By Eleanor Griffis≈
A little over 10 years ago, in the comfort of an auditorium in downtown Lima, I was transported to a world of shadows and raw fear lived by so many during the 1980-2000 internal conflict.
Center stage sat the 12 CVR members at a long table, and at a smaller table to the right maybe a dozen witnesses took turns to sit and tell their story. No drama, no theatrics, just the controlled voices of the victims as they recalled their horror. Sometimes they had to take a deep breath or a sip of water to regain composure as the memories flooded back, but they told their stories simply. The stark truth, with no frills, was effective. The packed auditorium was absolutely silent.
This was the first of two public hearings held by the CVR in Lima, of events that happened in the department of Lima, and similar hearings had already been held in key towns of Ayacucho and other regions. The witnesses —victims or the relatives of victims— had been selected from hundreds whose stories are told in the nine-volume report, to provide a broad sample of the violence perpetrated by both sides in the conflict.
The government television channel, Canal 7, filmed the six or eight hours of the hearing, and broadcast certain sections but at 11pm or midnight when the city was asleep. The reason, the cameraman said, was that they couldn’t interrupt scheduled programming. In South Africa, their Truth Commission hearings were broadcast live and on prime time television, with high ratings.
It could have made a tremendous difference if Congress and the Judiciary had been required to attend the hearings, or see the films in chambers. They were a privileged window into a much deeper understanding of not only what went wrong but why.
Even today the CVR report, the summary, or at least the conclusions should be required reading.
I often wonder what would have happened if in Peru we had had someone like Desmond Tutu —not necessarily to head the CVR (which he did in South Africa), because Salomon Lerner was a deeply wise leader in that role— but to encourage and support the commission’s work from the pulpit.
Instead, the spiritual leader who could make a difference in Peru was and still is Cardinal Cipriani, whose well-documented disdain for the human rights coordinator when he was bishop of Ayacucho and his open support of the military has only encouraged all those who refuse to acknowledge the CVR report and consistently block any attempts at carrying out the recommendations made by the Commission. He leads an institution that demands confession and repentance before absolution but he has frequently called for sweeping the whole report under the carpet and going directly to reconciliation.
In Chile and in Argentina, the military have been able to recognize that they committed mistakes and a few individual officers have even apologized publicly. But the Peruvian military will not even look at the situation (or at least publicly).
And, of course, the political parties who governed Peru between 1980 and 2000 (the late Fernando Belaunde, and Alan Garcia and Alberto Fujimori) are among those who most strongly object to the report. In his most recent administration, Alan Garcia tried to block a $2 million donation from Germany to build the Memory Museum, while Fujimori’s supporters were involved in defacing the sculpture by Lika Mutal to honor the dead of the internal conflict.
It’s like having a temper tantrum, covering their ears with their hands, and kicking their heels on the ground.
The report —which was presented to the government 10 years ago today— has its detractors, of course: those who refuse to accept that the military and the government did any wrong, and those in the opposite camp who complain that it does not include hundreds of cases that should have been mentioned. In covering 20 years of conflict with some 70,000 dead and thousands still missing, the latter would have been impossible in the two-year time frame given. The purpose was to give an overall picture.
But the report was being criticized even before it was written, and the Commission itself had a difficult birth as politicians, the military, and some of the Church hierarchy tried to delay if not block its installation or at least influence the choice of members. It was a chaotic time in Peru, President Fujimori had resigned only months earlier by fax from Japan, the OAS was in town to bolster the transitional government and force governance meetings between politicians and captains of industry to forge a semblance of order. In the end, the team included two university presidents, two lawyers, sociologists, a retired military officer, two priests and an evangelical pastor, with the highly-regarded Monsignor Bambaren as observer.
In an unprecedented task over two years, the 12 members of the Commission travelled in groups of three or four to different parts of the country to gather testimonies, using sophisticated data collection methods used by other truth commissions, notably that of South Africa. Before the report was written, the CVR had collected 15,220 testimonies, and processed 3,719 (proof, cross-references, etc), and each testimony included the report of an average 1.8 persons killed or missing.
The CVR Report has allowed not only many military officers to be brought to trial but also to fully prove beyond any doubt the crimes instigated by the founder of the Shining Path, Abimael Guzman. And, as its purpose describes, it has given a clear picture to understand not only what happened but what changes are needed to ensure that this never happens again.
Maybe it will take another 10 years, or even 20, before people can read the CVR Report without temper tantrums, yet until we can do that we may continue being a country but we cannot become a nation.