Jessica Varat

Jessica Varat (Peruvian Forensic Anthropology Team - EPAF): Jessica worked at the Latin America Program of the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington D.C, where she specialized on politics in Bolivia. During her time at the Center, she traveled to both Peru and Bolivia, and completed a semester-long introductory Quechua class. She also coordinated projects on citizen security and the geopolitics of energy. At the time of her fellowship, Jessica was a graduate student at the Fletcher School studying Conflict Resolution and International Negotiation. After her fellowship, Jessica wrote: “I think I now see myself as someone who is open to idealism and becoming truly passionate about an issue. I am also now less afraid of being in a new situation where I might experience hardship, and have learned that with good friends, like the ones I had at EPAF, hardship becomes much less hard. I am now committed to the study of transitional justice.”

“Things will never change”

08 Jul

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.

Posted By Jessica Varat

Posted Jul 8th, 2009

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