza and Servicios Educativos Rurales (SER), all helped to organize this event and invited participants to join them in this ceremonial homage. You can read more here.

Even as an outsider, I was invited to participate and given a stone with the engraved name of someone who didn’t survive the conflict, to be reset within the memorial site. Through my participation and by holding this stone, I was struck by the hope (esperanza) that still permeates within these peoples’ hearts.

Stone with the name inscribed of a victim from Peru's conflict
Stone with the name inscribed of a victim from Peru's conflict

Esperanza has also been a continual association as the fuel that helps ignite the struggle for truth and justice. Hope is everywhere that the memory of the disappeared is. It was present in the campaign for the Stop of Hope in Putis, the Scarf of Hope, that now extends to 340 meters, and written in flowers, above the pictures of the disappeared at The Eye That Cries. Hope is also behind the names of the disappeared as for the past twenty years it has outlived the ability to forget.

Photos of the disappeared below flowers of hope
Photos of the disappeared below flowers of hope

Hope is what supports those that still grieve in their fight for justice, reparations, and the refusal to surrender to impunity.

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Pilot Project for Sustainable Development in Putis

Karin Orr | Posted August 12th, 2010 | Latin America, Uncategorized

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Watch Video of My Day In Putis

Click above to see a photo/video essay of my day in Putis. It’s my visual report back after a productive day in Peru’s Southern region of Putis. A destination that inhabits people who have been marginalized for centuries and who suffered greatly from the internal conflict (the Putis massacre of 84′ took 123 lives). From 2008-2009 the Peruvian Forensic Anthropology Team (EPAF) exhumed a clandestine grave in Putis, residual of the conflict. EPAF exhumed 92 of the bodies identifying 29 of them through DNA testing. Later they restored the bodies to the family members of the Putis victims who later gave their relatives a proper burial in a newly built cemetery.

Putisino Artisans
Putisino Artisans

The ninety-two tombs are a daily reminder of a daunting past, as they are visible from nearly all angles of the small town. And yet, Putis community members expressed relief at now having a mourning site, a place to grieve, after so many years of waiting to know the truth about their disappeared loved ones. On Sunday, we visited that former gravesite (as seen with the sun roof in the video) and were informed by Putis Mayor Gerardo Fernandez that there are still other mass graves left unashamed in Putis, containing some 300 bodies. The grave that EPAF exhumed in 2008 in Putis is the largest mass grave yet to be exhumed in Peru. Since this exhumation in 2008, EPAF has not been approved to pursue investigations on the other 3,466 registered graves.

Putis Cemetery
Putis Cemetery

However, since the exhumations in 2008, EPAF has maintained a relationship with the Putis community, as they have recently partnered with NGO Vecinos Peru in establishing a pilot project with the aim of being a sustainable development project meant to integrate the Putisinos within the market. Although still in its preliminary stages the project will be known as a seed bank of the best native potato seeds. The goal is to integrate their staple food crop of organic potatoes within the national market by selecting and reselecting the best potato seeds so that the market value is higher. So far, the community members of Putis have used their potatoes for their own consumption and local commercial use. However, the organic native potato has market value in which the conditions in the Andes are perfect to cultivate. The idea behind the native seed bank is to partner with Putis community members in working to overcome their victimization and reaffirm their human and civil rights through the establishment of a ‘Centro Poblado’, as the year prior Putisinos had fought to elect their own indigenous Mayor, Gerardo Fernandez.

Peruvian flag blows in rural Putis
Peruvian flag blows in rural Putis

On Sunday, the ceremony continued with a potato fair as well as an exhibit of various hand-weaved crafts. The bright vibrant colors of their crafts were a stark contrast against the sepia colored terrain. Their brightly colored weaved fabrics were such a stunning reminder of life where at one point there was so much terror.

Girls in Putis Cemetery
Girls in Putis Cemetery

When showcasing their fabrics they exhibited them with such pride that even trying to bargain with them was impossible. I left empty-handed, as my ten soles couldn’t afford anything. The day continued with the explanation of the variety of native potatoes. I never knew so many potato varieties existed until that Sunday when each community member explained the differences in each potatoes cultivation process. At lunch we were served some of these potatoes in addition to pasta. Local musicians played flutes and sang beautiful Andean songs. As the day progressed so did a meeting with the locals of Putis with EPAF and Vecinos Peru to establish a plan of action for the funds that will be donated to the pilot project.

Watch Video on the Extended Request for Reparations by Putis Community Members

One Response to “Pilot Project for Sustainable Development in Putis”

  1. leticia says:

    Awesome video karin. Beautiful. Did you ride in the back of the truck? Did you take any flowers to the cemetery?

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The Inconvenient Truth Of Peru’s 15,000 Disappeared

Karin Orr | Posted July 27th, 2010 | Latin America

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Thirty women from the National Association of Detained and Missing Family Members of Peru (Asociación Nacional de Familiares de Secuestrados, Detenidos y Desaparecidos del Peru) (ANFASEP) gathered outside of Lima’s Palacio de Justicia, on Friday morning of July 15, 2010, to publicly knit “La Chalina de la Esperanza” or “The Scarf of Hope”. The event was a public demonstration requesting Peru’s Ministry of Justice to take action on pursing the investigations of their missing loved ones whereabouts and to provide symbolic and individual economic reparations of approximately S/. 100.000 (USD 35,300), to each of the family members of the disappeared.

ANFASEP Demonstration in Front of the Palacio de Justicia
ANFASEP Demonstration in Front of the Palacio de Justicia

While dressed in their traditional garb “the Madres” of ANFASEP peacefully sat along the fence of the Palacio, knitting panels which they then embroider with the names of their disappeared loved ones and the date they were last seen. Ten minutes into the demonstration, security officers guarding the Palacio, interrupted the knitting session, informing the crowd that they had to relocate as they were “blocking the sidewalk” and therefore a “safety hazard to the public”. The women were forced to re-gather their bags of yarn and boxes of knitted panels, to cross the street, where the demonstration proceeded, vacating the Palacio’s premises.

Some of the women that morning wore photographs of their missing loved ones around their necks or pinned to the apron of their dresses. Gisela Ortiz, official for Peruvian Forensic Anthropology Team (EPAF), a sponsor to ANFASEP, says, “So far, we have 200 meters, we hope by November to have 800, we expect it to be a huge scarf that can at least wrap the Palacio de Justicia, or any other public building. In that sense, we are embracing hope, so that justice may reach each of the family members of the disappeared.”

Mothers of Peru's Disappeared Knit in front of Palacio de Justicia in request for individual economic reparations
Mothers of Peru's Disappeared Knit in front of Palacio de Justicia in request for individual economic reparations

Member of ANFASEP holds La Chalina de la Esperanza
Member of ANFASEP holds La Chalina de la Esperanza

The Madres of ANFASEP aim to knit a scarf that is long enough to both represent the extensive number of those who still await proper investigation due to forced disappearance, and the number of those still awaiting individual economic reparations for their registered missing family members.  Friday’s demonstration attracted other Peruvian citizens, including those who were also missing family members and whose requests for individual economic reparations have so far been ignored.

All of these women are missing loved ones who were forcibly disappeared during Peru’s internal armed conflict of 1980-2000.  Perpetrators of their family members disappearances vary from The Shining Path, Peruvian Armed Forces, and/or the Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA), among others. Peru’s TRC reported that nearly 15,000 people were disappeared by the internal armed conflict and that more than 40 percent of the deaths and disappearances were concentrated in the Andean department of Ayacucho.

The Madres from ANFASEP are from the Ayacucho region, which according to the TRC occupies the lowest rankings in the poverty and human development indices.

Most of these women still await the investigation, and perhaps the recovery, and restoration of their missing family members remains. The inconvenient truth is that of Peru’s 4,644 registered burial sites; fewer than 2% of the bodies have been identified. Although Peru is home to Peruvian Forensic Anthropology Team (EPAF), an internationally reputable forensics team, their work at home has been delayed due to various political excuses within the Ministry of Justice.

The Madres removal from the Palacio premises is emblematic of the continued marginalization that Quechua speaking persons, particularly from Peru’s Andean highlands, have suffered for decades by the lack of proper State attention. The government has failed to pursue both symbolic and individual economic reparations both by carrying out the exhumations of the registered mass graves and in disbursing the proper sums of individual economic reparations to each entitled family member.  Both through knitting and non-violent demonstration these women hope to achieve the last possible thing to bring them hope; that of truth and justice.

Woman describing the case of her disappeared son to Security Officers in front of the Palacio de Justicia
Woman describing the case of her disappeared son to Security Officers in front of the Palacio de Justicia

One Response to “The Inconvenient Truth Of Peru’s 15,000 Disappeared”

  1. [...] of a church after attending a mass in honor of victims of the disappeared, or spending my morning attending a demonstration and then being kicked off of the Palacio Justicia with my arms full of yarn, accompanied by 20 [...]

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Anniversary of La Cantuta Massacre

Karin Orr | Posted July 27th, 2010 | Latin America

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Watch La Cantuta Massacre Remembrance Video

I must admit that the pace that I am collecting information has been a lot faster than I can disseminate. So much has happened in the last few weeks and low Internet connectivity has delayed many posts. But I’ll start from the top and work my way down.

Flyer for University Events Remembering La Cantuta Massacre
Flyer for University Events Remembering La Cantuta Massacre

As I had mentioned in my previous blog, the anniversary of the terrorist attack on Tarata Street occurred July 16th, 1992. It is by no accident that the anniversary of the La Cantuta Massacre also passed two days afterwards. It was after the Shining Path bombed Tarata Street in the touristy area of Lima, that the Fujimori administration also cracked down on terrorism in the worst way; by shedding more blood.

As university students were often the instigators of leftist political involvement, what was an end of a semester party at La Cantuta University for these students, also ended up being the last night of their lives. A military death squad under Alberto Fujimori, now known as El Grupo Colina, was later found guilty of kidnapping nine students and a professor, driving them to a remote area where they were each shot and then buried. Later some of their bodies were transported elsewhere and burned to further hide the evidence of the crime. It is for this reason that the tombstone that honors these students in the Cemeterio “El Angel” in Barrios Altos, only contains fragments of these students’ remains. Some of the bodies still have not been investigated, found, or recovered to the families.

Although eighteen years ago, the family members of these students and professor, are still fighting for the right to truth, justice and against the impunity which has kept them from knowing the whereabouts of their loved ones remains. In fact, I attended the memorial service in memory of these lost lives on Sunday, July 18th.

Family Members Mourning
Family Members Mourning

The cemetery is located near San Juan de Lurigancho and one of the more underdeveloped areas of Lima. As I exited the cab, the flower vendors were inundating me with their bright bouquets. The site of flowers overwhelmed me, as the women had surrounded me, and followed me into the gates of the cemetery. My lack of need for flowers accentuated my role as an outsider. And yet, even where there’s death there is still a strong need for sales to support the living.

In fact, the cemetery was very alive that day, much more alive than “The Eye That Cries” sculpture which I had recently visited a few weeks prior. Vendors sold coconut sweets, women cleaned their families’ tombstones, replacing wilted flowers, and a band of La Cantuta students played music and danced for the family members.

Row of Flowers Outside of Cemetery
Row of Flowers Outside of Cemetery

Cemetery of Angel
Cemetery of Angel

Upon stepping into the mausoleum I was struck by the rows and rows of tombstones, as though I had walked into a museum of the dead. The number of people present that morning was even more incredible. As though their lives were lost just a week prior. The older brother of professor, Hugo Muñoz Sanchez, who was killed on July 18th, 1992, retold an emotional account of the story of that evening in front of the large granite tombstone inscribed with the ten names of each victim. It was adorned with the same flowers I had nearly run away from at the entrance. Some of these students were my age when they lost their lives, others as young as 23. I couldn’t help but think that if I was politically active during this epoch in Peru I could have easily been a victim, as revenge often has no mercy.

This day however has become symbolic of the continued struggle of these family members in Lima and throughout Peru to pursue the investigations of their disappeared family members. The wound is still open for those who don’t know where their family members are. The Cantuta Massacre is one of the better-known cases of forced disappearances as it was among the crimes used in the conviction of Fujimori on April 7, 2009 for human rights violations. It also differs from much of the stories I heard while in Ayacucho in that most of these victims were of a higher socio economic status than the Quechua speaking victim prototype which make the majority of those who died in 1980-2000.

Students Perform for La Cantuta Massacre Anniversary
Students Perform for La Cantuta Massacre Anniversary

From what I also understand many of these family members have received more State attention than the majority, as they are situationally better located to adhere press attention. Although this morning was nonetheless morose, it was also obvious to me that these family members aren’t just mourning but they are fighting.

Carmen Oyague Velasco, is the mother of one of the female students whose life was taken that evening, whom I later spoke to. She told me while knitting a panel for “The Scarf of Hope” that:

“We want to continue fighting because we want to know what happened to our family members. The truth is, it’s not easy to lose a family member, a loved one that disappears from home overnight. It’s very painful, especially when you have small children … But we are not going to be quiet until we find the rest of the body parts from the other graves because the Interamerican Court of Human Rights gave an order to search for these bodies. What happens is that the authorities here in Peru pay little attention to these claims made by the family members, they mock human rights, that’s what we don’t want to happen, to continue happening in our country. It’s been so many years, eighteen years, and that is not a small amount of time, but it’s nothing for us.”

Her daughter, Dora Oyague Fierro, was never found but she still continues to search for the truth. She stood there, as a testament to others that although she still lives with the pain of losing a child, she has also chosen to fight against impunity, and with that she is a voice for those who are voiceless, holding a banner for the press that reads: “LA CANTUTA 18-JULIO 1992, NO TO IMPUNITY, THE FAMILIES WON’T BE SILENCED!”

Family Member of La Cantuta Victim Holds Poster for Press
Family Member of La Cantuta Victim Holds Poster for Press

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Memory and Memorials

Karin Orr | Posted July 17th, 2010 | Uncategorized

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Episodic memory is a term used to describe personal memories that a human being associates with certain emotions, sensations, and personal associations of a place, time, or thing. As human beings we rely on memory to determine the present-day, our futures and to remember our pasts. We place importance on holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries because of our loyalty to remembering significant events within our lives and those of others.

July 16th was the anniversary of the Tarata Street bombings of 1992, which took place close to my neighborhood in Lima’s Miraflores district. Over twenty people were killed and many homes and businesses were damaged and destroyed by the Shining Path terrorist attack. The small touristy street is now completely repaired but in its place there stands a water fountain, intentionally built to the size of the crater that the some 1000 explosives left behind. The fountain has a small wooden bridge that allows the viewer to see the engraved plaque of the homage to the Tarata victims, which reads that “There is no path to peace, peace is the path.”

Memorial to Tarata Victims
Memorial to Tarata Victims

Tarata Street
Tarata Street

Amongst other memorials in Lima I’ve visited is “The Eye That Cries” or “El Ojo Que Llora”. It opened in 2005 as the first memorial piece dedicated to the 70,000 people who either died or were disappeared during Peru’s internal conflict. It is located in Lima’s district of Jesus Maria in its own gated off section of the Campo de Marte park.

The Eye That Cries
The Eye That Cries

Stones at the Eye That Cries
Stones at the Eye That Cries

The sculpture is made of stone and surrounded by water that circulates through the cracks of what used to be the stone’s eye, trickling down as a constant tear. The trickle actually evokes tears from my own eyes, as it would if I felt moved by someone else’s sadness. It is surrounded by a labyrinth of smaller stones, many of which still contain the inscribed 27,000 names of those who died or were disappeared during the violence. It is a controversial memorial piece because it acknowledges the death and disappearances of everyone during the conflict.

Only three years ago, in September of 2007 the memorial piece was heavily vandalized with orange paint and partly destroyed by alleged Fujimori supporters. I could still see the orange paint within the crevices of the stone, representing the consistent ideological divisions and intolerance within Peru as a reminder to the ongoing unresolved issues pertaining to the conflict. I speculated that perhaps this was why the park, where “The Eye That Cries” stands, was so desolate that Sunday afternoon.

The Eye That Cries
The Eye That Cries

Stones with Orange Paint
Stones with Orange Paint

Behind the memorial piece, there is a brightly colored amusement park with a ferris wheel spinning mirthful children. At first, I was displeased with the close proximity of the ferris wheel to the memorial site, but in retrospect I realize that its presence brought about a profound acknowledgement of humanity as being capable of both atrocious and ingenuous acts. I also reflected on the new generations of Peruvian’s who may one day be told to return to the memorial site to visit what may still be the only grieving site for their disappeared family members.

The Peruvian Forensic Anthropology Team is currently working with the people whose lives are most impacted by these memorials to investigate, identify, and recover the human remains of Peru’s disappeared so that the memory of their disappeared family members may have its own sanctuary to remember.

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Memory and Development: Thread by Thread, Seed by Seed

Karin Orr | Posted July 10th, 2010 | Latin America

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Throughout the past few weeks in Lima the word post-conflict has really resonated with me. I remember one of my Professor’s telling me that the meaning of ‘post-conflict’ is futile, particularly within countries that have experienced ongoing violence and thus a long recovery. In my opinion, despite the hurdles Peru has overcome to pacify violence, the aura is one of a country still in recovery.  Since my arrival I have yet to venture outside of Lima where “it doesn’t rain” but anticipate my trip to Ayacucho where the need for a humanitarian umbrella is still very much a reality.

In fact, of the numerous plans that have been unfolding within EPAF lately is a dual campaign for the Humanitarian Umbrella project that will address the need for Memory and Development, particularly in Peru’s more rural areas heavily impacted by the war, such as Putis.

One of these development pilot projects is to establish a small market of seed exchange for organic potato farming in Putis but more on that later.

In a week I will be travelling to Putis, a rural area in the South of Ayacucho, which was heavily devastated by the conflict but where in 2009, EPAF exhumed and restored the human remains of some 92 bodies. The remains were identified and returned to their rightful family members for proper burial but the terrain is severely underdeveloped.

However, even as an outsider, I can sense that it’s difficult to carry through with these fundamental elements for healing, when the social fabric of the country still contains many loose threads (particularly internal political barriers).

Within EPAF’s campaign of Memory, the women of Ayacucho have attempted to reweave some of these loose threads by knitting what is now a 200 meter scarf otherwise known as the “La Chalina de la Esperanza” (The Scarf of Hope). Each knitted square contains an image, a name, a memory of a family member, who was disappeared during the conflict, and represents the need for an ongoing dialogue for those who have no burial site to adorn.

Next week, I will be visiting these women during one of their knitting sessions where I was told they use the space to exchange stories as an outlet for healing. To read more about “La Chalina de la Esperanza” click here.

While some may be re-stitching memories in the name of the disappeared, other challenges that have recently arisen is that of the misuse of the term “desaparecidos”, by an advertisement put forth by Chilean airlines, LAN.

LAN Advertisement
LAN Advertisement

The advertisement is posted for a flight from Lima to Cusco and depicts a family photo with the words “DESAPARECIDOS” written above it.  Below are the names of the disappeared family members, and below that, “last seen looking at an irresistible offer by LAN.” Needless to say, the tasteless use of the word was poorly received by many Peruvians. (In Chile more than 1000 people were reported as disappeared during the Pinochet years and in Peru, 15,000 still remain disappeared).

I thought this merited a broader discourse, of which I have made available with this Voice thread. (Please feel free to engage in the discussion, resend the link, and let your voice be heard. You may also record others voices and upload them on the site. I welcome your thoughts and opinions.)

One point that an advertisement such as this one emphasizes is that forced disappearances is not exclusive to Peru, but really a global issue. One that therefore requires a global response.

In addition to EPAF’s international work in Nepal and Philippines, intensive forensics training for members of civil society in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo, is currently taking place. Interactive strategies have been developed by EPAF in order to engage Congolese policemen in using forensic research in preparation for a day that may be more conducive to the practice of this knowledge.

The issue of forced disappearances as being a global issue also arose during a focus group that EPAF facilitated, where 20 members of civil society joined to discuss the conception of the Humanitarian Umbrella campaign.

Focus Group for Humanitarian Umbrella Campaign
Focus Group for Humanitarian Umbrella Campaign

The meeting was comprised of artists, professors, teachers, actors, musicians, and activists, all of who anticipate contributing their creativity to an online multi media platform that will be used to disseminate a culture of Memory via video, photography, podcast, and art.

Although an ongoing process, the rebuilding of Memory and Development within Peru is transpiring, thread by thread, seed by seed.

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First Impressions in Lima

Karin Orr | Posted June 29th, 2010 | Latin America

How many people can say there is a morgue right next to the kitchen in their office? Not many, I’m sure, unless they are working with a forensics team whose job it is to analyze and infer the evidence from murder cases where the results could mean uncovering another identity of Peru’s some 15,000 forcibly disappeared from the 1980-2000 internal conflict.

Lima gris en San Borja
Lima gris en San Borja

Having only been in Lima for a week now, through conversation, I have already discerned the delicacy in discussing an issue as sensitive as the Internal Conflict with Peruvians. My first impression is that by just engaging in dialogue about the Internal Conflict is controversial in that it instigates memories by those who may have chosen to look forward, while others, such as the families of the disappeared, can’t help but look to the past. Personally, I can empathize with the desire to both forget and to remember, as I find both are equally important in the ability to overcome trauma and necessary on the path to healing.

This weekend I saw the country’s visual documentation of the conflict through the display of the photography exhibit of Yuyanapaq: Para Recordar (to remember) at the Museo de la Nación.  This exhibit was part of the Peruvian Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (CVR) contribution to fostering a collective memory.  The exhibit was the product of the CVR’s recovered images from the period 1980-2000, where they investigated nearly 80 photographic archives throughout the country, from private collections, the press, news agencies, the Armed Forces, the Police, human rights institutions, vicariates and family photo albums. (See my flickr account to see some of my favorites or click here to read more).

Archeological Skull in EPAF Morgue
Archeological Skull in EPAF Morgue

The museum’s cold and sterile ambience gave me the sensation that I was either walking through a prison cell or a catacomb. I wondered if this was for the purpose of simulating the ethos of a society that has suffered a violent conflict, where some among them are perpetrators, while others victims, and others still a combination of perhaps both…

Girl listening to testimonies of Family Members of the Disappeared
Girl listening to testimonies of Family Members of the Disappeared

This exhibit also tells the stories of many whom either lost their lives in the conflict or were greatly impacted by it.   It continues to tell those stories to each new visitor, myself included.  To me, it was a historical reminder that by retaining history there is more faith in the possibility that the violence will not repeat itself. It also better contextualized the forensics work Equipo Peruano de Antropologia Forense (EPAF) is doing by putting faces to some of the bodies that may be buried in these mass graves that they hope to uncover through the Humanitarian Umbrella Project.

Plastic Skeleton Used for EPAF Research
Plastic Skeleton Used for EPAF Research

Although EPAF may work backwards in that they must first look to history before they can move forward, by focusing on historical memory, forensic investigations, training in forensics, and human development, they are holistically working to provide the families of the disappeared with access to truth, justice and if nothing more, an outlet to tell their story.

#2 Picture by Vera Lentz, 1990
#2 Picture by Vera Lentz, 1990

2 Responses to “First Impressions in Lima”

  1. Lucy Jodlowska says:

    I was really curious what your conversations with the local Peruvians would be on the Internal Conflict. Would it be too difficult to go back and talk about the past, opening old wounds, or would there perhaps be a sense of denial in order to move forward? What is the most effective way for a nation to heal? Especially given that the conflict was so recent and the direct impact is no doubt felt by so many.

    It’s great to hear about the exhibit and its recognition of the lives lost. I can imagine how intense being there must have been for you, given the nature of your work.. You’re part of an incredible team that is directly fighting for the dignity of human lives. That’s incredibly inspiring.

  2. Pablo says:

    Interesting place, here in Chile we have the so-called “Museo de la memoria”, but since its inception it had a lot of controversy, don’t know if it was the same situation in Peru.

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Expectations, Demonstrations, and Anticipation

Karin Orr | Posted June 10th, 2010 | Latin America

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Two weeks and counting before my departure to Peru to work as the Advocacy Project’s, Summer Peace Fellow in their partnership with the Peruvian Forensics Anthropology Team (EPAF). In preparation, I have been reading up on the current state of affairs in Peru as much as possible. A recent incident that struck me as somewhat symbolic before my departure, was when a few weeks ago, the U.S. Park Police arrested Peruvian actress, Q’orianka Kilcher (who played Pocahontas in the 2005 film, “The New World”) for chaining herself to the fence of the White House as her mother doused her in a shiny oil-like black substance. The act coincided with Peru’s current President, Alan Garcia’s, meeting with President Barack Obama at the White House. Click here to read article/watch video.

Upon reading the article I was struck by the symbolism involved in the demonstration and yet the scarcity of additional information provided. The article contained the “when, what, who and hows” but lacked the more profound question as to why the 20 year old indigenous actress might participate in such a blatant act of civil disobedience.

Therefore I am taking it upon myself to surmise. Could it be a protest against the selling of land that inhabited Peru’s indigenous to foreign oil companies that upset her? Or against the Los Cabitos military base, which served as a torture and extrajudicial execution center during Garcia’s first administration, where more than 95 bodies have now been recovered? Maybe, the 1985 torture and murder of 69 Indian peasants in Accomarca in Peru’s southern Andes? Even perhaps, the massacre of 29 peasants in Cayara village in 1988?

Whatever Kilcher’s personal explanation may be, I realize that what I hope to achieve this summer is to challenge the silence and latent knowledge of Peru’s recovery from its 20 year long conflict of 1980-2000. Among the most prominent perpetrators of the conflict were the Sendero Luminoso in their terrorist campaign for ‘class struggle’ that claimed the lives of 31,331 people, 46% of the total deaths and disappearances. However, their violence was countered with further violence and further human rights violations by the State, escalating to a point of gridlock.

This summer I hope to fill in these reportage gaps by working side by side with EPAF to support 240 families of the disappeared from 6 communities in the Pampas-Qaracha River Basin in Ayacucho (what was the epicenter of violence during the conflict). Through this partnership we will work together to organize family associations that are capable of advocating for the recovery and identification of their disappeared loved ones’ remains while providing them with an outlet to express the process towards this recovery.

Although much of the North American view of indigenous in the Americas may stop at the story of Pocahontas, I intend to tell the story of those who have survived Peru’s dirty war where 70,000 people were killed and disappeared. I think that deserves recognition.

One Response to “Expectations, Demonstrations, and Anticipation”

  1. Pablo says:

    Or maybe the “Lucanamarca massacre”, where 69 peasants were killed by Shining Path on April 3, 1983.

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Fellow: Karin Orr



advocacy project Alan Garcia Amnesty International ANFASEP Arte por la Memoria Asociación Nacional de Familiares de Secuestrados Ayacucho Caminos de la Memoria Coordinadora Nacional de Derechos Humanos CVR demonstrations in Peru department of Memory Detenidos y Desaparecidos del Peru disappeared El Ojo Que Llora EPAF Equipo Peruano de Antropologia Forense families of the disappeared forensics Gerardo Fernandez individual economic reparations in Peru internal armed conflict internally displaced in Peru Jose Pablo Baraybar July 18th 1992 La Cantuta Massacre La Chalina de la Esperanza LAN La Tarata Latin America Lima Memorials Memory Nelson Rivas Palacio de Justicia Pampas-Qaracha River Basin Paz y Esperanza y Servicios Educativos Rurales (SER) Peru Peruvian Forensic Anthropology Team Pro Derechos Humanos (APRODEH) Putis Putis Massacre Shining Path The Eye That Cries VII Anniversary of Peru's Truth and Reconciliation Commission




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