A mixed record: Peru struggles to face its past

A new report from the International Center for Transitional Justice highlights delays in implementing a national reparations program for victims of Peru's 20-year internal armed conflict. But even with compensation, can Peruvian society achieve the reconciliation and inclusion it strives for? 

Cristián Correa
29 June 2013

In two months, Peru will commemorate another Remembrance Day for the Victims of the Violence, a national holiday established on 28 August, the day the Peruvian Truth and Reconciliation Commission (CVR) published its final report ten years ago. 

The CVR report shed light on the country’s 20-year internal armed conflict from 1980 to 2000, a divisive period in Peruvian history. It told the story of massacres, torture, enforced disappearances, killings, different forms of sexual violence, and massive displacement. The Commission estimated that 69,280 Peruvians were victims of killing and enforced disappearance, with 54% attributed to the Maoist rebel group the Shining Path, and 37% to state agents, paramilitaries or self-defense committees. It concluded that these violations were not only the result of individual excesses, but in some cases represented systematic practices that constituted crimes against humanity and transgressions of international humanitarian law.

In addition to the scale of the violence, the CVR identified that most of those affected already suffered from social, political and cultural discrimination. The conflict focused on the Andean and Amazon provinces, areas which are usually excluded from development and political decision making. An estimated 75% of victims spoke Quechua or other native languages as their mother tongue. The conflict laid bare deep divisions in Peruvian society. Looking at the 10 years since the CVR released its report is important in assessing how much society had learned from it.

The CVR understood that addressing the consequences of this bloody conflict would not just require a serious national effort in terms of both reparations and reconstruction; it would require Peruvians to recognize each other as persons and as citizens. As one man said during a CVR public hearing, “let’s hope, then, that in about ten years we can be Peruvians.” Now, ten years later, has that hope come true?

The country is still divided over the internal armed conflict, and portions of Peruvian society refuse to admit that the state was directly responsible for many of the violations that took place. Peruvian elites are reluctant to acknowledge their responsibility for historic marginalization, remaining indifferent to the violence that for years affected indigenous communities in poor regions.

The official line more often than not portrays reparation efforts as compensation for victims of terrorism, blaming crimes on the Shining Path and other rebel groups. The balanced approach taken by the CVR is often questioned. Competing narratives and a lack of acknowledgment of responsibility by many among the Peruvian elite help to explain the difficulties the country has had in implementing the reforms and reparations envisioned by the CVR.

The Comprehensive Reparations Plan was aimed at providing different forms of reparations to respond to the worst consequences of the violence. However, implementation has been far from comprehensive, limited to programs that are less politically divisive or easier to execute.

To date 1,649 communities have benefited from collective reparations in the form of single infrastructure projects, with a budget of $37,000 each (100,000 soles). A total of 1,946 communities are expected to benefit by the end of 2013. The problem, however, is that the program has insufficiently linked projects with an official recognition of the harm suffered by these communities, which explains why most members see them as welcomed development projects, not as reparations, as reported in a study by the International Center for Transitional Justice and the Association for Human Rights in Peru.

Another program is economic reparations, or compensation. Under the program, one-time cash payments of $3,700 (10,000 soles) have been made to relatives of victims of enforced disappearance and killing, rape and those left permanently disabled. Unfortunately, the government decided unilaterally on the amount of compensation to be given to victims, after a mere appearance of consultation. The resulting amount is only a quarter of what was paid to families of members of self-defense groups killed in combat. In its report, the CVR recommended that the same amount be given to victims, revealing the difference in how the lives of victims are valued.

Some reforms recommended by the CVR to address the historic marginalization of indigenous people have been implemented. Perhaps the most significant is the decentralization of government, strengthening of regional governments and instituting of participatory processes for defining budgets and local development plans.

However, too often economic interests defined in the capital prevail, and prioritize an economic agenda that favors the extraction of natural resources at the cost of local economic and environmental welfare, and respect for cultural diversity. The impressive macroeconomic success over the last decade has had a differentiated effect within the country. In the past ten years, Peru’s per capita income increased by 50%, but the poverty rate remains a stubborn 27.5%.

So, ten years on, can victims say that they now have full rights? Unfortunately, there is still a long way to go. Peru has the capacity and the resources to acknowledge the more, and most, marginalized among its people as full citizens. It is important to demonstrate such an acknowledgment through forms of reparations that signal social inclusion. The CVR made a significant contribution by recognizing one of the darkest chapters of Peruvian history. The virtue of its report was that, based on that acknowledgment, it defined a path toward reconciliation and social integration.

Peru still needs to fully accept its history and follow the path drawn by the CVR to become the inclusive and democratic nation it wants to be. This requires providing reparations in the comprehensive way defined by the CVR and reaffirmed by the law that created the reparations plan. To achieve this it also needs to deepen its commitment to the social and cultural inclusion of its people by adopting an economic and development policy that responds to the needs and rights of all.

Read the full report and visit the accompanying web feature at the ICTJ website. 

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