We live nearby a cultural district which houses the National Library, National Theatre and National Museum. On a weekend day not too long ago, on a day when we didn’t want a big adventure in travel in order to visit a different part of the city, we decided to check out the museum since it is just a 15 minute walk from our place. We weren’t even sure if it would be open but one would think so, or whether we would be allowed in, or how much it would cost assuming there would be an entrance fee.
The day we went was a day for folks in the neighbourhood to set up areas to collect donations for communities that are suffering from the effects of the deluge of rain and subsequent flooding which washed out homes and roads in various parts of the country but particularly in the north. There is some reassurance in the hope for humanity when I see such efforts, albeit a very minor hope. This ended up being an interesting contrast to what we were about to see.
So we entered the very ominous Ministry of Culture building, not sure of the entrance to the museum. You would have thought you were entering a dark empty office building with cavernous ceilings on a Sunday, devoid of any workers,. There were essentially no people about except for the typical security guard. Where was everybody? We first had to walk through the metal detector but without removing our bags or similar so one had to wonder if the device was more for show rather than function since no alarms went off. The fellow (I have yet to see a female security guard) explained to us that there was only a display on the 6th floor as all other materials were on display at museums throughout the country. We thought ok that’s fine, especially since it was free to get in.
We took the elevator up, and proceeded to enter what appeared to be an unfinished floor with all grey cement walls & floors, water (and other?) piping hanging visibly from the ceiling. In hindsight one could say this was to good effect although probably not intentional, albeit not necessarily functional, more economical perhaps? There was a sign in Spanish letting the visitor know that some aspects of the display might be disturbing especially for children. I thought ok.
We quickly picked up on the fact that each room of the display was telling the story of an event in the 20 year civil war in the country, from 1980-2000. I knew about there being internal conflict, having heard about the Shining Path terrorist/freedom fighter guerrilla group, but I really didn’t know any details. It turns out there had been a truth and reconciliation commission set up in the early 2000s. The brochure states, “The photo exhibition ‘Yuyapanaq. To remember’, is the first symbolic reparation of the State, to be considered a memory space that makes visible, through images and testimonies, the violence that occurred in our country in the period 1908-2000”.
In each room there would be a series of photos, each with some explanation in Spanish and English. There was a larger board describing the greater event that took place in the conflict, only in Spanish. I was able to read and understand much of this, however I still felt the ‘why’ was lacking. The exhibit was more of the what and how. There was certainly no holds barred from the images shown – lots of dead bodies, killed in bombs, executed, dug up from mass graves, etc…
As is always the case, no side in the conflict is innocent. Definitely each side: the insurgent organization the Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso), the government of the time which were under various presidents beginning with Belaúnde Terry (whose 1st term as president had ended in a military coup) and continuing under Fujimori; and other groups – the MRTA (Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement), members of the Popular Guerrilla Army (Ejército Guerrillero Popular, or EGP, and the Colina group (a paramilitary group made up of members from the government to execute crimes during Fujimori´s time as president, deployed to suppress legitimate social movement activity e.g. union groups, who were protesting the government), all committed atrocities.
If I understand correctly, Peru had military governments until 1980. Certain impoverished areas of the Andean highlands were neglected by the central government thus providing fodder for a political group to enter into this vacuum. Peasants in these regions were sympathetic to the Shining Path. However these areas then became the target for military and police raids in order to find the resistance members, after a state of emergency was instituted. The SP did have more support from peasants and poorer communities, however as they were against all things capitalistic, the SP’s policies to shut down small and rural market lost them favour. Also Indigenous Peoples were not supportive because SP did not support human rights, considering them to be bourgeois, reactionary, counterrevolutionary rights. Hmmm…. there is the issue of individual rights say of an individual woman, versus collective rights, say of Indigenous Peoples, both of which I support but this can present dilemmas as well.
The rebellion began in a rural area known as Ayacucho, one of the poorest areas in the south central region of the country. The Shining Path, whose leader was Abimael Guzman, was a Maoist Leninist Community group. They certainly did not shy away from using violence in their attempt to overthrow the State, but they also used violence to instil fear into the peasants in order for them to choose sides. As for the State when they would undertake their raids, they would round up suspects and through torture attempt to find the members of the resistance. Here we have alas the same phenomena as in many other Latin American countries – the disappeared, people who are still missing to this day. I am much more familiar with this in Argentina & Chile which garnered international attention on many an occasion.
When one considers when the conflict ended so in 2000, this really was not long ago at all. I thought of the age of the population: if you were born after 1995 it could be argued that one might not remember any of this however the trauma experienced by the parents or other family members as we well know can be passed down through intergenerational trauma. I don’t know for certain but I felt I had a small window into understanding why the faces of Limenos were so hard and unhappy looking if I am reading the faces correctly (it could just be the heat). During the conflict which initially did occur in the rural areas, what of course happened is that people fled to the city of Lima, leaving everything behind. Eventually the violence did come to the city. Subsequently, the government did initiate programs to encourage people to relocate back to the area from where they came but for many there was nothing left there for them, and they had secured employment in the city. So perhaps there are also folks here who do not really want to be here, having a different culture, language (Quechua), and connection to the land. I now understand why there are gates in the community surrounding where we live and other neighbourhoods.
I am obviously going to spend time now reading up about this civil war, that is when I get the time or find some English sources!!