I left off my previous post with EPAF staff and victims’ representatives from different communities of the Pampas-Qaracha River Basin region of Ayacucho boarding an overnight bus to Lima after spending four eventful days in Ayacucho (see The Relatives Unite Part 1 and Part 2). One major problem facing the relatives of Peru’s more than 15,000 disappeared from the period of the internal armed conflict (1980-2000) is that they are mainly from isolated regions of Ayacucho. Accordingly, their voices are very seldom heard in Lima, the economic and political center of the country.
Bringing the relatives to Lima, particularly after the leadership and empowerment workshops realized in the communities over the past year and in the previous few days in Ayacucho, was an attempt to break through this invisibility, and various public activities were planned to ensure that this objective was reached.
On the first day in Lima, the relatives from Ayacucho met with relatives and representatives from different victims’ organizations from Lima. This encounter was used to elaborate a letter to President Ollanta Humala that would be signed by all before being handed in directly to the President’s Office. The letter outlined eleven demands related to truth, justice and reparation; such as the elaboration of a National Plan for the Search and Identification of the Disappeared and the provision of reparations to the victims in an integral manner; both collectively and individually.
In addition, the document expressed the total opposition of the relatives to any and all form of amnesty granted by the State regarding violations of human rights committed during the internal armed conflict: “We consider that the meaning of justice for the relatives entails the completion of the sentences received [by violators of human rights] so that it may serve as a lesson for future generations, and so that these events never occur again.” The letter closed by demanding respect and immediate attention to their demands. The full text of the letter can be accessed here (in Spanish).
Then, on the next day—All Saints’ Day—a commemoration was held at the Ojo que Llora memorial (The Eye that Cries) in honour of all of Peru’s disappeared. The event served as a symbolic and powerful reminder that while the rest of Peruvians flock to cemeteries to visit their dead every year on All Saints’ Day and the Day of the Dead (November 1st and 2nd), the relatives of the disappeared have nowhere to go to.
Many relatives from Lima and Ayacucho showed up for the event, and so did many of the television channels invited by EPAF, providing an opportunity for the Ayacuchan relatives to break the silence they are often forced to live with. The following is a short video I filmed during the event:
The rest of the week was spent lobbying different persons and entities. The relatives met with Congressman Javier Diez Canseco, official from the Ministerio de la Mujer, the Ombudsman’s Office, the CMAN, etc. By the end, one could tell they had gained experience and confidence in presenting their case, making demands and generally requesting that their voice be heard.
I believe the relatives went home to Ayacucho feeling energized to continue their long battle for the truth, justice and reparation. I hope that hearing the experiences of other relatives, be they from other rural communities, Ayacucho’s capital, or Lima made them feel like they were part of a community rather than alone in their fight. I was also encouraging that many of the authorities contacted were willing to receive the relatives and listen to them—even if that represents no real guarantee that they will do something about the issue.
There is a real need for this not to be a one-off event, but for empowerment and leadership work with the relatives of Peru’s disappeared to be ongoing. It is only by publicly repeating the same stories and the same demands over and over again that they have a chance of becoming part of the national consciousness, allowing for memory and justice in all senses. Although I will no longer be there to document it, EPAF’s work in Ayacuchan communities affected by the political violence will continue. Moreover, the relatives that took part in this “meeting of relatives” were given the responsibility of transferring what they had learned and experiences to the other relatives of their communities. As I see it, small as they may be, these are all steps that will hopefully eventually allow for the issue of Peru’s disappeared to be given the attention it rightly deserves.
Posted By Catherine Binet
Posted Dec 10th, 2011