TRC Symposium, KJCC photographic exhibits, and a visit with Gerardo, Mayor of Pútis

Last week the King Juan Carlos I Center hosted a symposium organized by NYU’s Hemispheric Institute, NYU CLACS and CU ILAS on Truth and Reconciliation Commissions. Titled “After Truth: Justice, Truth, and Reconciliation Commissions, and Related Aftermaths”, the symposium was organized around the opening of two photographic exhibits at the KJCC. One of the exhibits which was originally done in conjunction with and sponsored by Peru’s TRC was titled “Yuyanapaq” which in Spanish means “para recordar” and in English means “in order to remember”. The exhibit that opened at the KJCC is a much condensed version of the original exhibit that was staged in Lima, Peru and featured photographs depicting the “manchay tiempo” or “time of fear”, in reference to the 20 year period of internal armed conflict in Peru. The reality of that time in Peru is that an estimated 70,000 people were killed, many of whom remain disappeared (according to the symposium presentation by forensic anthropologist José Pablo Baraybar, who leads the Equipo Peruano de Antropología, only 2.2% of those have been identified). The photo exhibit is a collection of photos taken by several photographers during that time period, and are meant to foster memory and remembrance of the atrocities that took place. The other exhibit that opened is titled “Si no vuelvo, busquénme en Pútis” or in English “If I don´t return, look for me in Pútis”. Putis is a small village located in the Ayacucho region of Peru. During the “manchay tiempo” the Peruvian Army had established a counter-insurgency post in Pútis, and was responsible for many atrocities carried out against the people of Pútis, sometimes because they suspected them to be terrorists or sympathetic to the terrorists, and sometimes because they desired their goods or herds. The photographic exhibit showcases photographs taken of clothing that had been removed from the victims of a massacre in Pútis carried out by the Peruvian army in which 123 men, women, and children were executed inside of a mass grave. In fact, the grave was dug by the victims, as they had been told it was part of a development project the army was carrying out in the village, and that it would be a trout farm. Once the hole was dug, the soldiers demanded people to enter the hole and then executed them. The army then took their cows. As part of the TRC, an exhumation of the mass grave site, which was right behind the church in Pútis, was conducted in which community members were allowed to observe and be involved in. Some were able to claim their dead based on the clothing that was removed from the bodies. The exhumation was followed by ceremonial burials of the uncovered dead. Later, photographs were taken of the process as well as the articles of clothing that were recovered.

In addition to many wonderful presentations by scholars and academics around the images of the exhibits, and around TRCs in general, one special guest was the mayor of Pútis, Gerardo. While Gerardo was here, we had the good fortune of asking him to come to our Quechua class. In our small class, we had an hour long conversation with him in Quechua about many things such as what crops they plant, what markets they buy and sell their goods in, what his family is like, etc. We were able to ask him many questions. One question I asked is “Imayna yuyankichis chay manchay tiempota”, which means “how do you remember that time of fear?” His response was that he saw it, the violence, with his own eyes. How could they not remember if they saw it? He was 25 when it started. He told us how he lost 2 sons to the military one day when they came in and took all the children away. He still wonders if maybe they are living in Lima, working. He also emphasized that although the mass grave from the massacre in Pútis in which 123 were killed in one day has been exhumed, hundreds more are still missing, still “disappeared”. So the point is that even though the TRC has come and gone, and many conservatives in Peru are still trying to discredit and undo the “truth” that the TRC produced, there are still so many that have not seen any kind of justice at all. There are still so many that continue to wonder where their loved ones are. As José Pablo Baraybar put it in his introduction to the companion report to the “Si no vuelvo, busquénme en Pútis” exhibit, “Those who live, those who are here, those who never left, remember them and keep them on this side of the world, the world of every day. They think of them, speak to them, tell them their sorrows; that of the mother anguished by not knowing, of the younger brother who had no one to defend him, of the sister he never could care for or protect”.

Rebecca Fisher
MA Candidate, CLACS

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