Peru: Peace and Justice

Are peace and justice conflicting objectives or complementary goals in the current context of Peru?

In transition periods following a conflict, controversy often arises about how much, if any, justice can be achieved without jeopardising peace. Can measures be taken to end hostilities whilst also enacting some “justice”, or are these goals too divergent and risky without endangering further conflict? Furthermore what kind of peace may result from these outcomes, and what is meant by “justice”? My essay will investigate these questions in the context of Peru following its civil war during 1980s-90s, also exploring what forms of reconciliation can or must be attempted in Peru in order to avoid ‘creating the basis for new violence and wars’ (Schafft. 2009, p.31). In the case of Peru I argue that sustained peace can only be maintained if the underlying structural injustices are dealt with: therefore reinforcing the complementary long-term goals of peace and justice.
The pursuit of peace and justice are often ambiguous goals, as defining these depends on ones position within society. The kind of “justice” sought often depends upon complex cultural or sociological attributes, such as class, gender or social customs and epistemologies. Justice has been categorised in the self-explanatory terms of: legal, rectifying, social, restorative, and retributive forms (Rimmer. 2010). Likewise the goal of peace is tricky to define. As Barash & Webel argue, ‘peace is [often] something we recognize by its absence’, and they develop two broad definitions: ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ peace (2009, p.4). They define positive peace as ‘desirable states of mind and society such as harmony, justice and equity’, while ‘negative peace is a condition in which no active, organized military conflict is taking place’ (2009, p.4-7). Therefore negative peace, while void of official military conflict can still entail ‘structural violence, including hunger, political repression and psychological alienation’ which can breed military conflict or produce similar levels of suffering in their own right (Barash & Webel. 2009, p.8). Distinguishing between these two types of peace is crucial to understanding and critically analysing post-war societies, as peace can sometimes merely act as a means to uphold structural injustice.
However, after the social upheavals that warfare produces, sometimes a degree of continued structural injustice must remain in order to build and consolidate the state of peace. Seeking widespread “justice” and structural change too quickly can lead to further conflict or even detrimental social upheavals undermining a society not ready for such radical change, especially when injustice and its perpetrators are deeply embedded within the post-war society (such as in post- apartheid South Africa). Thus while structural violence can be as oppressive as outright warfare, changing the attitudes, hegemony and legal forces that foster such structural repression is a task made much harder during times of war. Therefore the absence of war should be prioritised even if some concessions must be made to achieve it. Hence some form of reconciliation and dialogue are key elements to overcoming, addressing and acknowledging the injustices and contradictions within a society, instead of military violence which rather than eliminating, usually ends up producing similar pre-war structural injustices albeit with different heads of power. As Hattam et al state, ‘reconciliation here is not about the resolution or dissolving of differences; rather…it proposes a productive, hopeful space for imperfect and ongoing dialogue’ in which change is gradually brought about not only legally but also hegemonically (2012, p.2).
Achieving the goals of a positive peace along with some post-war “justice”, in the context of Peru is arguably more complex to reconcile than in other cases, such as South Africa where one group within society had clearly committed crimes against another. Peru’s 20-year conflict involved two key antagonists who committed serious crimes: the State and Shining Path guerrillas. As Kerr & Mobekk insist, ‘the context, history and background to [Peru’s] conflict and the actors involved are of crucial importance in determining not only what types of transitional justice processes are possible, but also how successful they will be’ (2007, p.11). A brief historical introduction to the internal conflict within Peru is therefore necessary.
The twenty-year conflict in Peru, beginning in 1980 claimed over 70 000 lives, more than in any previous Peruvian-involved war: approximately 80% being indigenous men (Laplante. 2009, p.81; Boesten & Fisher. 2012). The civil-war fought primarily between Maoist Shining Path guerrillas and the Peruvian armed forces, also involved numerous other groups, adding to its chaotic nature.
The conflict was in many ways the culmination of Peru’s centuries old ‘Coloniality of power’: the legacy of economic, political control and cultural hegemony that long outlasted formal Spanish colonialism (Quijano. 1971). Peru has been split between the relatively wealthy white and mestizos on the coast, and the deeply-impoverished largely indigenous populations inhabiting the Andean and Amazonian regions of the country, each possessing very different notions of Peru. As Butland argued in 1972, there was ‘a contest among military leaders, rich landowners, and agents of foreign capital to see which group would gain the privilege of getting the graft and spoils of office’ whilst all but neglecting the plight of the indigenous citizens (p. 17-18). This “post” colonial situation played a large part in the eventually post-war transitional context.
The 1970s saw the rise of a Maoist political movement called Shining Path in the central highlands of the Andes. Led by Abimael Guzman, Shining Path begun ‘its infamous campaign to mobilize the peasantry, strangle the coast into submission and overthrow the Peruvian state in 1980’ (Theidon. 2010, p.93). However, what was to become Peru’s most serious conflict ‘began almost unnoticed by the most of the country’, particularly those living on the coast, too absorbed in their own world to care about what seemed like a skirmish in the Andes (Cheek. 2010, p.304). Marginalized within their own traditional land, the indigenous population’s frustration and urge for change was hijacked by Shining Path who ‘built a top-down organisation with its Spanish-speaking, educated intellectuals out ahead of the indigenous masses’ (Cheek. 2010, p.307). Thus while preaching to destroy the feudal system of colonial power and replace it with a classless utopia, Shining Path ‘instead assimilated many of the same feudal and colonial divides it had intended to destroy’ (Cheek. 2010, p.307).
Shining Path’s mobilisation of the indigenous population involved a mixture of brutality, intimidation and indoctrination, plus widespread assassination of peasant leaders, grassroots activists and other “counter-revolutionaries”. They quickly took control of the Andean highlands, triggering a ‘far-reaching state of emergency’ (Kruijt & Del Pilar Tello. 2002, p.43). The armed forces responded with a ‘brutal counterinsurgency war in which “Andean peasant” became conflated with “terrorist”, resulting in massive indiscriminate violence against the indigenous population as the army was given a free-hand by the Peruvian government, guaranteeing its immunity (Theidon. 2010, p.93). Despite these high levels of violence in the early and mid-years of the war, many coastal city-dwellers were unaware or simply indifferent.
State violence, matched by Shining Path’s created a conflict whereby neutrality offered little protection and ‘rural communities often did not passively remain “between the two fires”’, but would support Shining Path or government forces with the latter eventually arming ‘self-defence committees’ (Theidon. 2010, p.93-94). The many guns distributed created further problems producing gangs, dividing communities, and seemingly justifying the increased assaults by Shining Path (Kirk. 1997, p.30). This ‘dirty war’ raged throughout the 1980s producing two key features that influenced Peru’s post-war transition: the widespread involvement of thousands of regular Peruvians in the violence and the large scale sexual violence against women, particularly indigenous (Degregori. 2012). Humanitarian activists tried to help victims and report atrocities. These groups formed the backbone of post-war Peru’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), arguably ‘the most ambitious truth-telling project’ in Latin America and a key element in the national transition from the conflict (Mendez. 2006, p.135).
By the late-1980s, ‘Shining Path took their “peoples war” to the capital Lima’ bringing the realities of war to the largely detached coastal population (Cook. 2010, p.307). Consequently in 1990 Alberto Fujimori was elected president to eliminate Shining Path by any means necessary, which soon resulted in a bloodless coup: disbanding congress and oppositional parties; suspending the constitution; and taking control of the judiciary (Kruijt & Del Pilar Tello. 2002, p.49). The coup seemed justified when Guzman was captured along with much of Shining Path’s high-command (Kruijt & Del Pilar Tello. 2002, p.45). Yet the anti-terrorist measures remained ‘as the spectre of terrorism was used to justify authoritarian measures’ and consolidate Fujimori’s power (Theidon. 2010, p.94). Thus despite Shining Path’s disintegration, Fujimori fed the climate of fear, ‘going beyond targeting guerrillas to the elimination of political opponents, suspected civilians and journalists’ (Kruijt & Del Pilar Tello. 2002, p.50-51). Fujimori fled corruption charges in 2000, by which time ‘an estimated 20 000 people were jailed…on a rumour, a grudge, or a desperate declaration given by a tortured victim’ (Theidon. 2010, p.94). Although no truce between Shining Path and the state was reached, the former was, by 2000, reduced to a nonentity.
Cries for peace, along with retributive justice and reparations for the committed atrocities, were widespread. However the nature of the conflict made the implementation of legal retributive justice not only difficult, but, particularly with regards to the armed forces, possibly damaging for the nation’s fragile democracy. Ways of conceiving ‘approaches that broke cycles of anger and revenge’, whilst ‘collectively remembering [and acknowledging] the traumas of the past in order to heal them’ were urgently required (Hattam et al. 2012, p.2). It was out of this situation that Peru’s Truth and Reconciliation Committee (TRC) emerged allowing Peruvians from all aspects of society to tell stories of the conflict (Mendez. 2006, p.135). The commission helped many victims that may otherwise have been: ‘too traumatized to put themselves forward; had no lobby; or be seen as undeserving’, particularly women (Schafft. 2009, p.39). The various truths and grievances uncovered by the commission not only contributed to acknowledging atrocities and democratically shaping the national history of the war years, but also played a role in bringing some retributive, restorative and rectifying justice.
Many believe the truths uncovered and expressed through the TRC played a large role in the subsequent trial and imprisonment of Fujimori in 2007. Bringing him to justice was a major step forward for transitional justice in Peru. Substantial space in the TRC final report was directed at sexual violence (Cabitza. 2012). This helped reveal the vast number of sexually abused victims during the conflict and gave strong impetus to many of the women’s-rights movements that emerged in Peru after 2000.
Nonetheless serious problems remain. In the decade following the war, most of Shining Path’s high command was dead or imprisoned, however few military personnel had been convicted, although nearly half the deaths and an ‘estimated 83% of sexual crimes were committed by state agents’ (Querol. 2013). Mendez argues that ‘only a small fraction of the cases submitted to the prosecutors had been investigated’ (2006, p.138). Furthermore while some reparations to wartime rape victims were carried out, females, (particularly indigenous) who scarcely featured in post-war transitional justice, continue to suffer ‘extremely high and largely unpunished post-war sexual and domestic violence’ (‘today some women report that their husbands have beaten them in retaliation for their perceived infidelity while imprisoned by armed forces’) (Boesten & Fisher. 2012). As with most casualties, these victims are overwhelmingly indigenous. As Boesten & Fishers argue in regards to sexual violence, ‘soldiers suggested that women “asked for it” because of their ethnic backgrounds’, further highlighting the underlying racism and social injustice within Peruvian society (2012).
Therefore a major problem in Peru’s post-war situation is the ‘ethnically saturated category of terrorist’ enhanced by the lack of post-war tolerance (Theidon. 2010, p.109). Because Shining Path ’remain monolithically demonized in Peru’, pragmatic approaches, particularly by the TRC, to deal with both the memories and suffering of those previously connected to Shining Path (whether coerced or not) or those who suffered state brutality are discredited as an ‘apology for terror’ (Theidon. 2010, p.99; Rojas-Perez. 2013, p.152). The Statement made by a senior political figure – ‘with Shining Path there can be no pact, no political solution and no form of reconciliation’ – is reflected throughout much of Peruvian higher society (cited in Theidon. 2010, p.106). However such statements are often excuses upholding structural inequalities, as ‘demands for social justice are frequently denounced as rekindling the ashes of terrorism’ (Theidon. 2010, p.99). For example, in 2007 ‘nationwide social protests involving thousands of rural Peruvians demanding to share in the benefits of the growing economy’ were denounced by then-President Alan Garcia as being ‘pro-Shining Path terrorists’ (Theidon. 2010, p. 99). Indeed the post-war report by the investigatory commission set up by then-President Belaunde listed ‘two key explanatory factors to the conflict: the primitiveness of the highlanders…and the intrinsically violent nature of the “Indians”’ (Vargas Llosa et al cited in Theidon. 2010, p.97). Through stressing ideas such as ‘endemic violence of the Andes’ and ‘la rabia Andina’ (Andean rage), ’the image of the violent ethnic “other” became a remarkably resilient personae of the war’ (Theidon. 2001 & 2010, p.20). In Peru ‘the postcolonial condition has not ended’ and the objectifying of the Indigenous other, with all its xenophobic rhetoric, continues to be reproduced. Thus there is a failure to address the key issue that brought about and maintained Shining Path’s support: the so-called ‘Coloniality of Power’ (Quijano. 1971). The fact that rural indigenous people featured very little (indigenous females even less) in the post-war transitional restructuring arguably contributed to maintaining this problem.
The surging development in contemporary Peru has largely served to increase huge inequalities, not eliminate widespread poverty (Arana. 2013). As Arana explains ‘a citizen of Lima earns 21 times more than a resident of the outback, where the rural poverty rate is a staggering 54 percent’ and a ‘third of all rural children suffer chronic malnutrition’ (2013). While having achieved some small improvements and piecemeal reparations post-war, the social and economic divide in Peru remains enormous and as Arana argues the ‘irony is that those who inhabit poor regions live on the very ground that is fuelling the Peruvian [economic] bonanza’ (2012; Watts. 2012). Hence the peace achieved in Peru is largely a negative one as key structural injustices remain. Without addressing these, the problems which brought about the civil war largely continue: producing discontent and risking the further search for simple often violent answers (Arana. 2013). Above all, Peru needs to allow a space for its indigenous population along with their hopes, differences and needs.
The post-war situation within Peru, made more complex because of the multiple actors involved during the conflict, is one which is intractably linked to the nation’s colonial legacy. Therefore any move towards “justice” involves attempting to resolve and work with the issues related to Peru’s structured inequality. Without moving to acknowledge or improve this situation, Peru’s peace functions largely as a means to uphold injustice and leave the space open for further conflict. Without addressing the causes of the war, and thereby acknowledging the war as a symptom of these causes, Peru’s peace remains fragile and ‘negative’ (Barash & Webel. 2009). Therefore peace and justice are certainly complementary goals for Peru if it is to maintain its current peace: thus negative peace must become positive and “justice” to become more comprehensive, particularly aiming to fulfil its restorative potential.

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