Prior to my visit to Peru, I studied transitional justice and civil conflict. Examining the Peruvian Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), its findings, and its progress thus far, seemed like the natural next step in my studies. I had spent a semester evaluating the theory and process of political reconciliation, and was convinced that I had a complete historical picture of the civil conflict that ripped through Peru in the 1980s and 1990s.
Socioeconomic inequality, lack of political representation, government corruption – these were all well-supported and plausible explanations for the brutal conflict of the 80s and 90s. However, upon my arrival in Lima, I found that there was another, more powerful explanation. All of the aforementioned issues were symptoms of a greater problem, diagnosed by the TRC upon the completion of its truth-gathering process: discrimination.
Félix Reátegui, sociologist and former Senior Associate at the International Center for Transitional Justice (2003-2015), spoke to us at the Institute for Democracy and Human Rights in Lima (IDEH-PUCP) about the issues surrounding the conflict, and how many continue to plague Peru today. “Some Peruvians will call this type of discrimination ‘racism,’ Reátegui said, but many are hesitant to suggest it is explicitly institutional or systematic.” The problem is the inherent discrimination and belief in the inferiority of indigenous people, which affects how other Peruvians see them and their rights. Although there are no explicit laws that exclude indigenous people from acquiring rights, there is little push-back against unfair policies or lack of protection for indigenous rights.
What this means for the peace process in Peru is that the government will focus on paying reparations and will consider instituting policies recommended by the TRC (such as educational reforms), but the attitudes that led to much of the discontent of lower socioeconomic classes will not be addressed. Although the Shining Path, a radical left-wing terrorist group, was created by middle class individuals and brought to rural areas based on Maoist theory that specified that revolution should begin in the countryside, it was the lack of recognition and the presence of discriminatory attitudes towards rural and indigenous persons that helped fuel support for the group. This is especially problematic because, even after the conflict was over, many of the people of Peru – especially indigenous people – resented the State more than the Shining Path.
During our meeting, Reátegui further discussed the future of Peru and its TRC. He acknowledged the problem of discrimination, stating that, although it had abated somewhat over the past year, it was returning to its previous levels now. He spoke about the need for the Peruvian state to repair relations with the Peruvian people, and emphasized that Peruvians need to repair ties with each other. The structural and educational reform recommended by the TRC could certainly help in this area, but there is more work to be done. Political participation and inclusion are key, as are public awareness of the conflict and restoring respect for all groups in Peruvian society.
Reátegui spoke about how the creation of the Republic instilled a sort of racism in Peru that was different from the social hierarchy and discrimination that existed during colonial times. Prior to the Republic, “elite” indigenous leaders were respected, even by the colonizers – something which does not occur anymore. However, in order for the state to truly heal after the divisive and violent conflict of the 1980s and 1990s, the trust of the Peruvian people in the state must be restored. To restore that trust, the State must follow up on its promises to the Peruvian people, at all levels, for every ethnicity, including Afro-Peruvian, Andean, and Amazonian. The diversity of Peru can be a gift – but for those on the fringes of society, or those looked down upon because of their identity, it can also be a curse.
[Note on the title: La piel y la pluma: escritos sobre literatura, etnicidad y racismo is a book by Peruvian historian, sociologist, and journalist, Nelson Manrique. It is about ethnicity and racism in Peru’s history.]
For more information on the final report of Peru’s TRC, visit: http://www.cverdad.org.pe/ingles/pagina01.php or https://www.ictj.org/news/ten-years-after-peru-truth-commission
– Maya Camargo-Vemuri