Peru: Truth, but No Reconciliation

Coffins of victims of Shining Path
A priest blesses coffins containing the remains of 62 residents of Luccanamarca, central Peru. The villagers were killed by members of the Shining Path in April 1983 and their remains exhumed from a common grave as part of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's investigations (Photo: Jaime Razuri/AFP-Getty Images).

Peru’s political parties are up in arms over the final report of a government-appointed commission that blames them for turning a blind eye to the political violence that rocked the country from 1980 to 2000. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission released its 4,000-plus-page final report on Aug. 28, after two years of work that gathered 17,000 testimonies. The report concluded that 69,280 people were killed or disappeared as a result of political violence, more than doubling the number used in the past to catalog the violence.

The Maoist Shining Path guerrillas, who launched their war against the state in 1980, were blamed for 54 percent of the deaths, and the armed forces for 28 percent. The remaining deaths were attributed to civilian self-defense patrols and smaller rebel groups. 

The 12-member commission slammed the political establishment that ran the country over the past two decades for allowing violence to spiral out of control. “We have reconstructed history and we have reached the conclusion that it would not have been so grave if it were not for the indifference, passivity, and simple ineptness of those who held the highest political office at the time,” said Salomon Lerner, commission president. “Peruvians generally said that violence left 35,000 people dead. What can be said about our political community now that we know that another 35,000 of our brothers were also lost and no one cared?” added Lerner.

Heavyweights from the three parties that governed Peru during the 20-year period—Popular Alliance, American Popular Revolutionary Alliance (APRA), and Change 90/New Majority—were incensed by the commission’s conclusions. Victor Andrés García Belaúnde, a leader of Popular Action and nephew of former President Fernando Belaúnde (1963-68;1980-85), said during a press conference, “We completely reject this report. We feel let down by the conclusions, which do not reflect reality but the left-wing views of the commissioners.”

Print media from across the political spectrum, however, agreed with the commission’s assessment and took the political parties to task in hard-hitting editorials. The left-leaning La República (Aug. 31) stated that while the country expected a level of self-criticism from political parties, “The opposite has happened, with painful silence and misguided arguments... from people incapable of asking the country for forgiveness.”

Correo, the country’s most conservative nationwide daily, asked political leaders if they would again close their eyes to reality (Aug. 29). “If something can be said for sure..., it is that none of the groups or people assigned political responsibility for what happened in the past 20 years has reacted with a sense of self-criticism,” wrote editor Carlos Tafur.

Perú.21 said (Aug. 31) that “no political party has expressed self-criticism for its poor showing during the years of horror....This first reaction of the political parties to reflects a lack of interest in changing things.”