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The following is my latest short post for the London Review of Books blog.
In June 2009, the Bolivian state-run newspaper Cambio reported that Alán García, the then president of Peru, had accused Bolivia’s president, Evo Morales, of inciting genocide against the Peruvian police force. Morales had expressed solidarity with inhabitants of the Peruvian Amazon opposed to the multinational corporate exploitation of the region’s resources.
Since then, Morales seems to have adjusted his position on both environmentalism and the rights of indigenous peoples. There are plans to build a highway through Bolivia’s Isiboro Sécure National Park and Indigenous Territory (TIPNIS). The government has portrayed the road’s opponents as politically motivated allies of US imperialism, and the police have cracked down violently on protesters. The road would benefit Brazilian energy companies and coca-growing Morales supporters who have moved into the area.
The following is my latest piece for Al Jazeera.
In September 1992, Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori accused Angelica Mendoza– a septuagenarian resident of the town of Ayacucho – of being the “ambassador to France for Senderista terrorism”.
Mendoza’s 19-year-old son Arquimedes Ascarza, rumoured to be collaborating with the Maoist guerrilla organisation Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path), had been disappeared by the Peruvian army in 1983. In addition to being his mother, Mendoza’s terrorist credentials also included helping to found the National Association of Families of the Kidnapped, Detained and Disappeared of Peru (ANFASEP) as well as travelling briefly to Europe, in conjunction with other terrorist outfits such as Amnesty International, to publicise human rights abuses in the South American nation.
The year 1992 – the year of Fujimori’s accusation – also happened to be the year in which a professor and nine students from Lima’s National University of Education were abducted from campus and murdered by the Grupo Colina death squad, which included members of the Peruvian armed forces. In 1991, the same group assassinated an eight-year-old child and 14 other people at a social gathering in the neighbourhood of Barrios Altos.
Last week I carried a very small white coffin down the street in Ayacucho, Peru, birthplace of the Maoist guerrilla group Sendero Luminoso. It contained the remains of Alejandro Aguilar Yapo, killed along with an estimated 105 others in a day-long massacre in 1984. Aguilar’s bones had been arranged in the coffin that morning by employees of the public prosecutor’s office in Ayacucho, who unpacked them, along with the bones of three other victims exhumed last year from a mass grave, from the Motta panettone boxes in which they had been stored after seven months of forensic analysis. After a service in the cathedral, the victims’ families prepared to take their remains on the lengthy bus ride back home to Sicuani, 740 km away.
In the early 1980s, the residents of Soras, 200 km south-east of Ayacucho, had refused to join Sendero Luminoso. On the morning of 16 July 1984, a group of Senderista militants dressed as policemen boarded a bus – thereafter known as the ‘Expreso de la muerte’ – from Ayacucho to Soras. They killed the passengers and people in the villages the bus stopped at along the way. Aguilar and the others from Sicuani, wool traders unaffiliated with the opposition to Sendero Luminoso in Soras, were beaten to death when the bus stopped in Doce Corrales.
The following is my latest piece for Al Jazeera.
While we waited for the elevator at the Museum of the Nation in Lima last week, my companion – a middle-aged Peruvian photographer – requested confirmation from a museum employee that the terrorists were on the sixth floor. The employee nodded.
“The terrorists” turned out to be shorthand for an exhibit tracing the history of the Peruvian state’s war with Sendero Luminoso (the Shining Path), the Maoist guerrilla group that emerged in 1980 and that was largely subdued in the 1990s during the reign of President Alberto Fujimori. Persistent strains have however provided valuable opportunities for Israeli private security companies and other entities interested in profiting from a continued struggle.
The photographer inserted bits of his own personal history into the timeline of Peruvian terrorism, such as his compulsory military service in the impoverished region of Ayacucho, birthplace of Sendero as well as of the majority of persons killed in the ensuing armed conflict. Of the 69,000 estimated by Peru’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission to have perished, 75 per cent are said to have been Quechua-speaking civilian peasants.
Though the photographer ultimately cast the Peruvian armed forces’ subjection of villages in Ayacucho to collective punishment as a logical reaction to the nature and manoeuvres of the enemy, he did acknowledge that the practice produced ethical unease.The photographer’s parents hailed from Ayacucho themselves, but were residing in Lima at the time of Sendero’s descent upon their village. According to him, the guerillas’ first step was to slaughter in gratuitous fashion anyone who might qualify as an “authority of the state”, which apparently included the man whose job it was to apprehend and corral animals interfering with village crops and to then inform and collect a fine from the families to whom the animals belonged.
With the release of the first part of the report from its investigation into the May 2010 attack on the humanitarian aid flotilla en route to Gaza—in which nine Turkish activists were murdered by IDF commandos—the Israeli Turkel Commission has underscored Israel’s capacity for democratic introspection.
The commission’s findings include that the commandos in question acted in self-defense and that the Israeli blockade of Gaza is not in contravention of international law. According to Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, the report proves that Israel is “a law-abiding country”.
I’ve made a short list of ideas for possible commissions in other countries interested in attaining a similar status:
1. The United States.
Commission to investigate inordinate number of civilian casualties of U.S. drone attacks on Pakistan.
Possible conclusion: Drones were acting in self-defense.
Chávez’ reluctance to accept the end of history was documented in an August 2006 article by Johns Hopkins professor Francis Fukuyama in the Washington Post. In the article, predictably entitled “The End of Chávez,” Fukuyama asserts that “Chavismo is not Latin America’s future — if anything, it is its past”; whether García will receive a similar reminder entitled “The End of the Cold War” remains to be seen. Allegiance to outdated historical models has meanwhile been observed among other sectors of the global population such as my grandfather, who exhibited unwavering commitment to the idea that his nursing home companions and their oxygen tanks were involved in a Soviet plot.