What can we learn from Peru?

( – promoted by buhdydharma )

Most of you have probably seen the story this week that the former President of Peru Alberto Fujimori was convicted of human rights crimes and sentenced to 25 years in prison.

Former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori has been sentenced to 25 years in jail for ordering killings and kidnappings by security forces.

At the end of a 15-month trial, judges found him guilty of two death-squad killings of 25 people during the conflict with guerrillas in the 1990s…

The trial, which took place at a special-forces police base on the outskirts of the capital, Lima, was the first time a democratically elected Latin American leader had been tried and found guilty in his own country for human rights abuses.


If you pay attention to the dates in the quote, you might wonder what was happening in Peru between the time that Fujimori left power in late 2000 and when this trial began in late 2007.

Alejandro Toledo was elected President in 2001 and immediately established a Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

The Peruvian Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was established in June 2001 to examine atrocities committed in the 1980s and 1990s, when Peru was plagued by the worst political violence in the history of the republic during the Internal conflict in Peru…The Commission congregated many sectors of Civil Society, including scholars, journalists, sociologists, priests and artists.

The Commission focused on massacres, forced disappearances, human rights violations, terrorist attacks, and violence against women, committed by both the rebel groups Shining Path and Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement as well as the military of Peru. Its work encompassed holding public meetings, collecting testimonies, and making forensic investigations. It also made recommendations for reparations and institutional reforms. Its estimation of victims for the period was 69,280 dead.

You can see more about the work of the Commission at their web site. Here is a portion of a speech by the President of the Commission, Salomon Lerner Febres in January 2003 that lays out the scope of their charge.

During this time you have asked us many times and even with a disapproval spirit why we should open the way to such a hard truth. There are many answers to this question. The first one has to do with the strict consideration of justice. The person who has suffered an abuse, who has been victim of a transgression, who has been unfairly deprived of his or her freedom, of his or her dignity and even of his or her life, has a first and foremost: “to inform others what happened to him or her, that the rest of citizens learn that one among them, that one equal to them, has been deprived from something to which all of us have a right”

And besides that consideration of elementary justice, we must say that truth is also necessary so history does not repeat itself, so death, grief, hopelessness and fear lived through by our society and specially intensely by our countrymen from the most forgotten areas never happen again.

When we assumed the position trusted to us and we started our work, we knew that the history that had to be exposed was tragic, hard and so cruel that it could even be difficult to believe. However, I must now say that our imagination, our capacity to foretell the future did not prepare us for what we in fact found. In the work carried out during these eighteen months, the Commission has found acts of cruelty and painful facts that largely exceed our forecast. We believe now more than ever that the whole country must know about this and that the history we shall expose when submitting our Final Report be remembered as our history…

On the other hand, it is truth that as we have seen the pain, the cruelty and the useless costs of this war, we have also learnt about thousands of examples of responsible civic behavior, of generosity, solidarity and selflessness, as well as about the active resistance to violence, collective action movements which, first, limited the expansion of subversion and, then, prevented violence to go unfettered…

This public presentation of the Commission is, then, a way of responding the country for the trust in us. At the same time is a renewed invitation to the concerned people and institutions to become involved in this process in a candid and open fashion.

This schematic account of what we did as a Commission confirms and reiterates an idea we have not stopped repeating, we did not face only past facts, firstly because the victims’ pain is still there silently waiting for redress and justice, and, additionally, because many of the deep problems that cause violence are still present in our national life, dividing Peruvians and darkening their future…

Our first task is to do way to truth regarding little known events and about responsibilities that had been left unpunished to facilitate a correct application of justice by all competent organisms. The TRC has this first commitment and will do our best to prevent oblivion of criminal acts and illicit omission that must receive a sanction.

Secondly, we shall go on with dialogues already started with the most important institutional actors during this internal war period, such as parties that governed, state powers, military institutions, large press media, etc. We want to invite these players publicly to accompany us in an open reflection where they can expose before society, the society they wish to lead, their points of view and to make a balance that would allow to better understand the reasons for their actions and, eventually, for their error.

In fact, much of the usefulness of this national revision of our recent history depends on everybody’s participation and attitude, especially of those who played a relevant role at that time. This is the moment to listen to each other outside any political intention and to pay attention only to the responsibility we all have regarding the victims of violence and towards the future generations of Peruvians.

The Commission also produced a photo exhibit titled Yuyanapaq, which means “to remember” in Quechua, the indigenous language spoken by most of the people who were victims of the violence. Here is a quote from Carlos Iván Degregori, a member of the Commission, about the exhibit.

Among the Yagua people of the Amazon Jungle, knowledge (ndatará) is first obtained visually. To know things, one has to see them in dreams or during a trance through which the shaman enters the spirit world to consult the spirits about the enigmas of the case he is handling. In learned societies, it is no longer through these means that knowledge is obtained. However, in recent decades, the rapid development of audiovisual media has obliged us to reconsider the relationship among seeing, knowledge and power.

And finally, a movie “State of Fear: The Truth about Terrorism” was produced.

I am especially impressed with the words at the end of this clip by the person they identify as the “truth seeker.”

We are going to erase the official history told to us and replace it with the new chapter written by the Truth Commission. It’s a chapter written by those who suffered crying out to their nation.

There are many ways that the experience of the people of Peru is different from what has happened with the United States over the last 8 years. Most notably, the physical violence and death was experienced by the people of Peru and not primarily by people on a distant shore. But I still believe that there are many lessons we can learn from these courageous people.  


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  1. the weight of historical trauma is about to crush our hearts and souls……..

  2. Remember Lori Berenson?

    Details here.

    • RUKind on April 12, 2009 at 04:58

    Put on your flak jacket. There’s not enough revenge in a TRC for most people. Pat Leahy has it right. Get to the truth first; everything will follow from there.

    I saw the Fujimori news when it broke. I couldn’t believe my eyes. He’s actually going to do time. Now if only the Cheney/Bush gang meets the same fate.

    If we don’t know the truth then the history will be a lie taught to the next generations. we can’t let that happen. We’ve institutionalized too many lies to begin with. I recommend Lies My Teacher Told Me by James Loewen for some background to how history gets twisted into propaganda.

    No TRC, no Truth. Obama is already siding with the state secrets crowd. We need to get our collective asses in gear if we want to know the truth of what went don in the last ten years (1998 – 2008).


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