A step ahead to reconciliation in Peru
The war caused, according the report made by a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), almost 70,000 deaths, between 12,000 and 15,000 disappeared y over 600,000 displaced people, as a result of leftist guerrillas Lighting Path and Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) attempt to seize the power and the gruelling response from the State, who hit indiscriminately to the Andean indigenous population.
Nevertheless, nowadays many Peruvians youngsters know very little about those years, as they were too young to remember or hadn’t even born. The reference to that period at the schools is minimal and the media hardly talk about it, even if there are today some trials to Army members for human rights violations in endless proceedings that use to conclude with no guilty ones.
Sixteen years after the fall of Alberto Fujimori authoritarian regime (1990-2000), who put an end to the conflict, that war wounds are still open. National reconciliation still seems to be far away, as there are many opposite sensibilities and views about what happened in that time and the different responsibilities.
“For many people, that was a period of an intense pain, so they feel the need to forgot it in order to avoid delve in the impact it had on them”, Owan Lay, Place of the Memory director, says. However, he reminds the Marco Tulio Ciceron maxim of the people who forget their history are doomed to repeat it.
Gisela Ortiz lost a brother, Luis Enrique, killed with other eight university students like him and a teacher in 1992 by a paramilitary command under Fujimori’s regime orders. She remarks that “there is a lot of misinformation about that period, mainly in the youth“.
“We live in a different situation now and talking about car bombs, blackouts (caused by sabotage actions), death people found in the streets by dawn… is something unreal for them”, she adds. “That’s why I think that this museum needs to be a space for people to learn, get involved and interested in find out more”.
One of the TRC’s recommendation was the creation of memorials and other places for historic memory to commemorate the victims of that conflict.
This is what the The Place of Memory, Tolerance and Social Inclusion museum does. Its permanent exhibition recounts what occurred during those years, no only chronologically, but analysing several topics: the role played by the teachers in the rural areas or by the media, the State response to the insurgent groups, the emergence of self-defence groups, the Lighting Path bomb attacks in Lima, the sexual violence exercised mainly against indigenous women, the forced disappearances, the creation of victims relatives organizations…
But it’s precisely the victims who occupy a prominent place in the display. This shows some emblematic cases evidencing the different kind of perpetrators, who contribute to fuel the violence. So, it reminds how the indigenous ashaninkas, an Amazon people, lost more than a fifth of its population, as they were enslaved, that enslaved, forcibly recruited and in many cases murdered by Lighting Path. It also pays tribute to the 123 people, including 19 children, who were killed by the army in 1984 in a massacre in the Andean village of Putis. And to the eight journalists who were, according to the official version –questioned by their families, confused by the inhabitants of Uchuraccay (also in the Andes) with members of Lighting Path and executed them in cold blood.
There’s is also a space where missing people relatives can place some personal belongings and a room where the visitors can listen the first-hand testimonies of several victims and other social actors as they see the narrator on a big TV screen.
When the Peruvian schools reopened, in the next days, the Place of Memory will organize students’ visits and it is also looking for funds to take an itinerant exhibition all over the country.
Besides, it will enable soon in its website an online documentation and investigation centre where public will be able to consult around 10,000 files related to the intern conflict. Among them, there are 12,000 minutes of video with the testimonies given to the TRC.
The project to open the Space of Memory, after the steps of other similar museums built in other South American countries that pass through dictatorships of violent politic conflicts like Chile, Argentina or Uruguay, started in 2008. It was boosted by civil society and some local personalities like the Peruvian Literature Nobel prize Mario Vargas Llosa, and it has been financing mainly by the international aid, mainly from the German government. This has provided the most of the over 30 million dollars budget.
But it took seven years to be completed as there were no truly political will to carry it out. At the beginning, the president was Alan García, who had been in power also in the period 1985-1990, when many of the conflict’s worst human right violations took place. He was followed at 2011 by Ollanta Humala, a former military official who didn’t take an interest in the project. The building, that faces the Pacific Ocean, is located in a not very accessible place of Lima. It was inaugurated in June 2014, but the content of the exhibition took another year and a half to be concluded.
A museum commission has been meeting for months with the victims organizations and other collectives and social representatives in a complex process to decide the content of the museum. Lay asserts that “the final product provides a balanced view on what happened from 1980 to 2000”. It shows, he adds, “a set of facts and allows the visitor to elaborate a critical thinking about that period”.
However, not surprisingly, victims from one and another side are not completely satisfied with it. On one hand, Gisela Ortiz thinks that the museum displays a series of isolated events failing to explain “the causes and reasons that led to the conflict”. She also misses a mention to the present situation of the victims, who haven’t got justice nor reparation 16 years after the end of the conflict.
Besides, she regrets, the museum doesn’t explain the leftist guerrillas politic goal, that led them to commit serious crimes against the civil population, nor it shows the security forces attacks against civilians as part of a systematic response, as a state policy, but as isolated actions.
On the other hand, from the point of view of Sandra García, president of the Peruvian association of dead Army and police members relatives, the museum regretfully places the Army and the police at the same level than the guerrillas. “It damages the prestige of the Army and the police”, she says.
“90% of the displays is about the military excesses and only 10% is about Lighting Path actions. It says nothing about the thousands of bomb cars against the police and the Army”, García points out. She lost her husband, the police captain Roberto Morales, in 1993 at an ambush on the north of the country where were also murdered another 16 officers. He was 37 then and she was left alone with four children.
In her opinion, there were not a systematic policy of human right violation, as it’s reflected, she thinks, in the Place of Memory, but “isolated facts”. Why doesn’t it talk about the brave army and police officers who died in the confrontation?”, she questions.
Lay exposes that the museum’s purpose “is not to give a unique response, to generate a unique collective memory, but a set of memories (that’s to say, points of view about the conflict depending on the side anyone lived it) to feed a set of collective memories. But the ultimate objective is “to stimulate the debate and the dialogue” and to help “each of the visitors to find his own answers and his own questions”.
In spite of the critics, all the victims appreciate the importance of this museum. “I do think that it’s a valuable place for our countries memory, even there are missing aspects. It can be useful to help Peruvians understand each others, to understand others pain, to learn to respect each other”, Gisela Ortiz affirms. “At least, we already have and space that can be progressively modified and where the truth is going to be exposed. We have made a progress”, Ramírez agrees.
This is, therefore, a little step in the search for a reconciliation apparently still distant. It’s not only the fact that the guerrilla’s victims and the security forces’ ones disagree in the content the museum should display. In the meetings to decide it the insurgent group members, unanimously seen as terrorists in Peru, weren’t ever considered. They have still followers in the country in a number difficult to quantify and they are banned from the political life.