Peru Defense Minister to put together photo exhibit to honor memory of fallen soldiers during civil war

Just over a week after Peru’s government came under fire for rejecting a $2 million donation to build a memorial museum, Defense Minister Ántero Flores Aráoz said that the Armed Forces will put together a photo exhibit to honor the memory of soldiers who died during Peru’s bloody 1980-2000 internal war.

I got the idea for this project after visiting the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s photo exhibit, said Flores, “and I felt that it had to be complemented by (the expression of) what our Armed Forces suffered.”

Last week, Peru President Alan Garcia rejected a $2 million donation from Germany, arguing that the European country’s proposal did not “reflect the national vision.”

The donation from Germany was offered after a visit made last year by the German minister for Economic Cooperation and Development, Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, to the Yuyanapaq exhibition, a photographic history of the 20-year war that is housed temporarily in the Museum of the Nation. The donation would apparently be managed primarily by the Ombudsman’s office.

Flores, who argued that priorities such as tackling hunger and poverty were more important than constructing a memorial museum, is known for his staunch criticism of Peru’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, or CVR.

The Commission’s report -which was published in August 2003 – has never been accepted by the military nor by the political parties that governed the country during the 20-year insurgency, namely Accion Popular (the Belaunde government), APRA during President Garcia’s first administration, and supporters of President Fujimori, who is currently on trial for human rights abuses committed during the latter years of the war. And although priests and religious leaders at grassroots level were witnesses to many of the events, Cardinal Luis Cipriani, whose own position during his time as Bishop of Ayacucho was severely questioned by human rights groups, has rejected the report outright on numerous occasions.

Apologizing would bring the state, “which defended all of us,” to its knees, Flores argued last year, after he refused to present an official apology for the excesses committed by Peru’s armed forces during the 1980-2000 internal conflict.

“I frankly believe that it would be an error,” he said.

The CVR’s report determined that 54 percent of all deaths in the conflict were caused by the Maoist Shining Path insurgency. Peru’s armed forces were blamed for 30 percent, and most of the remainder by government-backed peasant militias.

Eighty-five percent of the victims were poor, Quechua-speaking Indians from the Ayacucho region and five other departments in Peru’s Andean highlands, a fact that the CVR report noted was proof of the country’s continuing exclusion and rejection of Andean peasants and their communities and traditions.

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