January 30, 2023

Peru: Protester deaths spark calls for reparations amid a painful past

6 min read


“If something happens to me, don’t cry,” Leonardo Hanco told his wife, Ruth Barcena, on the morning of Dec. 15 in the southern Peruvian city of Ayacucho.

A 32-year-old taxi driver and father of a seven-year-old girl decided to join. Nationwide political protests in Peru At the last minute

According to Barcina, “If I decided to join because I want to leave a better future for my children, then I am fighting for my rights.”

The protests, which began after the ouster of former President Pedro Castillo in December, have continued since then – mostly in central and southern Peru, where Ayacucho is located – over allegations of corruption in government and elected officials, as well as anger at living conditions. Caused. and inequality in the country. Protesters are demanding the resignation of President Dina Bolverte, a shutdown of Congress, early general elections and a new constitution.

The ancient city of Ayacucho, known for its pre-Inca history and colonial churches, has seen dramatic violence during protests. According to the country’s ombudsman’s office, at least 10 people were killed and more than 40 injured in the region alone.

Hankook was one of them. A few hours after joining the march, he was shot in the stomach near the airport in Ayacucho, where protesters had gathered with some trying to control the runway.

Barcina told CNN that he died two days later from his injuries.

Protesters stand on the airport tarmac amid violent protests in Ayacucho, Peru on December 15, 2022.

The plateau of Ayacucho was once home to the Wari civilization and became part of their empire. Its capital, now also known as Ayacucho, was one of the most important cities during the Spanish conquest. It was also the birthplace of one of the darkest and most painful chapters in Peru’s recent history, home to an armed rebel group. Shining Path During the violent 80’s and 90’s.

According to the final report of the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, About 70,000 people eventually died. Due to the internal conflict between the Peruvian security forces and the Maoist rebel groups Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso) and the Marxist-Leninist Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA). Both government forces and rebel groups have been accused of human rights abuses while fighting. More than 40 percent of the deaths and missing persons in this bloody conflict occurred in the Ayacucho region.

Since then, the region has welcomed local and international tourists, relying on agriculture, mining and the production of local products. But it still reflects the inequalities of the past. Compared to Lima, the capital of Peru, Ayacucho’s health and education systems are backward, with facilities and standards far below those affording the capital.

“They say Peru is doing very well economically, but the pandemic exposed us,” Lorgio Guillon, an anthropology professor at the National University of San Cristóbal de Huamanga, told CNN.

after the Nearly two decades of sustained economic growth, CoVID-19 hit the country hard in 2020, with the highest per capita deaths in the world and More than half of the population Lack of access to adequate food during epidemics. poverty It has been particularly insidious in rural areas of the country.

Although the economy has improved, with GDP returning to pre-pandemic levels, the inequality found in the country does not mean that everyone will benefit. The World Bank predicts that poverty will remain above pre-pandemic levels for the next two years.

Some protesters have demanded his release. Former President Castillo was imprisoned.A one-time rural teacher who vowed to correct economic inequality before his downfall. But the polarization and chaos surrounding his presidency — including corruption allegations and several impeachment attempts by Congress, which Castillo dismissed as politically motivated — have exacerbated already existing tensions in Peru. .

Ayacucho’s troubled past has been the backdrop for clashes in the region. The derogatory language used by public officials, sections of the press and the public to criticize the protesters, portraying them as thugs, criminals and “terrorists” has struck a historic nerve.

“No one is saying that all protesters are terrorists, but they should know that people associated with the Shining Path are marching with them.” said General Oscar Arreola Delgado, spokesman for the National Police in Peru (PNP), when three protestors were arrested in Ayacucho for alleged links to the Shining Path. One of them is accused of giving money to protesters and allegedly participating in planning attacks on government and private property.

Although Shining Path has been disbanded since the late 90s, remnants of the group are active in the south of the country, where the Peruvian government says they are profiting from coca production. Police said a woman who had spent years in prison for guerrilla activities in the 80s and 90s was arrested, but did not disclose whether she belonged to any existing factions. .

However, Gavilán cautions against overplaying the presence of Shining Path links. “People are capable of thinking, they know how to distinguish between good and bad, we also know that despite the fact that we have been through a lot,” said the anthropologist.

He also said that for us the Shining Path died a long time ago, no one supports the Shining Path, they led us into a terrible war that no one wants.

He himself has first-hand experience tangling with Peru’s Shining Path. After joining the group as an orphaned child soldier at age 12, the army recruited him to fight against the same group at age 15. Gavilan later became a Franciscan priest before studying anthropology.

The real danger here, in his opinion, lies in another déjà vu – Peruvian soldiers facing civilians once again. “Our population has seen the faces of the army again on the streets,” he says.

Relatives and friends attend the funeral of John Henry Mendoza Huaranca, who was killed during protests following the ouster of former Peruvian President Pedro Castillo in Ayacucho, Peru on December 17, 2022.

Ayacucho is one of the regions that Peruvian authorities are now trying to contain. Accountable For alleged brutality against protesters. The National Prosecutor’s Office has already opened. Preliminary investigation Against incumbent President Bolvarate, his three ministers and police and military commanders.

Across the country, at least 55 people have been killed and more than 500 police officers have been injured in clashes since the unrest began. Office of the National Ombudsman and Ministry of Interior.

Police say their strategy is in line with international standards. But the fact-finding mission of the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR) in Peru reported that bullet wounds were found on the heads and upper bodies of victims during the protests, in areas where human lives are protected. Law enforcement officers should avoid .

As per the guidelines issued by Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights“The use of firearms to disperse an assembly is always illegal.”

Bolvert has. said that the decision to deploy the army was a difficult one, and that neither the police nor the army were sent to “kill”. He also referred to the protests “Terrorism“When she visited an injured policeman in the hospital—a label the IACHR warned was a “An environment of more violence

Barsena believes the government should take responsibility for her husband’s death. After the trauma of losing Hanko, he decided to lead a group of relatives of those killed and injured in Ayacucho to support the prosecutor’s investigation and demand civil compensation from the government for those killed or injured. What did

His family depended on his income as a taxi driver, a job he took after losing his job as a heavy machinery operator at a mining company when the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic hit the country. .

“The dead were innocent people, [security forces] They had no right to take their lives. I know what kind of person my husband was. He was humble, he loved life, he gave everything for his family. A fighter. Despite being a farmer, he never put his head down,” Barcena told CNN.

His claim is supported by human rights experts studying current violence. Percy Castillo, Peru’s associate ombudsman for human rights and persons with disabilities, told CNN after being on the ground in Ayacucho that his office supports the creation of compensation mechanisms for families coming from poverty.

In support of such measures is IACHR Commissioner Joel Hernández García, who told CNN that compensation for those killed is one of three steps needed to resolve the country’s crisis.

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