Magazine article New Internationalist

Raising the Dead: The Shocking Report of Peru's Truth Commission

Magazine article New Internationalist

Raising the Dead: The Shocking Report of Peru's Truth Commission

Article excerpt

NUMBERS matter. Figures tell a story. And the figure 69,280 holds especially potent meaning for Peruvians these days. The country's Truth and Reconciliation Commission has concluded its inquiries and found that this is the number of people killed or disappeared between 1980 and 2000. It is almost three times the figure previously circulated.

The report holds the Maoist guerrillas of Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) responsible for 54 per cent of the deaths, and the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement responsible for 1.5 per cent. The remainder fell victim to the State's armed forces, presided over by three presidents: Fernando Belaunde (1980-85), Alan Garcia (1985-90) and Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000).

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Just to get a sense of scale: Pinochet's coup in Chile claimed around 3,000 lives at the hands of the State; Argentina's military dictatorship was responsible for some 30,000 disappearances. Appalling, but less than half Peru's total loss. Yet Peru's 'disappeared' aroused little international interest at the time and even now, strangely, gain little publicity.

Or not so strangely. Let's look at those statistics. Three out of every four victims in Peru were Quechua speakers, members of the country's biggest indigenous community. Some 69 per cent only had primary education; most of the victims, 79 per cent, lived in rural areas. And 40 per cent came from just one department, Ayacucho - one of the three most impoverished in the country. Unlike many of their Argentinean or Chilean counterparts most were not urban, not educated, not Spanish-speaking nor white.

For 22 months the Commission collected evidence from more than 16,000 people in 530 remote parts of Peru and undertook exhumations of mass graves and burial sites. Delivering the report to current President Alejandro Toledo at the end of August, Commission Chair Salomon Lerner did not mince his words: 'The story that is told here talks about us, about what we were and what we must stop being. …

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