Chilling Exhibition Brings Results and Closure

An exhibition of clothing opened today in Lima’s most densely populated district, San Juan de Lurigancho, at the SOS Children’s Village.  The event follows a week-long exhibit in downtown Lima, at the Ombudsman’s Office just around the corner from the Foreign Relations Ministry.

The exhibition is for identification purposes —the clothing is not new, they are pieces found on human remains during the exhumations in 2005 and 2009 at Los Cabitos, the military barracks in Huamanga, Ayacucho.

These were the clothes that victims were wearing when they went missing, after soldiers detained and murdered them sometime between 1983 and 1984, the years with the heaviest casualties of the internal conflict. Most of them were tortured for information before they died, and then they were tossed into common graves next to the military compound.

Some of the exhibits are colorful and others dull and well worn, laid out neatly on long white tables. There are hand-knit sweaters, earrings, a teenager’s running shoes, a campesino’s pair of rubber sandals known as ojotas, well-worn trousers and shirts, even jogging shorts. Many of the pieces, handled carefully by Ombudsman specialists and visitors wearing surgical gloves, still have specks of dirt from the mass graves they came from.

Among the remains of some 109 bodies found in the two series of exhumations, only 54 bodies were complete and four of the victims were identified in Ayacucho. Until last week 50 remained unknown.

But by Friday, the exhibition in downtown Lima had had some success — relatives of six people have been able to identify clothes they remember the victims were wearing when they entered the Los Cabitos barracks and were never seen again. The Ombudsman’s Office hopes more identifications will be now made in San Juan de Lurigancho, where thousands of people fled from Ayacucho and Huancavelica in the 1980s, leaving behind their homes and farms to escape both the Shining Path and the military.

“This is a criminal investigation, but the main focus is humanitarian,” said Marlene Roman, deputy director in Human Rights and the Disabled in the Ombudsman’s Office.  “When the remains can be identified, the families can have closure, they can bury the remains.”

Those who have been able to identify an article of clothing or jewelry now face the slow process of DNA tests and filling forms with more detailed information, to match the reports of missing persons filed in the 1980s and the recent forensic data gathered after the exhumations.

The Truth and Reconciliation report published in 2003 gives the number of people reported as missing during the internal conflict as 15,000.  According to Roman, of the many remains exhumed in different cases since then, there are more than 1000 bodies that are unidentified.

After these two exhibitions in Lima, the clothing will be returned to Ayacucho, to the cultural center at Huamanga University, and then taken to the towns and villages in the region with names that echo the years of internal conflict — to Totos, Cangallo, Huancapi, Hualla, Canarias, Huancasancos, Pampa Cangallo, Vilcashuaman, Santillana, Chuschi, Tambo and Pichari, as well as Julcamarca and Lircay in Huancavelica.


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