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.”

Why go to Huamanquiquia?

28 Aug

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.

Posted By Jessica Varat

Posted Aug 28th, 2009

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