The Struggle for Reparations – in Quechua
Ángel Páez, www.ipsnews.net
November 24, 2006
SAN JOSÉ DE SECCE, Peru — Isabel Limancca can express herself much better in Quechua. But she speaks Spanish well enough to wage a struggle against the Peruvian state from this remote town in Peru`s southern Andean highlands.
Limancca and others who lost family members during the armed conflict that hit this area hard starting in 1980 founded the Association of People Affected by the Political Violence (ASAVIP), which fights the neglect and marginalisation suffered by those who lost a parent, child or sibling to murder or forced disappearance during the 20-year civil war.
In 2004, a “high-level multisectoral commission” was set up in Lima, the capital, and given the task of following up on the “political actions of the state in the spheres of peace, collective reparations and national reconciliation.”
However, no official from that pompously-named state body has come to this isolated area to open an office and provide assistance to the survivors in San José de Secce, the capital of the municipality of Santillana.
This small town is located in the region of Ayacucho, one of the areas that bore the brunt of the armed conflict between the Maoist Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) and Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement guerrillas, the army, and paramilitary forces, including the “rondas campesinas” or peasant “self-defence” groups.
Limancca and her fellow activists have sent the Commission an initial list of 303 names of people affected by the war, “and we will continue sending more and more names of victims until they pay attention to us,” she says.
The chairman of the Commission, Julio Aliaga, admitted to IPS that they have never visited Santillana, despite the fact that it is their job to oversee compliance with the government`s “reparations plan”.
“We hold workshops with regional governments to determine the priorities in the collective reparations effort, especially in the areas where there have been large numbers of victims,” he explained.
That is a description that fits Santillana all too well. According to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (CVR), 1,000 people were killed in this municipality alone.
Aliaga said 15 million soles (4.6 million dollars) have been earmarked for collective reparations. But he added that he did not know when the funds would begin to be distributed, nor which communities would benefit.
“We are going to do it on the basis of the list of victims provided to us by the Reparations Council,” which was created in October, he said.
It has been six years since the armed conflict officially came to an end. But the survivors still have a long, uphill road ahead before they may actually receive reparations.
Limancca, 44, is not only demanding compensation from the state. She is also fighting the indifference of many people in the area, who prefer to forget what happened, as she goes door to door in remote highland villages, seeking out new cases.
“Forgetting about our relatives is to hide from our children what happened in this area. It is not fair. They have a right to know why their family members ‘disappeared`, why they were killed,” she tells IPS. “I already told my son everything. Now I have to find my husband`s body.”
On Feb. 17, 1985, 150 Sendero Luminoso insurgents converged on the village of Marccaraccay, which forms part of the municipality of Santillana. Word of their arrival sped through the village.
The news reached the home of the mayor, Emiliano Cavalcanti, who told his pregnant wife (Isabel Limancca) that he would go ahead to find a way out of the village to escape. But the guerrillas intercepted him.
“I never found his body,” says Limancca. “People told me he was taken higher up into the mountains, tied to a tree, tortured with a knife and then killed. But no one knows where his body was taken.”
The state has provided for a series of benefits for the relatives of victims: scholarships in schools and universities, temporary jobs, and medical and psychological assistance. But to gain access to them, the survivors must prove the forced disappearance or murder of their loved ones.
Like Limancca, however, thousands of Peruvians are unable to fulfil that legal requisite, as they have no death certificates.
In an attempt to overcome that obstacle, the ombudsman`s office is allowed to grant a “certificate of absence due to forced disappearance”. But so far, certificates have been issued in only 217 of the 8,558 registered cases of disappearance.
The procedure for applying for the certificate is long and costly, and involves a trip to the provincial capital or, more frequently, to Lima. Moreover, the paperwork must be done in Spanish, while many of the survivors only speak Quechua and have received little to no formal schooling.
Of the 217 certificates, only 55 were issued to families in Ayacucho, a region that accounted for nearly three-quarters of the victims of forced disappearance.
“Certifying the disappearance of one or several family members is one of the most arduous tasks faced by the ombudsman`s office. Many people, out of fear or ignorance, did not report the murder or disappearance of their relatives,” Eduardo Vega, a human rights official in that office, told IPS.
“The laws are very strict, and put in place requisites that are sometimes impossible to fulfil,” he said.
“We have tried to make the requisites a bit more flexible. Our work should be based on a presumption that the survivor is telling the truthàand great value must be put on the word of the family members, in order to certify that the person existed,” Vega added.
The guerrillas burned many civil register books containing birth and death certificates, which means that in many cases, the only trace of a person`s existence is an old photograph.
Magdalena Figueroa tells IPS that her son Feliciano Guerra escaped from San José de Secce with her husband, Alcides Bermudo, and their three small children (four-year-old Reiser, three-year-old Nora, and three-month-old Hermógenes). They were heading towards Pichari, in the jungles of Ayacucho.
“The Senderistas kidnapped them along with 35 other people, accusing them of being `yana umas` (black heads, as the members of the self-defence groups were known). But when the guerrillas were taking them to a camp, the army intercepted them and killed them all, believing they were all members of the same group. We never found their bodies,” says Figueroa, 66, in tears.
We are sitting in the town`s central square and word has gotten around that the press is here. Everyone wants to tell IPS their stories, everyone wants to know what they have to do to obtain the promised compensation, and they all still harbour hope that the remains of their loved ones will be found.
Feliciana Quispe, 52, says in Quechua that on Sept. 6, 1987, more than 100 Senderistas showed up disguised as soldiers and called the people of the village of Llahuas together in an assembly.
“They separated out around 15 men who belonged to the `rondas` (self-defence groups) and then they took off their uniforms and shouted ¡Viva the armed struggle! ¡Death to the yana umas! And they just cut their throats right there,” she recalls.
“They came another day and killed all of the local authorities. In Llahuas they killed my aunt, Antonia Morales, who raised me, so I became an orphan. The Senderistas killed her because she went out to defend her son, and they killed him too. They killed five of my family members,” says Quispe.
“We couldn`t live there anymore because they would steal our livestock and our food. We had to go higher up in the mountains. They also killed Saturnino Haurcaya, Paulino Limaquispe, Víctor Potosino, Teodosio Quispe Rimachi, Gregorio Llantoy and Víctor Lunasco,” she says with emotion.
“We all want justice.”
The mayor of Santillana, Luciano Velasque, says it will be difficult for the wounds left by the war to heal.
“Compensation of any kind is worth little if we continue to be neglected by the government of the day. The poverty here is still just as bad, or worse. The armed conflict has left us even poorer,” he says.
The police killed three of Velasque`s uncles.
“That is why there will always be people in the central square, crying. There will be no reconciliation if the poverty continues,” he adds.
These days Carlos Falconí, one of Peru`s foremost performers of traditional music and a member of the famous Trío Ayacucho, is visiting villages and towns that were hit hard by the war, teaching children to write “huaynos” and “yaravíes” (traditional rhythms) to help them express their sadness.
“It`s a way for them to get things off their chest, to express the pain they carry deep inside,” he explains. “I was in Accomarca, where Sendero Luminoso killed more than 60 people because they opposed the armed struggle. The children there suffer a lot. They wake up at night crying and screaming. The war is still going on there.”
As Limancca watches me walk away, towards the road that brought me to San José de Secce, she says: “It`s not every day that we are asked about our murdered and disappeared family members. Take this list so they are not forgotten.”
Ángel Páez, IPS
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