Published: July 30th 2012July 28th 2012
Happy Peruvian Independence Day!
Apparently Peru is so happy to be independent, it takes a whole week to properly celebrate. Also, to ensure Peruvian patriotism and pride, every building is required to fly the Peruvian flag for the month of July, or face a monetary fine. Whoever manufactures the flags must be very happy indeed.
Elvira and I went to the National Museum today, they have a whole floor dedicated to the events from 1980-2000 and it's called their terrorism exhibit. It is photos, a timeline, and writings about the history of the Peruvian Communist Party (otherwise known as the Shining Path), led by Abimael Guzman (a philosophy professor turned Maoist insurgent), and the violent actions the party took in order to achieve it's aim of instating a dictatorship to be ruled by the people (not entirely sure how they thought that would work) and bringing down the state. The photos were brutal and certainly neither side held back when it came to killing those they suspected of sympathizing with the other side. However, the Shining Path also turned on quite a few of its former allies, such as other Marxism groups. The Shining Path also used bombs on civilian populations, while the military tortured/killed/disappeared supposed members and sympathizers.
One review said that the Shining Path was responsible for 54% of the 69,000+ deaths, which also means that government and military personnel were responsible for 46% of the deaths. In 1989, 25% of Peru's districts decided not to hold elections, due to the assasinations of elected officials by the Shining Path, and over 33% of Peru's positions for justices of the peace stood vacant, due to Shining Path intimidation. Guzman was eventually captured in 1992 (I read more on this online, I guess they figured out his hideout because the military searched a neighborhood's trash and found psoriasis medication, which Guzman was known to have) and is still imprisoned here in Callao, Peru. During his trial, the judges all wore face masks to protect their identity, since the Shining Path had attacked judges in the past who had condemned captured members.
Anyway, I won't go into too many more details. It's weird to think that if I had been born in Peru, I would have been born right in the middle of these events. Both sides used extreme measures to combat the other and unfortunately the campesinos, the rural poor that the Shining Path supposedly supported and gave voice to, seemed to have gotten caught in between. Both sides committed grave human rights violations, but what's interesting, is how the Shining Path actually viewed "human rights":
We start by not ascribing to either Universal Declaration of Human Rights or the Costa Rica [Convention on Human Rights], but we have used their legal devices to unmask and denounce the old Peruvian state. . . . For us, human rights are contradictory to the rights of the people, because we base rights in man as a social product, not man as an abstract with innate rights. "Human rights" do not exist except for the bourgeoisman, a position that was at the forefront of feudalism, like liberty, equality, and fraternitywere advanced for the bourgeoisie of the past. But today, since the appearance of the proletariatas an organized class in the Communist Party, with the experience of triumphant revolutions, with the construction of socialism, new democracy and the dictatorship of the proletariat, it has been proven that human rights serve the oppressor class and the exploiters who run the imperialistand landowner-bureaucratic states. Bourgeois states in general. . . . Our position is very clear. We reject and condemn human rights because they are bourgeois, reactionary, counterrevolutionary rights, and are today a weapon of revisionists and imperialists, principally Yankee imperialists.
— Communist Party of Peru, Sobre las Dos Colinas
This all has made me think a lot about how common events like these have been in Central and South America and how much I really hate how often violence is used as a solution to disagreement. And it's true, in the beginning, the government ignored the Shining Path, they weren't really doing much. But then things escalated as they always seem to, and suddenly people are being accused by their neighbors and being detained or executed. How fortunate I am not to live in a state of fear, despite the events of 9/11. That I can be more afraid of driving and crashing due to mechanical failure than of roadside bombs. Large numbers of university students participated and sympathized with the Shining Path, and I wonder how I would have reacted to these events.
It also makes me think about how, even though hearing about human rights issues and conflict always hits me so hard in my heart and in my gut, I'm not really doing anything about these problems. Yes, I'm Jewish and I went to a high school that emphasized social justice, which means I probably have a higher sense of personal responsibility than most US citizens, but it also feels like I'm not involved enough. That I'm not DOING anything about these issues that I talk about so passionately. I know that I live in a country where my vote, whether on an issue or for a particular politician, does actually influence things, but I wonder if that's enough anymore. (Don't worry, this is not the start of a new, extremist political movement, but perhaps of a greater effort towards social responsibility).
Sorry, this started out as a much more light-hearted entry, but part of celebrating Peru is also looking at its history. And this particular bit of history has started me thinking.