Peru (Fall 2014)

Peru "Remando hacia la Esperanza" ("Rowing Towards Hope") Photo by María Isabel Pérez Reátegui /ASOCIACIÓN "ESTAMOS EN LA CALLE" Colección "Los Rostros de Perú," OJOS PROPIOS /RENIEC. Barrio de Belén, Iquitos, June 2014


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Check out Sadie Weber's student perspective on zooarcheology in Peru here!

Table of Contents

Paradoxes of Peruvian Democracy by Steven Levitsky

Contemporary Peru and the Big Screen by Alberto Vergara

Seeking Progress in Twentieth-Century Peru by Shane Hunt

Towards a National Value Proposition for Peru by Michael E. Porter and Jorge Ramírez Vallejo

Building a Template for Sustainable Forestry by Lorne Matalon

An Andean Puma Reaches Out by Daniel M. Schydlowsky

Protests over Resource Extraction in Peru by Moisés Arc

The Polycentric City by Aldo Panfichi

Reverse Urbanism by Oscar Malaspina

Best-Selling Newspaper by Liz Mineo

The Violence of the VIP Boxes by Víctor Vich

Drizzling Protest by Aaron Watanabe

Gastón Acurio: A Recipe for Success by Gustavo Herrero

Culinary Fusion and Colonialism by María Elena García

Fusion and Identity by Adolfo Perret Bermúdez

The Food of the Gods by Luis Millones

A Taste of Lima by Johanna Damgaard Liander

Potatoes! by Tilsa Ponce

Dismantling the Boom of Peruvian Cuisine by Raúl Matta

Colonial Shadows by Gustavo Buntinx and Víctor Vich

The Nu LatAm Sound by Sergio C. Muñoz

Institutionalizing the Lima Museum of Art by Matthew Bird

Six Young Peruvian Poets by Paolo de Lima

Peruvian Literature by José Antonio Mazzotti

Political Violence and the Colors of Art by Edilberto Jiménez Quispe

First Do No Harm by Kimberly Theidon

Peace and Reconciliation by Salomón Lerner Febres

A Road Less Traveled By by David Scott Palmer

“Uncontacted” Peruvians by Theodore Macdonald

Afro-Peru by Omar H. Ali

Women and the Court A Review by Susan Fitzpatrick-Behrens

Building Bridges A Review by Timothy Matovina

A Prescient View of Colombia’s Path to Peace A Review by Pedro Reina-Pérez

Occupational Hazards A Review by Max Paul Friedman

A Look at Microfinance by Roisin Duffy-Gideon


Table of Contents

Paradoxes of Peruvian Democracy by Steven Levitsky

Contemporary Peru and the Big Screen by Alberto Vergara

Seeking Progress in Twentieth-Century Peru by Shane Hunt

Towards a National Value Proposition for Peru by Michael E. Porter and Jorge Ramírez Vallejo

Building a Template for Sustainable Forestry by Lorne Matalon

An Andean Puma Reaches Out by Daniel M. Schydlowsky

Protests over Resource Extraction in Peru by Moisés Arc

The Polycentric City by Aldo Panfichi

Reverse Urbanism by Oscar Malaspina

Best-Selling Newspaper by Liz Mineo

The Violence of the VIP Boxes by Víctor Vich

Drizzling Protest by Aaron Watanabe

Gastón Acurio: A Recipe for Success by Gustavo Herrero

Culinary Fusion and Colonialism by María Elena García

Fusion and Identity by Adolfo Perret Bermúdez

The Food of the Gods by Luis Millones

A Taste of Lima by Johanna Damgaard Liander

Potatoes! by Tilsa Ponce

Dismantling the Boom of Peruvian Cuisine by Raúl Matta

Colonial Shadows by Gustavo Buntinx and Víctor Vich

The Nu LatAm Sound by Sergio C. Muñoz

Institutionalizing the Lima Museum of Art by Matthew Bird

Six Young Peruvian Poets by Paolo de Lima

Peruvian Literature by José Antonio Mazzotti

Political Violence and the Colors of Art by Edilberto Jiménez Quispe

First Do No Harm by Kimberly Theidon

Peace and Reconciliation by Salomón Lerner Febres

A Road Less Traveled By by David Scott Palmer

“Uncontacted” Peruvians by Theodore Macdonald

Afro-Peru by Omar H. Ali

Women and the Court A Review by Susan Fitzpatrick-Behrens

Building Bridges A Review by Timothy Matovina

A Prescient View of Colombia’s Path to Peace A Review by Pedro Reina-Pérez

Occupational Hazards A Review by Max Paul Friedman

A Look at Microfinance by Roisin Duffy-Gideon

Editor's Letter: Transformations

By June Carolyn Erlick 

I’m long past the point of being a tourist in Peru, although I’ve never lived there. I first arrived by bus in 1977 on an Inter American Press Association fellowship and I’ve been going back ever since. I’ve explored its cities, mountains, jungles, lakes and beaches, been invited to countless hospitable homes, been robbed twice, enjoyed its ceviche and pinchos and, of course, its pisco. I’ve bought way too many handicrafts—the cornucopia of carved gourds, alpaca sweaters, intricate woodcarvings and a host of other delights still tempts me.  Wandering the streets of Lima, I’ve observed transformations from a pleasant backwater to a cosmopolitan city, from dictatorship to democracy, from struggling development to growing prosperity.

On my last trip to Peru in March 2014, I decided to go someplace new to observe how the country’s transformations had played out in a place I'd never been to. I chose Ayacucho, the heart of the horrendous violence that swept the country from 1980-2000.  A historically impoverished city nestled into the mountains of the southwestern region, it’s also a handicraft mecca with more than sixty types of crafts, ranging from ceramics to textiles.  

At the Ayacucho airport, a floor-to-ceiling retablo—a box structure filled with intricate carved figures—greeted me.  This was the handicraft to beat all handicrafts. I was totally unprepared for its stunning intricacy, although I’d seen many retablos in small, portable box form. I was even less prepared for the view of the dazzling green mountains and unexpectedly blue sky (I was lucky—Ayacucho is known for rain). Yet I knew that the mountains of Ayacucho held much pain—many of the country’s 70,000 violent deaths, including many massacres, had taken place there.

Despite its beauty, Ayacucho’s painful past was not hard to find. On a visit to the Museum of Memory, I asked to be put in contact with the local president of the Association of Relatives of the Kidnapped, Detained and Disappeared. I was told a meeting was about to begin—a total coincidence. I met the president, gave her a copy of last fall’s Memory issue of ReVista, and she invited me to stay on for the meeting.

The group—mostly women with large embroidered aprons and billowing skirts who would have looked at home in any market—was meeting with government forensics experts, who were encouraging the use of DNA samples to identify remains.

The conversation brought home both a transformed and untransformed Peru. The women had voice, and they seemed unafraid to express their concerns. The government representative listened. But some of the problems remained so basic, such remnants of a past lacking in infrastructure and hope. Transportation was lacking to get to the centers to give DNA samples. And if transportation were to be provided, who would take care of the kids? Who would work the fields? Why couldn’t mobile centers be established for market days? 

I emerged from the meeting and walked past the cellphone and video shops. The streets were bustling. A very good classical group was playing just outside the cathedral—a rehearsal, I was told. Restaurants were filled and the town was preparing for carnival. Later in the day, I would watch from a second-floor coffee shop as brightly costumed men and women from the countryside swirled in the plaza, practicing their dance steps. Army soldiers—who seemed to be recruits, mostly men with a sprinkling of women—were practicing their music and carnival parade formations on the other side of the plaza. I asked a woman I’d met if the soldiers inspired fear nowadays. She shrugged her shoulders and said, “They’re ours.”  

I left Ayacucho with its green mountains wondering about transformations, about the legacies of the past and the durability of the economic future. I may have gotten beyond the tourist stage in Peru, but I’m still missing many of the answers. The authors writing in these pages—Peruvians and Peruvianists—understand far more. They can answer many of these questions and raise even more. All the more reason to return in the near future to learn more about the country (and, yes, to buy more of its splendid handicrafts).

First Take: Paradoxes of Peruvian Democracy

Political Bust Amid Economic Boom?

An ad tops graffiti in Lima. Photo by Eduardo Hirose

View the photo gallery. 

By Steven Levitsky

For many observers, Peru has become one of Latin America’s great success stories. The country has boasted one of the fastest growing economies in the hemisphere for the last decade, with the economy nearly doubling in size. GDP growth averaged 6.5 percent a year between 2002 and 2012—the highest ten-year growth rate in Peruvian history. Incomes soared, and the poverty rate was cut in half, falling from more than 50 percent to just 26 percent. In material terms, then, Peruvians are far better off today than they were a decade ago.

Yet Peruvians remain deeply dissatisfied. This disaffection is manifested in presidential approval ratings. Whereas in most democracies public opinion corresponds closely with the state of the economy, in Peru presidential approval ratings consistently plummeted during the 2000s, even as growth soared. Thus, although Alejandro Toledo (2001-2006) had spearheaded opposition to Alberto Fujimori’s authoritarian regime and as president oversaw Peru’s remarkable economic recovery, his approval rating fell into single digits in 2004 and remained below 20 percent for most of his presidency. Toledo’s successor, Alan García (2006-2011), fared little better. Despite annual growth rates of nearly 10 percent, García’s approval rating hovered between 20 and 30 percent for most his presidency. Not only did García’s APRA party fail to even run a presidential candidate in 2011, but the election was won by Ollanta Humala, an outsider who had spent much of the decade developing a Chavista-style anti-system appeal. Now much more moderate, Humala presided over steady economic growth, but he, too, plummeted in the polls, falling to 22 percent in mid-2014. 

Indeed, Peruvian presidents are the most unpopular in Latin America. According to the annual Latinobarometer survey, Peruvian governments had an average approval rating of just 26.5 percent during the 2002-2011 economic boom—a figure unparalleled in the region. By contrast, presidential approval during this period averaged 46.5 percent in Ecuador, 49.5 percent in Bolivia, 52.3 percent in Mexico, 52.5 percent in Argentina, 58.7 percent in Chile, 63.2 percent in Brazil and 65.6 percent in Colombia.

But Peruvians’ disaffection extends beyond the government of the day. Public trust in the country’s democratic institutions is among the lowest in Latin America. According to the 2010 Latinobarometer survey, only 14 percent of Peruvians trust Congress—the lowest level in Latin America and less than half the regional average (34 percent). Only 15 percent of Peruvians trust the judiciary—again, dead last in Latin America and less than half the regional average (32 percent). Only 25 percent of Peruvians say they trust their government, compared to 48 percent of Colombians, 55 percent of Brazilians and 58 percent of Chileans. Finally, only 28 percent of Peruvians say they are satisfied with their democracy, compared to 39 percent of Colombians, 49 percent of Argentines, Brazilians, and Ecuadorians and 56 percent of Chileans. 

What explains the persistence of widespread public discontent in post-Fujimori Peru, even in the face of macroeconomic growth and soaring incomes? Two factors are worth highlighting. One is state weakness. Where state institutions—including national and local public bureaucracies, the police and the judiciary, public schools and health clinics, social service agencies, and regulatory agencies—do not function well, governments tend to perform poorly. In the absence of minimally effective state institutions, even well-intentioned elected governments routinely fail to deliver the (public) goods. Security, justice, education and other basic services continue to be under-provided, resulting in widespread perceptions of government corruption, unfairness, ineffectiveness and neglect. This is a major source of public discontent. Where such perceptions persist, across successive governments, public trust in democratic institutions is likely to erode. Voters conclude that “all parties are the same,” that “all politicians are corrupt” or that no one in the political elite represents them. 

By virtually any measure, the Peruvian state is among the weakest in Latin America. The state’s tax capacity has also historically been low, and its limited regulatory capacity has long manifested itself in a sprawling urban informal sector. State weakness is especially pronounced in the provinces. The post-colonial elite limited its state-building efforts to Lima and the coast, leaving rural governance in the hands of landowners. Landowners remained the primary guarantor of rural social order into the 20th century, and subsequent state-building efforts, such as that of the leftist military government led by General Juan Velasco (1968-75), were largely unsuccessful. Although Velasco’s land reform destroyed the rural oligarchy, its failure to replace the old social order with minimally effective state institutions created a vacuum of authority in many parts of the highlands, which permitted the rise of the Shining Path guerrillas.

The Peruvian state nearly disintegrated in the 1980s amid a brutal insurgency and a devastating economic collapse. Although the Fujimori government restored a minimum of order in the 1990s, state institutions remain remarkably weak. Throughout much of the country, police and judicial authorities are often absent; schools, health clinics and state bureaucracies are barely operative, and local officials are widely viewed as corrupt or ineffective. According to a 2006 report published by the Inter-American Development Bank, Peru’s “bureaucratic functional capacity” ranked near the bottom in Latin America, below Bolivia, Guatemala and Nicaragua. 

Problems of state weakness are not necessarily ameliorated by economic growth. Rising incomes do not enhance public security, make state bureaucracies more effective or improve the quality of public services. Indeed, even in a context of growing prosperity, an ineffective state can have major impact on people’s everyday lives. As a Fujimorista congressional candidate told me after the 2011 election, "Do you want to know why people [in my district] voted for Humala? Because they step outside their homes and things are booming. People drive by in new cars. Huge shopping malls are popping up everywhere. But their lives are still miserable. Why? Well, the street isn’t paved and their kids have lung problems because of the dust. Their kids get sick and miss school because there is no potable water or sewage. And the public school is barely operational anyway. Plus, there is no security, so they are afraid every time they leave their houses."

Thus, Peru’s economic boom has had little discernible impact on the quality of the state. According to the 2011 Latinobarometer survey, only 23 percent of Peruvians believe the state has done something to benefit them or their families, compared to 44 percent of Argentines and 51 percent of Uruguayans. That year, Latinobarometer constructed an index of public satisfaction with state services that ranged from 1 (lowest satisfaction) to 10 (highest satisfaction). Peru’s score of 3.9 ranked dead last in Latin America (the regional average was 5.1).

In sum, state weakness brings ineffective governance, and ineffective governance generates discontent, which, if persistent, may erode citizens’ trust in democratic institutions.

A second factor behind public discontent in Peru may be the failures of successive Peruvian governments to invest in social policy. During the 2000s, as governments throughout Latin America dramatically expanded health, education, pensions and anti-poverty programs, Peruvian governments have been downright miserly. According to the Economic Commission on Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), Peruvian social spending constitutes about 8 percent of GDP, which is barely half the Latin American average (14 percent) and is considerably lower than Mexico (13 percent), Colombia (14 percent), Chile (15 percent), Argentina (24 percent) and Brazil (26 percent). In 2009, Peru spent $229 per capita on social policy, compared to $401 per capita in Colombia, $889 per capita in Mexico, $945 per capita in Chile, and $1,165 per capita in Brazil.

Peruvian public spending on education (2.6 percent of GDP in 2009) is barely half the Latin American average (5.1 percent of GDP) and ranks well below Colombia (3.1 percent), Mexico (4.1 percent), Chile (4.3 percent), Brazil (5.7 percent) and Argentina (6 percent). Likewise, Peru’s public expenditure on healthcare constituted 1.2 percent of GDP in 2009, compared to 1.9 percent in Colombia, 2.8 percent in Mexico, 3.7 percent in Chile, 5 percent in Brazil and 5.3 percent in Argentina.

Investment in anti-poverty programs has also been minimal. Peru’s public expenditure on conditional cash transfers (CCTs) constituted .14 percent of GDP in 2010, compared to .39 percent in Colombia, .45 percent in Uruguay, .47 percent in Brazil, .51 percent in Mexico and 1.17 percent in Ecuador. Consequently, Peru’s primary CCT program, Juntos, reaches far fewer families than do similar programs elsewhere in Latin America. Whereas CCTs in Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Brazil and Ecuador covered between 46 percent and 100 percent of the poor in 2010, Juntos covered a mere 21 percent of the Peruvian poor.

Although Ollanta Humala made “social inclusion” the centerpiece of his 2011 presidential campaign and launched several new anti-poverty initiatives upon taking office, social spending increases have, in fact, been quite modest. In fact, the Peruvian government remains one of the most miserly in the world. The conservative Heritage Foundation’s annual Index of Economic Freedom scores countries on 10 dimensions of “economic freedom,” with 0 being the most statist and 100 being the most free market-oriented. In the area of “government spending,” with lower spending yielding a higher score, Peru’s score of 89.1 in 2014 is not only the highest in South America (Chile receives a score of 83.8) but nearly matches those of Hong Kong (89.7) and Singapore (91.1), which the Heritage Foundation ranks as the two most free market economies in the world.

Why do Peruvian governments spend so little on social policy? The answer lies, in part, in the devastating economic collapse of the 1980s, which generated an elite consensus around strict fiscal and monetary orthodoxy. The orthodox consensus has been reinforced by the weakness of left-wing political forces and the virtual absence of national-level popular mobilization. It may also be reinforced by the weakness of politicians more generally. The collapse of political parties in the 1990s decimated Peru’s political class and gave rise to a generation of amateur politicians. As Peruvian political scientist Alberto Vergara has argued, amateur politicians without parties are simply no match for the experienced corps of neoliberal technocrats who have been operating within the state since the 1990s. 

Whatever the cause, ultra-tight purse strings have exacerbated longstanding problems of democratic representation. Because politicians campaign on the center-left but govern on the center-right, Peruvians see little connection between what they vote for and how they are governed. A near-total disconnect between elections and the governments they produce reinforces the perception that “all politicians are alike,” or that they are all corrupt.

The post-Fujimori regime has now survived for 13 years—longer than any other democracy in Peruvian history. But it has survived largely by default. Peruvians remain deeply dissatisfied with their governments, even in the very best of economic times. When the boom ends, as booms inevitably do, democracy may again be in for a challenge.

Steven Levitsky is Professor of Government at Harvard University. He specializes in comparative and Latin American politics, with a focus on political parties, authoritarianism, and democratization. He also writes a regular column in the Peruvian newspaper La República.


Photo by Lorne Matalon.

Peru is evolving into an economic powerhouse with an expanding middle class. Resource extraction and logging provide their own challenges, as do the tasks of transforming the society through accessible education and equity.

Contemporary Peru and the Big Screen

As experienced in the film Sigo Siendo, directed by Javier Corcuera, the music of Peru permeates all aspects of society. The film examines Peru;s different musical traditions in Corcuera's search for the authentic Peru. Photo by Martín Alvarado, Ojos Propios

Nostalgia, Longing and Anomie 

By Alberto Vergara

Peru is most certainly a country of distances, tensions and misunderstandings. Any overarching discourse breaks down at the insolence of the specific. Whether in economic, social, regional or cultural terms, generalizing arguments wither before the insurgency of the particular. Economists speak of inequality and political scientists of fragmentation, while anthropologists claim that there is no country more diverse. Peruvians, for their part, see eye-to-eye less and distrust each other more every day. The country’s recent elections demonstrate a tendency toward an increasingly herd-like mentality in voting: those on top for those on top, and those on the bottom for those on the bottom. But this segmented country is unaware of it own segmentation.

Like almost everything in Peru, cinema has had a boom in recent years. Theaters have proliferated throughout the country. Between 2009 and 2013, movie attendance doubled from 17 to 33 million. Three Peruvian films experienced astonishing box office success, and La Teta Asustada [The Milk of Sorrow] has received international recognition. It is an encouraging moment for Peruvian cinema. 

But what images of Peru does Peruvian cinema show? I’d like to explore this question using the examples of three recent films. What I offer is not an artistic critique of the films, but rather a historical reading. Although each is distinct in genre, quality and purpose, they all help to shine a light on the misunderstandings and the different rates of speed that crisscross today’s Peru. First, we have the comedy ¡Asu Mare! [Holy Cow!], directed by Ricardo Maldonado, a film that has brought to theaters more than three million people in a country of thirty million. It would be a great sociological distraction to think of this film only as a blockbuster. Next, Sigo Siendo [I Go On], directed by Javier Corcuera, in which the music and waters of Peru lend form to a beautiful cinematographic essay. Finally, El Evangelio de la Carne [The Gospel of the Flesh], the terrific creation of Eduardo Mendoza, in which, perhaps for the first time, Lima itself purports to be the main character of a film.

What are these films about? What themes do they develop behind their narrative structures? El Evangelio de la Carne concerns the social fabric that comes together to help those in need. It is about organizing polladas (chicken dinners) for everyone to chip in to help pay for someone’s trip abroad, or about pulling together money to pay for an expensive medical operation. But the film depicts a social fabric that is not only meant to alleviate monetary needs, but also to make bearable another type of distress—that of the soul, if that word still means anything. Take the ex-driver who is responsible for crashing the bus he was driving while drunk, taking the lives of several people, including children. Nothing keeps him alive more than the hope of one day joining the Brotherhood of El Señor de Milagros. In another example from the film, youths from disadvantaged neighborhoods get a new family as part of the barras, the rowdy soccer fans that support Universitarios de Deportes team. Evangelio, in sum, explores forms of survival, both material and moral, of individuals cut off from a society based on mistrust and marked by unreliability.

¡Asu Mare! and Sigo Siendo could not be any more different. The former is a biopic; its universe is the individual. The star, popular comedian Carlos Alcántara is at once both character and actor in this story of personal growth. Even when life is not going your way, as the film moralizes, your own cleverness is what can make you realize your dreams. In a way, Alcántara (the character) is the arrival in Peruvian cinema, finally, of the nouveaux riches that fill the pages of European novels from the 19th century. He is a character out of Balzac. And like with those characters, mobility is confirmed and sealed with the seduction of a high-class woman: in Europe, the woman who belongs to the aristocracy and, in the pigmentocracy of Peru, the woman from the Miraflores neighborhood of Lima. 

The lens of Sigo Siendo, on the other hand, does not attempt to capture the individual, but rather culture as a whole. It is quintessential arguediana, a style influenced by José María Arguedas, the classic Peruvian author. Director Corcuera’s camera goes in search of the authentic Peru, and where he finds it is in the different musical traditions of the country, and in the waters that give life to the forest, mountain ranges and the coast. It is a film that looks to navigate the “profound rivers” of the nation. It begins with a scene that sets the tone for the rest of the film: an ethnic Shipibo Canibo woman from the forest appears seated on a tree, whose imposing and established roots tunnel down into the earth. We hear her singing and talking, listening as the rain falls heavily and, thanks to the subtitles, we learn that she is longing for a time when there was more respect, the time of her ancestors. The melancholic staging makes the character almost an extension of the roots of the tree, a scene loaded with stillness. By filming this Peru, Sigo Siendo privileges the immutable, the cultural, the earthly, the ancestral.

A scene from the film El Evangelio de la Carne, directed by Eduardo Mendoza. Photo courtesy of Alberto Vergara

If each of the films captures a different dimension of contemporary Peru—society, the individual and culture—this compels them also to highlight different moral views vis-à-vis those dimensions. According to El Evangelio director Eduardo Mendoza, survival in the context of the jungle of informality that he portrays in his film is a critique of the discourse of success that predominates in contemporary Peru. It is a story in which belonging to clans is the only way to save ourselves in the midst of a Hobbesian society. That said, perhaps the virtue of Mendoza’s film is that it is less an explicit critique of this lawless city and more an effort to show us its quotidian dynamics. 

On the other hand, ¡Asu Mare! and Sigo Siendo both take explicit politico-moral positions. ¡Asu Mare! is a film about mobility. Its tone is pure optimism: less “yes we can” than “yes you can.” It is a metaphor for contemporary Peru. Although it seemed that the country and Alcántara during the ‘80s were destined to bleed dry and perish due to a general precariousness and lack of resources, their strength, tenacity and ingenuity allowed them to stanch the blood and prosper. In the film, Peru and Alcántara become one; the official, optimist narrative of the time is fused with the avatars of Alcántara, the character. It’s not by chance that the film ends with its hero putting on the jersey of the Peruvian national football team. It is a film that does not shy away from (or despise) the character of the parvenu, but rather makes an example of him. “Cachín” Alcántara, as he is nicknamed, is a sharp, moral (if unusual) member of that group that has been endlessly celebrated in today’s Peru: the entrepreneur.

In contrast, Sigo Siendo is not an optimistic film. Its theme is forgetting. The music and waters that give life to the film reveal a country marked by the inability to remember and, further, by the inability to recognize that which forms it. Although the film is called Sigo Siendo [I Keep On], perhaps a more precise title would be Sigo Sobreviviendo [I Keep on Surviving], given its nostalgic mood, which portrays the gradual loss of a host of national traditions. No matter the specific subject, the past is always shown to have been a better time. And that past vanishes irretrievably while the official Peru refuses to rescue it, to recognize it. The original sin of Peru, then, is forgetting.

Because of these distinct focuses, each film deals with historical time in a different way. For Sigo Siendo, evidently, the history of Peru—although perhaps it would be more accurate to say all the nations that populate this territory we call Peru, “todas las sangres” as in the classic Arguedas title —is one long continuity. But it is a fading continuity, exhausted by forgetting and need and, above all, threatened by change. Each of the film’s characters, regardless of their musical traditions (Amazonian, Andean or coastal) returns always to nostalgia. “Como antes no hay [it’s not like it used to be],” croons a creole singer from Lima, creating a pregnant, despairing melancholy. Although the film’s main characters all reinvest this tone with their own meaning, violinist Máximo Damián most embodies this survival of tradition. “No vayas a cambiar por nada [don’t change for anything],” he remembers his friend and teacher José María Arguedas once warning him. He tells us that his violin is like his father and mother (not like his son, I might add). And the film closes with Damián, this exquisite and pure violinist from the Andes, selling ice cream on a Lima beach, wearing a yellow uniform, none of his customers appreciating the historical displacement that envelops the endearing ice cream-selling violinist. Damián is the continuity of a nation forgotten but still present, whose ancestral core should not lead us to believe that it is closed off in time or space. Rather it is a nation that consists of a number of nomadic and displaced roots, the historical purity of its Andean origins endangered by the alien Pacific Ocean.

¡Asu Mare!, for its part, is a film about the national and personal transformations of the last few decades. Alcántara has gone from being a drug-consuming failure to a comedian of unparalleled success—a parallel to Peru’s national success. The film demands a Peruvian audience, specifically an audience that will appreciate its treatment of our national emergence out of the economic shadows. This is evident in the scene in which Alcántara’s mother hurries off to pawn a ring, but when the pawnbroker offers her “dos cientos cincuenta mil millones de intis” [250 billion of a former, useless currency], the mother replies as if she knows she is being swindled, “tan poquito? [so little?].” Viewers laugh because we recognize the story of inflation and utterly worthless paper money. That’s where we come from. Like Alcántara’s mother’s ring, the country is also up for pawning but, like Alcántara, we have taken our heads out of the sand. Something changed in the country, and the film plays on the understanding of a public that, like Alcántara, has prospered in the last 15 years. And the viewers all roar with laughter with their own unexpected success.

To give another example, El Evangelio attempts to be a film about Lima, more than just a film about Peru as a whole. And the foundational Lima that it shows does not seem particularly new (as in the case of ¡Asu Mare!), nor that of venerable tradition (like in Sigo Siendo). On first seeing El Evangelio, I remembered the debate at the end of the 1980s about the anomie that was rampant in Peru at the time. In that debate, sociologist Hugo Neira argued that Peruvian society had entered into a process of social and moral decomposition that contradicted the hopes of the left for the rise of a popular movement with all the right values. In turn, he called upon the social sciences to shift their theoretical lenses toward understanding societal deterioration, rather than societal progress, the lens through which Marxist-leaning Peruvian social scientists viewed society. Invoking Durkheim, Neira depicted his idea of Peruvian anomie, embodied by the struggling informal sector, lack of confidence, misery, decaying of political affiliations, and the absence of a law-enforcing state. Eduardo Mendoza shows us that this anomie did not end with recent economic growth. The film’s characters know that contracts are worthless, and that transportation, communication and music are all pirated. The police sabotage the law, foreign money is changed in the streets and money won in casinos and illegal gambling dens is squandered; as a policeman says in the middle of an illegal software market: “Los gringos sacan un programa nuevo y en menos de una semana estos ya lo copiaron. ¡Qué rico Perú! [The gringos put out a new program and in less than a week, we’ve copied it! How clever is Peru!].” Mendoza’s film thus reminds us that economic growth has not put the brakes on continuing social decomposition and may have even exacerbated it in some cases.

If these films show different views of Peruvian society and its relationship to the history of the country, one could suggest that they also allude to the country’s political situation in the 21st century. ¡Asu Mare! is in form and foundation a film that takes its cue from the style of popular politician Pedro Pablo Kuczynski. Its aesthetic, derived from advertising and its urban soul, optimistic and wholly at home, are reminiscent of the way that Kuczynski relates to his electorate; this is a film about the winners. In a way, El Evangelio de la Carne is a film about dyed-in-the-wool Fujimoristas, a group accustomed to illegality, in which the ends justify the means and anomie permits the gestation of the next authoritarian leader. Finally, Sigo Siendo is a film that resembles the Humalista side of Peru (Humala the candidate and not Humala the president, if it really needs to be said). The film gives voice to that nation that needs subtitles in order to be understood, a film that, in the end, aims to redeem the forgotten country with the respect of a missionary who has traded in the sacred writings for a camera; it is a film about things forgotten.

The three films remind us of the strange moment that contemporary Peru finds itself in. We prosper, but at the same time we’re stuck in those same old ways: winners and losers disregard each other, some fly and some fall. But, more than that, these films help us to see those segments of Peruvian society that are blind to what is going on around them and, on the other side, to see that they are less segmented and isolated than they think, that the bridges and roads that connect them are much greater than they imagine. At the same time, in a period of accelerated changes, cinema serves as the conscience of those changes. It is also useful for observing that which, in the midst of the confusion, we are incapable of noticing that which endures in silence. 

Finally, these films and the very different reactions they received from the public have transformed into an index of the distances and tensions that Peruvians live with every day. The millions of moviegoers brought together by ¡Asu Mare! contrast with the dearth of spectators for other films that have to fight to get even one week’s exhibition in commercial theaters. What do Peruvians want to see and what would they rather ignore? These three films are a reflection of these intimate desires, at least of the urban desires. For better or for worse, the big screen suggests we Peruvians want to be unaware of our anomie and our forgetfulness. We prefer, on the other hand—and I’m not the one to make this moralistic denouncement—to avoid, to laugh, to leave it till tomorrow…after everything, who knows how long this strange illusory moment will last? We prefer, rather, to confirm our progress with a smile and hope for prosperity… and a girl from Miraflores.

Alberto Vergara is a post-doctoral Banting Foundation fellow at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, Harvard University. He has lectured on Latin American politics at the Department of Government, Harvard University, and at the University of Montreal. He works on political regimes in Andean countries. His last book, Ciudadanos sin República (Lima, Planeta, 2013), gathers his political essays in Spanish.

See also: Peru, Film

Seeking Progress in Twentieth-Century Peru

Barbara Hunt (far right) with two teachers from the one-room schoolhouse in Ancash in 1967. Photo courtesy of Shane Hunt.

What the Numbers Show

By Shane Hunt

The year was 1993. My wife Barbara and I had just arrived in Lima, with the intention of working there for two or three years. I had a job in a USAID project, while my wife was part of a World Bank planning group in the Ministry of Education.

Peru was just recovering from staggering blows, both economic and political. On the economic side, the country had endured a ruinous hyperinflation in the last years of the 80s, followed by the tough stabilization program of August 1990, the “Fujishock.” This stopped the inflation but also plunged the country into a deep depression from which it was just creeping out in 1993. 

On the political side, the country had been battered by two guerrilla insurgencies that amounted to civil war. The war against the more dangerous of the two groups, Sendero Luminoso, is largely remembered as a war in the Sierra, but Sendero was also tightening the noose on Lima. It was strong enough to shut down the nearby town of Chosica (in a “paro armado” (armed strike)), cause frequent electricity blackouts and detonate bombs, including one devastating car bomb in Miraflores, in the heart of Lima. Under such stress Peruvian democracy cracked, and a coup d’etat, Fujimori’s autogolpe of April 1992, redrew the political landscape. An even more startling change occurred with the capture of Abimael Guzmán, Sendero’s “Presidente Gonzalo,” in November 1992. Quite suddenly, the war ended.

When we arrived in Lima just 10 months after this last event, Peru was peaceful once again, but it was battered. Incomes were low, jobs were scarce. Public sector services had been degraded in many areas: roads were full of potholes; clinics lacked dressings and bandages; teachers had fled an educational system that could pay them only $90 per month. Those teachers who remained did so only in the hope of future pensions. To put food on the table, they had to work at second or third jobs. We talked to many of them as they drove taxis.

Measures of educational achievement didn’t exist in those days, but it was well understood that the quality of Peru’s public schools had declined. Some of Lima’s public schools used to be good, Peruvian friends would remark. Now none was good. Furthermore, the prospects for educational improvement seemed very limited. My wife had a special vantage  point of the inner workings of the Ministry of Education at that time—she was the only North American working there—and her stories of bureaucratic dysfunction were astonishing. Moreover, this was not just a gringa view. The other three members of her planning group—all Peruvians—saw it the same way.

Our dinnertime discussions at times became very dispiriting. We had known—and loved—Peru for thirty years. In that time—1963 to 1993—data showed that income per capita had not increased one iota. And the educational system had no doubt deteriorated with little prospect for recovery. Had nothing improved in Peru in the time we had known it?

I could answer this grim question with just two positives. First, health conditions had improved. I was vaguely aware of data showing that life expectancy had increased substantially. Second, we were both witness to the extraordinary improvements in elite-level university education. These two points were, however, little more than footnotes to the general thesis that Peru had passed through thirty turbulent years without much to show for it. Our perspective in 1993 was not very different from that of Mario Vargas Llosa’s protagonist in his 1969 novel, Conversación en la catedral, who kept asking, “When did Peru mess up?” (The unexpurgated original is “Cuando se jodió el Perú?”)

A few years later, I started work on a project estimating quantitative measures of progress, or the lack of it, for Peru and other countries of Latin America, for the full course of the 20th century. These numbers would have done much to inform our dinner conversations of 1993, and perhaps they would have helped answer Vargas Llosa’s question of 1969. But even numbers cannot provide a clear answer, since we will find a half-full glass. 

So what do the figures show for Peru in the 20th century? The table on p.15 gives some answers for three dimensions of human welfare: income, health and education.

Clearly the 20th century was not without substantial progress in all three dimensions. But how good was this progress compared to that of other Latin American countries? And was it good enough for Peru to catch up, even partially, with a developed country such as the United States? 


Among these three sectors, health gives us the most reliable measure for assessing progress. Life expectancy directly measures the length of life, but it also serves as a proxy for health status during life, because various studies have shown that people who live longer are healthier while alive. 

Unfortunately we lack Peruvian life expectancy estimates for the first four decades of the 20th century, because such measures derive from census data, and Peru didn’t conduct a national census during that period. However, for the years that we do have—1940 to 2000—Peru’s life expectancy bore a stable relationship to the Latin American median. It was two years lower in 1940 (37 years to the Latin American median of 39 years) and also two years lower in 2000 (69 years to 71 years). 

In 1900 the Latin American median life expectancy was only 29 years. So Peru’s life expectancy was almost certainly less than 30 years and may have been as low as 27 years.

It is hard to imagine today how primitive health conditions must have been in 1900 to produce such a low life expectancy. The figure is some 15 years lower than that of the poorest African country today (Sierra Leone at 45 years). It is also some 20 years less than the comparable figure for the United States, which was 48 years in 1900. From this squalid beginning, however, Peru passed through a revolution in health conditions during the 20th century, as did all of Latin America. Progress was most rapid in the decades near mid-century, and came more from improvements in public health conditions than from delivery of better medical services. 

By century’s end, in 2000, the gap between Peru and the United States had closed to about eight years (69 for Peru, 77 for the United States), and continued to close in the early years of the 21st century. By 2012, Peru was only four years behind the United States (74.5 to 78.7), and the United States itself was falling behind many countries. Three Latin American countries had exceeded the life expectancy of the United States in 2012 (Chile, Cuba and Costa Rica, all at 79 years), and 31 other countries had life expectancies in excess of 80 years, the leader being Japan at 83 years.


For income, we would like to have a measure that reflects trends in the material consumption of “ordinary people.” What we actually have over the century is gross domestic product per capita. This is of course not the same thing, but we maintain some hope that the measure we want and the measure we have move together over time, so that percentage changes would be similar.

Our principal source for historical data on GDP per capita in Peru and in Latin America is the database developed by Angus Maddison and his associates at the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Considering first comparisons with the United States that extend over the centuries, Maddison’s data show a long relative decline of Latin America that began as early as the 18th century. In round numbers, Latin America’s GDP/capita was even with the United States in 1700, only half that of the United States in 1820, and only a quarter in 1870. Then for a full century (1870-1973) Latin America held steady with the United States in relative terms, its GDP/capita at 27-29 percent of the U.S. figure. In a more recent period, 1973-2000, Latin America’s relative position fell further under the burdens of the debt crisis. Thus by 2000 Latin American GDP per capita was only 21 percent that of the United States. 

In trends in GDP per capita as in life expectancy, Peru’s experience in the 20th century was similar to that of Latin America as a whole. Latin America’s average annual increase in real GDP per capita over the century was 1.7 percent. Peru’s was also 1.7 percent, both these figures being slightly below the 1.9 percent registered by the United States. 

Over shorter periods, however, Peru’s experience was quite distinctive. It was a very high-growth country during the first three decades of the century (3.6 percent annual per capita growth as compared to 1.8 percent for Latin America), but it was battered during the last quarter of the century. From 1973 to 2000, Latin America’s growth was only 1.0 percent per year, but Peru’s was -0.3 percent. That is, it was getting poorer. Among other Latin American countries, only Venezuela fared so badly over this recent period. IMF data show that Peru’s per capita GDP peaked in 1981, and that the country did not recover to that level until 2005. 

Thus the gloom at the dinner table in 1993. Yes, the Peruvian economy grew substantially over the 20th century, but the growth was so erratic that it was possible to pick out a span of thirty years—as from 1963 to 1993—where there had been no growth at all.

What we did not know, of course, was that Peru’s recovery would be so strong and so sustained in the early 21st century. Beginning in 2002, Peru entered a period of extraordinary economic growth that has not yet ended. Annual per capita growth picked up to 2 percent, then 3, then 5, then 6 percent, and topped out at 8.1 percent in 2008 before dropping back somewhat. For a while, Peru was the third-fastest-growing country in the world, after China and India. The annual average for the first decade of the new century was 4.0 percent. 

A growth rate like this can of course close the gap with the United States or any other rich country. But it needs to be sustained for a couple of decades more to make a real difference. In 2013 Peru’s per capita GDP was 20 percent that of the United States. This is up from the low point of 13 percent registered in 1990 and again in 2000, but still below the 27 percent figure of 1929.

Schoolchildren in their classroom in Urubamba in 1998. Photo courtesy of Shane Hunt.


We have two indicators for educational progress, both obtained from self-reporting in censuses. Both have particular strengths and weaknesses. 

The strength of the illiteracy rate, for the population aged 15 and older, is that it’s the only educational measure included in the censuses of the early 20th century. Its most obvious liability is its incompleteness as a view of education. Literacy is only the first rung on the educational ladder.

The other measure of educational attainment is average years of schooling for the adult population, generally for ages 25 and over. Its strength is that it reflects education at all levels, not just the first few years that produce literacy. Its weaknesses are two. First, it makes no allowance for differences in the quality of education in different school systems. Second, it was introduced into census questionnaires only around mid-century. The first half of the 20th century is a blank.

Regarding literacy, Latin America began the 20th century with a largely illiterate population and ended it with a largely literate population. In numbers, the illiteracy rate declined from 69.1 percent in 1900 to 44.6 percent in 1950 and to 13.3 percent in 2000. The corresponding figures for Peru were 75.7 percent, 48.7 percent and 10.1 percent. Thus Peru was slightly worse than the Latin American average in 1900, slightly better in 2000. 

Adults are seldom able to become literate if they have missed the chance to go to school as children. The century-long decline in the illiteracy rate is therefore a reflection of expanded access to primary education, in the more developed countries like Argentina and Uruguay at the beginning of the century, then in most other countries of the region, Peru included, around mid-century.

The literacy gap with the United States certainly closed during the century, but this gap is rather artificial, because the educational standard being measured is so basic. No country can exceed the maximum of 100 percent, and many, the United States included, essentially reached that ceiling a long time ago. Even as the gap has closed, self-reported literacy data have seemed less and less relevant to the educational demands of modern economic life.

Regarding years of schooling, although Peruvian data are lacking for the first half of the century, we can make an educated guess about 1900 simply because so high a percentage of the population had had no schooling at all. The average years figure must therefore be close to zero. We assign a figure of 0.5 on the basis of comparisons with Mexico, for which a 1900 estimate is available. Also available is a 1900 estimate for the United States: 6 years.

As the U.S. figure for average years of schooling grew from 6 in 1900 to 8 at mid-century and 13 at its end, so did the Peruvian figure grow from 0.5 to 2.7 to 7.7. Thus the gap remained fairly constant at 5 or 6 years of schooling.

Two factors suggest, however, that Peru is closing this years-of-schooling gap very effectively. First, in the last two decades since 1990, Peru’s decennial increase in years of schooling has been twice that of the United States. Second, among developed countries the United States is an overachiever in terms of schooling. In 2010, when Peru’s years of schooling figure was 8.5, the comparable figures were 9.1 for the United Kingdom, 9.3 for Italy, and between 10.3 and 10.4 for Denmark, Finland and France. Thus Peru will soon be caught up with several of the world’s developed countries.

Looming like a dark cloud over these advances in years of schooling is the matter of quality. Quality differences do not affect comparisons of income or of life expectancy. No argument exists holding that an extra dollar of income or an extra year of life is somehow worth less in Peru than in the United States or other developed countries. But strong evidence suggests that each extra year of school attendance in Peru produces less academic advancement than does an equivalent year in the United States. In the most recent PISA exams, which measured academic proficiency of 15-year-olds in 64 countries, Peru finished dead last in all three areas: reading, math, and science. Only eight Latin American countries participated in the test, however, and none did very well. The best, Chile, ranked 50th. The most recent UNESCO-sponsored study of student achievement in Latin America (SERCE, 2002-2008) secured the participation of 16 countries, and Peru ranked between 9th and 11th on the various tests for 3rd and 6th graders. Peru is therefore close to the middle of the Latin American pack. The quality problem in education is not just a Peruvian problem. It is a Latin American problem.


Reflecting again on the dinner-table conversations of 1993, I believe that we weren’t wildly off the mark, but we were too pessimistic. This statistical review has shown health progress to have been strong, income growth erratic but promising, and educational progress strong on quantitative measures, but with the quality issue not yet effectively addressed. The glass is at least half-full, but not fully full.

Shane Hunt is Professor Emeritus of Economics at Boston University and an Associate at DRCLAS. He estimates that his periods of residence in Peru add up to about nine years.

Towards a National Value Proposition

A Strategy for Competitiveness 

By Michael E. Porter and Jorge Ramírez Vallejo

Peru has been one of the most remarkable economic growth stories of the last decade, both compared to its own historic record and to its peers in Latin America and beyond. A combination of sound macroeconomic policies since the mid-1990s and a benevolent international economic environment with growing demand for Peru’s natural resources has allowed the country to prosper. Earlier improvements in basic security and political stability had provided an important pre-condition for these achievements. 

Underneath this very real success, however, the Peruvian economy is facing a number of significant challenges. First, the lack of diversification and resultant dependence on global commodity markets for natural resources is exposing Peru to high levels of volatility. This has direct costs in terms of prosperity if global resource demand weakens, but it also has indirect costs in terms of long-term investment opportunities lost due to the high level of long-term macroeconomic uncertainty. Second, the impact of the solid growth in headline GDP has been highly varied across different segments of society and different parts of the country. This is a concern from the perspective of the ultimate objectives of economic policy. It is also a threat to political stability, which could eventually undermine the achievements made on macroeconomic and natural resource policy. Third, there are no significant and compelling new growth drivers. 


Peru needs a new competitiveness strategy to address these challenges. The goal must be to achieve prosperity that is broadly shared, not just for the upper income and middle classes. The strategy must provide an overall plan for upgrading, not just a wish list of policy enhancement. And it must lay out a comprehensive vision for the country’s economic future that reflects Peru’s opportunities in the regional and global economy. 

The core of a successful economic strategy is to define a national value proposition. This sets forth a distinctive position of Peru given its location, legacy, existing strengths, and potential strengths. The national value proposition defines what is unique about Peru as a business location, and for which type of clusters and other activities does the country offer a strong platform for competitiveness. This national value proposition defines the role that Peru will have with its neighbors, the broader region and the global economy. It identifies Peru’s areas of unique strength relative to peers/neighbors, as well as highlighting the areas where Peru must progress to achieve and maintain parity with peers. And importantly, a national value proposition must set priorities and a sequencing of economic development policies and programs.

The national value proposition should inspire citizens, while committing to companies at home and abroad about what they can expect from Peru. And, it should also guide policymakers in Peru about the most critical priorities in driving Peru’s competitiveness forward. 


With these goals in mind, we led an inclusive process in 2010 to develop a national value proposition for Peru as well as an accompanying economic strategy. This was to be presented to all the presidential candidates in a CADE event in Urubamba, in the Sacred Valley, before the 2011 elections. The project was financed by the private sector, and involved more than 100 Peruvian experts in twelve thematic working groups. Numerous public sector, business and labor leaders also participated. The team worked closely with all the presidential campaign teams to ensure their awareness and understanding of the effort. 

The strategy developed is just as relevant and important today as it was in 2010. Even more so.

The process identified the set of dimensions on which Peru is unique in terms of inherited endowments, business environment, and culture. In terms of endowments, Peru is centrally located in South America, with vast biodiversity and varied ecosystems, as well as abundant natural resources. Peru’s business environment is uniquely open relative to the region in terms of FDI and capital flows, with privileged access to foreign markets due to a series of free trade agreements. Peru has a rich culture and history, a creative and entrepreneurial population that is also young and hardworking, and a legacy of domestic cooperation to overcome obstacles. 

Given this analysis and Peru’s other circumstances, the research revealed four interconnected themes that could form the core of Peru’s value proposition: first, Peru has the potential to be the most secure, neutral, rules-based and peaceful location for business in its broader region; second, Peru is the most open economy in the region that can be a hub for trade between Latin America, Asia and North America; third, Peru’s economy has a solid base of dynamic regional industry clusters (geographic concentration of firms and institutions in particular fields) that can potentially drive productivity and growth; and fourth, Peru has the potential to substantially enhance the sophistication and productivity with which it utilizes its substantial natural resource base. 

These four themes create the core of a strategic agenda for Peru. 

Map courtesy of the authors.


Peru has made tremendous progress in the last two decades in ending a terrorist war and controlling drug trafficking, which have been crucial to unleashing economic growth. Now, the country needs to make sure that these improvements become permanent, to avoid the problems experienced in countries such as Mexico and Colombia. Peru’s continuing security issues include illegal drug trafficking, terrorism, public safety, crime and social instability. These challenges will need to be tackled aggressively if Peru is to continue prosperity growth.

To fight drug trafficking, a comprehensive multi-faceted effort is needed that includes market-based crop-substitution programs, control of chemical inputs for coca processing, and interdiction of drugs and money laundering. These policies should be centralized in a strong institution that coordinates the fight against drug trafficking and terrorist activities. Local residents also need to be mobilized to be part of the eradication process.

Another critical requirement for achieving this theme is absence of corruption. Corruption not only increases the cost of doing business, but is undermining the country’s ability to take advantage of the opportunities it has created through its open trade policy. Corruption also makes improving all parts of the business environment much more difficult. Corruption—along with the conditions that foster corruption—not only hinders international trade and investment but stifles domestic economic activity. It is one of the root causes of Peru’s large informal economy. Corruption is also deeply anti-social, increasing inequality and hurting the weakest the most. An effective anti-corruption campaign is thus a crucial element of an inclusive growth strategy.

Peru’s track record on corruption compares relatively well to many others in the region, but still falls well short of leading countries like Chile, Uruguay or Costa Rica.

Peru will require a systematic campaign to reduce corruption, supported with strong rules and adequate resources. The experience of other countries suggests that a narrow anti-corruption prosecution strategy is not enough. In addition, new rules and regulations are needed to simplify dealing with government and increase transparency to reduce the incentives and opportunities for corruption. Also, the civil service must become a meritocracy, with well-trained, appropriately compensated professionals subject to accountability. Public officials involved in regulation and other key institutions need to be appointed based on independent screening and subject to congressional consent, with strong requirements for transparency and disclosure.


Peru’s ambitious policy of negotiating free trade agreements with a large number of countries around the world has given it an edge in its quest to become the region’s trading hub. It now needs to deepen this policy and combine it with efforts to eliminate remaining domestic barriers to trade and investment such as tariffs, non-tariff measures and export subsidies. Simplification of customs procedures would take further advantage of trade opportunities. 

In a region consumed by ideological debates about the benefits of international integration, Peru could become the springboard for South American firms seeking access to U.S. and Asian markets. Peru needs to foster closer relations with its neighbors and coordinate economic development policies across borders. 

To become a real trade power, Peru needs to upgrade its physical infrastructure for transportation, communications and utilities such as energy and water. Peru’s progress in these areas has been largely limited to the locations where economic activity involving natural resources is taking place.

Peru needs significant improvements in its transportation infrastructure to connect isolated regions and to reduce logistical costs. The government’s infrastructure investment program must give highest priority to investments that will increase foreign trade and the competitiveness of the country: those will generate economic growth and prosperity. 

Peru also needs an integrated energy policy that provides for supply security combined with environmental sustainability. Energy policy should be oriented toward using the country’s own energy resources, developing energy-related technology and addressing concerns for the global environment. 

Peru also needs a more forward-looking water policy, particularly because some of its extractive and agricultural activities rely on water. Peruvian society must develop a culture that places a high value on water. Water fees should cover at least the operation and maintenance of water systems and promote the efficient use and the protection of water quality. Stronger fines should be imposed on water polluters.

Chart courtesy of the authors.


The success of competitiveness ultimately reveals itself in particular industry clusters concentrated in sub-national regions within a country. Peru’s growth aspirations can only be achieved if all regions upgrade their competitiveness. In Peru, development remains highly varied across different parts of the country. Lima still concentrates most of the population and economic activity. Each region of Peru needs a clear strategy in order to build its own particular economy based on local strengths. 

The crucial tool for diversifying the Peruvian economy and fostering regional development is through enabling the formation and development of clusters. Clusters are a geographic concentration of related companies and associated institutions in a particular field, such as the apparel and metalworking clusters in Lima. 

Cluster development initiatives engage the private sector and are an effective way to prioritize delivery of social services, develop infrastructure and improve the microeconomic conditions to foment competitiveness at the local level. 

In addition to enabling clusters, policies are needed in each region to improve the overall business environments. Decentralization and greater local accountability are the best means to address the social and economic inequality between highland and coastal regions. Peru should build a strong network of regional organizations to channel citizen engagement in economic development planning, thus continuing the process of decentralization. Regions need to improve managerial capacity through establishing a pool of highly qualified civil service professionals able to carry out the technical challenge of managing the resources of the region, and providing technical support for political decisions. 

Municipalities in Peru also need to improve tax revenue collection. The national government should also reduce the horizontal imbalances generated by mining royalties (canon minero). The mining royalty system should be re-evaluated so that the income generated by this tax can partly benefit the country as a whole, taking into account the economic development priorities of each region. 

Education and technical skills will be crucial supporting factors for higher productivity. They are, unfortunately, areas in which Peru has been lagging. While education alone is not sufficient to jumpstart domestic economic development, its absence has significant negative effects: companies have few incentives to upgrade worker jobs if they have no educated employees to draw on. Unskilled employees and the companies for whom they work find it less advantageous to become part of the formal economy.

Peru must thoroughly reform its educational system, increasing expenditures in public education and prioritizing the improvement of its secondary education system. Dropout rates should be reduced through educational offerings that combine regular education with technical training. Teacher training needs to be based on performance test results, clear and rigorous standards for teaching, and a merit-based professional hiring system. 

Aligning workforce training programs to the needs of the private sector in each region will help to narrow the mismatch between educational programs and labor market needs. A workforce strategy based on clusters will help to match curriculums to projected private sector demand. Additionally, revamping the English curriculum with the objective of reaching proficiency by high school graduation would generate a pool of bilingual technicians and professionals needed by companies to connect with global markets.

Coverage and quality of higher education should be improved with both supply and demand-side policies. Financial aid (loans and scholarships) must be available to students from lower income families. Investments should be made in infrastructure facilities and equipment in line with a more demanding university curriculum. University professors should receive incentives to obtain doctoral degrees from leading universities abroad.


Peru enjoys abundant natural endowments in agriculture, mining, as well as in cultural and natural assets for tourism. In almost all of these areas, however, Peru’s position is largely limited to extraction or, in the case of tourism, limited volume of visitors and low spending per tourist per day. Peru’s natural endowments and cultural assets for tourism could be producing much more economic benefit for the country.

Peru should launch an ambitious program to transform its natural endowment related industries into clusters. This formation of clusters would involve strengthening local supplier capability and increasing the level of collaboration among the companies and institutions together with government. 

At a broader level, clusters based on natural resources set the stage for diversification into related clusters. The metalworking cluster of Arequipa, for example, is a result of the dynamism of the mining cluster. Each of Peru’s principal clusters will have its own set of related clusters that draw on similar assets and capabilities. These related clusters provide the best opportunity for Peru to diversify. For instance, the logistical needs critical for mining, agriculture and tourism can give rise to a world class transportation and logistics cluster. 

The Peruvian healthcare system needs to be systematically reformed towards increasing coverage and providing better value. Peru needs to improve the effectiveness of the government, reduce labor market regulations, and systematically simplify the rules and regulations for doing business. It should also develop a plan for the long-term deepening of its financial sector, and systematically strengthen its innovation infrastructure. Finally, Peru needs to continue the sound macroeconomic management that has characterized its performance during last decade with prudent fiscal and monetary programs.


Peru has come a long way towards becoming a more prosperous economy and society. It has many assets and has already made important policy improvements towards a better future. The results achieved over the past few years are a clear validation of this course.

But Peru also has much more to do. Many parts of society and regions of the country have not been able to fully participate in the country’s recent growth. Many dimensions of competitiveness remain weak and need systematic improvement. The national strategy outlined here provides an ambitious but realistic path forward. It would help define clear priorities, identify concrete action areas, and set measurable objectives. 

Ultimately, change occurs only if consensus builds within a country that such change is desirable. Peru’s leaders must come together to ensure that such consensus occurs, and that the inclusive economic vision is above politics.

Michael E. Porter is the Bishop William Lawrence University Professor and Director of the Institute for Strategy and Competitiveness, Harvard Business School.

Jorge Ramírez Vallejo is Professor at the University of los Andes in Bogotá, Colombia, and Principal Associate, Institute for Strategy and Competitiveness, Harvard Business School.

This article is based on an unpublished report by Michael E. Porter, Jorge Ramírez-Vallejo, Adolfo Chiri and Christian Ketels, 2011, “Peru: A Strategy for Sustaining Growth and Prosperity.” 

Building a Template for Sustainable Forestry

Armando Espinosa and Oscar de la Cruz float on their raft of cut logs using the current to float their timber to a shorefront mill on Río Ucayali, Atalaya Province. Photo by Lorne Matalon

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Hope in a Landscape of Corruption 

By Lorne Matalon

RIO UCAYALI, Peru— Sebastian Maringama snakes his way through an emerald wilderness. He’s moving through a thicket of old-growth forest flanking the Rio Ucayali in Peru’s northeastern Amazon. 

An octogenarian elder of the Ashéninka indigenous group, Maringama is dressed in a flowing gown with vertical stripes. Radiant, multicolored bird feathers adorn his headband. One hand clasps a bow hewn from tropical hardwood, the other a burnished leather quiver containing red-tipped arrows dipped in snake venom.

Maringama’s hunt is a staple of life in this sweltering river village of 71 families. Wood framed thatched-roof homes sit on stilts. The songs of forest animals and birds meld into nature’s non-stop soundtrack. The place is aptly named Puerto Esperanza. 

This is a place of esperanza—hope—in a generalized context in which most communities do not manage their forests legally. 

The story of theft and resource mismanagement in Peru’s Amazon Basin is driven by foreign demand for quality wood, greed and domestic poverty. It is hard not to fall into the traps of corruption and illegality; the World Bank estimates that 80 percent of Peruvian wood exports are illegal.

What’s unfolding in Puerto Esperanza represents a small but significant example of how environmental stewardship can translate into sustainable income. It also shows how a collaboration between the village and a private forestry company is reaping financial dividends for both.

“Our neighbors are impressed by what we are doing here,” whispers Maringama in Spanish as he crouches on the forest floor. 

“We’re organized. We’re getting decent payment for this forest,” he explains.


Three years ago, a private forestry company in Peru, Consorcio Forestal Amazónico (CFA) that has since finished operations in Peru, and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) had each forged a relationship with the village. The company, owned by an investment fund in Denmark, was already working in a concession that bordered the village. WWF was also working in Puerto Esperanza helping villagers craft a business plan for their timber.

The two entities share an interest in profitable, sustainable forestry. Their overlapping agendas set the table for an agreement that the parties hope will be a template for neighboring communities. 

CFA would pay all costs to harvest the trees. As it does in its own concession, it would promote forest growth, for example by cutting the forest canopy to allow sunlight to nurture tree seedlings. In return the community would receive 20 per cent of the harvested wood to sell. Villagers would choose which species they wanted to receive. That allowed villagers to select the timber that would produce the highest return from year to year based on prevailing market demands.

CFA said it would not buy the village’s 20 percent share of the wood. The company reasoned independent transactions would forcibly move the village closer to self-sufficiency in both timber production and sales. 

“Year after year, these communities have been ripped off,” said Miguel Safiano, CFA’s chief executive officer. “We’re telling communities, ‘you can do business ethically and profit from that business.’ It’s our value system and it’s what we want to show can be done.”

“We didn't lubricate the system with bribes for permits and the government knows it,” Safiano continued. “When we apply for permits it takes several months, with a bribe maybe two weeks. So we plan accordingly. The government knew this company doesn’t pay.”

“This is ground where very few people have walked before,” said CFA’s former sales manager Rick Kellso. “The end point in sustainable forestry is we make money for our investors, but we also want to share our knowledge and approach particularly in Peru.”

The community agreed to the proposal. After two harvesting seasons, the community has received more than US$400,000 from sales of timber certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. Each family gets a share of the profit.

The Council’s endorsement—“FSC-certified”—is the world standard that assures foreign buyers and environmental watchdogs alike that timber is legal and harvested responsibly. Obtaining that endorsement is an expensive, arduous process. Both CFA and the World Wildlife Fund helped the village obtain the FSC seal and create a business plan.

“We’re an example for other communities,” says 53-year-old villager Raoul Sajame in Spanish as he shares yucca and grilled chicken with a visitor. “Almost no one around here apart from this community manages their forest legally.”

“Some places near here have been robbed of their trees,” explains Sajame, recalling instances in which outsiders have swindled communities by paying them in cash for the right to cut trees for pennies on the dollar.


In addition to illegal harvesting and theft of timber, the industry is also a crucible of violence. In 2008, a community leader was murdered in a government office after trying to alert authorities that stolen timber was being shipped through his territory. In 2009, at least 30 people died during protests against proposals to permit oil extraction, hydroelectric dams and logging across a swath of Peru’s Amazon Basin.

Logging in Peru is the story of an intersection of forged documents, collusion between provincial politicians and timber interests and few options for employment. Enforcement is an inconsistent, opaque process in which transport permits—designed to track a tree from the moment it is felled to the point of sale—are widely available. 

Loggers who cut timber illegally in one area can easily buy a forged document showing the timber was cut somewhere else.

A poll conducted by El Comercio newspaper (released February 17, 2014) suggests that more than 75 percent of Peruvians believe their police and politicians can be bought. 

In Pucallpa, a river port teeming with saw mills, a man sits across the street from the office of Dirección General Forestal y de Fauna Silvestre, Peru’s forest service.

The man has a stack of blank permits needed to transport logs and an ink-drenched stamp at the ready. Money changes hands, the thump of the stamp meeting paper echoes and the buyer, presumably someone who couldn’t get the necessary documents legally, walks away. 

The government claims to have no knowledge of this practice. But it’s common knowledge here and there’s no attempt to hide it. At the same time, the federal government has transferred policing authority in Peru’s forests to provincial forest service inspectors. They make the equivalent of US$350 per month, a salary that makes them vulnerable to corruption. 

Marcial Pezo, who heads the Pucallpa office of the forest service, succeeded Miguel Dávila Henderson who was forced out following embezzlement and fraud charges. Dávila is now a special assistant to a powerful regional governor. In Pucallpa people wonder openly about how an allegedly corrupt official can be hired for a high-level government posting. 

Pezo conceded corruption is an intractable problem and explained that his 55 inspectors are responsible for patrolling 14 million acres of rain forest. 

“If our forestry inspectors want to stop an illegal shipment, they’re threatened or beaten up,” said Pezo. “They work alone in remote areas. There’s no way to intervene quickly,” adding “We need armed police at our checkpoints on the river.” But when asked how some of his inspectors have hastily constructed, top-quality homes given their paltry salaries he said, “I don’t know.”


With outside help, villagers in Puerto Esperanza are trying to commercialize lesser known species such as huangana casha used in flooring and chamisa amarilla used for furniture. 

The challenge is convincing buyers in the United States, Europe and
Asia that those species and several others are desirable.

Both huangana casha and chamisa amarilla are blessed with some of the same qualities of durability and aesthetics that threatened species such as mahogany are famous for. 

At the same time, the United States has formally asked Peru to prosecute political and business leaders who violate a 2007 free trade agreement with the United States. That deal called for enforcement of existing laws against illegal logging. But enforcement is an abstract in many parts of the Amazon Basin.

The legal framework to stop the theft of trees exists. In 2008, the United States amended the Lacey Act, passed in 1900 to ban traffic in wildlife and plants to include the import of illegally harvested timber. Peru passed a forestry law in 2011 designed to clamp down on illegal logging. But the law is mired in negotiations as the country decides how it should be implemented.

Residents of Puerto Esperanza believe they stand as a positive example of change in an otherwise bleak landscape, one marked by flaunted laws and a nexus between politicians and timber interests. 

Peru’s vibrant economy is in large measure driven by commodities—minerals, oil and gas and timber. But as people in Puerto Esperanza say repeatedly, timber alone is renewable. 

Lorne Matalon is a staff correspondent with the Fronteras Desk, a collaboration of National Public Radio member stations reporting on the politics, demographics and economy along the U.S.-Mexico border. Matalon is the former reporter in Mexico for The World, produced by the BBC World Service and NPR member station WGBH, Boston.

An Andean Puma Reaches Out

For Broad-Based Economic Growth 

By Daniel M. Schydlowsky

Something major has happened to Peru’s economic growth in the 21st century. Previously characterized by high inflation, recurrent balance of payments problems, endemic un- and under-employment, poverty and inequality problems, Peru has transitioned into an Asian-style economic success. Measured in international purchasing power dollars, its per capita income has increased 117 percent, from US$5,440 in 2001 to $11,805 in 2012. At the same time, poverty dropped from 54 percent in 2001 to 24 percent in 2013. The country has accumulated an impressive fiscal surplus, and US$65.7 billion of foreign exchange reserves. All this has taken place under an increasingly vigorous democracy. What is the explanation? And what are the prospects of continuation along the same lines in the future?


When there is as major a break in the growth performance of an economy as Peru has had, it is worth looking beyond the conventional elements of economic policy to identify the underlying factors that produced such a major change. Five such elements can be identified for Peru.

First: a firm export orientation was adopted. For the first time since the 1950s, Peru has seriously implemented an export-oriented growth strategy. The timing was opportune: China has been growing by leaps and bounds, generating growing demand for Peru’s minerals and some of its agroexports. But opportunity is not enough; in order to benefit, you have to have the right policy. Peru has been talking export growth and actually implementing the talk. Between 2001 and the present, Peru has signed 21 free trade agreements. The United States, the European Union and China are the major counterparties. But other countries such as Canada, neighboring Latin American countries and ASEAN are all relevant markets for this relatively small economy.

In addition to dismantling trade barriers to its exports, Peru has maintained an almost constant real exchange rate by accumulating exchange reserves rather than letting the rate appreciate. Export profitability was thereby protected.

Second: Predictability in the economy was dramatically improved. Peruvian entrepreneurs have traditionally had to cope with an unstable policy environment which rewarded maintaining flexibility and spending effort on trying to anticipate economic policy changes. President Alejandro Toledo (2001-2006) inaugurated a significant shift in this respect: macro policy became remarkably predictable. As a result, businesspeople spent more time managing their businesses and less trying to anticipate policy changes or lobbying the economics ministry. The reorientation of entrepreneurial effort had a predictable result: productivity went up! It also made it more sensible to invest in the time-consuming effort of developing export markets. 

Third: economic horizons lengthened as a result of stable macro policy and lack of policy surprises. This was reinforced by the introduction of an active domestic government bond market complete with brokers obligated to make and maintain a market in these bonds. By 2002, Peru was issuing 10-year bonds, and by 2010, 40-year bonds. The longer horizons reduced the annual profit required to make a venture profitable. When the desired payback period is one year, one needs to earn 100 percent on capital, at two years it falls roughly to 50 percent, at five years to 20 percent and at ten years, you need to recover 10 percent per year (holding aside compounding). It follows that a longer horizon is equivalent to a cost reduction. Put another way, a longer horizon is equivalent to a real devaluation. In turn, a real devaluation makes exports more competitive. 

Another consequence of lengthened horizons is that the yield curve of investment becomes more favorable to longer gestation period projects. Mangos, for instance, take three years to produce a crop. Coffee takes five and hydrodams take at least eight. Short horizons preclude such projects. Furthermore, small and medium businesses usually face significantly higher interest rates, and as a result they are screened out of long gestation period projects. But it is precisely small and medium agriculture that can provide better employment opportunities and improve poverty and income distribution indices. Thus the lengthening of horizons not only produced an export boost but also a turn towards a production structure that favors the poor and those who live in rural areas.

Fourth: agricultural enterprises became credit worthy. Agriculture and rural activity have been at a significant disadvantage in terms of credit worthiness since the 1970s agrarian reform of the left-wing Velasco government. This began to change as modern business people migrated from mining, industry and trade into industrial agriculture. These individuals had established credit histories so when they moved into agriculture, they brought financing with them. As a result, credit for the countryside became available. 

At the same time, Peru’s microcredit system greatly expanded. Based on the Cajas Municipales de Ahorro y Crédito, municipal banks patterned after the German Spaarkassen, the CMACs provided credit to businesses growing up around the major agroexport enterprises, as well as to some small growers. That allowed the weaving of a credit texture to underpin regional and small city economic expansion.

Fifth: absence of cost increases due to wage push. One of the remarkable features of Peru’s growth in this period is that double-digit growth occurred with virtually no inflation. What price increase there was resulted mostly from imported food and fuel inflation. 

One simple explanation involves the weakening of the Peruvian labor legislation and unions during the 1990s as a consequence of the economic reforms introduced under the regime of President Alberto Fujimori. However, at least two-thirds of the Peruvian labor force works in the so-called “informal sector” where neither labor legislation nor unions are very relevant. A more plausible explanation holds that, in the informal sector, incomes are generated by a mix of wage labor and self-employment, with participants acting fundamentally as target income achievers. That is, labor suppliers will demand a wage determined by a target income and their expectation of how many units of labor they will sell. Such an interpretation of the labor market works well, in a market that clears well short of full employment. Then, it acts as a mechanism for work sharing through a market adjustment mechanism described many years ago by Edward Chamberlin, in his classic work The Theory of Monopolistic Competition (1933). Entry, exit, excess capacity (underemployment) and forward-falling supply curves all play a role here, as do migration from hired labor to microentrepreneurship to sell differentiated products, and an increased informalization of additional sectors as more traditional parts of the economy become saturated with underemployed individuals. The operative effect of this structure of the labor market is that wages tend to fall with output or at least do not rise until underemployment is absorbed, so growth can proceed without inflation. On another level, wage stability reinforces export-oriented growth, since it facilitates the maintenance of a competitive real exchange rate. In this sense, it is the counterpart of the reduction in the cost of capital brought about by the lengthening of horizons. 

It should also be noted that informality is not equivalent to illegality. The former is a form of market organization, while the latter is economic activity in violation of established laws, such as when mining or logging operates without the required licenses and violates environmental or conservation rules. There may naturally be an overlap, but it is important to maintain the distinction. Illegal operations can be repressed with better enforcement of the laws. Informal production cannot be effectively repressed; it can only be absorbed as the demand for labor expands to the point where target incomes are no longer the determinant of the supply price of labor.

As can be seen, all five elements worked to reinforce each other producing an effective break with the patterns of the past.

Chart courtesy of Daniel M. Schydlowsky.


With Chinese growth slowing down and the markets for minerals becoming less lucrative, Peru’s future growth will depend to a greater extent on its ability to effectuate systematic improvements in its competitiveness. The ever-present danger of Dutch disease—the tendency of a resource-rich economy to develop an exchange rate that makes producing things other than raw materials uncompetitive—must be countered with a policy directed to containing or reducing the costs of domestic inputs.

In such considerations, transport infrastructure is key. Not only are domestic freight costs a crucial input into every price, but given Peru’s geography, a continued opening up of the hinterland to market-oriented production depends critically on the availability of good roads. Freight costs function for domestic trade as tariffs do on international flows. The equivalent of free trade domestically depends on low freight costs. Moving from diesel- and gasoline- based transport to natural gas is one policy that would help in this direction. Another is the increased use of the two existing railroads (Central and Southern) for the transport of mining and agricultural products, so as to relieve the congestion of penetration roads.

Risk is another dimension of cost. Therefore, developments in insurance and other risk containing mechanisms are important in maintaining long term competitiveness. Peru currently has its first insurance reform underway since 1902. Consumer protection has been updated; competitive bidding for some insurance contracts has become compulsory and standardization of contracts has begun. New insurance companies have entered the Peruvian market, making prices and products more competitive. 

At the same time, socioeconomic conflict management has become a major policy concern as mining and logging companies face opposition from their local neighbors. The resulting conflicts have the potential of imposing costs not only on the direct participants in the conflicts but on numerous third parties, including significant portions of the financial community. Prevention in this context is highly preferable to requiring companies to set aside moneys for potential losses into accounting provisions. Peru is introducing financial regulations that enlist the banks in an effort to improve corporate due diligence in abating these conflicts. The resulting reduction in risk should make Peru an even more attractive site for mining investments.

Reducing costs of finance is another way of lowering the costs of domestic inputs. Lowering financial transaction costs is within reach via the development of cellphone banking on a level playing field, with full interconnectedness and interoperability between all banks and telecoms. This will have enormous implications for the economic integration of the hinterland.

Additionally, risk evaluation on micro credit and consumer credit can be made more effective and less costly by the application of modern psychometric techniques, which are able to quantify integrity (willingness to pay) and entrepreneurial ability (capacity to pay).

The increased availability of finance by connecting institutional savings of private retirement funds more directly to productive business investment is a further element in the same direction.

The future goes beyond the technological developments of cellphones and modern psychometric techniques. One example of the way in which technology can be harnessed is Peru’s acquisition of its own satellite. This satellite inaugurates a new epoch in the effectiveness of public management. With “eyes in the sky,” it becomes possible to effectively enforce fishing licenses, to monitor public works and pay by reliably measured progress, to identify urban sprawl and levy the appropriate taxes, to identify avalanches as they form and prevent road blockages, along with many more improvements in administration and productivity. 

Maintaining, or better yet, increasing international competitiveness needs to be a daily occupation in a growing economy. Peru’s growth over the last decade and a half shows what can happen when productivity and competitiveness take a jump. Fortunately, the forces at work are still operative and new sources of competitiveness and productivity growth are on the horizon. All told, the Andean Puma is bounding with energy and can be expected to continue to do well. 

Daniel M. Schydlowsky is the Superintendent of Banks, Insurance Companies and Private Pension Fund Administrators, Republic of Peru. He was the DRCLAS 2009-2010 Robert F. Kennedy Visiting Professor and later a Fellow at the Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government at the Harvard Kennedy School. 

Protests over Resource Extraction in Peru

"El Tren desde mi azotea" (The Metro from my Roof) captures the inauguration of a new form of public transportation, a priority for environmental activists. Photo by Ademir Espiritu, Ojos Propios, Proyecto Talleres de Fotografía Participativa, Lima 2014.

Demanding Rights and Services 

By Moisés Arce

In 2001, the small town of Tambogrande erupted into violent protests over concessions to a large mining company. In Cajamarca, communities affected by mineral extraction have protested repeatedly against the increasing environmental degradation in the region. Elsewhere, Amazon residents fought relocation and the commercialization of their lands by logging companies. Protests over resource extraction in Peru are common and often violent: 146 people died and scores were injured in protests in the first decade of the 21st century, according to the Peruvian Ombudsman Office. Demonstrators oppose the adverse impact of mining on their jobs and the environment, as well as how mineral wealth is distributed.

Yet one might ask why all these people are protesting—and protest over mineral resources is the most frequent source of protest in the country. After all, the extraction of natural resources in Peru has contributed to an impressive economic expansion. Record-high commodity prices as well as an aggressive Chinese demand for raw materials have contributed to this economic bonanza. Indeed, Peru’s economy has become one of the fastest growing and most stable in the Latin American region. Per capita GDP increased from US$4,459 in 1990 to US$9,421 in 2012. The share of the Peruvian population living in poverty also declined from 58.7 percent in 2004 to 27.8 percent in 2011, and the percentage of those living in extreme poverty dropped from 16.4 percent to 6.3 percent during the same period. A growing, consumer-oriented middle class has emerged from this economic expansion.

In 2011, mining exports accounted for 59 percent of the country’s total exports. And by 2010, Peru occupied a leading position in the global production of gold (as the fifth-largest producer), silver (first), copper (third), lead (fourth), tin (third) and zinc (third). Peru also stands out as having Latin America’s highest concentration of the world’s top mining companies. Presently, at least 21 percent of the national territory (approximately 26 million hectares) is under some sort of mining concession. Government officials increasingly see mining as the mainspring of national development, and it is a key source of government revenue. Given the significance of resource-based growth policies for the national economy, protesters have put elected officials in a very difficult spot politically as these leaders seek to continue the economic “good times” amid rising social unrest.

Although one could easily argue that the economic history of Peru is essentially a history of mining (its gold and silver provided the Spanish empire with an extraordinary source of wealth), large-scale mining there can be traced to the turn of the 20th century with the operations of the Cerro de Pasco Corporation (CPC), a U.S. mining company. The origins of the country’s labor movement are also tied to CPC as the company became the largest private employer in the nation. At the same time, the current wave of protests over natural resource extraction provides an ideal venue to understand the changing nature of mobilizations as a consequence of the deepening of economic liberalization policies (or “new mining” as others had called it). In particular, these mobilizations help us understand the geographic segmentation of protests as well as the emergence of broad coalitions with diverse sets of new actors.

Under “new mining,” technological conditions have reduced the need for unskilled labor, and labor disputes between mining companies and workers have become less visible. Instead, the so-called mega extractive projects (megaproyectos mineros) require more water, energy, land and landscape. New open-pit and heap-leaching techniques demand far greater access to each of these resources. Those protesting against the extraction of natural resources are largely the rural and urban populations affected by extraction. And their claims often include land, water quantity and quality, landscape and the protection of the environment and their livelihood. Seen in this light, “new mining” allows us to understand the new actors and types of coalitions that aggrieved groups have forged in opposition to extraction. These coalitions cut across social classes and the urban and rural divide, as well as environmental and nationalistic discourses.

However, not all of the mobilizations against “new mining” address the adverse impact of mining on livelihoods and the environment. The commodity price boom has yielded remarkable profits for extractive industries, and taxes collected from mining have become the most important intergovernmental transfer linked to the extraction of natural resources. In Peru, these transfers are known as canon minero. These intergovernmental transfers have also encouraged a sizeable number of mobilizations over their distribution and use across the different tiers of government—local, provincial, regional and national.

Naturally, it is not an easy undertaking for the less powerful to mount a successful opposition campaign against a lucrative extractive industry and the governments that sponsor “new mining.” Large-scale mobilizations are difficult to keep up over a long period of time and require a lot of organization and mobilization of resources. Their participants need to devote time outside of their daily routines to sustain them. Thus it is important to differentiate among the different types of mobilizations surrounding extraction. Here I propose a straightforward typology of protests, and suggest that some of these mobilizations are driven by “demands for rights,” which are encouraged by environmental concerns such as the protection of water and lands; other mobilizations are driven by “demands for services,” which arise as a consequence of disputes over the distribution and use of revenues generated from resource extraction. These differences have implications over the development of protest movements against resource extraction.


Environmental concerns in defense of the water supply or the protection of agricultural lands exemplify the mobilizations over demands for rights. Most of these protests simply oppose mining. In some cases, protesters concerned about the environment aim to prevent the mining activities from getting off the ground, as in the case of Tambogrande in the Piura region. In other cases, environmental activists seek to halt the expansion of already existing mining activities, as in Mount Quilish in the Cajamarca region. In Piura, Canadian-based Manhattan Minerals Corporation (MMC) sought to construct an open-pit mine for the extraction of gold near the San Lorenzo Valley and Tambogrande. The project called for the relocation of thousands of residents as well as the rerouting of the tributaries of the Piura River. The mobilizations against MMC extended over a period of almost five years, starting in 1999 through 2003. In Cajamarca, U.S.-based Newmont’s Yanacocha mine became the largest gold producer in Latin America, and one of the largest foreign investment operations in Peru. The Yanacocha mine began to extract gold in the early 1990s. Several years later, buoyed by high prices, it sought to expand operations to other areas, such as Mount Quilish in 2004 and Conga in 2012.

Communities often feel marginalized or excluded from the decision-making process regarding natural resource governance. This has also triggered a number of important protests, demanding consultation rights on development projects that affect indigenous people. The 2008-09 mobilization in opposition to opening the Amazon up for development in the province of Bagua is an example of protests over demands for rights: in this particular case, consultation rights. The U.S.-Peru free trade agreement signed in 2006 encouraged the expansion of the extractive frontier, and in the case of the Amazon region, the agreement sought to facilitate logging and the commercialization of indigenous communal lands. Mobilizations invoking consultation rights often incorporate an environmentalist discourse to further resist the exploitation of natural resources.


Protests over demands for services revolve around disputes over how wealth from extraction is distributed. These protests are not necessarily opposed to mining and often do not involve mining companies directly. Rather these mobilizations entangle local populations and political authorities representing the different tiers of government where the natural resource is extracted. These mobilizations are common in areas where mining may be the only activity that is economically viable and does not compete with other activities, such as agriculture. Regional and local governments thus seek to integrate extractive activities already present with the development of the localities in which mining takes place.

Allocation of revenues across different levels of government has changed over time. As several studies have shown, the perceived inequities in the distribution of revenues among presidents of regional governments, mayors of provincial municipalities, and mayors of district municipalities have triggered a sizeable number of protests. In terms of the use of revenues, the disputes have to do with the efficient management of resource incomes, where efficient management refers to both its proper use and the capacity of local governments to deliver improvements where resource extraction takes place. These revenues are often spent in the delivery of services or infrastructure projects such as roads, schools and health centers.

In sum, not all the mobilizations against resource extraction are created equal. On the one hand, the protests over demands for services acknowledge the “good news” of extraction, and seek a more equitable distribution of the revenues generated from mining. These mobilizations do not oppose extraction but rather seek material improvements, such as a better provision of social services, higher wages for mine workers and so on. The claims of protesters are very specific and negotiable. These mobilizations typically result in a pattern of non-stop protest whereby short-lived protests lead to small concessions, which later encourage other short-lived protests and other concessions, and so on. Protests thus become a bargaining tool to achieve political objectives or policy demands. They bring extractive industries to the negotiating table.

On the other hand, the protests over demands for rights follow the “bad news” of extraction, and seek to protect the water supply and lands from the perceived threats that are typically associated with mining. These mobilizations oppose extraction and seek to stop it. Such mobilizations raise broader claims that are more difficult to accommodate, and compared to those of protests over services, these claims are also more likely to produce organized and sustained challenges against extraction.

The distinction between demands for rights and demands for services is important. The motivations (and emotions) of protests over rights are, in fact, very different from those of protests over services. Mobilizations over demands for rights approximate the sort of economic threats that typically encourage people to participate in protest activity. In contrast, mobilizations over demands for services come close to an economic opportunity insofar as individuals mobilize to better their situation, particularly in the presence of windfall profits as a consequence of rising commodity prices. The threats associated with protests over “rights" provide, arguably, a stronger rationale for collective resistance vis-à-vis the motives tied to protests over services. This stronger rationale facilitates the types of organized and sustained challenges more likely to stimulate positive responses on behalf of aggrieved groups.

The cases of Tambogrande, Mount Quilish and Bagua are examples of protests over “demands for rights.” The organized and sustained challenges seen in these three cases have had significant national policy effects. For instance, the mobilization in Tambogrande was the first to invoke and execute a popular referendum in opposition to mining. This strategy, which was neither legally sanctioned nor authorized by the national government, has been replicated in other protests against resource extraction and with the same political objective. The mobilization in Bagua in the Amazon region forced the national governments of presidents García (2006-11) and Humala (2011-present) to recognize Convention 169 (C169) of the International Labor Organization (ILO). C169 advances consultation and participation rights on behalf of indigenous peoples on issues that affect them. Finally, the mobilization about Mount Quilish moved policy makers to support a more decentralized allocation of the canon minero that comes from extractive activities.

Moisés Arce is the Frederick A. Middlebush Professor in Political Science at the University of Missouri. He is the author of Resource Extraction and Protest in Peru and Market Reform in Society.

City Views: Class and Culture

Photo courtesy of MALI.

As Peru develops an emerging middle class, the contours of Lima and other cities are changing. From protest to the press, urbanism is reflected in a multitude of new ways.

The Polycentric City

Combis and cars dominate the streets of Lima, a city no longer organized by its downtown. Photo by Oscar Malaspina.

A Look at Lima 

By Aldo Panfichi

It’s six in the morning and the combi pulls up to a crowded stop in an outlying community of Lima. Commuters are pushing to get a seat on the small bus, larger than a minivan and almost always jammed, seeking to make the long trip to downtown Lima. Micaela, who works in a Starbucks on Arequipa Avenue, joins the crowd of passengers pressing against each other as the driver’s helper yells, “Get on, get on, there’s room in the back!” The combi makes its way through a din of honking horns and assorted insults from other drivers over some bad turn or other; children get on to sing or play an instrument in order to earn their fare to get to school. Some poorer kids get on the bus to hawk candy.

The regular riders come from the conos—periurban areas located in the northern and southeastern parts of Lima, formed by migrants during the last century. Saleswomen and owners of small businesses are the first to get off along Perú Avenue. And then the workers depart for the factories in the industrial park on Argentina Avenue. Finally, young people start leaving, first at the university preparatory academies, and further on at the National University of San Marcos. The combi almost empties out at the private Catholic University, letting out students who come from upwardly mobile North Lima. A few blocks on, in the districts of Pueblo Libre and Jesús María, senior citizens, most of them retired employees, climb on to the combi with difficulty, and some passengers give up their seats to them. At the end of Cuba Avenue, Micaela, the Starbucks employee, calls out, “Getting off, getting off!” stepping agilely over the merchandise-filled bags of other women passengers. They are headed for the traditional Victoria neighborhood, site of the Gamarra commercial emporium, where they will sell the products of their informal and family workshops. 

The passengers don’t know each other, but they may have crossed paths before. Perhaps Micaela may have served coffee to some of them or bought their knockoff clothing or walked by some of them at the university. In the combi, no one makes eye contact; all glance out of the corner of their eyes at fellow passengers. 


The academic literature about 20th-century cities describes how Lima, the colonial “city of the kings,” experienced extraordinary expansion due to migratory waves of peasants from the Andean highlands. The dominant image is one of a divided city in which a largely migrant population surrounds the traditional center inhabited by elite residents who wall themselves off in their increasingly threatened space (see, for example, Jürgen Golte and Norma Adams, Los Caballos de Troya de los Invasores. Estrategias Campesinas en la Conquista de la Gran Lima. Lima: Instituto de Estudios Peruanos, 1987). The concept portrays a city disconnected between the central area and the zones of expansion, and one in which public spaces are ignored. The separation of living spaces is imposed through walls, gates, private guards or simply making access difficult for groups other than one’s own. 

Today, this image of Lima organized by the center-periphery dichotomy is becoming obsolete. The city has a new dynamic, and recent research suggests new analysis. Lima indeed does continue to be a city of immigrants, although the weight of such immigration is less every year. In 1940, immigrants made up a third of the population, and by 1972, 40 percent—two out of every five Lima residents—came from elsewhere. This figure has slowly begun to diminish, dropping to 34 percent in 2007, according to the Peruvian Institute of Statistics and Informatics (INEI, 2007). The newcomers, those who arrived in the city between 1993 and 2007, make up an even smaller percentage: only 6 percent, and they also are a different type of immigrant. Young men with little education and practically no job training made up the peasant migration in the 1960s and 70s. Today, immigrants to the city are also young, but they have more education and job preparedness. About half have gone to high school, and more than half (52 percent) are women, according to the 2007 census figures. The new immigrants prefer to live in the central districts of Lima and the eastern cono, where many vocational institutes and universities offer opportunities to study, and the service sectors provide new openings, as Víctor Pontolillo observes in Migración Interna Reciente y el Sistema de Ciudades, 2002 -2007 (UNFPA/INEI, 2011). These findings indicate that the migration to Lima in the first decade of the 21st century is made up of skilled young people in search of better educational opportunities and employment in the modern sector of the urban economy. 

In recent decades, Lima has ceased to organize itself around its downtown and instead is now a polycentric city with four consolidated centers. These are the Miraflores Shopping Center, the San Isidro Financial Center, the Gamarra Industrial Center and the Central Market. In addition, other concentrations, such as those in San Miguel and Los Olivos, are in the process of consolidation, according to a 2012 study by Efraín Gonzales del Olarte and Juan Manuel del Pozo Segura. This trend represents a major historical change, given that the political and economic power for the entire country has been concentrated in downtown Lima since 1535. Downtown Lima—what we call Lima Centro—continues to be an articulating axis for the other Limas, but now it serves a complicated framework of relations and movements among them. Lima residents journey great distances to study or work, creating interactions among the far-flung parts of the city. 

Mobility produces occupational adjustments. Downtown Lima and East Lima have the highest concentration of people who are more highly educated and have the most spending power. Downtown Lima is home to 56 percent of public employees and 45 percent of professionals, but only 16 percent of blue-collar workers, while the up-and-coming East Lima has 22 percent public employees, 21 percent professionals and 26 percent service workers. North Lima is somewhere in between, and is actually considered to be the place where a new middle class is emerging. This neighborhood houses 19 percent of the professionals, 23 percent of mid-level technicians, 21 percent of office employees, but also 26 percent of the workers.

                                                                                                      Photo by Robert Christen

On the opposite side of the scale are South Lima and West Lima, with older immigrants, mostly longtime residents who tend to be less educated and with less spending power. South Lima has 37 percent of the blue-collar workers, 18 percent of unskilled workers, and only 5 percent of public employees and 8 percent of professionals. West Lima is home to 7 percent of professionals, 11 percent employees and 10 percent blue-collar workers 

With distinct rhythms and peculiarities, startups are thriving with extraordinary dynamism; various groups with their own particular identities occupy available public space. However, mobility and diversity are not immune from generating tension, jealousy and conflict. The coexistence of unequal groups reproduces forms of segregation at the local level, especially when there are marked differences in income and consumption patterns, according to Paul Peters and Emily Skop in “Socio-spacial Segregation in Metropolitan Lima, Peru” (Journal of Latin American Geography, 6 (1), 2007). This potential for conflict worries both authorities and residents. It is not a matter of anomie or the “law of the jungle,” as the tabloid press declares with alarm, but of tense and stormy relationships among individuals who quarrel over goods and opportunities. But these same individuals also need to exchange information, traverse the city together and even mobilize politically. Lima residents cross borders, bridges and labyrinths every single day. 

In the last few years, public spaces and shops, educational institutions, and entertainment complexes have become spaces where Lima residents encounter and interact with one another. Today, for the most part, they are not migrants, but children and grandchildren and even great-grandchildren of migrants. Here, in the working-class neighborhoods, one encounters numerous sports fields for soccer and volleyball practice that mayors and politicians in search of votes so frequently inaugurate. Here are sprawling wholesale markets with foods from different regions of the country and modern malls with brand-name stores and food courts such as the emblematic Mega Plaza. Here one also finds the commercial conglomerates of small businesses such as those of Gamarra or the industrial park of Villa El Salvador, as well as huge markets of stolen and contraband goods. 

From the perspective of this modern cityscape it is better to set aside the obsolete image of a Lima fragmented between a modern center and a backwards periphery and focus instead upon the notion of a polycentric city containing distinct sectors within a metropolis. The majority of its inhabitants were born in the city; while new migrants do arrive, they are principally young people in search of better educational and job opportunities. Yet the city is not homogeneous but made up of multiple micro-societies held together by ties of class, kinship, education, neighborhoods, lifestyles or life aspirations. In these micro-societies trust among their members coexists with distrust of other groups, the state and the authorities. However, in spite of suspicions, the Lima residents of the 21st century, with their lively streets and public places, are constructing bridges daily between these micro-societies, as Micaela demonstrates to us in her long daily journey on the combi

Aldo Panfichi is Professor and Chair, Department of Social Sciences, Universidad Católica del Perú. He was a 2002 Visiting Scholar at DRCLAS.

Noelia Chávez, who assisted with this article, has a degree in Sociology from Universidad Católica del Perú.

Reverse Urbanism

Before and after comparison of Ciudad de Dios, south of Lima, 55 years later (1955-2010). Image source: Servicio Aerofotográfico Nacional and Google Earth.

Lima: A Topsy-Turvy City 

By Oscar Malaspina

In 1973, eleven-year-old Rita arrived to Lima from Caraz, a town high in the Andes. Her mother used to work at my grandparents’ house in Caraz but sent Rita to stay with my family in Lima. Rita lived in our house for almost 20 years. She raised my brothers and me while finishing high school and then studying at the university. In 1991, she married her boyfriend Rogelio and they both started to look for somewhere to live.

Given the humble economic conditions in which they started their married life, they could not afford traditional housing options. Instead, they decided to follow a common practice in Lima for those of similar socioeconomic conditions: to informally occupy lands in a barriada (shanty town). It was actually my mom’s idea, after she heard some rumors at her job at the Ministry of Education about some colleagues occupying agricultural lands in the north of Lima. In April 1991, Rogelio and Rita joined around 2,000 other families and settled in the arid periphery of Lima, hoping that the land they were sleeping on that night would become theirs in the future.

Police came into the barriada. Authorities tried to evict the settlers. But after a series of fights, they managed to remain. Rita and Rogelio knew that the police had only a small window of time to forcefully evict them, and after that interval they could only be evicted by judicial and legal means. Furthermore, they knew that the government almost always ended up granting amnesty, legalizing the settlement and granting land titles. At the beginning, the informal settlers managed and organized everything by themselves. They laid out and built the streets and walkways, and obtained water, electricity, security and garbage removal. 

Twenty-three years later, that place of sand and dust is now a vibrant sector of Lima, full of small local businesses and services such as banks, universities and malls. Rita and Rogelio live in the third house they have built. Their house is no longer the first reed hut they built to occupy the land, nor is it the second temporary adobe construction they built when the exact location of their plot was fixed. This third house is a two-story brick building that they built themselves with the aid of their neighbors. Rita and Rogelio have not only managed to build a house for their family, but they have also helped shape a vibrant community for themselves and their neighbors. 

Like Rita, millions of people migrated to Lima during the second half of the 20th century. They all came for their own reasons, but they shared the quest for better opportunities for themselves and their families. They are the founders of the shape of contemporary Lima, a massive example of reverse urbanism that started with informal settlements and evolved into the construction of more structured settlements that enabled a better quality of life for its residents. Urbanism usually starts the other way, constructing the infrastructure and the streets first, and occupying them afterwards. 

In part due to this topsy-turvy process of reverse urbanism, Lima with its nine million inhabitants has become the second largest desert city in the world. As the result of fifty years of intense internal migration and a population increase of almost 500 percent since 1950, Lima is the biggest city in Peru, holding one-third of the country’s population. It is also the largest coastal, Andean and Amazonian city in terms of population concentration. Lima is metaphorically the new genetic code for Peru, as it is a multicultural city where 87.3 percent of its population has immigrant roots—domestic and international. 

It is the history of how Lima, a city in which 62 percent of its population lives in originally informal areas around the periphery, became the city that is today reflected in its inhabitants’ economic progress and its socio-cultural background. Moreover, it is also important to understand contemporary Lima in relation to its general history. Architects and urbanists are fond of saying that there were several Limas within Lima’s current footprint. 


Lima, founded as the capital of the Viceroyalty of Peru on January 18th of 1535, was a city mainly designed for Spaniards. Indigenous people were excluded from the city itself, and forced to live outside the city, in reductos (indigenous towns). Traditional Lima was composed of rational square urban grids and Spanish-style colonial houses. It was a small city that maintained commercial and trade networks with nearby towns such as Magdalena, Chorillos and the port of Callao. The grid, size, layout and footprint of the city remained relatively unchanged until years after Peru’s independence in 1821, mainly because of the existence of the city wall. This wall, built in 1684 to protect the city from pirates, was torn down 185 years later in 1869.

The marginalization and exclusion of native Peruvians from traditional Lima and other important coastal cities persisted even after Peru’s independence, mainly because of the nature of the Independence War, which mainly pitted the Spanish against the Criollos (the Peruvian-born descendants of Spaniards). This conflict mostly excluded the native Peruvians, who continued to be marginalized. 

In his new book Perú: Estado desbordado y sociedad nacional emergente, the well-known anthropologist José Matos Mar addresses the coexistence of two Perus: the official Peru, made up by the relatively wealthy traditional families, with Spanish or foreign roots, living primarily in Lima and coastal cities; and the other Peru, whose uneducated and poor indigenous Andean and Amazonian families were outsiders to any kind of nationally inclusive vision.


At the beginning of the 20th century, traditional Lima started to look ahead and to think big in terms of urban planning and expansion. Lima and Peru in general were facing two milestone occasions: the reconstruction period after the 1879-1883 Peruvian-Chilean war and the preparation for the celebration of the first 100 years of independence. 

Modern Lima emerged around the 1920s with the construction of some large parks and wide avenues, borrowing such Anglo-Saxon urban ideals as the Garden City. Then, in 1948, Lima started its first Pilot Plan, heavily influenced by Josep Lluis Sert, urban designer and later dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Design, during his visits that year to the country.

Modern Lima began trying to do the right thing with important housing, parks and transportation projects such as the Unidad Vecinal #3, Parque de la Exposición or Arequipa Avenue. Nonetheless, modern Lima ended up absolutely overwhelmed by the complexity of the reality of the heavy influx of people from the countryside, beginning in the 1940s but really bursting in the 1960s. 

Modern urban planning was a matter of buildings and roads, largely conceived in terms of infrastructure. Little thought was given about how to manage the political, social, economic, legal and sanitary complexity of millions of people spontaneously inhabiting and urbanizing Lima. However, in an effort to deal with sanitary conditions and violence, the government started to legalize some of these informal settlements. This reaction can be conceived as the beginning of contemporary Lima and the end of what could have been modern Lima. 


The second half of the 20th century shows the real history of today’s contemporary Lima, as well as providing a perfect example of reverse urbanism, since barriadas in Lima started in reverse: the land was first occupied and settled, and then public services, utilities and facilities for living were obtained through collective work, participation of the community, as well as negotiation with the government. The story of how contemporary Lima became the city it is today can be summarized in three moments:

The first moment is one of growth and expansion, marked by early mass migrations from the provinces and rural areas to Lima during the 1940s. People came because of “pull” factors such as better opportunities, education and jobs and because of “push” factors such as loss of land, economic crisis and natural disasters. Starting in the 1970s, this migration increased dramatically, triggered by events such as the Agrarian Reform and the subsequent breakdown of important rural economies, and the presence of the terrorist group Shining Path in rural areas. 

The decades from the 1940s to the 1990s have been described by anthropologist Matos Mar as the years of desborde popular (popular overflow), represented by the mass migration of the people of the “other Peru” towards the city that until then had belonged to the people of the “official Peru.” The millions of people who arrived to Lima during these years created barriadas such as Villa el Salvador, Ciudad de Dios and Ventanilla on the periphery of the traditional city, a process which continued until the 1990s.


Throughout the 1990s, under the Alberto Fujimori presidency, drastic public reforms stabilized and liberalized the economy. Several public services were privatized. Generalized lack of public control and regulation enabled the growth of an informal parallel economy totally overlooked by the traditional society. Informal markets, grocery stores, transportation companies, food trading, clothes manufacturing and other services boomed alongside the privatized economy.

The government also adopted radical policies for dealing with the barriadas issue in Lima. During the early 1990s, more than a million families informally occupying state lands were granted land tenure and titles. This policy stemmed from the hope that families with legal ownership would start investing more money in their own houses and neighborhoods. In other words, along with the reforms that brought prosperity and money to the population, both formally and informally, the idea was also to create a platform that enabled citizens to self-invest in the city and therefore to “build city.”

These reforms, which stimulated the immigrants’ already strong sense of organization and community work, transformed the neighborhoods of Lima’s periphery. Their originally flimsy appearance evolved into a more robust brick-residential urbanization filled with small local businesses. Nonetheless, major private services such as banks, schools, universities, clinics and shopping centers were still not interested in investing in these areas of the city, considering them too risky in terms of profitability. 


As a consequence of the political reforms started in the 1990s and the strategic macroeconomic decisions of the early 2000s, Peru’s macroeconomic performance started to improve noticeably in relation to the Latin America region from 2005 on. Financial stability, low inflation rates and private and state investment contributed to create an environment of sustained economic progress easily noticed by the population. Between 2005 and 2011, the average GDP per capita increased annually by 7.9 percent, giving birth to the so-called emergent middle class, those with immigrant roots. 

These emergent middle class families represent more than a quarter (28 percent) of the total urban population of Peru today, accounting for nearly 40 percent of the country’s total income. Their strong economic presence is no longer overlooked by private and formal enterprises which have now radically transformed their business strategies and are finally investing in the “emergent districts” of Lima.

Today’s contemporary Lima is finally entering into a process of consolidation that has brought more equality to its citizens. It is perceived as an optimistic city that is slowly acquiring its own flavor and identity. In the words of Matos Mar, today’s Lima is finally a better representation of Peru, its mestizaje (racial mixing) and cultural diversity. 

Contemporary Lima has shown how reverse urbanism became a way of making city, bringing prosperity to citizens at moments when the official plans lost direction and were totally overwhelmed by reality. Nonetheless, reverse urbanism was a painful way of making city. It was done at a cost of thousands of hours of hard work of its citizens in a context of huge inequality, segregation and fragmentation. Contemporary Lima was developed throughout the accumulation of small neighborhood patches that collectively became a fragmented city that today struggles to find its identity. 

Much work is still needed to articulate policies and services that guarantee justice, equity and accessibility for all residents of Lima. However, in a world in which close to one billion people live in slums—the rapidly urbanizing product of rural-urban migration—Lima’s fifty years of intense reverse urbanism offer invaluable lessons that the rest of the world could use in other contexts. 

Oscar Malaspina is an adjunct professor in the School of Architecture and Urbanism at the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Peru (PUCP). Trained as a professional architect, he also holds a Master’s of Urban Design from the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD) in 2013. He divides his professional life between teaching at the university and as an active member of La Victoria Innovation Lab. You can contact him at: <>

Best-Selling Newspaper

Headlines from the tabloid newspaper Trome feature sports and scandals. The paper appeals to an audience with a desire for social mobility. Photo by Alonso Chero. 

Made in Peru

By Liz Mineo

Mabel Cueva makes a living selling Egyptian tarot decks, self-help books, pirated Paulo Coelho novels and other bestsellers in a makeshift book market in downtown Lima. When the day is slow, she reads a cheap tabloid filled with splashy headlines, coupon promotions, cash prizes and gossip news about local celebrities. 

“I read it to pass the time,” said Cueva, 34, a mother of an eight-year-old boy. “It’s entertaining.”

Called Trome, named after a word for “ace” or “champion” in Peruvian slang, the popular paper prides itself in offering “entertainment for the whole family,” and according to Cueva, it delivers. 

Like most tabloids, Trome lives off celebrity scandal and entertainment news. It runs photographs of scantily clad women, but unlike most tabloids, it lacks gory pictures or sensational crime stories on the cover; those are sent to the inside pages. It devotes entire sections to beauty and health tips for women, love and sex horoscopes, gossip columns and educational material for schoolchildren.

This sassy concoction has made Trome a “family tabloid” and the best-selling newspaper not only in Peru but also in the Spanish-speaking world. With 734,000 copies sold daily, Trome sells more than Peru’s El Comercio (90,000), Argentina’s Clarín (280,000), Spain’s El País (325,000) or Colombia’s El Tiempo (400,000). 

How a cheap Peruvian tabloid (at only US$0.20) bucked the worldwide trend of declining newspaper sales is a story of difficult beginnings and big-time success featured by street-smart editors and marketing researchers, who seized on opportunities in Peru’s roaring economy. Trome is now a case study taught at business schools all over the world. Curious editors from other countries often descend on Lima to learn about the winning formula. But it is a recipe that might work only in Peru. 

Trome was launched in 2001 by the owners of El Comercio, Peru’s oldest newspaper and the group’s flagship publication, which is read by high-income earners. The tabloid’s introduction was an effort to attract the new middle class that has emerged amid Peru’s high economic growth, mostly made up of small entrepreneurs of lower-class origins. According to research by companies hired by El Comercio, the new middle class yearned for a media outlet that could speak their language and meet their needs for social advancement. 

“It’s not your traditional middle class,” said María Elena Otiniano, manager at Grupo El Comercio. “They’re more like the new middle class in China or India. They are very pragmatic, success-oriented and focused on acquiring material goods. They want a new car, nice furniture, a better house, anything that helps them improve their status and their lives.”

These new consumers also lack interest in politics, a legacy of the civil war that ravaged the country in the 1980s and Fujimori’s 10-year reign of corruption in the 1990s, which fed Peruvians’ traditional distrust of government. 

Trome’s editors understand this new market panorama. But it wasn’t always like that. Six months after its publication, sales were disappointing and executives were scratching their heads not knowing what to do. A case study, “Trome—News for the Base of the Pyramid,” by researchers Guillermo D’Andrea, Javier J.O. Silva and Maricruz Prado from Buenos Aires’ Austral University, tells the story of a tense meeting in those early days. An editor is quoted as saying, “Why don’t we stick to a style we know works? I’m sure our readers want content that is similar to those offered by our competitors, with a focus on sex and violence.”

The editor was fired. New management was brought. Carlos Espinoza and Víctor Patiño, who were lured from Aja, another best-selling tabloid, to be Trome’s editor–in-chief and managing editor, paid attention to research showing that target readers were fed up with most Peruvian tabloids and their staples of crime stories, lurid prose and racy pictures of half-naked women. They wanted a cheap paper that was suitable for home reading, one that didn’t offend housewives or hurt children’s susceptibilities. 

The new editors decided that instead of crime, gossip will rule, and that, unlike in most tabloids, stories must be based on true facts. As for the racy photos, they were sent to the back page. Under the title “Malcriadas,” or naughty girls, local women who volunteer to be photographed in suggestive poses wear skimpy clothes—but they’re never naked or topless. Including local women was a far cry from the stock catalog of pictures of half-naked women, all with blond hair, fair skin and blue eyes the paper used early on. 

“The malcriadas could be your next-door neighbor,” said editor Patiño. “The other ones looked like they were from Sweden.” 

To the new touches of local color and priority to scandals and sports instead of crime, the paper added promotions and prizes. To reward readers the paper holds musical festivals with health caravans to allow attendees to listen to their favorite local bands, undergo a Pap test or have a dental checkup. Every day the paper offers promotions such as daily cash prizes, new car raffles or write-in contests for complete dining or living room sets. Some critics say those promotions are the main reason behind Trome’s soaring sales, but editors argue they address their readers’ needs.

“We’re very much aware of their desire for social mobility,” said Víctor Patiño, the tabloid’s general editor, at his office in downtown Lima, a print of Andy Warhol's Marilyn Monroe hanging on the wall and copies of the day’s newspapers on his desk. “That’s why we sell more than news to them. Our readers are aspirational consumers.”

Tabloids have always sold well in Peru not only because of cheap prices (often less than US$1) but also because their mix of lowbrow content and use of slang holds a strong appeal to their working-class audience. 

In the 1950s Ultima Hora shocked Peru’s stiff, highbrow and conservative media landscape with its use of slang in bold headlines, gruesome crime scene photos and celebrity scandals. In the 1970s and 1980s Ojo and Correo followed in their steps, but in the 1990s, tabloids became a political weapon. The Fujimori government funded and controlled a handful of tabloids called “chicha” (a nod to the culture of indigenous migrants in Lima’s misery belts) and added to its usual mix of violence, celebrity gossip and half-naked women, vicious campaigns against Fujimori’s political opponents. 

Like its predecessors, Trome’s success lies in having found a target audience: taxi drivers, street vendors and small shop owners that make up Peru’s emerging middle class. It’s a group that is expanding both in Lima and the interior, where the tabloid is selling like hotcakes. Between 2009 and 2013, it doubled its sales in the interior. In the same period, El Comercio’s sales in provinces declined.

Reporters and graphic designers work in the tabloid's ultramodern newsroom. Photos by Alonso Chero.

After its August 2013 acquisition of a controlling interest in Epensa, a publishing company of high-circulation tabloids, Grupo El Comercio now controls 80 percent of the Peruvian newspaper market. The buyout has ignited a debate about media concentration in Peru. 

As sales rose, so did Trome’s political influence. Luis Favre, an advisor who worked in the campaign that carried Peruvian President Ollanta Humala to victory, said that Trome readers can decide elections, and that those who run for office should read it to learn what make voters tick. 

Politicians always agree to talk to the newspaper, said Patiño, who writes a column under the pseudonym “The Owl” in which he denounces politicians, laments the state of the national soccer team or extols Oscar Wilde, John Dos Passos or Charles Bukowski, his literary heroes. His column is the only highbrow content found in the paper, and Patiño, who studied history at Peru’s San Marcos University and loves both literature and popular culture, said he writes his columns for himself. Surprisingly it’s a hit with uneducated readers. 

“The Owl always tells the truth,” said Joel Navarro, a taxi driver who reads the paper every day. “He tells it like it is.”

Some worry the paper’s content of entertainment, gossip, crime and scandals reinforces readers’ low educational levels. Most Peruvians prefer to read newspapers rather than books and if they read books they’re used, inexpensive or pirated, but nonetheless it’s uncommon to see hordes of customers in the makeshift book market in downtown Lima. But still, book readership does not approach the levels of Argentina and Chile, where more than half of the population reported reading books, according to the United Nations. 

“This paper wouldn’t work in Uruguay or Chile,” said Mario Munive, journalism professor at Lima’s Catholic University. “And I wonder whether Peruvians would read Trome if their cultural and educational levels were higher.”

Trome’s most popular stories deal with local celebrities' cheating scandals and scoops on the new stars of television reality shows but also with any gossip about international stars such as Rhianna, Jennifer Lopez or Kate Middleton. A few weeks ago, some of the most read stories boasted the following headlines: “Jennifer Lopez Was Comforted by Former Husband Marc Anthony After Breakup with Her Boyfriend,” “Pictures Show the Duchess of Cambridge’s Bare Bottom” and “Rihanna Caught Twerking in Transparent Dress.” 

The paper has been a hit with women, who make up more than half of its readership. Navarro, the taxi driver in Lima, said his wife reads Trome every day. 

Cueva, the bookseller in downtown Lima, feels the same way. The mix of gossip and scandals helps her escape from boredom as she waits for customers in her modest stall in a gritty and not-so-safe corner of downtown Lima, but it isn’t lost on her that the tabloid’s effects are fleeting.

“I’m entertained when I read it,” Cueva said. “But after I’m done, I don’t remember anything.” 

Liz Mineo is an independent journalist covering immigration and Latino issues for AP’s Spanish Service from Boston. She covered drug trafficking issues in her home country of Peru and writes about Peruvian immigrants in the United States for La República newspaper in Lima. 

The Violence of the VIP Boxes

The contemporary art museum MALI brings together people form different social classes. Photo courtesy of MALI.

Culture and Class in Peru 

By Víctor Vich

In Peru, the upper class does not like to mix with those they consider different or inferior. Their maids on the beaches south of Lima are not allowed to swim in club pools and, sometimes, not even in the ocean. The VIP boxes at sports and theater events maintained by the government are a public display of a private practice that reproduces in the public sphere the worst aspect of private hierarchical structuring.

What are the “contact zones” between Peru’s different social classes today? Where do they meet each other? Where do they share things? Where is there a playing field where the mutual stereotypes can begin to be dismantled? On a recent Sunday, I was visiting MALI, the contemporary art museum, to enjoy an exhibit of the work of Fernando de Szyszlo, a Peruvian artist from the 1950s who captivated the world with his abstract art. The museum was overflowing; people from different social classes were looking at the paintings, listening to the guides, standing in line and conversing among themselves. This exhibit—a notable art show—has been a success not only from a cultural point of view in its excellent curating, but also because it has attracted a massive number of people. The show’s organizers have made a superb effort in outreach and transformed the museum into a true “meeting place” for all Peruvians. 

The fact is that Peruvians from different social strata no longer mingle at the beaches; we get into fights in heavy traffic; we put bars on our houses to separate us from the street and the community; and we even find that political rallies are no longer public spaces. In the 2011 Peruvian elections, candidate Pedro Pablo Kuczynski gave out VIP tickets to a rally.

We talk about violence a lot in Peru, but we don’t talk about social classes. Violence is not restricted to gang attacks or drug trafficking; all cultures experience violence, but some foster it more than others, doing little to contain it and not learning from the lessons of the past. Violence is not a problem that can be solved by legal means and exemplary punishments. Violence—in Peru and beyond—is a cultural problem. It is a problem of power relations, the permanence of hierarchies and discrimination, the crisis of representation, ongoing authoritarianism. These are political challenges, but they are cultural ones as well, and thus the Culture Ministry has to take a stand as the institution in charge of the symbolic mediations aimed at changing the existing culture. 

Many Latin American cities such as Medellín, Colombia, undertook successful cultural policy attempts not only to offer cultural services but to construct citizenship through the generation of visible spaces where diverse social groups can mingle—to use the Spanish phrase “convivir,” to co-exist, to live together in harmony. 

These cultural policies are always conceived as a way to confront the powers that segregate, marginalize and generate all types of violence. They are designed to construct spaces for mutual recognition within the context of social heterogeneity. In Peru, we are generally far off from creating such spaces. 

The decade of the 1990s inaugurated an anti-state attitude in Peru, and I am not only referring here to privatizations. Peruvians began to belittle and lose interest in anything collective. The state’s loss of prestige has meant that the sense of a public sphere has also been degraded and a sense of community has been lost. Today, we citizens only worry about ourselves and concern ourselves with the “other” only as competitors. On the highway, one needs to get ahead of the others, and in the sports stadiums, one needs to put down—or even kill—members of the opposing team. The deterioration of human ties in Peru worsens every day, especially in relation to those from a different class, race, sexual orientation or ideology. 

Our democratic culture continues to be precarious because many officials view the president as a monarch, seeking to satisfy all his wishes in ways reminiscent of old colonial practices that have impeded the construction of full citizenship. In the last couple of years, a stadium was remodeled without providing a public concourse; it was a very serious example of how political pressure prevails over democratic culture, and in this case, even over technical advice that recommended the public concourse. It is unacceptable to accept reckless inaugurations of hospitals without beds, a National Theater without bathrooms, government VIP boxes for sporting events. We keep on sustaining a culture in contemporary Peru in which no questions are asked, no public responsibility is demanded, and where private culture is idealized and public culture discredited. 

Víctor Vich, a Peruvian writer, is a professor at the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú (PUCP) and researcher at the Instituto de Estudios Peruanos (IEP). He was the 2007-08 Santo Domingo Visiting Scholar at DRCLAS.

See also: Peru, Democracy

Drizzling Protest

A photo from a long-ago protest in Lima. Protests there are now very few and far between. Photo courtesy of ReVista archives. 

Why Limeños Don’t Take to the Streets 

By Aaron Watanabe

As any visitor to Lima during July learns, the skies are continuously overcast with a blanket of grey clouds locals call the garúa. There are generally fewer than 30 hours of sunshine the entire month. Yet, surprisingly, it never rains. Lima is the world’s second driest capital (after Cairo), with actual raindrops hardly ever falling. Instead, limeños contend with months of clammy humidity broken by occasional drizzle.

This weather offers an apt metaphor for protests in the city. All the conditions are there for lively storminess. Despite rapid growth, poverty, inequality and poor public services remain serious problems. The state moves slowly, if at all, to fix these issues and corruption is endemic. Consequently, public dissatisfaction with the government is high—the president’s approval rating often dips into the teens; Congress’s rarely rises above single digits.

Continual, low-level protest is a response to a sluggish court system and a lack of capable political parties to channel public demands. So health workers protest for higher wages, police officers strike to get back pay, and neighborhood associations block highways to halt construction projects threatening to displace them.

Yet just as the high humidity never releases in a major downpour, these “social conflicts,” as the Defensoría del Pueblo (national ombudsman) labels them, never reach the level of mass protests experienced in many Latin American cities in the last decade. Protests in Lima are constant but ephemeral—small, short-lived and generally confined to a particular issue. Contrast this with the demonstrations that unseated presidents in Bolivia and Ecuador during the 2000s, the years-long student protests in Chile, and the wave of unrest that swept Brazil last summer. One needs not even look outside of Peru to find examples of large-scale protests. In 2002, demonstrators angered by the planned privatization of the local electric company occupied the city of Arequipa. The government had to backtrack and send in the military to restore order. In the rural interior, protests over mining and gas projects has been endemic. Yet this unrest has not reached Lima.

A series of protests in July 2013 illustrated some of these differences between Lima and the rest of South America. On the one hand, they reflected the generalized dissatisfaction with the government that fuels mass protests. As Peruvian political scientist Carlos Meléndez said in an interview with El Comercio, “the discourse of ‘que se vayan todos’ has arrived in Lima.” On the other hand, as much as Peruvians may have wanted all their politicians to go away, the ephemeral protests never reached critical mass. 

The grievances behind the July 2013 marches go back to 2011, when Peruvians elected current president Ollanta Humala. A former army officer, Humala gained a political following from his unsuccessful presidential bid in 2006, running as a left-wing populist in the mold of Hugo Chávez. Although disavowing his earlier radical positions, Humala still campaigned in 2011 for a “Great Transformation” that would address social inclusion, reduce poverty and set up programs to spread the benefits of Peru’s robust economic growth.

Inaction has marked most of Humala’s presidency. The lack of initiative is not entirely his fault. Without a well-organized political party behind him, he has little leverage to confront groups—particularly economic technocrats, business leaders and the media—who fear any reform is a step towards chavismo. As a consequence, Humala ended his first two years with falling approval ratings, having alienated many of his supporters from 2011, particularly labor unions and members of Peru’s inchoate left. 

In July 2013, Congress stoked popular discontent with several controversial decisions. On July 2, legislators from Humala’s Gana Perú party and their congressional allies approved the Ley de Servicio Civil (Civil Service Law). Designed to streamline compensation schemes for public employees, the law immediately met condemnation from labor leaders. Union officials condemned Congress for not consulting them on the bill while blasting the law for limiting collective bargaining and, they claimed, opening the door to mass layoffs.

Public employees across Peru took to the streets, expressing their discontent in a variety of ways. As reported in the Lima daily La República, state workers in Chiclayo conducted a mock crucifixion; in Iquitos, several buried themselves in the central park to hinder police efforts to remove them; in the capital, they marched on Gana Perú’s headquarters, throwing eggs at the building and burning a coffin covered in images of “the traitors” Humala and Finance Minister Luis Castilla.

Violent clashes between protesters and police in Lima took place on July 4, when Humala formally promulgated the law. Attempting to march on Congress, workers joined with students and professors, who were protesting a proposed new Ley Universitaria (University Law) that they believed would curtail university autonomy. Police in riot gear stopped the march blocks from the legislature. When protesters started burning tires and throwing rocks at the police cordon, officers responded with tear gas and batons. By the time the dust had settled, ten protesters had been arrested and labor leaders were already calling for a mass march in Lima for the Fiestas Patrias (Independence Day) holiday in late July.

Although television crews had breathlessly covered the march, interest faded quickly. By that evening, the headline on La República’s website was “Strong Mist Leaves Puddles on the Plaza de Armas,” the square in front of the Presidential Palace. Given the arid climate, precipitation of any kind is remarkable. 

The situation felt normal when I visited central Lima several days later. Tourists wandered the Plaza de Armas and pedestrians crowded the narrow surrounding streets, going about their normal business. However, the police were visible. Black-clad officers manned double rows of iron fences blocking the streets leading into the Plaza de Armas, letting people through only single file to stop protesters filling the square. Dented riot shields lay within arm’s reach and several trucks mounted with water cannons were parked conspicuously near the president’s residence. 

The police were right to be wary. Even as Humala promised dialogue with public employees and stated “I am an enemy of mass layoffs,” Congress became embroiled in a scandal known as the repartija. Effectively, the largest parties, including Gana Perú, divvied up positions in the constitutional court, national ombudsman and central bank, promising to vote for each party’s respective candidates.

These institutions are supposed to be non-partisan. Observers immediately denounced the agreement, especially after audiotapes surfaced of party leaders distributing the positions among the parties. Little thought went to the candidates themselves, who included several controversial figures related to disgraced former president Alberto Fujimori. 

On July 17, Congress elected the candidates chosen through the repartija. That night, 1,000 demonstrators assembled near the legislature. The protestors were mostly students or members of an informal network spanning various activist groups, who had quickly organized the rally through social media and the hashtag #17J. While the demonstrators demanded that Congress reverse the repartija, they were primarily expressing a sense of betrayal. Signs labeled Humala a traitor and called on Congress to dissolve itself for ignoring the people and their promises to govern better. Headlines the next morning simply read “Indignation.”

Even though legislators quickly backtracked and annulled the elections, protestors again attempted to march on Congress on July 22. Organized by using the hashtag #tomalacalle (#takethestreet), about 4,000 people joined the march before police forcefully turned them back. As in the July 17 rally, there was not one single grievance—whether the Ley de Servicio Civil, Ley Universitaria or the repartija. Instead, there was a general sense of disappointment and anger towards the government for failing to live up to its promises. In the eyes of protesters, politicians had become indifferent to Peruvians’ concerns.

Everything seemed to be building towards the Fiestas Patrias weekend at the end of July. Despite ongoing dialogue with the government on the Ley de Servicio Civil, union leaders announced they would proceed with their planned march for the holiday weekend. They invited all to join them to express dissatisfaction with Humala and the entire political class. Pundits wondered if this would be the start of sustained anti-government protests of the kind that had pushed presidents from office elsewhere.

News outlets estimated between 2,000 and 5,000 people took part in the July 27 protests, representing groups ranging from labor unions to the Cultural Patrimony Defense Network. While the protests began peacefully, clashes eventually broke out with police, who lobbed tear gas canisters and dispersed the marchers. Police blamed the violence on fans of the "la U" soccer team, who had joined the march to protest new rules governing the finances of sports clubs.

After that point, what La República called “the dawn of the Peruvian indignados” that seemed about to happen never occurred. In the year since, Lima has seen plenty of protests but they have returned to being particularized; they are not driven by a general sense of anger and disappointment in the government. That sense still exists. Opinion polls suggest that Peruvians remain disappointed, not just in Humala but the entire political class. However, despite the abundance of fuel, the spark of the July protests went out.

Why the fire of protest did not fully catch is an open debate. A simple explanation is that limeños are willing to tolerate ineffective governance as long as the economy keeps growing. Another is the police’s liberal use of force to disrupt marches. Others would say the free-market, free-trade policies behind the recent boom are responsible, as they weakened Peru’s labor unions and thus protesters’ organizational capacity. 

The legacy of the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) insurgency in the 1980s and 1990s is another possible cause. The army and guerrillas directly attacked members of Peru’s civil society, destroying more of the organizational capacity that facilitates sustained protest movements. Perhaps more importantly, as suggested by political scientist Alberto Vergara, Sendero’s violence delegitimized the political left and the pursuit of change through disruptive action. Certainly, the government tried to link the July protests with Sendero, warning organizers to stop members of Movadef, Sendero’s political wing, from infiltrating the marches.

Regardless of the longer-term causes, the protests fizzled because of lack of turnout. Judging from the wide variety of groups represented, those who showed were committed protesters embedded in activist networks. While these networks effectively united those committed to change, they are not capable of mobilizing the rest of Lima’s nine million people. Most of the city’s residents seemed indifferent to the protests. While police and protestors clashed in front of Congress, life elsewhere in the city continued uninterrupted. Were it not for newspapers, I would never have known anything unusual was occurring.

This indifference is not a false consciousness. Limeños are well aware that the government could do better. They want better schools, better roads and better hospitals. They want the government to address issues of petty crime, drug trafficking and corruption. Yet the expectation is that politicians will not fulfill these wishes.

Some see this cynicism as the ultimate failure of Peru’s political system. Peruvians are so dissatisfied that they believe the government can never do better. Others suggest this attitude reflects the internalization of liberal values that call for individuals to better themselves rather than relying on the state. Perhaps the truth lies somewhere between. Limeños are practical. If the state is not going to do the job, then they would prefer it gets out of the way: incompetent politicians are just a cringe-inducing sideshow.

That does not mean Lima’s residents will never take to the streets en masse. Protests have a way of occurring when they are least expected. Certainly, the raw ingredients are there, but something will have to really provoke the anger of the city’s residents. Despite the clouds, that torrential downpour has yet to happen. 

Aaron Watanabe ’14 was a government concentrator at Harvard. He was in Peru during July 2013 conducting research for his senior thesis on populism. He is now a Master’s degree student at Oxford and hopes to eventually pursue a Ph.D. in political science.


Photo by Daniela Tuesta.

Peru has made a name for itself with first-class chefs and inventive cuisine. This culinary boom, however, also raises questions about history and identity.

Gastón Acurio: A Recipe for Success

From left to right: A cutting-edge fusion dish from Peru's most famous chef's first restaurant, Astrid y Gastón. Gastón gave Tony Custer several delicious recipes for his first volume and has done so again for the second volume. His gastronomic empire, including restaurants of the Astrid y Gastón, La Mar, Tanta, Panchita, Madam Tusan concepts, span the globe; Rafael Osterling is one of Peru's very best chefs and, in Custer's opinion, would certainly be multi-starred if Michelin's Red Guide covered Peru. "His creativity blended with unerring and truly delicious execution, make his restaurants, Rafael and Mercado among them, some of the best in town," Custer observes. Photos courtesy of Tony Custer, The Art of Peruvian Cuisine. 

A Harvard Business School Case Study 

By Gustavo Herrero

In the fall of 2012, my good Peruvian friend, Germán Echecopar, a professor at Universidad Adolfo Ibáñez in Chile, approached me to consider developing a teaching case on Gastón Acurio, the well-known Peruvian chef and restaurateur. 

As executive director of the Harvard Business School Latin America Research Center (LARC), based in Buenos Aires, I helped HBS faculty with their field research in the region. When I first took the job in November 1999, I expressed my interest in also contributing to the development of social capital in the region; that is, to the enhancement of relationships between our faculty and business and academic leaders in Latin America. During the past 14 years, I’ve found—with the support of HBS and DRCLAS—that the creation of intellectual capital and the enhancement of social capital are not always parallel paths. They often come together with mutual contributions. 

The beauty of my job with HBS was that I often was given the opportunity to convene talent from farflung places to make our research the absolutely best possible. Most times I found myself on the “buying” end, looking to provide our faculty with leads that satisfied their interest. But sometimes—as in the case of my Peruvian friend’s proposal—I received interesting field research opportunities. I then had to “sell” those leads to faculty whose line of work was compatible with the lead at hand. I referred to case leads as “orphans,” and our faculty as “foster parents.” I viewed our job at the LARC as bringing orphans together with happy foster parents.

In the Acurio case, Professor Michael Norton was the first name that came to mind. I had collaborated with Mike in the development of a teaching case on El Bulli, the famous Catalonian restaurant near Barcelona. He immediately became interested and engaged Anat Keinan, a HBS colleague, to work with us. I, in turn, recruited Cintra Scott, a LARC research associate. The team was then in place: Keinan, Norton, Echecopar, and Scott, with Herrero providing support from the sidelines.


I had done quite a bit of work with another HBS faculty member, Rohit Deshpandé, who had constructed a robust body of work on widely recognized products and services that became characteristic of their countries of origin. Such was the case of Colombian coffee or of Indian yoga, for instance. But his research also addressed businesses that were not necessarily perceived as being natural exponents of the countries where they developed. Such was the case of Mexican beer, Turkish chocolate, “New World” wines, and U.S. soybean sauce, for example. Deshpandé called it “the Provenance Paradox.”

Cuisine had not been, in my mind, an obvious development opportunity for Peru. Yet, the country had become a renowned world leader, along with traditional European players like France, Italy and Belgium. My first exposure to this particular Peruvian success had come from reading the first volume of my good friend Tony Custer’s book titled The Art of Peruvian Cuisine. Tony, as pointed out on the Amazon website, “shows Peruvian food as a visual work of art.” The book was first published in 2000, and it has sold more than 85,000 copies. Tony went on to produce The Art of Peruvian Cuisine, Vol. II in 2010. Custer’s work has made an important contribution to the country’s image, receiving broad media coverage and inspiring other authors to write about Peruvian food.

Peruvian cuisine gained international acclaim toward the end of the 20th century, gaining momentum in the 2000s: on September 10, 2011, Katy McLaughlin wrote an article titled “The Next Big Thing: Peruvian Food,” in the Wall Street Journal. The following year, tourist-ranking specialist World Travel Awards elected Peru as “World’s Leading Culinary Destination 2012.” Gastón Acurio was at the forefront of this evolution; he received the Global Gastronomy Award 2013. 

With one out of every five Peruvians employed in the sector, the government recognized its importance with a policy paper entitled “Peruvian Gastronomy for 2021: Guidelines for a Development Program of Peruvian Gastronomy in the Framework of the Bicentenary Plan” by the National Center for Strategic Planning (CEPLAN).

Peruvian cuisine combines local ingredients with native Quechuan, colonial Spanish, immigrant West African, Japanese, Chinese, Italian and other cooking traditions. Some staples in a typical Peruvian menu included include ceviche, tiraditos (another raw fish dish, like ceviche, influenced by the Japanese, but without onions) and causas (mashed or whipped potatoes mixed with flavorful additions, including chilies, seafood and/or avocado). Other notable dishes included papas a la huancaína (a potato dish with a slightly spicy cream sauce), anticuchos (skewered, marinated heart meat traditionally sold by street carts), lomo saltado (meat stir-fried with red onions, chili peppers, tomatoes, and French fries), and ají de gallina (a spicy creamed chicken dish with chili peppers).

From left to right: A dish from Mercado: "The idea of this dish," according to Diego Muñoz, "is to imitate what we see in Nature, starting with a hot garlic foam, then the most typical root crops, followed by an imitation 'soil' made of potatoes and onions; topped with the greens of the root crops represented; and completing the dish with flowers to imply the beginning of a new cycle; Yakir Sato is a first rate young chef who works with his father, Humberto, chef creator of Costanera 700-a pioneering Peruvian seafood fusion restaurant. Photos courtesy of Tony Custer, The Art of Peruvian Cuisine. 


Acurio Restaurantes’ Astrid y Gastón was the first Peruvian restaurant to be ranked among the World’s 50 Best Restaurants. It arrived on the list as No. 35 in 2012, climbing to No. 14 in 2013. A former chef at Acurio Restaurantes, Virgilio Martínez, went on to found his own restaurant, Central, and also made the list at No. 50 in 2013, scooting past four places above Astrid y Gastón, No. 18 in 2014. Thus, Peru counted with two restaurants among the top 20, the only Latin American country to accomplish that feat (when counting the top 50, Brazil also had two restaurants, and Mexico one).

Acurio seemed destined to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a lawyer and a politician, but his passion for cooking drove him to the Cordon Bleu, the world-famous culinary French academy. At the Cordon Bleu he met and then married an aspiring pastry chef from Germany named Astrid Gutsche. The newlyweds moved from Europe to Peru in 1994 to start a fine French restaurant in the capital city of Lima—a brave move in a country still reeling from violence at the hands of insurgent groups, not to mention a climate of economic instability. Despite the long odds, Astrid y Gastón became a resounding success. It gave birth to what was to become a small culinary empire: Acurio Restaurantes (AR)

In early 2014, AR consisted of a portfolio of 32 restaurants in 11 countries on three continents. The restaurants were organized under nine different brands, with each corresponding to a different concept and a distinct “touch and feel.” Brand personalities were built on carefully selected details, including the textures and colors of furniture and the typography of the menu. 

Acurio did not own all 32 restaurants. The flexibility evidenced by the different concepts of the restaurants extended to their ownership. In foreign locations, AR resorted to a franchise model. A single franchisee ran six restaurants in Chile, where annual sales ranged from $12 to $14 million. In Colombia, each of the two restaurants in Bogotá operated as separate franchises. In the rest of Latin America and in Spain, AR also used the franchise model. In contrast, the company introduced restaurants in the United States in the form of partnerships with locals, who made the initial investment, and paid a 3-5 percent management fee in exchange for a 50 percent ownership. 


Irzio Pinasco, AR’s partner and chief operating officer since 2006, explained to me why he joined Acurio, observing, “I attended a chat that Gastón gave to students of University of the Pacific, in Lima, and I was moved by his vision.”

Acurio viewed his cuisine as an instrument to promote Peru in the rest of the world. Furthermore, he thought of Peruvian gastronomy as being a collective effort:

The task of globalizing Peruvian cuisine goes beyond any given company; we need these marvelous restaurants and we have to incorporate a business culture so they can grow out of Peru. They are excellent with the dish, but they must understand that a business culture is necessary for investors to bet on them. We’re not competing with each other, we’re on the same team; we’re all part of the best Peruvian all-star team trying to win the World Cup.


Acurio has proven to be a leader within the Peruvian cuisine market and in the world arena, active not just as a virtuous chef but also as a successful businessman and a sensitive ambassador for his country. His firm has been flexible in its approach to foreign markets, adopting different kinds of associations with local partners and reacting quickly to hurdles that led to potential failures.

One of Acurio’s challenges going forward will probably be managing and growing the nine different brands that characterize its 32 restaurants. When asked whether nine concepts were indeed necessary, Pinasco replied that the diversity of brands and profiles provided the firm with maximum flexibility to adapt to a particular country, city or neighborhood. He contended that the concepts were complementary, and that they could co-exist in adjacent locations without cannibalizing sales from each other. 

Gustavo Herrero served as the first executive director of the Harvard Business School Latin America Research Center, based in Buenos Aires, starting in November 1999. He retired from his post on December 31, 2013, and continues to serve on HBS’s Latin American Advisory Board and on DRCLAS’s Advisory Committee. Since February 2014, he has served as Vice Chair of Universidad Austral’s governing board, in Argentina.

See also: Peru, Food

Culinary Fusion and Colonialism

A child sits atop a mound of Peruvian potatoes. Photo by Luis H. Figueroa, Ojos Propios/Reniac, "Rostros del Perú."

View the photo gallery. 

A Critical Look at the Peruvian Food Boom 

By María Elena García

Gastón Acurio, perhaps the best-known public figure in Peru, informs his viewers in Patricia Perez’ documentary, Mistura: The Power of Food (2011) that his mission is to “create the most beautiful restaurants in the world’s most beautiful cities.” Acurio studied culinary arts in Madrid and Paris, but since his return to Peru in the mid-1990s, a period that coincided with the end of an armed conflict between the state and leftist insurgents, he has spearheaded the development of the “beautiful fusion” of indigenous Peruvian products. In an interview with Food & Wine, Acurio states, “Our mission isn’t just making restaurants. What we are doing, really, is selling a country.”

Apega, the Peruvian Society of Gastronomy created in 2007, is a key actor in the marketing and selling of Peruvian food and culture (and nation). According to its website, it seeks to “build bridges of harmony between our peoples by revaluing the role of the producer in the food chain. Apega is the place where chefs and peasants...are all equal; we want to cook the same thing: Peru’s progress.” Apega promises “inclusion, quality, cultural identity, and biodiversity,” and is charged with planning and executing the largest culinary festival in Latin America, Mistura.

In February 2012, I spoke with Mariano Valderrama, Apega’s executive director, in his Lima office. We had an interesting conversation about food, social inclusion and tourism, but his focus was on the challenges Apega faced in transforming Lima into Latin America’s gastronomic capital. Valderrama was especially preoccupied with what he called “the problem of hygiene.” For example, Valderrama insisted on the need for “cleaning up Peruvian markets” so that tourists could “comfortably and hygienically stroll through our colorful markets.” During Mistura, Apega deploys “hygiene brigades” to ensure the cleanliness of food stands, eating areas and festival workers. He blamed municipalities for “not enforcing hygiene standards in markets,” citing this as one of the biggest obstacles to Apega’s work. “Our most representative market, La Parada, is Calcutta.” The connection Valderrama makes between Lima’s unclean markets and one of India’s largest cities reveals assumptions about uneven development and racialized understandings around hygiene. 

Nevertheless, Valderrama was clearly proud of Apega’s work toward social inclusion, repeatedly mentioning the “alliance” between chefs and producers promoted by Apega, Acurio and others. Apega finances publications that highlight native products such as potatoes, quinoa and ají, and sponsors media trips to “zones of production” so that Peruvians can learn where products come from and who produces them: “This is about elevating the product, and elevating the self-esteem of the producer.” After years of political upheaval and economic depression, he said, “there is an increasing optimism in Peru that is about valuing cultural identity. Many Peruvians with whom I have spoken agree with this sentiment and note that the ongoing gastronomic revolution is one of the few things bringing Peruvians together.” 

Gourmet describes Lima as the “next stop” for sophisticated food and Food & Wine touts Peru’s “world-class cuisine.” Tourists now travel to Lima regularly for “a taste of Peru,” or as one website puts it, “a culinary journey to the land of the Incas.” These culinary adventurers are of course looking for the exotic and beautiful packaging of tradition and authenticity—precisely what Valderrama and Acurio are trying to sell. In this sense, novoandino cuisine is an exportable and sophisticated version of what was previously regarded as local and backward. In an interview with Gourmet, one of Acurio’s childhood friends makes this point: “‘When I grew up, if you ate guinea pig you were a savage,’ [he] says, biting into a leg of roasted organic guinea pig nestled in its bed of oca ravioli in a pecan sauce with Pisco.”

The development of “alternative” traditional dishes has been an important strategy in this move from “savage” to “sophisticated” cuisine. High-end tourists may want to taste guinea pig, for example, but a roasted guinea pig served whole on a plate, with eyes, teeth, nails and even charred hair is unappealing to Europeans and North Americans. Thus, Acurio and other chefs design dishes that retain exotic and traditional ingredients, yet render these same products invisible. Serving ravioli stuffed with guinea pig meat allows tourists to taste a “traditional” animal without actually having to see it. It also emphasizes mistura, or “beautiful fusion” as Acurio describes it in Perez’ documentary: “The word mistura means mixture, but Mistura [the festival] is a pretty mixture. Peruvian cuisine is a beautiful mixture.” In another documentary directed by Ernesto Cabellos’ (De Ollas y Sueños, 2009), Acurio describes the current moment, “when fusion is a tendency throughout the world, when integration, globalization,...become modern concepts, Peruvian cuisine appears, having fused cultures but in a very balanced, very reflexive, very consensual way over the last 500 years, and this is what makes it magical, what makes it so attractive” (my emphasis).

Acurio cheerfully presents Peru as an exemplary nation, in which the cuisine has performed something magical, “balanced” and “consensual.” While such a statement is, of course, too good to be true—the violence of the last 500 years, not to mention the last 30 years, was hardly balanced or consensual—as a way to commodify Peruvian history and food, it is nothing short of brilliant. Indeed, one of Acurio’s strengths is to perform his own kind of magic in which the antagonisms of history and politics disappear.

Acurio promotes what he calls “a culinary ethics that goes beyond mere pleasure.” He insists that this culinary movement must be guided by ethical principles that account for where food comes from and who benefits from its consumption. Using local ingredients, celebrating native producers and training chefs from poor socioeconomic backgrounds, Acurio places ethics and aesthetics on the same plate: “Gastronomy and hunger simply do not go together. It is immoral to enjoy good food and lavish meals when you know that the fisherman who caught your divinely cooked seafood lives in a shabby hut and must survive on next to nothing.” 

For Peru’s gastronomic society, all this is the stuff of culinary and economic success. In a short promotional video for Mistura, Apega makes its case for the inclusive moment of culinary entrepreneurialism, and celebrates Lima as a “city where the dreams of a few are becoming the reality for all; the dream of a small group of chefs....together with an emerging army of chefs in training, and the work of Apega, has spread to an entire nation.” Apega’s website describes Mistura almost in the language of German philosopher Jürgen Habermas’ public sphere, where “differences are left at the door.” Yet, as Nancy Fraser notes in her 1990 critique, the “bracketing” of social difference “usually works to the advantage of dominant groups in society and to the disadvantage of subordinates.” She uses Habermas’ notion of the public sphere to examine why these ideas—shared by Apega—do not go far enough: they neglect the fact that real public spheres, as Fraser explains, are often made up of a “number of significant exclusions.”


Indigenous perspectives on these culinary developments are much less audible than those of chefs and public intellectuals. The indigenous organization in Peru that has perhaps carried out the most work on food is Chirapaq, The Center of Indigenous Cultures in Peru. An influential organization that specializes in work with indigenous women, food sovereignty and security, and the recovery and revalorization of ancestral knowledge, Chirapaq collaborates closely with communities in Ayacucho, the highland department most affected by the political violence of the 1980s and 1990s.

On a very hot February day in 2012, I walked into Chirapaq’s office and spoke with a few indigenous activists. When I asked one activist (whom I’ll call Nelson) about Chirapaq’s work on food sovereignty and about the gastronomic boom, he smiled. Nelson seemed surprised that I asked about the boom, which “Chirapaq doesn’t do....[it] goes against everything we do.” Another activist, who used the pseudonym of Rendón, was also surprised that I was asking about “the boom” in an indigenous cultural center. That sense of surprise itself suggested the limits of the inclusionary rhetoric of novoandino cuisine, which was not seen as including Chirapaq but rather as working against it. To understand this disconnect between the promises of inclusion and understandings of exclusion, it is helpful to consider the words of Peruvian chef Adolfo Perret, who told Peru’s leading newspaper El Comercio:

One of the most spectacular things that the chefs of this country have done is the alliance between agricultural producers and chefs. Thanks to this we can see that social inclusion is real and it is a way for them [producers] to also deserve the applause that we [chefs] have obtained with the dishes of Peruvian cuisine.

This comment illustrates some of the concerns that Chirapaq and other indigenous critics have raised about the paternalistic claims to social inclusion: “We” (urban mestizo chefs) have done this good deed in creating and promoting an alliance with “them” (rural indigenous producers); because “we” are willing to share our applause and recognize “their” participation in our creation of delicious Peruvian dishes, social inclusion exists. Good intentions notwithstanding, this social alliance anchors indigenous peoples in certain places. They are producers, not chefs, or street vendors, and never celebrities. Social hierarchies remain remarkably unaltered by the magical space of Mistura. If anything, they are repackaged in glossy promotional materials that celebrate “a unique space where an entire nation feels harmoniously integrated.”

The people I spoke with at Chirapaq did not feel harmoniously integrated. Discussing Peruvian gastronomy, Rendón shared three main concerns. The first related to negative health effects that come from not knowing the nutritional and medicinal value of traditional Andean foods. Second, he discussed the disturbing trend of young people moving away from traditional nourishment and toward the processed and industrialized “food” of fast food chains. Finally, he expressed concerns about economic disruption caused by some chefs working with only certain producers to the detriment of others. 

According to people I spoke with at Chirapaq, the gastronomic boom in Peru goes directly against their work in revalorizing and decolonizing Andean diets. The changing trends celebrate a few iconic Andean and Amazonian products—quinoa, awaymanto—which ironically serve to raise the price of these goods, making them less accessible to many rural communities, and encouraging producers to focus on a narrow range of goods to supply the growing demand.

Rendón added that concerns about infringement of native intellectual property were lost in the celebratory discourse. Furthermore, indigenous people were not being seen or heard in the most recent boom. Where, Rendón asked, are indigenous peoples in this revolution? Nelson then added to the conversation by asking, “What is the Peru that ‘marca [brand] Peru’ is selling?”

As a partial response, Chirapaq was planning what Rendón reluctantly described as “a gastronomic festival.” He was hesitant because the gathering is about much more than gastronomy. The event, to take place in Ayacucho, is intended to promote ancestral agricultural, medicinal and culinary practices. It is not just about flavors or aesthetics but also about nutrition and health, and it will feature elders, the knowledge producers of indigenous communities. Rendón emphasized the need for intergenerational transmission of knowledge, as without this it would be impossible to move forward since young people need to continue with these traditions. Finally, the event is not for tourists, nor is it about competing with Mistura. Rather it provides an alternative space for indigenous people to talk and learn about indigenous foods.

If Mistura aspired to be a Habermasian culinary public sphere, the alternative space in Ayacucho is closer to what Nancy Fraser calls “subaltern counterpublics,” or “parallel discursive arenas where members of subordinated social groups invent and circulate counterdiscourses to formulate oppositional interpretations of their identities, interests, and needs.” These spaces are not only parallel, as Fraser might say, but rather they are characterized by different logics. Moving from Habermasian terms to Andean ones, Rendón emphasized the importance of Andean cosmovisions for Chirapaq and indigenous communities. He told me that “the boom” offers no discussion of reciprocity, complementarity or harmony: “we can obtain the fruits of the Pachamama (mother earth), but we have to give back, provide a pago a la tierra (payment to the earth).” As anthropologist Marieka Sax has noted, even the practice of feeding has both significant secular and sacred purposes. Community members, mountain spirits and devils in mines all require feeding, the practice of which “articulates relationships between social others, and maintains relationships between the living and the dead; and the offering of food and drink to the mountain spirits, pachamama, saints, and other divine powers keeps their vitalizing and animating life-energy in circulation so as to ensure fertility, productivity, and well being.” How different this is from Mistura, where individual chefs are celebrated, and leisure and aesthetics—not reciprocity or religiosity—are the central logics.

Like all critiques, Chirapaq’s are contestable and there is no question that the chefs of Mistura would disagree with many of them. Moreover, rural producers and others connected to high-profile events such as Mistura certainly receive important material benefits. My purpose here is not to endorse all of Chirapaq’s claims, but rather to reveal some of what gets obscured if we only focus on the inclusionary promise of Mistura. In the now hegemonic discourse of the power of Peruvian food, there is a need to slow down and explore other consequences of this boom, especially on those populations and bodies that do not benefit from the festival of flavors. 

María Elena García is director of the Comparative History of Ideas and associate professor in the Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington. She received her Ph.D. in Anthropology at Brown University and has been a Mellon Fellow at Wesleyan University and Tufts University. Her first book, Making Indigenous Citizens: Identities, Development, and Multicultural Activism in Peru (Stanford, 2005), examines indigenous politics and multicultural activism in Peru. Her work on native and interspecies politics in the Andes has appeared in multiple edited volumes and journals. Her second book project, Dancing Guinea Pigs and Other Tales of Race in Peru, explores the lives and deaths of guinea pigs as one way to think about the cultural politics of contemporary Peru, especially in relation to food, indigenous politics and violence.

A longer version of this essay, in which the author examined the impact of the gastronomic boom on indigenous and non-human bodies, appeared as “The Taste of Conquest: Colonialism, Cosmopolitics, and the Dark Side of Peru’s Gastronomic Boom,” The Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology Vol. 18, No. 3, 2013. It is reprinted here with permission.

Fusion and Identity

Adolfo Perret Bermúdez speaks about Peruvian culinary arts in his Punta Sal restaurant. Photo by June Carolyn Erlick. 

A Chef Speaks 

By Adolfo Perret Bermúdez

I grew up far from Lima in Talara in the Piura region, a northern Peruvian city with stunning beaches that just happens to be the westernmost city in all of mainland Peru. The city enjoys an abundance of fish and shellfish, as well as large oil reserves. The International Petroleum Company (IPCo) settled in Talara in the 1950s, and my father (of Swiss-Peruvian descent) worked for this oil company as a geologist. So I grew up with a deep sense of Peru’s diversity. It is worth mentioning that we are a nation of regions, with desert and sea and mountains and jungle. 

Peruvian culture has been influenced by Japanese, Chinese, Arab, Spanish and Italian cultures, and these, integrated with our strong indigenous roots, gave birth to a new Peruvian cuisine. 

I grew up learning how to cook, and living in an oasis of seafood. It’s perhaps natural that my six restaurants—with flagship Punta Sal in Lima—are cebicherías specialized in the bounty of the ocean. But what’s just as important to me is the fusion of identities that make up this new Peruvian cuisine. 

So, for example, I prepare a ginger rice dish with jumbo shrimp and spareribs—a fusion dish influenced by the Chinese. And our exquisitely Peruvian dish known as tiradito, which is a kind of Japanese sashimi with Peruvian seasoning. The Incas had a multitude of dishes with indigenous ingredients that became transformed during this melding of cultures. In 1528, the Spanish brought olive oil, wheat, olives, grapes and wine, which could also be used to create vinegar to cook and marinate meats. Here, they discovered the use of our abundance of potatoes—some 3,200 varieties—some of which they introduced to Europe. 

The Incas called the potato kausaq, a Quechua word which means “sustenance for life,” and this yellow potato became the basis for the well-known Peruvian dish called causa. It combines potato, avocado and a yellow chili pepper known as ají amarillo with the lime, garlic and chicken that originated in Europe. 

Most everyone has heard about quinoa by now. It’s one of Peru’s most ancient grains, but it’s also, in my opinion, the grain of the future, because of its great nutritional properties with seven out of the nine amino acids essential for life. Quinoa can be combined in all sorts of ways to produce new flavors. Because of its versatility and resistance to weather changes, it is considered the golden grain of the Incas and of Peru today. 

But my goal, whatever the ethnic influence, is staying true to deeply rooted flavors, the best sustainable ingredients and ancestral techniques, and cebiche provides the best example. About 70 percent of Peruvian cuisine is based on seafood ingredients. We hold the 1996 Guinness record for the largest cebiche in the world. 

I’m a chef by nature—experimenting with food since I was quite young. I’m also a food and beverage manager with a successful businesswoman and life partner, Gabriela Fiorini, with whom we expanded our chain of Peruvian restaurants specializing in seafood, named Punta Sal.

But perhaps I get the most pleasure from teaching students and communicating to people around the world about the diversity of Peru’s cuisine. I also see myself as a spokesman for that wonder that is Peruvian cuisine—teaching, carrying out Peruvian gastronomic events, traveling to gastronomic fairs and festivals and above all, promoting Peruvian culinary tourism. In Peru, tourism and cuisine go hand in hand to show off our multi-faceted heritage. Gastronomy—like archaeology—is a deep expression of our roots. It is our past, but also our present and future.

Adolfo Perret Bermúdez is the owner of Punta Sal restaurants in Lima and beyond. Johnson and Wales University has honored him as a Distinguished Visiting Chef. 

See also: Peru, Food

The Food of the Gods

This is a traditional-style painting from the town of Sahua, Ayacucho. The scene represents the banquet of the mountains that surround the town. The central figure is the mountain called Mariano Borao that protects the community, and the other figures are neighboring mountains or apus. Painting by La Asociación de los Pintores de Sarhua, courtesy of Luis Millones. 

Feeding the Earth 

By Luis Millones

At the beginning of the 1990s, I traveled frequently to Osaka. Researchers from the National Ethnographic Museum of Japan were studying the Peruvian highlands, particularly Ayacucho, a state with a long and fraught history. Membership in this investigative team and my status as visiting professor opened the doors for me to a society that exhibited its charms on a daily basis. In the course of my stay, I discovered that one of my colleagues had an important relationship with the priesthood of the Church of Tenrikyo. I was interested in his religion and what I learned about it made me want to participate in the annual pilgrimage of its believers to the sacred city of Tenri, in the prefecture of Nara, in the Kansai region. For a short period, Tenri had been the capital of the Japanese empire (488-498), and still is today a beautiful city and religious headquarters of Tenrikyo.

The pilgrimage was tough and fascinating; of the many things I learned in those days, it is interesting to recall the answer to the question I asked about what food was eaten in paradise or its equivalent in the Christian dogma. I was totally surprised to learn that this equivalent, “Youkigurashi,” was a space similar to that of punishment: a great banquet, with the same food in both places. Both the condemned and the blessed had to eat with oversized chopsticks, and those who were punished for their bad behavior in life looked emaciated and hungry, while those awarded for good behavior in life appeared extremely pleased and well nourished. The explanation was simple in the context of a faith that practiced and emphasized solidarity: while each of the condemned tried to eat with the huge chopsticks and was unable to do so, those favored by divinity used the length of the instruments to feed each other. 

Upon my return to Ayacucho, I took the same question on my field research, remembering that in Huamanga—the original name for Ayacucho—I would be as far from European occidental thinking as I had been in Tenri, when the priests danced in the underground spaces of the temple to renew the creation of the universe. 

I knew the writings of the Spanish or the Christianized indigenous chroniclers in the late 16th and 17th centuries. These sources agreed that the Andean gods ate mullu, that is to say spiny oysters (Spondylus), and indeed our only source in Quechua reminds us that the sound made while chewing this shellfish was “cap! cap!” grinding their teeth while they ate (Ávila, Francisco de. 2007. Dioses y hombres de Huarochirí. Lima: Universidad Antonio Ruiz de Montoya).

Today, seashells still have religious prestige, even the plainer ones; they are used in ceremonies as a recipient to absorb through the nose the juice of hallucinogenic plants in other regions of Peru. But in Ayacucho, Cuzco and throughout most of the Peruvian highlands, feeding the gods is a complicated business. 

In the first place, it should be noted that Christian evangelization destroyed all visible images of the Pre-Columbian religions. The sacred geography remained unharmed: the cult of the earth and its visible expressions, the mountains. To these we add the areas of contact with human beings: caves sand springs. While it would have been impossible to wipe out this last form of religiosity, the persecution also stopped because indigenous forced labor was a source of wealth for the Spanish Empire and all harassment of their work affected their productivity. In the 18th century, Andean society had already consolidated a religious structure that reinterpreted the Christian doctrine and blended it with pre-Columbian memories. That is the seed of the indigenous religion as we know it today. In that belief, the gods, that is, Mother Earth and the mountains (apus or wamanis), should receive food from their many worshipers. The food is sent through a ceremony with primordial roots that has at least two names in Quechua-influenced Spanish: pagapu and despacha: paga (pays, in Spanish) means to make payment to Mother Earth, and despacha (sends off, in Spanish) means to dispatch what she needs. If the one who offers is Quechua-speaking, he will use prayerful variations such as apachiku, mallichi and kutichi related to the makeup of the offerings and the place they are offered. These relate to the particular concerns of the person or persons who are feeding Mama Pacha, as Mother Earth is affectionately known. Thus, there are pagapus specific to cattlemen, to those who need rain or heavy river volume, to hunters. to people who need to recover their health, and many other motivations.

This image illustrates a gathering of the Andean gods in a ceremony of thankful payment to Mother Earth. The gods of the mountains, rivers, rocks and lakes are enjoying their foods-llama fetus, potato, sweet potato, another type of Andean tuber known as oca, scallops, algae, coca leaves, as well as imbibing wine and fermented homemade alcoholic beverage known as chicha. This is the offering known as papagu that the gods receive from humans in thanks for their blessing in providing the good annual harvest. Art by Rocío Rodrigo, courtesy of Luis Millones. 

Many forms exist of preparing a pagapu, but one of the most important is the act of feeding Mama Pacha or Madre Tierra, to assure her generosity in permitting good harvests. Here I will let don Juan Quispe Andia, from Chungui, La Mar, Ayacucho, tell us about how to perform pagapu

“On the heights of Chungui, when we are going to harvest potatoes, the owner invites all the neighbors to help, we are all going to help because it is the [indigenous] law; we all always help. In exchange for this help, the owner gives the neighbors food, coca leaf, hard drink [a home-made alcoholic drink brewed with anise, traditional plants and sugar]. When another peasant [who is not a neighbor] has to harvest, he must be paid for the help he gives. Because of this, no one holds back from helping. The neighbors come with all their family; the men do the harvesting, the women with their pallapadoras (harvest helpers) and cooks; the kids help to move the potatoes and stack them. The neighbors harvest, all the time joking, sometimes with music and sometimes not, always happy, having a great time and rejoicing in the fruits of the earth. When the harvest is over, the potatoes are stored in the owner’s house, but first the potatoes that are going to serve as seed for the next harvest are chosen, and also the potatoes that have been damaged by the hoes. The men watch over the potatoes and the seeds, while the slightly damaged potatoes are cooked with chile and salt, sometimes with meat or some stew that the owner’s wife has prepared. Everything is served along with chicha [an indigenous corn-based drink] and abundant liquor. Then people sit around chewing coca leaf [Erithroxylum coca] and drinking. The coca leaf maintains its sacred character, but it also invigorates its users. Finally, everyone leaves except for the owner’s compadre—the godfather to one of his children. They return to the farm alone, bringing with them the best potatoes, the most beautiful ones, to make the 'payment' to the earth so it will keep protecting them. The compadre makes a hole in a corner of the field, some 50 to 60 centimeters deep, and when he has made the hole, he sprinkles it with liquor from a small cup in the form of a cross and later he makes the offering of the potatoes, along with the liquor, usually a handful of kinto coca leaf, a couple of cigarettes, and then he closes up the hole, saying: ‘Mother Earth, receive the offer of your children to thank you for the harvest that my compadre has collected and to ask that you keep on giving us good production, for this we pay you, for the abundance that you give us.’ Later they return home and the owner invites his compadre to drink and eat. But during the ritual of the “payment,” the owner keeps silent; the compadre is the one who speaks as intermediary so that the earth will accept the offerings” (Delgado Sumar, Hugo E. 1984. Ideología andina: El pagapu en Ayacucho. Ayacucho: Universidad Nacional de San Cristóbal de Huamanga, 146-147).

The hole cited in the text of Quispe Andia, the ceremonial hole in the corner of the farm, stands for Mother Earth’s mouth. Thus food becomes an essential part of the ritual of pleasing Mother Earth to give thanks for the harvest and ensure future prosperity.

To feed the earth is an act of indispensable reciprocity, because it is Mother Earth who provides us with food each and every day. In Ayacucho, as in the Japanese paradise of Tenri, eternal joy is based on this exchange of affection and solidarity. 

Luis Millones, the 2002-2003 Robert F. Kennedy Visiting Professor at Harvard, is the Director of the Fondo Editorial de la Asamblea Nacional de Rectores del Perú. He is Professor Emeritus at the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos. In 2006, he held the Andrés Bello Chair in Latin American Civilization at New York University. 

A Taste of Lima

Students with Tony Custer (with hat) and Johanna Liander (in long skirt). Photo courtesy of Johanna Liander. 

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Gastronomy and Cultural Identity 

By Johanna Damgaard Liander

Each one of us has a grandmother or mother, grandfather or father whose dish—humble or elaborate—transports us back in time or space, surrounds us with people, places, images, languages, and even fragrances of the past. The dish—or the memory of the dish—evokes a smile, or perhaps a tear, and generally seems inimitable by those who share the memory. Whether the dish is meatballs, empanadas, cardamom bread or rice pudding, the effect is much the same.

Each nation also has a culinary memory and foundation, dishes recalled and dishes reconstructed that gradually, sometimes mysteriously, become part of the imagined nation and its borders. A country like Spain is transparent, revealing immediately that its cuisine is a result of a history of invasions, expansions, immigration and (of course) globalization. Argentina’s cuisine, too, reflects history, but also geography and distance. (You are never in Buenos Aires de paso, after all, except to Uruguay, which shares rivers, pampa and cuisine…) Yet in Peru, cuisine—of coast, mountains and jungle—has now united a people, who may easily have remained divided by natural and political obstacles. And fortunately for all of us who have landed and lingered in Lima, once called by U.S. novelist Herman Melville “the strangest, saddest city thou canst’ see,” but now is a subtly charming—albeit massive at nine million—metropolis, grey 11 months of the year, and the Aleph of all those enticing and local flavors and ingredients and naturally, too, their accompanying history.

Lima for me would be like Toledo once was for Peruvian writer Julio Ramón Ribeyro, who described that city as one he loved as a passing tourist for its monuments, climate and people—unlike Paris and Lima, where Ribeyro simply felt he belonged, beyond expressing likes or dislikes. Lima does not “belong” to me; I have not lived there for twenty years, only for one long delirious weekend of introduction, and subsequently two January stays: just enough to reveal that I enjoy the city immensely, am fascinated by its history, its people and (of course) its infinite culinary offerings. I can speak of moments visiting plazas, archaeological sites, kitchens and restaurants, private homes and gardens, schools and orphanages, restaurants, markets and museums; and I can recall many conversations, overheard or my own. I have traveled through the insane traffic on Lima’s streets, through districts called Magdalena del Mar, Pueblo Libre, Miraflores, Barranco, Chorillos, Gamarra, La Victoria, and La Molina. And I can say me gusta, I like it, very much. 

Lima is not glamorous, nor does it have the street life of Mexico City, nor the beach scene of Rio, yet it is elegant and dynamic. As an Argentine friend once declared, “Here in Buenos Aires, we don’t have a sense or a presence of history…whereas if you walk around Lima, everything is history, you’re completely surrounded by the past!” The limeños might simply say “500 años de fusion,” five hundred years of fusion as past and present, city and provinces collide and cohabit Peru’s capital city overlooking the Pacific. History, art, ethnicities and the country’s biodiversity are all recognized and represented in Lima.

I went to Peru with gastronomic and linguistic curiosity. I went to discover the fruits of the jungle and the culinary treasures of the Peruvian Pacific. And I had heard that the Peruvians “spoke in poetry.” Although majestic in photos, Machu Picchu was not in my plans. I wanted to listen, to speak and to eat, and, as always, my destination was essentially urban. And I came to realize I was in luck, as Lima, thanks to the last 20 years of Peruvian history and politics, is now a city which could and would provide me a sample of the entire country, historically, linguistically and gastronomically.


My students’ enthusiasm over our Peruvian readings and activities in one of my advanced Spanish language classes had been overwhelmingly contagious. While reviewing subjunctive clauses, my mission was to introduce aspects of a culture and nation virtually unknown to the undergraduates: to assign active research projects and to read stories and newspaper articles, that would reveal the history, arts, vocabulary and biodiversity of Peru. Later we watched interviews with Gastón Acurio, “the most famous chef in Latin America,” and videos, which introduced Peruvian cuisine, a compendium of what was discussed in earlier classes. Subsequently a local Peruvian chef came to class to solidify our knowledge, presenting, preparing and providing us with samples (in Harvard language classes!) of the delights of the Peruvian table. Students finally had to envision their own Peruvian meal and create a menu to be displayed to the public in Harvard’s new Arts29 space.

The next step was “Lengua, cultura, gastronomía y trabajo social,” a three-week program that I designed and directed, sponsored by the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies in January (2012 and 2014) in Lima, with ten students, experiencing Spanish immersion through homestays, excursions to historical sites, lectures by academics at the Catholic University (PUCP) and by chefs at Cordon Bleu, and hands-on cooking classes, as well as visits to restaurants, fish markets in Callao, pisco liquor factories in Pisco and nature reserves in Paracas. Spanish language and gastronomy were combined with community service: working with young children in impoverished neighborhoods, in the hope of participating more fully on our short stay in Lima.


The center of Lima, founded in 1535 by Francisco Pizarro as La Ciudad de los Reyes, was at one time capital of a viceroyalty from Bogotá to Buenos Aires. Today, although not walking distance from the craggy and now fashionable Pacific coast (once harboring pirates), where urbanites might tend to reside, the center is certainly worth a visit, if not several. The magnificent Plaza de Armas, with its grand cathedral and Palacio de Gobierno, all commissioned by Pizarro, is also bordered by brilliant ochre buildings, visible even through Lima’s notorious and seemingly permanent garúa, or fog.

Nearby the historical Bar Cordano, founded in 1905, is known for dishes such as bistec apanado con tacu tacu (breaded fileted beef with a panfry of rice, lentils and a variety of other ingredients, of African slave origin, but with a Quechua name meaning “mixing one thing with another”) and their butifarra sandwich (sliced ham, bearing no resemblance to the Catalán sausage). The Cordano, said to be located at the same corner where centuries earlier Bolívar and San Martín met to plan the liberation of Peru from Spain, is also known to serve “bohemians, intellectuals and all the past presidents of Peru” (apparently three separate categories). 

Other such closed doors worth opening for visual feasts are those of the private Museo Pedro de Osma in the Barranco district—once a summer resort—just down the street from the Asociación Mario Testino (MATE) now exhibiting the hometown photographer’s stunning Peruvian work, after years of portraits of British royalty and Vogue supermodels.

Mario Testino is, in fact, another example of the once hidden international presence of Peru, now appearing publicly Peruvian. For the last 20 years Peruvians have been reexamining and reassessing their history and identity, their image, their cultural unity, both at home and abroad: witness the recent national excitement and pride over Peru’s fusion cuisine, as well as Lima’s cleaned and restored center (with the last statue of Pizarro removed and replaced by a flag of the Quechua “Inca Nation”), and Testino’s Alta Moda—a series of photographs of Peruvians wearing traditional dress from Cuzco. 


Of course, another treasure of Peru’s history is the Huacas and the larger archaeological sites. A trip to the pre-Columbian and pre-Incan ruins at Pachacamac (17 pyramids completed between 800 and 1450 AD) will duly impress, and even more so with an added visit to Kusina Pachacamac to experience a pachamanca, an indigenous, mainly mountainous feast of meats, herbs—such as huacatay, paico, chincho and muña—and tubers, all cooked in the pacha, that is, in the earth, with layers of hot rocks. And within Lima, at the Huaca Pucllana, we find an extensive archeological dig of a Wari ceremonial center, and a very high-end and delicious restaurant, both in the fashionable Miraflores neighborhood.

So food is not only a central part of Peru’s history and identity, it is also always accompanied its very own particular story.

It is not surprising that even outside Peru one often finds Japanese-Peruvian restaurants, as ever since the first Japanese arrived in Peru in 1899, they have continued to influence the Peruvian table. Ceviche and miso soup with milk are two common dishes representing the fusion of the two cuisines. Ceviche existed before the Japanese arrived in Peru, but the Japanese would prepare and eat it soon after marinating, rather than allowing the traditional lengthy sit in the lime juice, and they also created tiradito, a ceviche served with filets of fish, modeled on sashimi. Likewise miso soup is Japanese, but the addition of milk is entirely Peruvian. Yucamochi, a dessert made from yucca, milk, sugar and cinnamon baked in the oven, has its origin in a similar Japanese dessert (mochi) made with rice.

The Japanese were delighted with the variety and quality of the seafood and seaweed found in the Peruvian Pacific, and it is said that the Peruvians are always open to new foods. The Japanese taught the Peruvians to eat crab, octopus and pota (giant squid). Nikkei cooking is Japanese cooking, but created in Peru. The origin is an immigration classic: fleeing a farming crisis, around 700 Japanese landed in Callao and they first worked growing and cutting sugar cane. Their marriages were arranged back home, and their young wives (very young: 15 and up!) knew nothing about cooking. They tried to recreate flavors from home with Peruvian ingredients, and slowly Nikkei cooking was born. Lucky for all of us, especially my group this past January!

We should also mention the most beloved of Peruvian dishes for Peruvians, ají de gallina, a chicken stew with a spicy, creamy and nutty sauce made from both yellow and mirasol peppers, bread, cheese and nuts. Everyone claims their mother’s version is the best, but my students from 2012 and I know that Tony Custer’s version outshines the rest. It is served with white rice, yellow potatoes and boiled eggs. 

My friend Isabel Alvarez, sociologist and owner of my favorite restaurant in Lima—who will remind us that Peruvian cuisine is based on potato, corn, rice from the Chinese, and lemon (lime) from the Spaniards—has traced the development of the ají de gallina, which apparently was originally Spanish and contained sugar. That is, the 16th-century sevillanos used to eat a sweetened chicken stew, which upon crossing the Atlantic—and the Andes—was recreated into two dishes: one savory with Peruvian peppers (ají de gallina) and the other, probably the most beloved sweet for all of Latin America (manjar blanco, manjar, dulce de leche, arequipe…). And thus was created the most important ingredient in a dessert greatly favored by this author and Paddington Bear, the alfajor. Both Paddington and I miss these heavenly morsels when far away from South America; Paddington Bear was, of course, from “deepest, darkest Peru.” 

Sixty percent of Peru’s land is jungle, alas far from Lima. Yet the students and I devoured its fare—juanes (tamales made with rice, no relation to the Colombian singer) and lulo, camu camu, aguaje and other fruits—at markets and at the Cordon Bleu this past January. Paiche, the largest freshwater fish in South America and chonta salad (heart of palm, cut into long noodle-like ribbons) are fortunately also found at elegant tables in Lima, as well. And as chef Pedro Miguel Schiaffino continues to demonstrate, the cuisine of the rainforest is healthy, abundant, and still mysterious, including a variety of fish, three times that of the species in the Atlantic.


I once listened to a university professor and a bus driver engage in an hour-long conversation about varying ingredients and preparations of arroz con pato, as well as their favorite fruits from the jungle. One evening I heard a waiter become impatient, in a sort of maternal way, with some foreign clients who frequented the restaurant and would only order one or two dishes on the menu, when “Peru had so much more to offer.” I was constantly reminded of the 2,500 types of potatoes grown in Peru… In my attempts to escape the topic of food, I went to bookstores, the theater or the movies, walking the city (not a popular activity in Lima), and often saw fathers and sons playing soccer on city streets. Peru, it was explained to me, is a very fútbol-focused society, but the fans are always frustrated, and thus prefer to talk about their cuisine, which always wins…

Yet, wherever I went, with students or alone, the greeting and farewells were always the same: Gracias por escoger nuestro país. Gracias por la visita y su interés en el Perú. Gracias.

And although neither ceviche nor alfajores are part of my earliest culinary memory, as might be open-faced sandwiches or red berry pudding, the Peruvian delicacies now evoke recent experiences, new friends, lexicon, flavors and aromas. Yet sadly, as with the dishes of my past, these are also quite authentically inimitable. So a return to Lima, whether grey or sunny, will always be at the top of my wish list. 

Johanna Damgaard Liander AB ’78, Ph.D. ‘87 has just completed her 25th year as Senior Preceptor in Romance Languages and Literatures at Harvard University.

See also: Peru, Culture, Food


The author's grandfather, abuelito, at the end of the work day in his fields. Photo by Tilsa Ponce. 

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Searching for Family Roots in the Peruvian Andes 

By Tilsa Ponce

We Peruvians love potatoes. Not only because we can claim the origins of the tuber here in the Andes, and because we have more than 2,000 varieties, but also because they are part of our daily lives —and tables. The Peruvian gastronomic boom of the last few years has highlighted local ingredients that make our food so delicious—including native potatoes. But along with the attention that these tubers have received, we have forgotten about the most ordinary varieties of potatoes: those white potatoes we use to make the French fries we eat with the very famous pollo a la brasa (Peruvian rotisserie chicken). Those are the ones that concern me in this text and in my dissertation explorations in the Central Andes. 

It’s harvest time in the Peruvian Central Highlands and the small city of Jauja looks especially agitated these days. Traders from many different places come here to buy potatoes and seed potato. Drivers wait with their trucks to receive orders to bring loads of potatoes to Lima or elsewhere. Every morning, while I walk with my abuelito on the streets of Jauja, we run into people who respectfully greet him and ask what he is harvesting. Knowing his produce is well valued, he is sometimes elusive and doesn’t want to give too much information. He knows he really doesn’t need to advertise his potatoes. People often offer him advance cash to make sure he sells them his produce, and he usually replies: “We’ll see when I have the potatoes.”

Edwin is buying seed potatoes for his sister who has lands in Huanuco, a city in the way to the Amazon. He is in Jauja only for a few days; his stall in the Wholesale Market in Santa Anita, Lima, cannot be left abandoned for too long. Enrique comes to the chacra (the fields) to check out the seed potatoes and hopes my abuelito sells him 30 tons that he will plant in a few weeks in Barranca, a northern city on the coast, a few hours from Lima. Don Manuel has some lands in the Mantaro Valley but also buys potatoes that his daughter sells in Iquitos, the main city in the Amazon. Potatoes take around eight days—by roads and river—to get to their final destination. A fellow nicknamed Loro (parrot) works as an intermediary; he introduces potential buyers to my abuelito and makes sure the transaction is successful. He also receives specific requests of seed potatoes and goes over the chacras on his motorcycle to fulfill them. 

Nati has been working with my abuelito for more than forty years, ever since she came from Huancavelica with her family; all of her seven children have grown up at the chacra. She knows potatoes as no one else does and my abuelito trusts her to keep an eye on the other workers. While chewing coca leaves, she tells me old and new gossip about my relatives, stories about potatoes, and explains how to protect myself from strange characters that appear during the night. Maxi—who has a swindler’s smile—jokes with me in Quechua, asking me to steal some coca leaves from my abuelito for her; she also tells him that she will no longer come to work with him if he keeps being so grumpy. Viviana is younger and more quiet, she has two girls and her own lands that her husband works; their main crop is passion fruit. Olga, Viviana’s cousin, has become one of my best friends at the chacra; she is always smiling and ready to make jokes. Sometimes she decides to speak to me exclusively in Quechua, and laughs at me when I don’t understand what she says, but later explains what she has said. Her Wanka Quechua is different from the one I learned a few years ago in the southern Andes. 

I’ve been living in Huancayo—the main city in the Peruvian Central Highlands, 45 minutes from Jauja—for the past six months, doing dissertation fieldwork. But unlike most of the anthropologists, for whom doing fieldwork means learning a different language and facing the challenge of being away from home, for me fieldwork has meant returning home. Well, not exactly. Although both of my parents were born in the Central Highlands, they left for Lima to start college and established their lives in the capital city. A few months ago, I decided to come back where I had never lived before. Coming back was a symbolic return more than a real one. My academic interests were tied together with the exploration of my family history and my abuelito would be one of the main characters in my dissertation story. 

Although quinoa has replaced potatoes in a lot of fields in the region, the latter is still the main crop. However, these are not the same potatoes my abuelito sowed when he first started working in the fields. In 1954, my abuelito and his brother decided to rent some lands, buy some seed potatoes and start planting them for commercial purposes. They were not the only ones with such ideas. Along with them, other people also decided to embark in the venture of leaving their status as peasants to become commercial farmers. Things were not easy, but their hard work, the introduction of improved potato varieties, the increased demand in the demographically growing cities, among other factors, helped them to succeed in their venture and consolidate their development as commercial farmers. Now the improved potato varieties are the most common in Jauja: they are more resistant to plagues, produce up to 35 or 40 tons per hectare and fulfill the large demand of restaurants in Lima and elsewhere. 

Living together with my abuelito is not always easy; he’s often impatient and grumpy. And although I learn with him everyday, sometimes he just cannot understand how his urban granddaughter doesn’t understand too much about agriculture. Seated on a side of the chacra, his wrinkled and shabby hands—toilers for so many years spent in the fields—dig the soil and find some potatoes that he groups by size and quality. While doing so, he explains to me how to categorize them and shows me how some of them have been attacked by plagues, despite the pesticides he has used. “At least the harvest this year seems to be better than the last one,” he says, while burying the potatoes back under the soil. 

It’s late May and the rainy season doesn’t seem to end yet. Farmers complain because humidity isn’t good for potatoes anymore and the rain doesn’t allow the tubers to dry. I’m also worried about my abuelito getting wet and sick with this weather. But I’ve also learned that it is often useless to try to convince him to change his daily routine, even though some days he wakes up very tired and doesn’t feel like going to work. And of course he’s tired; it’s now more than sixty years that he has been working the fields, sowing potatoes. But once he is in Jauja looking at his beautiful chacras, his fatigue seems to disappear and being 87 years old doesn’t seem to be an impediment to continue doing what he has always done. 

Tilsa Ponce is a Ph.D. candidate in the Anthropology Department at Harvard University. She is currently living in Huancayo, where she is doing fieldwork for her dissertation on potato farmers, social mobility and social change in the Peruvian Central Highlands since the 1950s. 

See also: Peru, Food

Dismantling the Boom of Peruvian Cuisine

"Mariña Margarita Solano, Vendedora de Anticuchos." Photo by Liz Tasa, from colección, "Los Rostros del Perú," Piura-Ojos Propios/Reniec. 

From the Plate to Gastro-Politics 

By Raúl Matta

I really enjoy Peruvian food, as much as I like doing research related to it. The fact that in my country cooking crossed from being simply itself to becoming a political and social phenomenon entices me intellectually. Indeed, there is a lot to say about the reasons that drove 80,000 youth to attend Peru’s more than 80 culinary schools, that catapulted chefs to fame and glory, that led the government to establish national days to celebrate local specialties (ceviche, pollo a la brasa, and pisco sour), and that provided chef Gastón Acurio with a chance to become the country’s next president. However, less and less do I enjoy talking about Peruvian food with acquaintances, friends and relatives. What annoys me is the foodies’ arrogance and the almost religious passion with which they try to convince me that Peruvian cuisine is now the best in the world, and, indirectly (I can feel it), urging me not to be critical of it in my comments. And I will not; food is never to blame. However, all of this inspires me to seek to understand and dissect such a stunning enthusiasm about Peru’s “national food.”

Peruvians’ obsession with everything that has to do with “their” food manifests indeed in everyday expressions of national pride. Local media play a chief role in this, relating successful adventures in gastronomic entrepreneurship while building a sense of (food) community in which individual strengths become a public good. Indeed, the wide dissemination of flattering news about local heroes in toques follows a tendency that projects individual into national achievements, as in sport competitions. This way, Peruvians do not need to wait to celebrate the too infrequent goals of the country’s soccer team. Instead, they puff their chests with every fancy restaurant opened by Peruvians in major cities—even if they could hardly enjoy one of these places—such as Virgilio Martínez’s Central, Gastón Acurio’s Astrid y Gastón, and Pedro Schiaffino’s Malabar, distinguished among the top restaurants of the world. 

The exaltation of an alleged uniqueness, excellence and superiority of Peruvian cuisine has set the table for culinary nationalism, hence, too, a climate of competition within which Peruvians are particularly confident, but always with a chance of turning chauvinist and unfriendly if someone openly dislikes the tastes venerated by nationals. Nobody is immune to the effects of culinary nationalism as it takes form today in Peru. Not even reputed public figures are protected from the fervor of the most vindicatory and self-assigned custodians of Peruvian food: the common citizens. What better example than that of Iván Thays, who passed from being an internationally recognized Peruvian writer to becoming, in his own words, “the most hated person” in the country, only on account of sharing his personal, critical view of Peruvian food in his blog? Thays was vilified by many Internet users as a traitor to the country, as an anti-patriot, and also as a Chilean citizen (that, in this context, is merely an insult). Such a lynching revealed the dark side of a taken-for-granted benign nationalism as well as the limits of the promotion of national self-confidence. However, besides the pettiness of the attacks against Thays—taking place in a country where a man of letters is not precisely an influential leader of opinion—the media storm raised by the writer and Italian food-lover is useful to reveal how Peruvian cuisine is currently redefining the public understanding of the concepts of nation, identity and citizenship. 

Yet, and fortunately, Peruvians’ pride in their national cuisine is not mainly based on chauvinism and nationalism unleashed by mass media. I would argue instead that it stems primarily from longstanding knowledge and culinary awareness constantly updated by all practitioners (professionals or not), just as in the many other “culinary countries.” Advocates of Peruvian food may bolster their arguments by making reference to a complex culinary history that encompasses crops and practices resulting from the meeting of pre-colonial heritage with the legacy of centuries of immigration from various parts of Europe, Asia and Africa. It made for a mélange of powerful, delicious spicy flavors, they may argue, and quite rightly. However, all this does not make Peruvian cuisine intrinsically better than other national cuisines. Cuisines and gastronomies, all of them, are built on subjective criteria of quality, authenticity and value: they are at once social constructions, market products, and ubiquitous topics in everyday life—everyone has something to say about the pleasures of eating. In this sense, we might expect that the relative importance of a particular food trend, be it purely a chef’s invention or a national cuisine, rises and falls over time. At least this is the feeling that I had when I read in newspapers and magazines that Peruvian cuisine is the “Next Big Thing”: there will always be a next one… 

"Los Potajes de la Chayo." Photo by Miguel Arreategui, from Colección "Los Rostros del Perú," Piura-Ojos Propios/Reniec. 

I therefore propose to think of the rise of Peruvian cuisine in relation to a variety of historical, cultural and economic factors—not all of them directly related to food—rather than to a supposed culinary essence that leaves room to subjective evaluations and to the formation of myths. So, and without wishing to spoil the fun of many of my co-nationals, I will attempt a short sociological explanation of the gastronomic boom based on facts rather than on emotions.

First of all, what is known as the “Peruvian gastronomic revolution” cannot be dissociated from recent changes in Peru’s society and politics. Not long ago, the country was not particularly attractive to visit. The 1980s and 90s were times of civil war and economic crisis. Now the war is ended, tourism is strong and so is the economy. A decade of continued economic growth increased the purchasing power in the main cities, principally in the capital, and placed Peru as an emergent actor on the global scale. In such a context, the interest in gastronomy, one expanding aspect of urban economies, is anything but surprising.

These contextual factors matter as much as the changing trends in gastronomic business models and activity worldwide. The incursion of Peruvian food from the domestic into the productive and public sphere was facilitated by the professionalization of cooking in Lima, both through the creation of occupational associations and the increasing attractiveness of gastronomy as a profession. The latter phenomenon is linked to the rise in the social recognition obtained by chefs during the 1970s and 80s in Europe and the United States, when leaders of French nouvelle cuisine and fusion cuisine, respectively, became heads of their own restaurants. From then on, the gastronomic business grew in importance as a key component of the cultural industry, while cookery increasingly gained respect. Although gastronomy has, over the years, become a highly competitive market in which compensation and reputation concentrate in a few top performers, chefs’ self-marketing strategies that made superstars of some have encouraged, in many places as in Peru, the opening of restaurants and an increase in publications, TV shows and culinary institutes. 

Old images of sweaty, grumpy and overweight restaurant cooks vanished, replaced by thin, fashionable and smart chefs: also gone was the notion of cookery as a risky and harsh career, associated with subordinate, servile tasks. On the contrary, qualified culinary skills are now acknowledged as accomplishing important social and economic functions. The commitment of young people to professional gastronomy was thus crucial to building the prominence of Peruvian cuisine as a legitimate cultural field and as a profitable economic activity. The most visible leaders of the Peruvian gastronomic boom were (and still are) sons of well-off families who had the opportunity to receive European and North American culinary training during the 1990s. Even though some of them had to overcome parental resistance (Acurio’s story is very well known), the diversification of sources of social prestige among the very conservative Peruvian upper class was already underway: Lima’s elite finally understood that in the modern world prestige could be more easily reached by becoming media personalities rather than by sticking to anachronistic imperatives of distinction. The social background of these young cooks was, however, crucial for them to become elite chefs, since it allowed them to speak with authority about their revisitations of Peruvian cuisine. Indeed, they have not had to face social or cultural barriers when they addressed novel creations, unconventional native ingredients and stylistically daring tours de force to their clients (and social peers): family background softened the task and avoided suspicions. Therefore, it would be not unfair to say that their first successes were equally due to their individual skills and their privileged social positions. 

Technical knowledge, local biodiversity and the ability of traditional elites to invoke their privileges in changing contexts combined to allow local foodies to vaunt the diversity and versatility of Peruvian cuisine. Key in this endeavor is the use of native Andean and Amazonian food and ingredients. Elite chefs constantly re-appropriate and re-signify long-marginalized indigenous food items within gastronomic techniques and discourses—but in doing so they displace indigenous knowledge. In other words, these highly trained professionals translate local, traditional or remote culinary knowledge into high, cosmopolitan canons. That way, items kept away from elite tables since ancient times, such as guinea pig, paiche, arracacha or cushuro, obtain a higher status. Native food gentrification is achieved in steps: first by removing an item from any prior context—thus neutralizing its indigenous and lower-class characteristics—then by identifying some of its desirable attributes and, finally, by connecting it with elements from other culinary cultures, in particular those which already enjoy global recognition. It is all about neutralizing a “negative exoticism” with the aim of proposing, afterwards, a “positive exoticism.” That is how Peruvian cuisine moved into a broader dimension, nourished national and international expectations and encouraged vocations. And so it boomed.

Celebrating others’ successes is not bad; it could certainly be inspiring. But does the good that is happening to a certain number of cooks really justify the elevation of one type of cuisine over others and, furthermore, serve to inspire national pride? I find this question pertinent since some Peruvian top chefs do not necessarily attribute the dishes they serve to Peruvian cuisine; they prefer to say that they offer “dishes with personality.” So how has “national” cuisine become so central in the life of Peruvians? My explanation is that when the gastronomic boom struck a decade ago, Peruvian cuisine suddenly joined Machu Picchu as a “destination,” since cuisine also has the capacity to involve people with a country on a sensory level and to attract tourist dollars. Indeed, in a world that promotes multiculturalism and markets ethnic identities, food has become an avenue for societies aspiring to gain international visibility and economic capitalization. To such ends, state and private actors such as the Ministry of Culture, trade unions and entrepreneurs used the appeal of Peruvian cuisine as a means to enhance the country’s reputation and foster business. Food then burst into the political arena in ways whose social consequences have yet to be determined. Actors from different sectors now commit to implementing food-related economic and social initiatives. Trade unions promote restaurant creation abroad and support the modernization of traditional agricultural production to compete in global markets. Celebrity chefs showcase native ingredients while moving up in the rankings of top creative chefs. Meanwhile, diplomatic efforts are made for Peruvian cuisine to be listed by UNESCO as Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. 

In just over a decade, Peru has become a food nation. But the implications of this phenomenon extend far beyond the plate. After celebration, it is time now to get closer to the many concerns that the gastronomic boom has raised in order to turn triumphalism into a real triumph to be proud of.

"Fuego Artesanal." Photo by José Alexander Rugel Feria, from Colección "Los Rostros del Perú," Piura-Ojos Propios/Reniec.

Raúl Matta is principal investigator at the University of Göttingen (Germany) in the framework of the DFG Project “Food as Cultural Heritage.” He holds a Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Paris – Sorbonne Nouvelle (IHEAL). His research interests, reflected in various journal articles and book chapters, include food studies, heritage studies, and urban sociology. He is co-editor of the journal Anthropology of Food.

The Arts

Photo courtesy of MALI. 

Peru has a rich range of arts, ranging from poetry to plastic arts, from traditional art rooted in the colonial era to cutting-edge new forms.

Colonial Shadows

El chofer (The Chauffer) from the series "La tuya, la mía, la nuestra" by Moico Yaker, 1998Courtesy of Gustavo Buntinx.  

View the photo gallery. 

Obstacles For Imagining Community 

By Gustavo Buntinx and Víctor Vich

Peru is immersed in a new wave of capitalist modernization; its market has expanded in an extraordinary fashion and social mobility is now possible. However, we are still far from conceptualizing ourselves as a nation or an imagined community, to use Benedict Anderson’s famous phrase: we still do not perceive ourselves as a collective of citizens all equal under the law with the same rights and responsibilities. 

Something remains of an old history that does not manage to lose its grip, that is repeated over and over again in a karmic fashion and continues to play an important role in our society. Although a new era is emerging in which Peru is governed by the middle classes, the old vices of extreme inequality arise all too often in the interaction among Peruvians, including tutelary practices, traditional or reverse racism and the mania to create hierarchies. 

As a part of a larger research project, we seek to look at the way in which contemporary art recognizes these failures, concentrating on just four of the many artists who try to show things that our daily inertia makes invisible. Our unimagined communities. 

The works of art we look at show an awareness of the huge gaps that impede the construction of more just relations among Peruvians. Through the use of different aesthetic resources, these works reveal what is evident but often denied in the emotional and political registers of everyday life: those hidden colonial shadows that threaten the most recent liberation of our vehement and legitimate (post)modernity. Ominous remains of a traditional past—remnants of an old order that still keeps alive within us. 

Sometimes these works are marked by profound ambivalence, a reflection also of a certain social indefinition experienced by many artists. The subject of domestic employment is in this sense incisive, because of the intimacy—even the affective intimacy—with which servants embody differences in social class. The emotive portraits of his parents’ servants that Moico Yaker created in 1998 show an anguished personal testimony and a loving symbolic reparation: although small, all of the paintings are framed in embossed silver, the repujado technique whose colonial overtones today conjure up images of sentimental or religious devotion. These connotations are also present in the distinctiveness of the servants, and each of their tasks is portrayed as a particular attribute, similar to the way the Christian saints were identified in viceroyal paintings by the instruments of their martyrdom. The waiter stands with the napkin on his arm; the chauffeur sadly shows off an automobile that is not his own. And the laundrywoman is immersed in a huge vat whose dirty waters seem to have washed her features half off. 

In contrast to these unique images, diminutive but individualized with first and last names, between 2006 and 2008 Adriana Tomatis reinterpreted in huge paintings the uniformed anonymity of the nannies, sometimes accompanied by the children under their care. A complex rendering of plastic and conceptual modes, underscored by disturbing titles such as Prueba de color (Proof of Color) or Blanco sobre blanco (White on White). Or indeed La otra (The Other), an explicit reference to photographer Natalia Iguíñiz’s series on the same theme. 

Tomatis is also the creator of Panic Room (2009-2013), a caustic sequence of drawings and watercolors that depict, in an architectural fashion, the omnipresent and somewhat shoddy booths set up for hired security all over Lima; our great capital city that is pathetically unprotected by the incompetent and corrupt police force, and by the state apparatus in general. It is this precariousness that her drawings ironize, with a sharpness in counterpoint to the beauty of plastic expression.

For some months now, Eliana Otta has opted for the opposite formal strategy. She treats the same issues through a series of eight photos that are deliberately insipid: barely registered dull images of the worn-out seats that hired guards are provided with in the frightened middle-class neighborhoods. They are a vestige of common household items, a domesticity that now pervades public space and politically impacts us through the scenes depicted in these photos. These chairs—old, broken, uncomfortable—slowly reveal themselves to us as a moving attempt to fill the gap left by the state, but they also provide additional evidence of the precariousness of work, of still lamentable conditions in some contexts of our recent prosperity. The title could (almost) say it all: Señores de la intemperie—Lords of the Elements.

But all this is achieved not by representing individuals, but rather the tools of the work that defines them. These off-center images reject the current popular aesthetic, reminiscent of advertising, that “includes” working-class figures in almost postcard style. On the contrary, in Otta’s (and Tomatis’) images, the subject—the figure of the security guard—does not appear anywhere, and we must face the disturbing nature of pure objects. These chairs—the kind that we would never find inside one of the houses they guard—speak for themselves. And they speak of a hidden or minimized hegemony: the instability the political order generates and which, at the same time, paradoxically sustains it. And more: the uncomfortable manner in which some of these guards are still situated, like vassals on the borders of the modernizing process itself. 

Two impressive photos by Roberto Huarcaya focus on these and other borders in the most explicit way possible, but not less poetic because of that. A panoramic format and extremely oblong image contribute to the poetic sense, but also to the deficient horizontality in Peruvian society. The decisive element in both photographs is the central and dividing axis marking the center of the composition. The first image (2009) depicts a dock that separates, like a virtual wall, the exclusive beach of the Regatas Club from the popular shores of Agua Dulce and Pescadores. In the second photograph (2011), we have a literal wall—indeed with barbed wire—that prevents people from the working-class neighborhood of Pamplona Alta from transiting near the gated Las Casuarinas condominiums. 

The borders are as symbolic as actual. In spite of the undeniable economic mobility and increasing social movement, art works such as those discussed here insist that elements of inequity still persist, the remnants of the great divisions and fractures that have constituted our society. The colonial mentality survives.

P.S.: Pay special attention to the subtle punctum in Huarcaya’s virtual diptych. The secret punctum: the profile of a building appearing above the hills at the extreme right of the first photograph—Playa pública/playa privada (Public Beach, Private Beach)—is where the photographer lives with his wife and children. Practically a beacon for the daily contemplation of the symmetric assymetries that the camera now registers in a reverse form. The artist’s vital gaze of unfolded creation, deconstructed through its own technological—and social—glance. 

Gustavo Buntinx is an art historian, critic and independent curator, and director of the Cultural Center of the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos (Peru). A graduate of Harvard University, where he studied History and Literature, he completed postgraduate studies at the Universidad de Buenos Aires.

Víctor Vich, a Peruvian writer, is a professor at the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú (PUCP) and researcher at the Instituto de Estudios Peruanos (IEP). He was the 2007-08 Santo Domingo Visiting Scholar at DRCLAS.

The Nu LatAm Sound

Dancing in the Sun with Animal Chuki 

By Sergio C. Muñoz

Inside underground Peruvian discothèques, a duo known as Animal Chuki forms part of that sound inherent to the Latin American flavor and groove that they carry in their blood. In a hot room filled with rhythmic music that sweats clean and crisp jungle water, a thick atmosphere is enjoyed by a transnational youth that smokes porritos (herb) and dances. Later in the night, they walk out into the urban streets to eat anticuchos, heart of cattle, seasoned with special flavors, and drink chicha morada, a rich punch made from purple corn. Grant C. Dull, aka El G, has been developing this Nu LatAm Sound at ZZK Records in neighboring Buenos Aires, Argentina, for the past five years.

When understanding the Nu LatAm Sound, El G believes “It is essential to look at what’s going on in modern-day Peru. Undergoing a sort of digital renaissance, the country’s rich tradition of cumbias and folklore are being transformed by the newer generations with all the splendor and psychedelia that made Peru a focal point of new sounds in [the] 60s, 70s and 80s.” 

Andrea Campos was inspired on bus rides from her home in San Isidro to the Universidad de Lima. Campos says, “A nanny in my house influenced me into listening to Peruvian music like Pintura Roja and Anita Santibañes. As I got older, I jumped to electronic music by Diplo and Daft Punk. Through Animal Chuki, I am trying to relay a spiritual message through this combination.” Upon graduating with a degree in communications, Campos began to work by day at an advertising agency, DDB/Fahrenheit, and at night she developed the second half of Animal Chuki. Now, at age 23, Campos develops the integrated graphics of the duo and helps to explore the cocktail of folk and electronic dance music that has become the signature sound of the band. 

Daniel Valle-Riestra, also 23, works in sound design for all types of audiovisual projects from his home in La Molina miles from the city. A mellow but focused musician, Valle-Riestra developed a following on SoundCloud and was asked by El G to produce a remix for the Argentine artist, La Yegros. Valle-Riestra says, “I am constantly searching for methods to make my living through my passion for music. Since working in office environments has not allowed me to grow as a person, I try to dedicate all my time and energy to music. When I heard La Yegros voice, I knew I wanted to join this effort.”


El G, a dandy and bon vivant, met with the group in Lima recently to discuss their future. They spoke at length in local cevicherías over chicharrón de pescado mixto, leche de tigre, helado de lúcuma and tuna sours. El G says that, “Tropical bass and digital cumbia seem to be sweeping the city of Lima right now. It is a community robust with exceptional music, food and libation.” He continues, “In Miraflores, we walked at night past ancient Incan huacas snuggled against modern lofts on quiet tree-lined streets. The coastline at Barranco and the Olivar Park in San Isidro are some of the nicest natural spots I’ve enjoyed in all of Latin America.”

Peru is just a part of the story. Ondatrópica and Quantic in Colombia are playing their part. Other members of The Nu LatAm Sound include La Yegros, Chancha via Circuito, Miss Bolivia, King Coya, El Remolón, Meridian Brothers, Frikstailers, Tremor, Bomba Estereo, Fauna, Super Guachin, Largatijeando and Douster. El G has been so inspired by the movement’s camaraderie that he is producing a series for television and a documentary film to document the era. Hashtagged as #TNLS (The Nu LatAm Sound), El G is collaborating with creatives and investors to bring the project to film festivals worldwide.

Film Trailer:

In the foreword of Ted Mallon’s The Journey Toward Masterful Philanthropy, Jungian Bernice Hill writes, “I think of Ted’s journey as similar to that of Quechuan shamans in Peru. These brave souls, called alto misayogs, feel they have been ordered by the gods to go into the mountains to encounter lightning. If they are struck by this intense electrical energy and survive, they believe they have undergone a profound initiation. They return with certain powers, having communed with the gods. They bear, however, some essential message for the life and transformation of their community.” 

When I listen to Animal Chuki in the Intelatin sound studio in southern California, I don’t stop to question whether alto misayogs exist or whether they chase lightning. I simply see them in my mind, returning home to the Andes and playing Animal Chuki while they dance in the sun.

An Intelatin sampler of #TNLS:

Sergio C. Muñoz is a Mexican artist working in the surf culture of southern California at Intelatin. His latest project is called Gamma Rae in the Americas. It is crafted for the benefit of DACA Dreamers in the USA. Twitter: @

Institutionalizing the Lima Museum of Art

Photo courtesy of MALI. 

Give and You Shall Receive 

By Matthew Bird

Juan Carlos Verme’s connection to the Lima Museum of Art (MALI) began in 1988 when, at the age of 23, he returned to his native Peru from Switzerland, where he spent most of his childhood. As an adolescent in Zurich, he discovered the Kunsthaus and went weekly to see the medieval, modern and contemporary art exhibits. But in Lima, then beset by rising hyperinflation and a worsening guerrilla war, cultural outlets were sparse. “It was a horrible year for Peru,” Verme said. “When I came there were few options, but one of the things I did find was this building called the Lima Museum of Art, where they screened classic films.” Twice a week he sought refuge in the works of Kaurismaki, Fellini and others.

A group of Peruvian intellectuals and businessmen founded the museum in 1954, using a model similar to the “daring ladies” who created New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) more than two decades earlier. But instead of Abby Aldrich Rockefeller and her friends, it was the Prados—influential in banking and political circles—and their colleagues who led the organization’s creation. The founding trustees convinced the municipal government to provide a subsidy and cede use of a neo-Renaissance style structure built for an 1872 international exposition, while the initial collection consisted of work by Carlos Baca-Flor, a Peruvian portrait artist whose iconic turn-of-the-century painting of J.P. Morgan already hung in MoMA. A handful of donations trickled in until 1960 when, with Manuel Prado as President for the second time, the family donated nearly 6,000 works representing 3,000 years of history, from pre-Columbian ceramics to colonial silver and Republican-era paintings, thus defining the museum’s panoramic commitment. 

Though the Prado donation defined the museum’s take on the past, its future was uncertain. In 1968, General Juan Velasco Alvarado led a military coup, which sought to restructure Peruvian society through nationalizations and land reforms intended to weaken the country’s richest families, including the emblematic Prados. Many of the museum’s patrons left the country during this period, initiating a three-decade process of general out-migration—of rich and poor. Verme’s family moved to Switzerland, where his mother had roots. 

As an organization supported by an already weak philanthropic culture, the museum lost its biggest supporters and starved for funds during the military’s rule. To cover deficits, it began offering art classes. The democratic transition in 1980 was supposed to augur a period of stability and growth, but it was the opposite. On election day, the Shining Path, until then an unknown Maoist guerrilla group, bombed a ballot box in a remote Andean village. The violence quickly spread. By the time Verme returned to Peru, the insurgency and hyperinflation had entered its worst period. 

Bombs exploded daily, causing power outages and water shortages, but the museum’s collection remained on show and film screenings and art classes continued. By then 50,000 people enrolled annually in the courses, seeking refuge while keeping the institution financially afloat. Even then Verme believed in the museum’s potential. “The museum is a community service, built to nourish,” Verme said. “But people also nurture the museum.” He compared it with the Kunsthaus in Zurich. “Why can’t MALI be like it or better?” he asked at the time. “Not in the sense of having a better collection but using the platform as a place for showing Peruvian culture. Peru has one of the best collections of historic art in South America but not the best art museums. What is lacking is the infrastructure to show the collections.” Others Verme had yet to meet shared his vision.

As a child, Natalia Majluf’s family traveled throughout Peru, visiting archaeological sites and museums. Eager to study abroad, she eventually majored in art history at Boston College. In 1988, while home during a break, she volunteered at the museum—at the same time that Verme attended film screenings, although the two did not meet. In 1995, Majluf returned to Peru for good with a doctorate in art history from the University of Texas, Austin. 

Much like Peru as a whole in the 1990s, the museum began to pull itself out of crisis. Alberto Fujimori had become president, implementing a painful economic shock program and cracking down on the insurgents. In 1992, the Shining Path’s rebel leader, Abimael Guzmán, was captured and Fujimori closed Congress and rewrote the constitution. And in 1993, Walter Piazza, a construction company executive, became the museum’s new president.

Piazza sought to resurrect an institution that had suffered in the late 1980s and early 1990s and began by bringing in new people who could infuse needed energy. In 1995, he interviewed Majluf, then just 28 years old but already tough-minded, and hired her as the chief curator. “I thought I was going to be an academic, but I was here and thought to myself, ‘Well, let’s make the effort to see if we can do something,’” Majluf said. “I always thought this place had potential: beautiful building, well located, private museum.” 

The museum began to flourish under Piazza’s leadership. “People returned to the museum. Before they didn’t even know where it was,” Majluf said. “The truth is we began to do good, intense work and things started to happen.”

The museum launched exhibitions as well as infrastructure and funding initiatives, including an “Amigos del Museo” membership program and an annual art auction. The latter became the “place to be” one day out of the year in Lima. Donations remained of vital importance, yet a philanthropic culture still did not exist. Contributions came mainly from businesses at that point. But Piazza also understood the importance of diversification and reached out to a broad base. “Walter’s strategy was to ask for a little from a lot of people,” Majluf said. “He also began to involve younger people,” like Juan Carlos Verme, Nicolás Kecskemethy and Armando Andrade.

Kecskemethy left his native Peru in the early 1970s for Germany, where he completed a doctorate in biochemistry and started an academic career before entering the private sector and marrying an artist. After returning to Lima in 1994, Piazza asked Kecskemethy to lead the museum’s auction committee, which he did for six years before passing the mantle on to Armando Andrade, president of a Peruvian advertising agency. Andrade’s passion had been in collecting ever since he bought a pre-Columbian Chancay ceramic for the same price as a chocolate bar at the age of 18. At one point, he hoped to study art at the Sorbonne after winning a scholarship, but his father rejected the idea.

The new generation of museum leadership had a lot in common. All were young, loved art and believed in the museum’s institutional importance for society. “There are only ten countries in the world with millennial histories, and one is Peru,” Andrade said. “We are conscious of this debt.” Yet between debt and aspiration lay an institutional abyss, which appeared whenever Peru entered its next crisis. 

Instability returned in the late 1990s and early 2000s with a protracted political and economic crisis. Piazza’s firm suffered, diverting his attention away from the museum, just as its financing sources dried up. The museum’s employees, including Majluf, went for extended periods without paychecks and the most basic utility bills fell into arrears, sparking a debate over the institution’s direction: Should it continue its focus on being a panoramic repository of Peruvian art or should it find ways to build a larger audience and shore up its finances? Should it maintain (what critics considered) its “highbrow” approach or should it lower its standards? Should it continue to organize textile exhibitions that struggled to garner wide interest or should it exhibit items like football uniforms from outside its collection? These questions thrust the museum into an institutional crisis so severe that, at one point, it went through seven managing directors in a single year.

Majluf, frustrated, considered leaving. “In 2002, I went to Walter and told him that I thought the museum was losing its original vision,” she said. Piazza eventually requested a proposal from Jesús Zamora, head of a private investment fund, and Verme, then chairman of a leading real estate company. By heeding their advice to expand the number of trustees and to charge a monthly membership fee, Piazza reaffirmed the museum’s institutional commitments and filled short-term funding gaps. After 12 years as president, he also concluded it was time to pass the torch. In 2005, Verme assumed Piazza’s role. 

Verme proceeded to expand the number of trustees over the next two years by more than in the previous two decades combined, widening the museum’s support networks in the process. Art classes and the auction remained the central sources of financing. First-floor architectural renovations, initiated under Piazza and driven forward by Majluf, enabled the museum to host international exhibitions, from Peru’s Mario Testino to Germany’s Gerhard Richter, though the red tape associated with importing art or repatriating works was another story.

With Verme, a focus on quality prevailed and the museum’s leadership formed two acquisition committees, one for historical and one for contemporary art. “It was clear to us that we had to keep collecting because there were holes to fill in the collection,” Andrade explained. The trustees were aggressive and took risks, becoming one of a handful of Latin American institutions actively acquiring contemporary art, competing head-to-head with international museums and private buyers. “If we don’t buy today, we can’t buy later because the relevant, historic pieces simply disappear. For example, if you want to access materials from César Moro, you have to go to the Getty, who bought almost his entire archive,” Andrade said. “Situations like that cannot happen again.” The trustees created mechanisms allowing members to purchase the items in order to take them off the market and resell them to the museum once funds were raised. In other cases, they took out loans, hoping to find future donors. “We take risks but in the end someone always steps up,” said Osvaldo Sándoval, a trustee. 

The museum has appeared on international exhibition circuits and its brand—rechristened as “MALI” during this period—become synonymous with prestige domestically and quality internationally. Leaders represent MALI in global events and Verme has assumed a position in the international art world, serving as a member of the Tate Modern Latin American acquisitions committee and a founding patron of the Reina Sofía Museum Foundation. MALI’s day-to-day operations have received a boost, too, after museum leadership began to streamline finances and hire managers with marketing backgrounds from leading companies, in order to professionalize the organization. Peru’s decade of unprecedented growth also helped. 

But struggles continue. Despite the best efforts of Majluf, María Teresa Normand and Flavio Calda, the latter two as general managers from 2009 to the present, the museum still has not managed to open its second floor, slated for its permanent collection. Since the government owns the building, renovations were subject to public management and have been mired in years of red tape. Meanwhile, the works sit in warehouses. “We’re a crippled museum,” Majluf said. “We can’t show our main collection. If we could have administered the work ourselves the space would be open.” 

Other institutional barriers persist. Although the country’s philanthropic culture is slowly changing with the creation of new wealth, the tax code still does not give incentives for philanthropic giving by individuals or companies. And despite lobbying efforts, museum leaders couldn’t convince lawmakers to change the laws.

MALI’s cycles of success and crisis have paralleled Peru’s fortunes. But can the museum eventually achieve what the country has struggled to create: an institution—the values, norms, and rules that give meaning to action and provide social stability? While weathering crises, MALI has managed to reaffirm its underlying commitments. But full institutionalization requires creating values, norms, and rules that are deeper and more sacred than the individuals professing or following them. Can MALI become more than its network of committed patrons and fully serve society? Can it become a model of institutionalization for Peru? If it does, then in the end those that gave will have received. “It is a strange feeling,” Verme said. “I never imagined that being so altruistic, seeking to create something more than you, that gives to others, to your country, can in the end become so egotistical because of how gratifying it is to give.”

Matthew Bird is a professor in the Graduate School at the Universidad del Pacífico in Lima, Peru and former Research Director for the Harvard Advanced Leadership Initiative. His research explores “the art” of harvesting local cultural solutions to shared social problems. He can be reached at

Six Young Peruvian Poets

"The Three Trapped Tigers" are the Peruvian poets Raúl Mendizábel, José Antonio Mazzotti and Eduardo Chirinos. Photo courtesy of Paolo de Lima.

Making Verse During Times of Conflict 

By Paolo de Lima

The years 1980-1992 marked an electoral democracy in Peru; a period that is a parenthesis between two dictatorships, one military and the other civic-military—but a period strongly affected by bloody civil conflict. Framing this democratic period, two new constitutions (in 1979 and 1993) actually took effect during two dictatorships. Political analysts, sociologists and journalists can help us understand this contradictory period. Poets, from their different perspective, examine the reality of political violence in a powerful way that transcends a mere thematic concern. 

Six Peruvian poets came on the scene as writers during the most difficult decades of our history, with 69,000 dead and thousands disappeared. I selected 41 poems, defined by their direct or indirect relationship with the war. This in no way implies that the literary production of the six authors is limited to this historical period and to the context of political violence. Their work, both in theme and form, is diverse and varied. 

These poets are the “Three Trapped Tigers,” Raúl Mendizábal, José Antonio Mazzotti and Eduardo Chirinos, and the members of the group “Kloaka”: Domingo de Ramos, Róger Santiváñez and Dalmacia Ruiz-Rosas. All of them, born between 1956 and 1961, began to publish their first texts in Lima towards the end of the 1970s and the beginning of the 1980s. The six authors belonged to the erudite petite bourgeoisie; Mazzotti, Chirinos and Ruiz-Rosas came from residential neighborhoods in Lima and the Peruvian coast; Santiváñez and Mendizábal hailed from the small northern city of Piura and de Ramos from a village in the department (state) of Ica south of Lima. Their vision of the country was filtered through a geography historically associated with the Spanish colonial tradition, rather than the Andean highlands or the Amazon jungle. Their sites of origin, more directly linked to Peru’s large western metropolis were also more influenced by a native middle class rather than a dominant elite. 

During the 1980s, these authors studied in two prestigious centers of learning: the Catholic University (PUCP) and the National University of San Marcos, while Mazzotti studied at both and served as a link between the two groups. The “Three Trapped Tigers” studied at the private Catholic University, and the “Kloaka” at the public San Marcos. 

These six poets had an active presence in “official” literary circuits, as I have discussed in my book Poesía y guerra interna en el Perú (1980-1992), published last year (2013) in New York by Edwin Mellen Press. These were all professional poets or with aspirations to be such, conscious of both the Peruvian and western literary traditions, as evidenced by the references incorporated in their work. In Peruvian literary criticism, the “official circuit” refers to a published body of work in refined Spanish that conforms to a western concept of literature, accepted as the only valid form by the state ideological apparatus—that is, in school programs, universities, newspapers and publishing houses. It is “official” (in quotation marks) not because it necessarily intersects with a given political program or government, but because it conforms to the system of the reigning cultural domination; what Swiss literary scholar Martin Lienhard called the prevalence of “cultural diglossia,” that is, a ranking that does not recognize the literary and even cultural validity of the vast oral literary production nor literary works in indigenous languages. 

Without simplifying the complex period 1980-1992, let’s look at the milestone year of 1980 with its two events of crucial importance. One, the election of Fernando Belaúnde Terry (1980-1985) to the presidency, marked the return to constitutional democracy after twelve years of military dictatorship. This return had implications in the economic sphere, with the market opening to imports, reprivatization of industries, and the initial entry into the global economy. This economic opening coincided with the second event: the beginning of armed struggle by the Communist Party of Peru-Shining Path that gave rise to a spiral of violence and the state’s response, with the subsequent “dirty war.” The beginning of the Alberto Fujimori dictatorship in 1992 marked the end of this period. Fujimori was democratically elected in 1990, but on April 5, 1992, conducted a “self-coup” with the support of the armed forces, with subsequent restrictions on individual liberties, justified by the government because of the capture of Shining Path leader Abimael Guzmán on September 12 of that year. 

Historian Alberto Flores Galindo, in a text written in 1987 but not published until 1999, nine years after his death, creates the metaphor of a pendulum to describe the period. This metaphor can help us understand with greater clarity the democratic parenthesis between 1980 and 1992. In his book La tradición autoritaria (The Authoritarian Tradition), Flores Galindo observes that Peru’s republican history can be seen as “the movement of a pendulum in whose extremes are found civilians and the military, respectively synonymous with democracy and militarism.” However, during the period of political violence, “the image of the pendulum blurs, since in practice, civil and military became indistinguishable.” Why is it important to stress this image? Because it is at that moment that the six poets worked on their body of poems as the country teetered within the rule of law, if somewhat blurred because of the fusion of the civil and military, the democratic and the dictatorial. Their production arises within the context of a relative state of freedom of expression that, however, was co-opted by the state strategy of neutralizing radical dissident voices. With a sense of anguish and fear, therefore, these poets witnessed in a direct manner the deterioration of civil society rapidly heading toward increased militarization. During this period of 1980-1992, in the midst of a democratically led nation, a large part of the territory was militarized, above all the Andean highlands, Peru’s vertebral column. Cities were subject to tight and indiscriminate control. 

The violence exercised both by the state’s repressive apparatus and the armed rebels, with variants such as ethnocide and genocide, is related to the “neoliberal air” that, in the cultural aspect of Fernando Belaúnde’s second period, was consistent with literary trends that seemed compatible with the economics of late—or multinational—capitalism and the consequent liberation of imports. In the political arena, the face of the neoliberal state was revealed in its dirtiest dimensions. In the 41 poems I chose to include in my book, one can see signs of this feeling of unease and mistrust that arises in the 1980s and becomes much clearer and rebellious than in previous decades as it appears in the fresh vision and language of the new subjects of writing.

Paolo de Lima is a Peruvian poet who holds a doctorate in literature from
the University of Ottawa. He is the author of
Poesía y guerra interna en el Perú (1980-1992), Edwin Mellen Press, New York, 2013.

Peruvian Literature

An Elusive Treasure 

By José Antonio Mazzotti

With more than sixty languages still in use, each with a rich oral tradition, it’s difficult to talk about a single national body of literature in Peru. From the start, the concepts of nation, modernity and literature have revealed more about the country’s social and cultural lack of integration than any reality desired by the critics and politicians who have sought to amalgamate and harmonize them together. “Official” Peruvian literature has always maintained an ambiguous and convoluted relationship with the idea of a modern nation. Ever since the triumph of the Enlightenment in the politics at the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th centuries, modern nationalism has emerged as a cultural device that has fed and been fed by the need to create a homogenizing state as a model rather than a moderator. But the reality is quite different and this can be witnessed by a short overview of the country’s immense literary richness. 

After independence from Spain in 1821, an ethnic criollo identity—that of Peruvian-born descendants of Spaniards—prevailed to the point that in legislative and economic terms, the idea of “Peruvian citizenship” became more of a gesture of good will than a recognition of the profound cultural and economic differences among the heterogeneous inhabitants of the country. 

However, most literary critics today agree that it will no longer do to speak only of a single literary system in the country. There are at least three: the “official” literature, written in “educated” Spanish and published in traditional outlets such as books and genres derived from the European tradition; “popular” literature, also in Spanish, but transmitted and circulated orally, that is generally anonymous and performative; and the great array of indigenous literatures, mainly in Quechua and Aymara, but also in the sixty other languages of the Peruvian Amazon. In general, this last system is a series of autonomous subsystems, generally through oral transmission, and often connected to specific contexts of collective ritual expression. However, important examples of written indigenous literature have also existed since colonial times. 

In spite of its cosmopolitan aspirations, in the so-called traditional “official Peruvian literature” the past and its traumas keep appearing as a constant revelation of a universe of multifarious or formalized oral traditions which undergirds the shape of more canonic works. These two strands maintain a secret and subterranean dialogue. Because of this, the languages that constitute the aesthetic world among the different social subjects of the Peruvian landscape underlie and penetrate the intellectual circles as well as the main trends, genres and works of the official tradition. Repressed orality constantly returns, to the point of contributing to the dynamic formal experimentation that some of the best known of our Spanish-speaking “national” authors have used in their work in the 20th and 21st centuries. In view of the discursive tensions that have existed since 1532 (the year in which the Spanish conquest began), it’s useful to look at some of the patterns that have set in since the Inca Garcilaso and Guaman Poma de Ayala in the 17th century to the modern works of César Vallejo, José María Arguedas, Mario Vargas Llosa, Oswaldo Reynoso and Miguel Gutiérrez, among others. 


In my 1996 book, Coros mestizos del Inca Garcilaso, translated to English as Incan Insights, I investigated the traces of Cuzco court orality in the major work of Inca Garcilaso, his now classic Comentarios reales (1609). My book, which has the suspicious subtitle of “Andean Echoes,” alludes to the systems of existing forms of history-keeping (in more precise academic terms, historization) in the ancient Cuzco court and to the form in which that source most likely filtered into the prestigious historiographical writings of the late Renaissance, which Inca Garcilaso, in spite of being a mixed-race Peruvian and native Quechua speaker, dominated with perfect control of the language. Through historical poems of ritual diffusion destined to effect political manipulation on the part of Inca rulers, the Cuzco court remembered its past with perspective that was clearly meant to serve as an example. Neither epic nor theatre nor narrative nor religious ceremony, but rather all these and more, this discursive genre was first described by chroniclers like Pedro de Cieza de León and Juan Díez de Betanzos. These narratives permit us to glimpse a sophisticated system of composition that used formulas, repetitions and semantic fields that are all discernible in some way in the first edition of Comentarios reales in 1609 through its style, punctuation and underlying symbolism.

Contemporary with Inca Garcilaso, the indigenous chronicler Guaman Poma de Ayala offered an extensive document to King Felipe III of Spain, describing the pre-Conquest order compared to the rising disorder and carnage under the Spanish colonial regime. In his Nueva coronica y buen gobierno (1615), famous for the 404 accompanying drawings, Guaman Poma, a chief from the Ayacucho region, explains in a Spanish heavily influenced by a Quechua subtext, all the internal knowledge of the Andean cultures that reconstructs their world within the universal monarchy led by the king of Spain, but proposing that local administration return to indigenous hands. Guaman Poma’s request is forceful, but ambiguous: he accepts Christianity and exalts the virtues of the native population, but he rejects crossbreeding between indigenous and Spanish and racial mixing in general, thus denying an irreversible reality. In his long chronicle he inserts a number of passages and poems in Quechua, which makes the book profoundly heterogeneous. 

At the same time, in 17th-century Peru, the literary elite certainly took advantage of its privileged role and access to printing presses to use Inca Garcilaso’s treatise to support its own political and economical interests. Starting with the extensive chronicles of Buenaventura de Salinas, Antonio de la Calancha, Diego de Córdoba and many others, the demand for preference for criollos over Spaniards was legitimatized thanks to the assumption that the Peru-born descendants had a greater understanding of the indigenous population and, paradoxically, thanks to the very purity of their own Spanish blood. According to their own accounts, nourished by the rich soil and mild climate of Lima, the Peruvian-born offspring of the Spaniards bore more resourceful and noble fruits than those of the peninsular nobility. Salinas praised the criollos, for example, in words that would become common as the century progressed, saying “They are all extremely sharp, lively, subtle, and profound in every genre of the sciences,” and that “the sky and climate of Peru waken them and ennoble them in spirit,” hence the Spanish nobility was improved upon through its Lima offspring. 

Thus, standing at the intellectual and hereditary pinnacle of the Viceroyalty, the criollos arranged the social landscape and sustained themselves with dubious arguments about their moral and biological superiority, rescuing from the Inca empire only its architectural wonders and not giving credit for any moral stature of its descendants. So, while the Peruvian-born criollos distinguished themselves from the Spanish, they also distanced themselves from the surviving sectors of the Inca empire’s Cuzco nobility. 


What is called the “Inca Renaissance” ran parallel to the construction of a criollo discourse concentrated in Lima and that would come in time to sustain a national Peruvian dualism, which would have its second gravitational axis in Cuzco. However, many criollos insisted on their role as the defenders and best interpreters for the indigenous population, thus establishing an indigenous-friendly tradition on their part that would survive until today. 

This apologist stance anticipates, by more than two hundred years, the defenses of the indigenous population that Flora Tristán, Manuel González Prada and Clorinda Matto de Turner would make under the aegis of 19th century positivism. These defenses often repeated discursive stereotypes of colonial origin about the native population, such as, for example, allusions to the indigenous person as good and generous. Among many similar samples, it is worth mentioning the bucolic atmosphere of Clorinda Matto de Turner’s story “Malccoy” (1886), in which she affirms that “the Indians have hearts filled with tenderness and generosity.” 

Another notable stereotype of colonial origin is the image of the lazy and sad Indian, which arose initially out of the idea of the Indian’s inherent character in opposition to the fierce spirit of the Spaniard. A modern example that reproduces this commonplace is this sentence from Ventura García Calderón story “El alfiler” (1924): “the Indian women still mourn the death of the Incas, which took place centuries ago, but revives in the lament of their humiliated race.” 

We also find the denigrating stereotype of the vicious, idol-worshipping and degenerate Indian, which, according to colonial authors like Luis Jerónimo de Oré, derives from their adherence to ancient customs. In republican discourse, however, this type of indigenous person owes his downfall and his state of being to a lack of literacy. Thus, one can see, for example, in Flora Tristán’s Peregrinaciones de una paria (1836), expressions such as “the stultification of the people is extreme [but only] when the newspapers reach the Indian’s hut […] will you acquire [you, the Peruvians] the virtues you lack”; and in the definition (clearly accusatory) of Manuel González Prada, when he proclaims in his “Speech in the Politeama” (1888) that “for three hundred years the Indian has sunk to the lowest levels of civilization, a hybrid with the vices of barbarians and without the virtues of Europeans” or in the “idiotic smile” of some of the characters in Enrique López Albújar’s “Ushanam-Jampi” (1920) or, more recently, in the cannibalistic and savage Indians of Mario Vargas Llosa’s Lituma en los Andes (1993) (This, of course, does not negate the enormous importance of this author, who is the only Peruvian to have received a Nobel Prize.) 

Finally, we have the colonial stereotype of the improvable Indian, a common theme for many viceroyal authors. This type has the innate capacity to achieve great advances in civilization, but is held back by a lack of modernity in a world that demands, prescribes and imposes a full-scale—and often bloody—westernization—an idea frequently encountered in the republican indigenist discourse. 

Thus, various concepts in republican discourse on the Indian maintain a basic coherence with colonial assertions that determine the cultural and materially inferior status of the indigenous population. While this is a simple and self-evident observation, it is important to emphasize that despite its aggressively righteous tone and demands for justice, a good part of the so-called indigenist movement in the 20th century followed the discursive patterns of a long historical trajectory.

I wish to dwell for a moment on two cases fundamental to the construction of another subsection of modern Peruvian literature. I am referring to César Vallejo and José María Arguedas, who have come, in the general consensus, to be seen as the two truly “national” Peruvian writers of the 20th century par excellence. However, their national character has more to do with a desire for coherence than with any kind of uniform identity in their voices. They are not self-evidently national just because they come from the Andes and write in Spanish, but because they embody a blissful and harmonious program of exulting mestizos, mixed-race Peruvians. This, ultimately, like criollo identity, is another of the multiple forms of Peruvian nationality. I imagine rather that what makes these two so profoundly Peruvian is precisely this interstitial zone, the space of contradiction that expresses a vision of the world, a sense of nature and nostalgia for utopia through discursive forms imported since 1532, and their subsequent romantic and fantastic elaborations. 

In sum, the panorama is too broad and varied to be covered in a single article. The fact is that “official” Peruvian literature remains elusive for criticism that seeks to understand it in its multinational and multilinguistic context. But that is precisely what makes it so exciting. 

José Antonio Mazzotti is a professor of Latin American Literature in the Department of Romance Languages at Tufts University. A poet and literary critic, he is also president of the International Association of Peruvianists and director of the Revista de Crítica Literaria Latinoamericana. His books include Coros mestizos del Inca Garcilaso: resonancias andinas (1996), Poéticas del flujo: migración y violencia verbales en el Perú de los 80 (2002), Incan Insights: El Inca Garcilaso’s Hints to Andean Readers (2008), eight collections of poetry, and several edited and co-edited volumes on Latin American and Latino studies.

Political Violence and the Colors of Art

Edilberto Jiménez Quispe depicts political violence in Peru in this retablo. Art courtesy of Edilberto Jiménez Quispe. 

The View from Ayacucho 

By Edilberto Jiménez Quispe

Ayacucho is the mecca of Peruvian handicrafts with more than sixty types of crafts, ranging from ceramics to textiles. Historically, this small city, nestled into the mountains of southwestern Peru, has also been the capital of violence and poverty. It is also known as the cradle of the Shining Path guerrilla movement.

On May 17, 1980, members of the Communist Party of Peru-Shining Path (PCP-SL) began their armed actions, and some time later, the Peruvian government decided to mobilize the armed forces to wipe out the movement, sparking a bloody domestic war. The civilian population paid a very high price. Those who suffered the most were the Quechua-speaking peasants and native Asháninkas. They became victims of forced disappearances, rapes, torture, murder and extrajudicial executions by both parties in the conflict. The victims’ age or sex did not matter. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (CVR) estimates that 69,280 people were murdered or forcibly disappeared nationwide—forty percent of those were in the state of Ayacucho.

In the context of these dehumanizing events, the popular art of Ayacucho became silent testimony, recreating the suffering of defenseless inhabitants. Folk art—artistic handicrafts—condemned the daily barbarity committed without the smallest respect for human rights. Creators of retablos (a special type of Peruvian tableau in portable boxes) pottery makers, weavers, sculptors of the alabaster stone found in the region and painters of planks from the Sarhua district all expressed through their art the political violence from 1980 to 2000. Many artisans were disappeared and murdered, as documented by testimonies of relatives given to the Truth Commission. 

It should not be surprising that I grew up to be a maker of colorful retablos. I discovered the art of color in my childhood, thanks to my father Florentino Jiménez, a carver of religious images and a painter, and my mother Amalia Quispe, a weaver of blankets and multicolored belts. My parents were from the village of Alcamenca in the province known as Víctor Fajardo in the state of Ayacucho (of which the city by the same name is the capital). I was born there too, and grew up surrounded by the beautiful Andean cosmovision. From a very young age, I played under the gaze of majestic mountains, accompanied by condors, the moon, the sun, the stars, a world of life and joy. I discovered; I experienced; and I paid homage to the landscape and to its brilliant flowers with pigments that captivated my soul and stirred my senses. Each color bloomed in my existence and brought me wisdom. When sunset exploded with its shades of red, the colors told me, “It’s going to rain, to bring life for plants and animals.” When the sky turned yellow, I learned that it was because of the absence of rain; that color meant “distress and a flood of tears.” In the cattle fairs, owners attached their favorite colors to the animals’ ears; blood was drunk along with the homemade anise liquor known as aguardiente. Later they would paint their faces to the sound of ceremonial songs. I remember being told that this ceremony was “for cattle fertility and to strengthen the bond between the animal and its owner.” At carnival time, women joyfully and with laughter painted their faces in a tone of vivid red, announcing to the world they were ready to get married. The single women always wore the whitest flowers in their hats—a sign of purity and virginity. 

The author of this article, Edilberto Jiménez Quispe, stands in front of one of his retablos depicting political violence. Photo courtesy of Edilberto Jiménez Quispe. 

In the rainy season, the fields turn a lovely shade of green; the birds are constantly singing, and the hummingbirds flirt with each other in the view of magnificent flowers; this is the season of happiness and of new life. I lived in this world and colored my art with those bright hues of the life I knew. 

But when I was a child, the night also grew dark, and in the darkest nights the fearful “kuku” roamed—the devil, the bogeyman, condemned, incestuous, sanctioned by divine power as punishment. I associate that fear with the political violence of the 1980s, which also made violence part of my life. I believed that I ought to express my feelings, my pain, in my art: the human suffering that I perceived, felt and lived in this cursed war that the members of the Shining Path had begun. 

The colors of my childhood had been stained with the colors of barbarity, revealing daily horrors. Red was the color of danger and fear; it was the blood of those who had been detained, tortured and assassinated. The green, the green I so loved, was transformed into the mottled tones of the repressive government forces. Yellow became paler, a somber sign of the slow death of tortured sufferers and the encompassing sadness of the relatives of prisoners and kidnap victims. The darkness of night was fear, torment and savagery committed both by Shining Path and the Armed Forces. The relatives of victims of political violence constantly wore black for their loved ones. Testimonies to the Truth Commission tell us that prisoners led to a military post were blindfolded with different colors: red was for prisoners who had committed crimes and would be executed; green was for those to be investigated; and white blindfolds were for those who would be set free. Thus, in Ayacucho, shades of red, green, yellow, black and white dominated. They became the colors of my retablos. Traditional tableaus depict religious or pastoral scenes. Mine came to bear the names of specific acts of violence and the surrounding context: death, torture, darkness, popular justice, battles, abuse against women, the murder of children, death in Yerbabuena, the grave in Chuschihuaycco, the dream of the Ayacucho woman after eight years of violence, even the labor of the International Red Cross. I became an artist expressing these realities, these horrors. 

Let me talk briefly about one of my retablos: “Sueño de la mujer huamanguina” (“Dream of the Ayacucho Woman”), a title which brings back the traditional name for Ayacucho: “Huamanga.” I thought of the tireless battle of the women of Ayacucho/Huamanga, who, from the very first moment of terror, battled in an unequal war to find their loved ones who had been swept away by the military. The women later formed a group, the National Association of Relatives of the Kidnapped, Detained and Disappeared of Peru (ANFASEP). Day and night, they searched. Saddened, with tears in their eyes, they showed up at the barracks and police stations to beg for their loved ones. They walked, as if carried by the wind, to the places where the military often dumped bodies. Dressed in black, they pleaded for help in burying their children—a crude reality. Thus, the main figure in my retablo is the woman from Ayacucho, dressed in black, exhausted, who falls asleep in the interior of a mountain (apu or wamani in Quechua) of gold and silver. There, embracing her two children, she dreams that she is lying on top of a river of blood, and intuits in her gut that her husband has been arrested, jailed, then murdered and hurled over a cliff into an abyss of tunnels and sisal plants where famished animals devour him. The Eternal Father, horrified by the events, sends the archangel of peace to gather up the soul of the murdered man, while the father sun, the mother moon and the mountains (apus), ashamed and on the verge of tears, observe the horror of inhuman savagery. 

Perhaps—like my fellow artists and painters and carvers from Ayacucho—we could only look on with horror as the war continued, but like the archangel of peace, we did what we could do stop it and make the horrors known through our craft.

Edilberto Jiménez Quispe is an anthropologist, journalist and artist—a maker of tableaus known as retablos. He graduated from the Universidad Nacional San Cristóbal de Huamanga. The winner of the National Bienal-Caretas Prize in 1991, he is currently affiliated with the Institute of Peruvian Studies (IEP), working as a member of the team of Support for Peace (Apoyo para la Paz) with headquarters in Ayacucho.

Legacies of the Pasts

Photo by June Carolyn Erlick. 

When one talks about the past in Peru, one often thinks of the political violence that swept the country in the 1980s and 90s, but there are other pasts and pains too, including the repression of Peru's Afro-Peruvian and indigenous peoples, as well as forced sterilizations and violence against women. That's why we've put both "legacy" and "past" in the plural form.

First Do No Harm

Gender mainstreaming has become a crucial issue in the carrying out of justice in Peru. Photo by Renzo Nuñes Melgar/"Los rostros del peru"-Ojos Propios/Reniec. 

Enforced Sterilizations and Gender Justice in Peru 

By Kimberly Theidon

In 1997, I set out with a research team to rural communities in Ayacucho to conduct a needs assessment for Health Net International. Although our focus was on primary health care, it was impossible to ignore the central concern of many women and their loved ones. Something was terribly wrong. 

There was a little boy who came to me for help because his mother could no longer walk following her visit to the health post. The family had to cart her around atop their small mule: “Doctora, can’t you do something for my mom?” There was a nurse practitioner in Cangallo who approached me in a quasi-confessional manner, motivated by the guilt that had accompanied her since participating in a Tubal Ligation Festival. Along with other staff from the Ministry of Health (MINSA), she had spent two days in makeshift operating rooms, sterilizing 147 women. At some point, the team realized they did not have a sufficient quantity of anesthesia, and collectively decided to continue with the surgeries. The women began screaming in pain, alarming the others crowded into the waiting room. Hospital attendants slid padlocks through the doors, and the team continued performing the sterilizations. The nurse practitioner was crying as she told me what she had done, but I had neither the capacity nor the right to offer her absolution. If she wanted forgiveness, then she would need to seek it from those terrified women. To date, I know of no health care provider who has publicly apologized to the thousands of human beings they treated like unos cuyes—like guinea pigs. 

From 1996 to 2000 an estimated 270,000 women were subjected to enforced sterilizations in Peru. Under the banner of Voluntary Surgical Contraception (AQV), the National Family Planning Program began surgically sterilizing low-income women from the urban periphery and the rural sierra in the name of poverty reduction, modernity and development. The AQV campaign left painful legacies. Enforced sterilizations, I firmly believe, should be classified as war crimes and crimes against humanity if we hope to achieve some measure of justice for the survivors. 

In 1995 former president and current prison inmate Alberto Fujimori was overwhelmingly elected to a second term, and he made his triumphant appearance at the Fourth International World Conference on Women in Beijing. As the only head of state in attendance, he received an adulatory welcome, amplified by his skillful manipulation of the feminist rhetoric of choice and reproductive rights. Back in Peru his strong mandate allowed him to confront the Catholic Church, and to succeed in modifying the country’s National Population Law to include sterilization as a family planning tool. 

Entering into full force in 1996, the AQV campaign was rolled out through MINSA with substantial funding from USAID and the collaboration of the feminist organization Manuela Ramos, contracted to conduct “sensibilization campaigns” to encourage women to participate in this new family planning initiative. MINSA established monthly numeric targets for the AQV program, combined with quotas, incentives and sanctions for health personnel. In order to meet the monthly quotas, many health care providers engaged in aggressive recruitment efforts that involved intimidation, food in exchange for “consent” to surgery, and outright lies about what tubal ligation entailed and the permanent nature of the surgeries. Although working within a top-down system and under some coercion themselves, it was ultimately personnel from MINSA who wielded the scalpels that permanently altered so many bodies and lives. 

It did not take long before rumors of deaths turned into concrete numbers, and human rights organizations began to denounce the enforced sterilization campaign. By late 1999, MINSA had reformulated criteria and implementation, backing off from the coercive measures that had resulted in rampant abuses. That same year, Peruvian human rights organizations brought one illustrative case to the Inter American Commission on Human Rights. María Mamérita Mestanza Chávez v. Peru involved the death of a 33-year-old mother of seven who was coerced into surgery by health care practitioners who told her she had violated the law by having more than five children. She died nine days after the surgery. As one component of the “Agreement for Friendly Settlement,” the Peruvian state agreed to investigate the AQV program. That promise remains a hollow one. 


Charges of rampant corruption prompted Fujimori’s abrupt fall from power in 2000, and an interim government established a truth and reconciliation commission charged with examining the causes and consequences of the internal armed conflict that had engulfed the country from 1980 to 2000. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (CVR, after its Spanish acronym) was given an expansive mandate with sweeping subject matter jurisdiction, and feminist organizations succeeded in lobbying for gender mainstreaming across the CVR’s work. The commissioners were persuaded to adopt the Rome Statute definition of sexual violence, with one important exception: enforced sterilization. When subsequently questioned about this exclusion, the main reasons given were a lack of time and resources, and the assertion that the sterilizations were not conducted in the context of insurgency or counterinsurgency and thus fell outside the commission’s mandate. In short, the AQV campaign was not considered conflict related.

On August 28, 2003, after two years of work and some 17,000 testimonies, the commissioners submitted their final report, which in many respects has served as a tool in the struggle for gender justice. However, by framing rape as the emblematic womanly wound of war, the CVR largely ignored the other forms of sexual and gender-based violence that many women prioritized in their testimonies. I have traced how the category of “sexual violence” expanded and contracted at various times—and with what consequences. The CVR adopted a broad definition of sexual violence, including forms of abuse that extend beyond rape. When implementing the Comprehensive Reparations Program (PIR) however, only rape was made a reparable category on the grounds that other forms of sexual violence are not recognized within the Peruvian criminal code. Importantly, in tracing the vagaries of “sexual violence” across the work of the CVR, the PIR and the National Victim’s Registry (RUV), the one constant amidst the flux is the exclusion of enforced sterilizations as a reparable category of harm. 

Human rights and feminist organizations advocated for expanding the reparations program and finally succeeded in introducing Decree 2906 to extend reparations to include people who had suffered other forms of sexual violence during the internal armed conflict. Among those “other forms” are forced pregnancy, forced abortion, sexual slavery and forced prostitution. Thus, the decree sought to expand reparable violations rather than limiting reparations to victim-survivors of rape. 

The Ministry of Justice vehemently opposed Decree 2906, arguing that sexual violence, in contrast to rape, is not recognized and punished as a crime in the Peruvian penal code. It is worth considering why those “other forms” greatly concerned the government. Opening the definition of victim-beneficiary to include the tens of thousands of women (and men) subjected to enforced sterilization would mean admitting the Peruvian state was the primary perpretrator of sexual violence during the 20 year period under investigation by the CVR—not via the armed forces, but via the Ministry of Health. Could this have something to do with the objections? 

Evidently so. When Decree 2906 was finally approved on June 1, 2012, there was one important concession. Although it expanded the reparable categories of sexual violence, there was not a word about the enforced sterilization campaign. Once again, tens of thousands of women were excluded from receiving reparations for the violence done to them. Three main themes emerge from the legacies of the AQV: militarization and maternity regimes, the political economy of forced sterilization, and the architecture of impunity. 


What connections might be made between the enforced sterilization campaign and the internal armed conflict? Departing from the conviction that ideologies of race, class and gender are an essential component of militarization and war rather than mere byproducts, we can examine how the war on poverty and the discourse of development were converted into a surgical war against low-income indigenous women. Jean Franco has suggested there is an “ethnicized underclass” in Peru, and the term “terruco” (derivative of terrorist) is also an ethnically saturated category. In classic counter insurgency doctrine there was an emphasis on erradicating the terrorist threat at its very roots, even killing children who would allegedly grow into guerrilla militants. 

The convergence of internal enemies and ethnic Others was illustrated in the Peruvian military’s (in)famous 1989 “Plan for a Government of National Reconstruction” (Plan Verde), which echoed other military projects implemented in Latin America within the context of “dirty wars” aimed at the elimination of groups defined as dangerous. The language of Plan Verde is that of “surplus beings,” and the Plan urges the “widespread use of sterilization for those groups that are culturally backward and economically impoverished.” Tubal ligations should thus be standard in all health centers given the “incorrigible nature and lack of resources” characterizing these groups. There is, finally, “total extermination” as a measure of last resort. 

The CVR missed the chance to prove there was an ethnocidal aspect to the internal armed conflict and to the enforced sterilization campaign. In the aforementioned needs assessment I conducted in 1997, I learned that the department of Ayacucho had a negative population growth due to mortality associated with the armed conflict and to the internal displacement of villagers fleeing the violence. MINSA was applying AQV quotas at a time when many villagers were reeling from the decimation of their loved ones and communities.


The impact of forced sterilizations resonated in many areas of life, including the economic. Alejandra Ballón has explored how women weavers could no longer bear the weight of strap looms affixed to their waists, thus losing not only their primary form of income but an important part of their cultural identity as well. In other cases, women were left without the physical strength necessary to carry out their agricultural activities, and were forced to migrate to the cities in search of less physically taxing labor. 

Additionally, there was the loss of gendered assets, which are not only material, but also symbolic and intangible. Sterilized women were the targets of lacerating gossip suggesting they were sexually promiscuous, which led many of their male partners to either abandon them or beat them. It is also common to hear the term “machorra” to refer to these women, a word that suggests they are not really women for having lost their reproductive capacity. Finally, given the young age at which many of these women were sterilized and the high rates of infant mortality among the poor in Peru, many of these women enter old age without children to care for them. 


Architecture: a formation or construction resulting from or as if from a conscious act; a unifying or coherent form or structure. 

Impunity is frequently treated as the space of absence: as the lack of rule of law, the lack of governance, as that which remains when laws and norms dissolve. I insist, however, that impunity is humanly authored and maintained, which leads me to think in terms of the architecture of impunity to capture this intentionality. How was it possible to carry out the enforced sterilization campaign? With laws that constructed second (third?) class citizens whose bodies were not deemed inviolable. With a medical system that institutionally discriminated against Quechua-speakers and viewed them as a backwards group with a propensity for uncontrollable reproduction that allegedly caused their impoverishment. With an authoritarian president who hijacked feminist discourse and forged a wide web of complicity. What now? 

To ensure the chain of justice is more gender sensitive, we must insist on dismantling the architecture of impunity with respect to all forms of sexual violence. The military resorts to the concept of  “excesses and errors,” while MINSA acknowledges some “irregularities” may have occurred. This implies a “few bad apples,” obscuring the chain of command that made these widespread abuses possible. The International Criminal Court’s growing jurisprudence and standards of evidence regarding sexual violence offer the tools to classify the enforced sterilization campaign as a war crime and crime against humanity. There was a coercive environment in which genuine consent was not possible. These surgeries were committed in a widespread and systematic pattern, directed against the civilian population. Additionally, there was a relationship between the counter-insurgency and AQV campaigns in that both reflected the profound ethnic discrimination that characterizes Peru. The elements are there to move these cases forward, under an independent commission of inquiry with the capacity to establish criminal responsibility and to make recommendations for an administrative reparations program for the largest victim-survivor group in Peru: women who lived through the enforced sterilization campaign. They are already knocking on the doors of the National Victims' Registry, seeking “a little bit of justice” for what they endured. We must do everything possible to ensure that justice delayed is not justice denied. 

Kimberly Theidon is a medical anthropologist specializing in Latin America. She is a 2014-2015 Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington D.C, and will then begin her appointment as the Henry J. Leir Chair in International Humanitarian Studies at the Fletcher School, Tufts University.

Peace and Reconciliation

This plaza in Ayacucho commemorates the many killed and disappeared in the region during the cruel period of political violence. Photo by June Carolyn Erlick. 

An Opportunity at Risk 

By Salomón Lerner Febres

Eleven years have gone by since the Peruvian Truth and Reconciliation Commission presented its final report. The report reconstructed the history of many cases of massacres, tortures, murders and other serious crimes. At the same time, it contributed an interpretation of the failures of our political and cultural system that made the violence possible. This enormous documentation of abuses and damages then called for decisive action on the part of the state. For example, it recommended a sweeping judicial reform, as well as a broad plan of reparations and changes to state institutions to transform the relationship between the state and the people and to construct an authentic democracy with full rights. 

Eleven years have gone by, and some things have been achieved. It is certain, and this is important, that the country has experienced peace and relative institutional stability for years now, as well as positive economic growth for more than a decade. This has come accompanied by a significant but not entirely satisfactory reduction in the poverty levels. In contrast, however, key sectors of the operation of state and society, such as public school and university education, continue to stagnate in a ruinous situation. 

The most precise way of observing the trajectory of reconciliation in Peru is by looking at it in the context of the Peruvian Truth and Reconciliation Commission (CVR, after its Spanish acronym) recommendations. The discourse about reconciliation can be very persuasive and well-intentioned; in the end, however, reconciliation can only be measured by the attention the state pays to the victims of the violence. And, by extension, to the treatment it pays to citizens in general. As the CVR has affirmed, reconciliation should mean a transformation, in a democratic sense, of the relations between state and to society and of the bonds that unite Peruvians in their daily life. 

Lamentably, fulfillment of these recommendations does not raise much enthusiasm. Judicial and educational reforms are sorely lagging. The state response to the demands for justice by the victims has been weak. Moreover, society as a whole seems willing to forget, responding poorly to the magnitude of the historical events.

Between 2001 and 2003, the report had been an integral part of the political transition begun in 2001, after the collapse of the government of Alberto Fujimori and the end of the period of armed violence that had afflicted the country since 1980. The creation of CVR was a way of responding to the victims of massive violations of human rights committed during twenty years, both by subversive organizations—mainly the Shining Path guerrillas—and the armed forces and police. 

The CVR investigated for 26 months. In this period, commission members traveled throughout the country to spots affected by the violence. Investigators were able to get close to victims and populations affected by the violence, collecting 17,000 testimonies and carrying out many other activities expressing respect and attention to the victims. Five regional offices served to provide recognition of the victims and also, to a certain degree, to bring awareness of the devastating consequences of the violence to the part of the population less affected by it. But despite these efforts, Peruvian society is lagging in its implementation of the CVR findings.

The judicial realm reveals concrete evidence of this lack of response. Outside Peru, the sentencing of former President Alberto Fujimori for human rights violations generates a somewhat erroneous image of what has really happened in this area. It was certainly an important conviction for cases of corruption and crimes against human rights: a sentence rendered in an exemplary trial that should set a valuable precedent. But the general panorama is much less positive. In the first years after the CVR began to operate, the judicial branch showed some willingness to render justice, adopting certain progressive legal criteria. Nevertheless, after 2007, the courts changed their stance and retracted the position that had prompted them to confront massive crimes that took place years earlier. New sentences reflected a lack of institutional will to achieve justice in serious cases of forced disappearances. And, in general, the courts adopted criteria that make it much more difficult to establish responsibilities on the part of state agents in human rights violations. This trend is accompanied by a law that, in practice, would block the way for trials of the military and police. Following citizen protests, the law was changed, but the willingness to deny justice to victims was roundly demonstrated. 

The evolution of reparations is equally complex and not very encouraging. The first responses to the CVR proposals were positive. It did not take long for a reparations law to be approved by Congress. A commission from the executive branch was placed in charge of coordinating the actions of the diverse ministries involved in the tasks of making reparations—giving the law an institutional context. In addition, an organization called the Reparations Council was put in charge of drawing up an exhaustive list of persons and collective groups entitled to receive reparations. 

The execution of these tasks has not been as careful and timely as it needs to be. If previous governments had indeed begun to make some progress in terms of collective reparations, the process has not followed an orderly course nor has it been up to the challenge. Individual financial reparations have been completely overlooked, and victims feel that they have been deceived and belittled. If one takes into account that many of these victims are people of advanced age who lost their children or spouses decades ago, and who live in a permanent situation of poverty and deprivation, the insensitivity of the state and political elites has to be sharply criticized. 

Insensibility and indifference, in effect, are the biggest obstacles to advancing reconciliation understood as basic justice for the victims and collective recognition of our failings and guilt. This is evident in the lack of institutional reform and of collective reflection about the violent past. 

The CVR understood its mission as fostering a true sense of reconciliation in the country. And that reconciliation could not exist except as a natural outgrowth of truth and justice. It’s not just a matter of condoning or forgetting the crimes of the past. Mechanisms of amnesty for the guilty, which have occurred in the past in the region, were not morally justifiable or legally possible. For the CVR, any concept of reconciliation requires, first, that the facts be revealed and acknowledged, and second, that justice be done as a result of that acknowledgment. That justice would not be limited to the legal sphere. To obtain justice for the victims certainly meant bringing those presumed responsible to trial, but it also entails the payment of reparations and the enactment of institutional reforms to guarantee that violence and abuses cannot be repeated. Reconciliation also demands official actions to restore dignity and recognition of those who were affected by the violence.

None of the CVR recommendations on institutional reform have been taken into account by successive governments or by political groups competing for seats in Congress. Administration of justice, the armed forces, police and education need urgent reform. The problem of education is particularly worrisome. Education in Peru for decades has been based in authoritarianism; critical thinking has been mutilated and instruction is foreign to the culture of citizenship that Peru needs. A reformed educational institution would be an effective way to assure the country’s future welfare and integration. Education that promotes autonomous thinking and strengthens collective and individual identities would help to generate effective citizenship. Finally, a reformed educational system would need to treat the memory of violence from a particular point of view: one oriented towards learning the lessons of the past that demonstrates how racism and hierarchical thinking are the causes of death and suffering; instruction that fosters understanding that blind violence is never the road for the transformation of society nor for order and stability. 

Today, Peru unfortunately lacks this sort of education. Therefore, memory is not used in a positive fashion to build a future on the experiences of the past. Nor is there an ongoing discussion and learning taking place outside the schools in the political realm. In politics, the lessons from the violence are completely absent from the debate. Victims have almost no opportunity to air their concerns in Congress. In the media, the theme continues to be treated in a sensationalist way, while on television, blatant racism against the indigenous population is accepted and even applauded. Under these circumstances, it is difficult to talk about reconciliation in a broad and encompassing sense as proposed by the CVR—not just isolated reconciliation among individuals. Political and economic elites continue to be hostile to the call for recognition, responsibility and compassion. 

Of course, this does not mean that Peruvian society is on the verge of repeating the armed conflict. However, it is still a violent society in some very real ways, as evidenced by citizen protests in the Andes and Amazon. These take place in a context of certain institutional stability and economic growth, at a time when Peru is on a path to become a stable and established democracy. But in order to achieve this, society must recognize that all its citizens have full rights without discrimination. If we shut our eyes to the lessons from the violence, Peru will have thrown away an opportunity to create such an inclusive democracy. 

Salomón Lerner Febres, rector emeritus of the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru (PUCP), is the former president of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Peru (CRV). He is currently executive president of the Center for Democracy and Human Rights at PUCP (IDEHPUCP).

See also: Peru, Violence

A Road Less Traveled By

A mural on the Memory Museum Wall in Ayacucho renders honor to victims of the violence. Photo by June Carolyn Erlick. 

Difficult Post-Conflict Reconciliation Process 

By David Scott Palmer

In mid-1992, Peru’s Shining Path guerrillas were winning. They had Lima under siege. Electricity was erratic, and water even more so. On July 16, their bombs destroyed banks, businesses and an apartment building in the middle-class Lima district of Miraflores, with many innocent lives lost. Their maximum leader, Presidente Gonzalo, a.k.a. Abimael Guzmán Reynoso, declared that victory was imminent. He had even drawn up plans for Shining Path’s final offensive in October. The radical Maoist organization’s “New Democracy” would take over by December, the month of both Mao’s and Guzmán’s birthdays.

By September 12, the guerrilla juggernaut was sent reeling with the dramatic capture of its maximum leader in a perfectly coordinated elite police unit operation. Violence spiked for a few months, but then ebbed rapidly. Shining Path soon ceased to pose a threat to the state, and has never recovered. 

Multiple accounts have analyzed how the conflict ended and peace was restored, most notably those of the late and much lamented Carlos Iván Degregori in How Difficult It Is to Be God: Shining Path’s Politics of War in Peru, 1980-1999 (2013); Carlos Tapia, in Las Fuerzas Armadas y Sendero Luminoso (1997); and Benedicto Jiménez, Inicio, desarrollo y ocaso del terrorismo en el Perú (2000). These and other accounts help to show just how complex and multifaceted the process of conflict resolution was. Over subsequent years, however, there has been a growing appreciation of the multiple challenges that have made the post-conflict reconciliation process even more difficult to achieve. There are a number of reasons why this has been the case.

1. Most killings took place in the countryside among peasant communities, virtually unseen by limeños (residents of Lima) and coastal city dwellers. 

The worst years of the violence, 1983 through 1993, devastated the more remote departments of the Peruvian sierra—the Ayacucho region in particular, but also Huancavelica and Apurímac. Documentation of the magnitude of loss of life in these regions occurred only after the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (Comisión de la Verdad y Reconciliación—CVR) in 2001. Over the course of its two-year mandate, hundreds of bilingual interviewers carried out in-depth fieldwork throughout these areas. They found hundreds of mass graves and documented thousands of previously unrecorded killings. The conclusions of their final 2003 report, nine volumes of fine-grained analysis and details drawn from interviews and on-site inspections, estimated more than 69,000 conflict-related deaths, almost twice the number previously reported. This report also concluded that the majority of those killed were Quechua-speaking indigenous peasants.

2. The gulf between the coast and highlands—geographical, historical, cultural and ethnic in nature—further limited the impact of generalized political violence in the sierra on coastal Lima, Peru’s political, economic and social center. 

Centuries of Spanish domination and centralized governmental control based on the coast were reinforced by a forbidding geography and a largely indigenous sierra; this contributed to a long-standing neglect of the “other” Peru and a tendency to overlook its problems. As a result, authorities initially failed to appreciate the danger posed by Shining Path guerrillas there. When they finally did respond, they emphasized the use of military force, which only increased levels of violence and repression. The coastal center eventually recognized its mistakes. Under great duress, Lima-based authorities instituted a comprehensive shift in their counterinsurgency strategy, which ultimately proved successful in defeating the insurgents. The process of reconciliation, difficult enough in its own right, has faced a similar set of challenges of coastal center indifference to the “other” Peru. 

3. Presidential failures delayed or thwarted the post-conflict reconciliation process.

Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000) had a historic opportunity to move forward on such a process in the late 1990s with the defeat of Shining Path and the restoration of peace in the sierra. Despite significant first steps emphasizing rural highland micro-development, he squandered both the opening to development and his own legacy by focusing instead on an increasingly authoritarian political project designed to keep himself in power. After his removal by Congress, Valentín Paniagua’s transitional government (2000-2001) established the CVR in 2001, and Alejandro Toledo’s administration (2001–2006) established the legal framework for reparations in 2005 and 2006.

During his second administration, however, Alan García (2006–2011) actively impeded progress on the implementation of reparations in Ayacucho. His government stopped funding Peruvian exhumation teams, replaced an activist public defender and moved a trial of military officers accused of extra-judicial killings to Lima in order to make it financially impossible for indigenous claimants to testify. It also delayed authorizations and funding in 2009–2010, forcing the Reparations Council established during the Toledo government to furlough personnel and delay victim registration. Once the budget did go forward, it was limited to less than US$15 million a year, a small fraction of what was needed. In addition, his administration’s 2011 decree closed the victim register and limited individual payments to US$3,700. 

One explanation offered for these actions was García’s fear that evidence might be uncovered that could tie him and his first government to human rights abuses in Ayacucho, for which he could be brought to justice. Even so, the first collective reparations took place during the last three months of García’s second administration in the midst of the 2011 presidential election campaign (1,500 communities received about US$18,500 apiece). Many attributed this significant but belated gesture to his thinly disguised ambition to become a presidential candidate once again in 2016. 

4. Some political elites engaged in serious efforts to discredit the CVR and its report.

The CVR’s nine-volume study of the conflict between 1980 and 2000 was widely considered to be a definitive treatment of the violence. Its detailed fieldwork provided meticulous documentation as the basis for its analysis and recommendations. Even so, a number of political figures and media outlets questioned both the objectivity of the members of the commission and the veracity of the report. Their objections centered on the numerous accounts contained therein of serious abuses by police and military forces, even though the narrative gave as much or even more attention to Shining Path militant excesses. Many, particularly Lima-based critics, cast doubt on the entire report and its recommendations as a key component of the reconciliation process. Such questioning contributed to delays in legislation designed to flesh out the reparations process. 

5. Political violence often involved fratricide—killings within the same family—and members of the same community—“communicide,” thus making reconciliation at the local level extremely difficult.

Leaders of the Association of Relatives of the Kidnapped, Detained and Disappeared of Peru (ANFASEP). Photo by June Carolyn Erlick, 

A number of anthropologists, including Olga González (Unveiling Secrets of War in the Peruvian Andes, 2011) and Kimberly Theidon (Intimate Enemies, 2013), have carried out significant field research in the Ayacucho region since the end of the conflict. They document the degree to which the generalized political violence throughout the region was all too often reflected in killings of both family and fellow community members. Their ethnographies show such past internecine violence creates major challenges for post-conflict reconciliation when both perpetrators and victims continue to live in close proximity. 

Their interviews reveal how some who find themselves in such post-conflict situations have found some solace in evangelical religious practices in which ultimate justice will be meted out by God. Others have turned back to traditional rituals for explanations of their experiences in the tumultuous years of violence and sorrow. Above and beyond what the central government is doing to address affected populations’ post-conflict issues, or what Theidon terms “vertical” reconciliation, it is clear that achieving what she calls “horizontal” reconciliation (i.e., among the people themselves) is a separate and even more complex problem. 

Placed in context, as historian Miguel La Serna has shown most recently in The Corner of the Living: Ayacucho on the Eve of the Shining Path Insurgency (2012), intra-community conflict has been a fact of life in the Peruvian sierra for centuries. The current situation is particularly difficult in communities where Shining Path was able to gain influence and impose its control, as in Víctor Fajardo and neighboring provinces in Ayacucho. Given community members’ demonstrated ability to work through internal conflict in the past, such contemporary post-guerrilla war responses and coping mechanisms as recorded by González and Theidon appear to help fulfill the same function today. As a new generation that lacks the lived traumatic experience of their parents emerges among local indigenous populations, oral traditions will keep memories of the violence and the loss of loved ones alive.

Clearly, central government must play a major role in the reconciliation process, and the CVR’s 2003 recommendations provide a clear road map. Even so, a variety of challenges, particularly those noted above, combined to delay implementation. The past three years, however, have demonstrated significant progress. 

The Ollanta Humala administration (2011–2016) has moved forward on the exhumations of mass graves, which had been almost completely thwarted during the previous government. These include several in Ayacucho, such as the communities of Chungui and Huancapi as well as the military bases in Huanta and Los Cabitos. This government has also reopened individual and collective victims’ registries, and significantly increased budget allocations for the Reparations Council. According to official reports, its budget increased from US$16 million in 2011 to US$46 million in 2012 and US$57 million in 2013. An additional 475 communities have received collective reparations, averaging US$36,000 each, about twice what was paid per community at the end of the García government. Individual reparations began in late 2011; by the end of 2013, 69 percent of registrants (54,840 of 79,564) had received compensation averaging $12,700 per victim. Other types of reparations, including education, health and symbolic gestures have also gone forward at significant levels over the past two years. 

Most of the advances during the Humala administration have taken place with little fanfare or national media coverage. The significant progress made thus far is continuing, and long-standing claims by those most affected by the violence are being met at last. Central government has finally recognized the need to provide a variety of reparations to the affected as part of the reconciliation process. It has also developed the institutional capacity and financial support to carry out the legal commitments of 2005–2006. 

These advances have taken place during an ongoing decline in President Humala’s approval ratings, due in large part, ironically, to perceptions that his administration has been passive and unresponsive. Yet the recent strides made in reconciliation policy suggest that public perceptions are at odds with the government’s actual achievements, at least in this area. A more cynical explanation, however, might be a lack of public interest in the policy because it is focused on the poor, the indigenous and the sierra—those most affected by the violence. Another possible explanation is simply citizen fatigue, given the long period of reparation policy gestation. 

Whatever the limitations of the Humala government may be in some areas of public policy, the reparations arena is not one of them. Its members have succeeded in overcoming serious resistance and multiple obstacles to make significant advances in implementing the recommendations that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (CVR) made more than a decade ago. At this mid-term juncture, there is every indication that progress will continue.

David Scott Palmer teaches Conflict and Conflict Resolution in Latin America at Boston University. He has written extensively on Peruvian politics and Shining Path over the years. His most recent publications include “The Influence of Maoism in Peru,” in Alexander Cook, ed. Mao’s Little Red Book (2014); and, with David Mares, Power, Institutions, and Leadership in War and Peace: Lessons from Peru and Ecuador, 1995-1998 (2012).

“Uncontacted” Peruvians

A closeup of a retablo depicting political violence at the Memory Museum in Ayacucho. Photo by June Carolyn Erlick. 

Testing Free, Prior, and Informed Consent 

By Theodore Macdonald

In October 1987, the World Wildlife Fund asked me to look into charges that workers in Peru’s Manu National Park were violating the human rights of the resident Machiguenga Indians. The leader of Tayakome, one of the few native villages in the park, had accused a park guard of kidnapping one of the local women. After a 3-day canoe trip up the spectacular Manu River, an ex-park director and I arrived and immediately learned that a young woman was, indeed, missing. But it soon turned out that she, the village leader’s daughter, had simply eloped with her Machiguenga boyfriend. Most of the villagers regarded him as a polite hard-working boy, and defended the marriage. After a public meeting the case pretty much closed itself. However, on the trip, we approached indigenous communities with genuine human rights concerns and precarious lives, currently cast into high relief. 

As we camped along the river one night, our Machiguenga bowman began to pace anxiously up and down the beach, listening to sounds on the opposite bank after seeing a footprint in the sand. He was certain that we were being watched by Mashco-Piro, some of the mysterious and, for him, feared “uncontacted” indigenous groups living inside Manu Park. The next day, we docked at the Smithsonian’s Cocha Cashu Biological Station. On the opposite bank sat two women, said to be Mashco-Piro. They visited regularly, waiting, we were told, for food or aluminum cooking pots. We were thus introduced to the extraordinary human diversity of southeastern Peru—the formally recognized “native communities” like Tayakome; groups in “initial contact” seated by the river bank and, literally, on the edge of Western science; and the “uncontacted,” identified largely by mysterious footprints and sounds in the night. 

Now, almost thirty years later, these distinct groups continue to complement the area’s extraordinary biodiversity. But now the small dramas of indigenous life are overshadowed by concerns over the expansion of a multinational natural gas project, Camisea. The Machiguenga, fortunately, can now voice their concerns through a regional ethnic federation, FENAMAD. Most of the “initial contacts” are now in closer contact, and demanding basic rights. Some have even traveled to Washington to protest their lack of representation and to register claims for compensation, education and health care with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. They are supported by national and international human rights norms, which now obligate protections that could hardly have been imagined earlier. For those classified as “uncontacted,” currently, most agree that no contact should be made.


For some observers, the Mashco-Piro—as well as Ecuador’s Huaorani, Colombia’s Yuri, and similarly isolated peoples in Brazil—provide rare windows into our pristine, environmentally-harmonious, but thoroughly imagined Stone Age past. For others, such groups have simply chosen to live apart. For those seeking access to nearby natural resources, however, they are obstacles. Human rights advocates and other supporters worry that the inexperienced and vulnerable “voluntary isolates” will be harmed as they are suddenly thrust into contact and, most likely, conflict with a more powerful outside world. 

History supports concerns and suggests protections. Most of the uncontacted Upper Amazonians share tragic oral histories in which, from about 1879 until 1912, their not-too-distant ancestors were suddenly set upon by rubber gatherers—Peruvians, Brazilians, English and Jamaicans—seeking the world’s only natural sources of latex. The rubber barons frequently captured and, through torture and slavery, put to work the more numerous, more highly organized, and thus more efficiently worked, populations. Smaller groups deeper in the forests like the Mashco-Piro were seen as wild unemployable nuisances. So rubber gatherers simply chased, murdered or massacred them. 

The Rubber Boom ended in 1912, with the introduction of more labor-efficient plantations in Asia, leaving the Amazon relatively quiet. However, the earlier violence—inexplicable to the Mashco-Piro—encouraged seclusion in interior forests, where the elders told fearsome stories and advised caution and defense. 

Voluntary isolation was not always difficult, nor was it absolute. As late as my trip in 1987, Peru’s main concerns were Sendero Luminoso and, in the Amazon, the related assassination of Asháninka Indians. However, a few missionaries and anthropologists, the regional Indian organization (FENAMAD), and the national organization (AIDESEP) were monitoring the “uncontacted” peoples. FENAMAD officials told of the Mashco-Piro’s sporadic contacts, even simple conversations, with neighboring groups, particularly the Piro, their distant linguistic cousins. So isolation was not complete, but relative. Even then observers had begun to raise concerns for the Mashco-Piro’s health, as contacts and epidemics increased. At that time, such dangers came largely from a few local loggers and artisanal miners who wandered unregulated in the area. 


Since then, Peru has recognized the “voluntary isolates’” vulnerability and, in many ways, has excelled in legal protections. South of Manu (declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1990), the government established the adjacent Megantoni National Sanctuary and, to the west, set aside half a million acres as a protectorate for Kugapakori and Nahua people. Then, in 2000, illustrating and accommodating the still-unknown nature and size of uncontacted population there, the government renamed it the “Kugapakori, Nahua, Nanti and ‘Others’” Reserve. In 2006, Peru provided special protections for voluntary isolates through Law 28736, the Law for the Protection of Indigenous Peoples and Originals in Situations of Isolation or Initial Contact. 

Over the same period, international indigenous rights standards also developed rapidly. In 1989 the United Nations adopted the International Labor Organization’s Convention Number 169, on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples, ratified by Peru in 1994. In 2007 the United Nations, with Peru’s strong support, passed the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Among many protections, these instruments address conflicts over economic development and natural resources. While communities have no absolute veto over exploitation of subsurface resources (e.g., oil, gas and minerals), the state has a clear duty to consult with them and make sure that development does not harm indigenous peoples or their environment. The state must also provide compensation for resources extracted from indigenous lands or otherwise affecting their lives and livelihoods. 

More recently and in response to increasing disputes over the actions of transnational companies, the United Nations has developed a set of standards. Drawing on existing human rights sources, the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights now help to implement the United Nations “Protect, Respect, and Remedy” Framework, developed by the Harvard Kennedy School’s John Ruggie during his terms as the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative for Business and Human Rights. States and companies now have basic guidelines for linking development to human rights.

Peru’s indigenous peoples and their communities should no longer be passive victims of development and, beyond basic protections, they are also recognized as active participants in its planning and implementation. Drawing on the language and spirit of ILO Convention No. 169 and the UN Declaration on Indigenous Peoples, in 2011 Peru passed the Law of Prior Consultation, thus acknowledging a critical means toward the foundational human right to self-determination—consultations with the objective of free, prior, and informed consent. Peruvian indigenous peoples now have the right not simply to know what will happen to them and their lands, but also to discuss, disagree and otherwise negotiate such development. 

Despite this promising legislation, the specific means for consultation—the how, when, and with whom— are still being developed and are not entirely clear in Peru and other Latin American countries. Part of the problem is that the rules and procedures for defining an “appropriate” consultation must also be determined in an inclusive and participatory manner. Government officials must cede their perceived full authority in such matters, and many are hesitant to do so. Anger over the Peruvian government’s unwillingness to consult properly with communities and organizations led to tragic violence in Bagua, another oil development area, in June 2009. Peru remains keenly aware of the obligation to consult and understands that local sensibilities are frequently frustrated, if the government fails to do so. However, with regard to “voluntary isolates” and considering the obligation not to contact them, Peru has delegated authority to the Ministry of Culture. So expansion of the Camisea gas fields is a critical test of indigenous rights as well as a vital lubricant to Peru’s economy. Indigenous rights to both protection and consultation will be tested. 


Shell Oil began exploration in Camisea in the 1980s, quickly facing local protest as access roads opened entry for loggers and colonists into previously-isolated indigenous communities. However, by the mid-1990s, Shell sought to showcase Camisea. While working to minimize deforestation and road construction, directors and community relations workers also won local, national and international praise for their support of health, education and other grassroots development projects, undertaken with extensive consultation and participation. By contrast, other international oil companies exploring in adjacent areas populated by “uncontacted” were heavily criticized. 

Shell, for reasons unrelated to social or environmental issues, left Camisea (Block 88) in 2000, and was replaced by a consortium led by Argentina’s Pluspetrol, which began gas production in 2004. The new operators still work to maintain high environmental standards and to avoid contact with indigenous communities. Recently, however, Pluspetrol and the Peruvian government decided to expand exploration within Block 88. More than 70 percent of that block overlaps with the Kugapakori, Nahua, Nanti and “Others” Reserve. Expansion will require many miles of seismic studies (i.e., subsurface profiles created by monitoring reverberations from subterranean dynamite explosions), 18 new wells, and a pipeline to connect the wells to existing facilities. Given Peru’s progressive national and international legislation, it would appear that sufficient environmental and social protections are in place, and that the overlap between hydrocarbon development and indigenous reserves is simply a matter of recognizing existing rights and negotiating appropriate plans. However, the will of the Peruvian government and the intentions of the company have been questioned. 

To illustrate, the Environmental Impact Analysis, a green light of sorts for the expansion, was approved in late January 2014. The report required a technical opinion on the risks involved for the groups. Prepared by the Vice Ministry of Intercultural Affairs, the report, presented in July 2013, included 83 points and expressed serious concerns for the voluntary isolated. The Ministry of Energy and Mines questioned the report, which was subsequently replaced by a significantly shorter list (37 points), expressing less concern. The Vice Minister for Intercultural Affairs has since resigned. The Ministry of Energy and Mines argues that the earlier report drew on incomplete information and that all important concerns have now been addressed. Not surprisingly, suspicions remain and the Camisea expansion has attracted considerable national and international attention. 

Responding to the crisis in late March 2014, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, James Anaya, submitted a report on his December 2013 visit to the area. Acknowledging many of the positive efforts made by the government and Pluspetrol, he nonetheless emphasized the scarcity of basic data on the current situation of the uncontacted, thus asking how the Ministry could claim adequate mitigation of physical and environmental risks, contingency plans and means for compensation. While questioning the apocalyptic predictions of some national and international NGOs, the report nonetheless noted that other members of civil society had presented legitimate questions that should be answered. In addition, the national indigenous organization, AIDESEP, had proposed its own participation in the data gathering and subsequent monitoring of progress, and the report supported that participation. Increased participation of this sort would significantly enhance transparency. 

The report also noted that there had been no consultation with the affected communities that are in initial contact with the outside world (as opposed to those that are still uncontacted), despite the Peruvian government’s formal acceptance of the right to consultation. The Special Rapporteur recommended consultations with these communities prior to implementation of the expansion project. This suggests that the current blanket prohibition against any sort of contact with “voluntary isolates” must be reconsidered as more “uncontacted” move to “initial contacts.” 

Additionally, the ongoing gas development and the phased expansion, for which problems are certain to arise regularly, the Special Rapporteur recommended a working group (mesa de diálogo) that includes representatives from civil society, government agencies and Pluspetrol, as well as indigenous communities and organizations. However cumbersome, such a forum provides permanent monitoring. 

The Ministry of Energy and Mines has argued that consultation is not required because the overall Camisea project was approved prior to the passage of the Law of Consultation and the establishment of the Kuagapoaki, Nahua, Nanti and “Others” Reserve. This legal-procedural argument, however, goes against the very spirit of the reserve, which was established solely to protect voluntarily isolated peoples. The response also flies in the face of Peru’s extensive record of support for international norms, and creation of national ones, that guarantee broad indigenous rights, including consultation. So, it’s not simply a matter of which particular law takes precedent, but a broader question of compliance with a set of established agreements and commitments to provide security for citizens. Peru now has an obligation to fully document the potential impact of expanded natural gas development and then to present the results for discussion in the public sphere. Until then, the project, however well-designed otherwise, does not meet Peru’s own standards, and the Rapporteur recommended that expansion not move ahead until consultations occur and outstanding concerns are addressed over the potential impacts of the expansion. 

The importance, indeed power, of this argument extends well beyond an isolated section of rain forest. In Peru and many other countries, development schemes often overlap with indigenous territories. With the new international standards for business and human rights, Peru’s perception of its “right to development” no longer needs to be seen as in conflict with the human rights of the indigenous residents. In the past, utilitarian logic and arguments would have asked whether Peru should benefit the many by providing them with abundant inexpensive natural gas, or protect the lives and habitat of a few hundred native people. Such utilitarian debates are no longer appropriate in situations like Block 88. Peru, of course, has the right, indeed obligation, to develop its economy. Peru has also adopted international agreements, created national laws, established norms and limits, and created expectations for and with regard to indigenous peoples. It is no longer a question of either rights or development, but one of accommodating mutual obligations within existing standards. 

Likewise, as illustrated by the transition of some communities from “uncontacted” to “intial contacts,” indigenous peoples are not static societies, frozen in time. So some current human rights procedures have to be reconsidered. While groups like the Mashco-Piro certainly have a right to peace and privacy, should that prevent the State from guaranteeing their basic right to health care? Or preclude consultation? Relative isolation makes such groups extraordinarily vulnerable to introduced disease. Horrible polio epidemics hit Ecuador’s Huaorani in the late 1960s, while upper respiratory illness killed many Mashco-Piro later. To leave such groups unprotected and unvaccinated, when it’s possible to protect, is certainly in violation of the most basic understanding of the Right to Health. Precautionary methods and sanitary approaches must, of course, be developed but that’s not hard for skilled public health workers. And it’s also quite certain the local indigenous federations can figure a way to “get in” to communities with such help sensitively and safely, and even develop ways to dialogue and consult. 

For their part, many of Peru’s indigenous communities and organizations now accept these challenges. Leaders of AIDESEP recently stated “…in matters of hydrocarbon development, we have moved from protest to proposal.” Now they need to talk, regularly. Dialogue may not eliminate disgruntled Machiguenga fathers or fears of Mashco-Piro in the dark, but consultation can go a long way towards reasonable means for approaching change and development, while protecting fragile lives.

Theodore Macdonald is a Lecturer in Social Studies at Harvard University. He has served as Projects Director for the human rights NGO Cultural Survival and then Associate Director of the Program on Nonviolent Sanctions and Cultural Survival at Harvard’s Weatherhead Center for International Affairs. He co-edited, with David Maybury-Lewis, Manifest Destinies and Indigenous Peoples (Harvard University Press, 2009). He thanks James Anaya for his excellent comments and essential clarifications, but assumes responsibility for all opinions expressed here. 


Image of San Martín de Porres, one of Peru's most venerated saints. Photo courtesy of Omar H. Ali. 

A Legacy of Black Labor and Culture 

By Omar H. Ali

For over three centuries, streams of people, the smoke of incense, and the sounds of horns, bells and hymns have filled the streets of Lima in late October. Each year tens of thousands of Peruvians pay homage to a fresco of a crucified Christ painted by a 17th-century Angolan slave. 

Local tradition tells how the painting survived several powerful earthquakes, including one in 1687 that left all but the fresco and the altar beneath it standing. Each year the faithful, many wearing purple-colored robes, or habits, like those of the Nazarene nuns charged with taking care of the painting, follow a replica of El Señor de los Milagros (“The Lord of the Miracles”) through the streets of Lima in what is the largest religious procession in all of Latin America. 

Among the masses was my abuelita, a skilled doll-maker and a devout Catholic. Donning her purple dress, white veil, and carrying a small copy of El Señor de los Milagros, my grandmother Carmela would join the flow of Peruvians of all races, ethnicities and backgrounds trailing the “Black Christ”—as the painting is also known. 

And while the name of the 17th-century painter of El Señor de los Milagros has long been forgotten, his creation stands as a testament to his life and to those of his countrymen and women who survived the centuries-long devastation of the transatlantic slave trade.

The human cost of the transatlantic slave trade cannot be quantified and no reasonable compensation is ever possible: any attempt would pale in comparison to the depth of its horror. Yet we know that much of the wealth of the Spanish empire was produced by enslaved black labor. 

In addition to building much of Lima’s infrastructure, West and West-Central Africans and their descendants infused their traditions and practices into Peruvian society-in-the-making. Theirs, however, is a lesser-known story in Latin America, and remains little known even among Peruvians today.

My own journey into the history of Afro-Peru started some twenty years ago when my mother gave me a pendant to help me recover after being hit by a car. On one side of the pendant is an image of El Señor de los Milagros, on the other, an image of San Martín de Porres. 

One of Peru’s most celebrated saints—especially venerated for his healing powers—San Martín was the son of a black slave and Spanish colonial official. Stories of the Afro-Peruvian miracle-worker had long circulated in my family but little was ever discussed about Peru’s African past or its living legacy.

The African diaspora in Peru goes back to 1527 with the arrival of the first black soldiers (ladinos, Hispanicized Africans) under Francisco Pizarro’s command. As part of imperial Spanish forays into imperial Inca lands, ladinos were used to conquer Peru’s indigenous peoples. Soon, unassimilated African slaves (bozales) were being imported. In time, many black captives took flight, forming maroon settlements (palenques, runaway slave communities), some on the outskirts of the haciendas on which they had worked but now raided for food and supplies. 

Engaged in protracted war in Peru, and without immunities to smallpox and other infectious diseases (the foreigners’ most deadly and invisible army), entire indigenous communities were wiped out. African captives of war were brought in from across the Atlantic to work Peru’s mines and plantations—that is, to supplement the labor of Quechua and Aymara Indians. Over the next three centuries tens of thousands of enslaved Africans were taken across the Atlantic, marched over the Isthmus of Panama, and shipped down the Pacific coast to Peru.

From Lima’s port of entry, Callao, Africans were taken to Malambo where they were prepared for auction and distribution. Approximately one quarter of the Africans brought to Peru via the Pacific remained in Lima; the rest were sold to plantations, such as the dreaded Hacienda San José, with up to 800 men, women and children working the land at any one time. But many also escaped. In time, maroons from the hacienda formed their own palenque near the town of El Carmen in the province of Chincha.

A sculpture of San Martín de Porres, who is especially venerated in Peru for his healing powers. Image courtesy of Omar H. Ali. 

While most enslaved Africans were taken to Peru through the Caribbean port of Cartagena in New Grenada, others came by way of Buenos Aires on the Atlantic, where they were marched across the searing pampas and up the freezing Andes to work in the mines. Angolans—which included a wide range of people and cultures—were the most prominent captives in Peru, followed by those from the Congo, Mozambique, the Gold Coast and Senegambia. 

Several chroniclers explain the visible black presence in Lima during the early colonial era. As the Peruvian historian Carlos Aguirre notes in the PBS documentary Black in Latin America, narrated by Harvard’s Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Lima was once considered a “black city.” The imperial seat received tens of thousands of enslaved men and women, whose traditions, skills, cultures, religions and spiritual practices varied widely. Some were animists, others practiced ancestral veneration, still others were polytheist, and there were monotheists—notably, Muslims from Senegambia; many practiced a combination of these religious and spiritual practices.

As the historian Frederick Bowser describes in his classic study The African Slave in Colonial Peru, 1524-1650, African captives in Peru cleared land, laid the streets, carried supplies and built the churches, homes and palaces of the Spanish elite; indoors, they served as cooks, cleaners, nannies and domestic servants. Meanwhile, urban black labor ran much of Lima’s daily business; Africans and their descendants worked as artisans, street vendors, bakers, water carriers, gardeners and fruit and vegetable sellers. 

Their lives were in marked contrast to slaves working in the mountains. In the Andes, mortality rates among the enslaved black populations were especially high, the hope of freedom, especially dim. There, deep in the mines, overseers broke the backs and spirits of black people, maximizing the extraction of silver that fed the wealth of the Spanish empire.

And yet resistance to slavery, which began in western Africa, took place at every point in the slave-trading process: inland, at first point of contact, while on the forced marches to the coasts, while boarding the dreaded slave ships, on the high seas, and continuing in the Americas in the form of flight, feigning illness, destroying tools, setting fire to crops, and less frequently, armed revolt. 

Men and women resisted slavery in a number of ways. Spanish archives are filled with such suggestions or explicit cases, the most common record being that of runaways: in 1595 one Domingo Biafara took flight for weeks at a time (his name indicating that he came from the Bight of Biafara—now in modern-day Nigeria); in 1645, Francisca Criolla was sold “without guarantee” because of her reputation for escaping. Official punishment for running away changed over time, but 100 lashes, to start with, was not uncommon.

An Afro-Peruvian musical group performs in the bohemian Lima neighborhood of Barranco. Image courtesy of Omar H. Ali. 

While Lima may have had the largest concentration of Africans and their descendants in Peru, black and otherwise African-descended peoples were equally significant in other cities. For instance, as late as 1763, nearly one-third of the northern city of Trujillo and its immediate surroundings comprised people of African descent. In all, more than 100,000 West and West-Central Africans were forcibly taken to Peru. 

Unlike the plight of Africans who ended up in the mountains, slavery in coastal urban Peru permitted a degree of social mobility. One particular kind of urban slave, the jornalero, a day worker who gave a portion of his earnings to his owner, worked with little or no supervision. Under such conditions, day workers were slowly able to save enough money to buy their freedom and that of their loved ones—creating an ever-larger free population of African-descent in Lima.

The 19th-century Afro-Peruvian painter Pancho Fierro provides an invaluable glimpse into the lives of Afro-Limeneans. A painter as much as an ethnographer, in his paintings, he depicts daily scenes of the black, mulatto, mestizo (Indian-Spanish) and other racially-mixed people that formed the city’s vibrant multi-racial, multi-ethnic fabric. (Over time a dizzying array of categories, castas, were created in Peru, defining racial combinations and boundaries.)

Linguistic analysis, as well as that of music, dance and religious practice, points to African and African-inspired influences in Peruvian culture and society. But it is also the case that Africans were themselves transformed by Spanish and indigenous peoples’ traditions and practices. As Fierro’s paintings make plain, Afro-Peruvians created new culture out of what they or their ancestors brought and what they encountered. Among the most notable manifestations are the celebrations “Amancaes” and “Pinkster,” the latter being a kind of Mardi Gras coronation. The fusion of musical styles, dances and costumes speak to the syntheses of cultures in Peru.

Today there are an estimated three million Afro-Peruvians. This amounts to less than ten percent of the nation’s total population—a significantly lower percentage than in the early colonial period. The ending of the slave trade (and therefore new Africans), the migration of indigenous peoples from the highlands to the coastal cities, and pressures to assimilate into the dominant society are all factors for the drop in the visible black population. Adding to this was the increase of new immigrant groups, including Chinese indentured laborers after the abolition of slavery in 1854, followed by Italian, German, Polish, Czech and Japanese immigrants.

An overriding reason for the lower visibility of Afro-Peruvians, however, is the ongoing glorification of Iberians and other white Europeans, accompanied by social and institutional forms of discrimination towards people of African-descent. In 2009 the Peruvian government issued a formal “apology to Afro-Peruvian people for the abuse, exclusion and discrimination perpetrated against them since the colonial era”—a symbolic gesture, but as the Afro-Peruvian artist-activist Mónica Carillo emphasizes, when it comes to being given equal treatment: “We do not ask, we demand; it is not a favor, it is our right.” She and other Afro-Peruvians have used art as a means of documenting their history and living presence.

Afro-Peruvian music, dance and cuisine have become increasingly known (although not always produced on the terms of Afro-Peruvians themselves). Manos Morenas (“Black Hands”) a peña, or restaurant with live music, was long a favorite site in the Barranco neighborhood of Lima featuring Afro-Peruvian music and cuisine—comida criolla.

In terms of dance, landó, with the powerful rhythmic sounds of cajónes (box-like wooden drums), has been popularized by the “queen of the landó,” Eva Ayllón. This is a particularly elegant Afro-Peruvian music and dance form, which ethnomusicologists trace to the Angolan londu. It, like other genres of Afro-Peruvian music, such as Festejo, are an integral part of celebrations, including Independence Day (July 28) and Emancipation (December 3). 

Perhaps no other person did more to bring Afro-Peruvian culture to public attention than the 20th-century musician and poet Nicomedes Santa Cruz (other cultural ambassadors would include the late Ronaldo Campos of the Afro-Peruvian musical ensemble Perú Negro and two-time Grammy Award-winning singer Susana Baca).

Despite increasing awareness of Afro-Peruvians, their history and challenges still tend to be left out of most narratives and characterizations of the nation, which minimize their contributions to the making of Peruvian society—an uneven fusion of multiple traditions, including Indian, African and Spanish traditions.

But, as is the case in the construction of all racial and ethnic identities, such terms are political in their origin. As the historian Rachel O’Toole argues in Bound Lives: Africans, Indians, and the Making of Race in Colonial Peru, Spanish authorities labeled diverse African populations as “Black” to denote an enslaved status while exacting tribute and labor from diverse indigenous communities or “Indians.” All-encompassing racial and ethnic identities, therefore, belie the complexity of our shared and diverse humanity and history.

Notwithstanding the limitations of racial identification, the lives of the painter of El Señor de los Milagros, the miracle-working of San Martín de Porres, the visual vignettes of Pancho Fierro, the music and poetry of Nicomedes Santa Cruz, and the social and political activism of Mónica Carillo, point to the multiple roles and contributions of people of African descent in the making and re-making of Peru.

Omar H. Ali, a former DRCLAS Library Scholar, is a professor of Comparative African Diaspora History at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. He was a Fulbright professor of history and anthropology at the National University of Colombia in Bogotá. E-mail:

See also: Peru

Book Talk

I Ask for Justice: Maya Women, Dictators, and Crime in Guatemala, 1898–1944



Women and the Court:  Nation-Building in Guatemala

I Ask for Justice: Maya Women, Dictators, and Crime in Guatemala, 1898–1944
By David Carey, Jr. 
University of Texas Press, 2013

On May 10, 2013, General Efraín Ríos Montt sat before a packed courtroom in Guatemala City listening to a three-judge panel convict him of genocide and crimes against humanity. The conviction, which mandated an 80-year prison sentence for the octogenarian, followed five weeks of hearings that included testimony by more than 90 survivors from the Ixil region of the department of El Quiché, experts from a range of academic fields, and military officials. The genocide case against Efraín Ríos Montt and Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez (who was found not guilty) occurred because survivors appealed for justice by petitioning Guatemala’s courts. Citizens turned to their courts despite decades of impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators of the violence—military and paramilitary forces which the United Nations Commission for Historical Clarification declared responsible for 93 percent of the deaths and disappearances of 200,000 people. 

Because of the gendered nature of Guatemala’s genocide, Ixil women’s testimony and presence during the hearings defined the legal process. Photographers from newspapers, human rights groups and communities posted hundreds of images of Ixil women wearing intricately woven huipiles as they performed ceremonies outside the courtroom, sat listening intently to simultaneous Ixil translations of the hearings through red or white headphones, and testified to the violence they suffered. Twelve Ixil women, who appeared before the court often with their faces and heads covered by rebozos described, frequently through tears, the sexual torture they endured at the hands of soldiers following the commands of General Ríos Montt. Rape was not incidental to the state-directed genocide, but was instead a strategy to achieve it. By petitioning the court and testifying, women asked for justice.

On May 20, 2013, just ten days after the Guatemalan court convicted Ríos Montt, the country’s Constitutional Court, in a 3-2 ruling, overturned the verdict and rolled back the state of the trial back to where it had been April 19. The reversal vitiated the first genocide conviction of a former head of state in a domestic court, rather than an international one. While the Guatemalan courts failed to deliver justice, by providing a forum for witness testimony the hearings publicly affirmed the historical fact that Guatemala’s Maya population suffered genocide at the hands of their country’s military. Guatemala’s courts did not appear to be unequivocally allied with the country’s forces of repression. The limits of courts’ potential in civil society were also manifest. People presented testimony reinforcing the state’s perspective that only indigenous people “innocent” of the “crime” of association with revolutionary groups could be considered genocide victims. Except for providing interpreters, court officials made few concessions to accommodate indigenous citizens’ cultural practices. The verdict represented a short-lived exception to the rule of impunity. It was overturned. On May 13, 2014, 87 members of Guatemala’s congress (with a total of 111 present) voted for a resolution that denied genocide took place during the armed conflict. 

The contemporary role of Guatemala’s courts in the genocide proceedings resonates with the historical role David Carey examines in his deeply researched, theoretically sophisticated, fine-grained study of criminal court cases in Chimaltenango, Guatemala, during the dictatorships of Manuel Estrada Cabrera (1898–1920) and General Jorge Ubico (1931–1944). By placing women and their experiences in Guatemala’s courts at the center of the process of “everyday forms of state formation,” I Ask for Justice offers profound insight into gender- and state-formation and introduces a historical context that helps us understand more recent violence against women, to examine genocide court hearings as a component of contemporary state-making (and its limitations) and to interpret the hearings’ significance for achieving justice.

I Ask for Justice is the first study of Guatemala’s nation-state formation that focuses primarily on judicial records. Carey examined more than 800 legal cases at the departmental and municipal level of Chimaltenango and complemented them by interviewing one hundred Kaqhchikel elders. He also analyzed stories from the newspaper, La Gaceta: revista de policía y variedades over a number of years. His nuanced interpretation of these sources and his contextualization of them in the local and national political history of Guatemala make the book a compelling read and an indispensable source for understanding the quotidian life of rural indigenous women and the ways that they engaged with other citizens and the state. The photographs and newspaper images that Carey incorporates to highlight the text are themselves rich sources of insight into Guatemalan life.

Carey suggests that Guatemala’s courtrooms were important because they offered sites of dialogue, where “people and representatives of the state could learn about each other’s goals, challenges and worldviews in situations whose tangible outcomes compelled the parties to listen carefully” [p.55]. This process of dialogue, in Carey’s view, contributed to state formation and provided Guatemala’s poorest citizens with a means of participating in it, even as courts helped to maintain their marginalized status. Courts did not guarantee justice. Legal judgments were arbitrary with municipal courts providing judgments distinct from those of departmental courts and individual judges evaluating cases differently. Moreover, Carey demonstrates that the Guatemalan state, like other modernizing Latin American states in the early 20th century, passed laws that criminalized indigenous cultural practices. But, by “enlightening judges and authorities about the struggles of poor, rural residents…defendants were doing more than just highlighting their inferior status to gain a judge’s sympathy; they were arguing that the laws themselves were unjust and that the state’s failure to provide for its citizens was criminal” [p.81]. 

Thus, courts did provide a forum where indigenous people and particularly women could critique the state publicly for violating citizens’ rights, affirm cultural practices, assert their dignity, and occasionally access justice or at least ameliorate conditions of suffering. Carey’s subtle analysis of court testimony reveals the ways that women and men catered to gendered and racialized assumptions in their appeals for leniency, while also critiquing those assumptions. Female liquor bootleggers, who constituted nearly half of the total defendants in cases of defraudación al Fisco en el ramo de licores (defrauding the Treasury of alcohol revenue), took advantage of gender assumptions to sell their products without arousing the “least suspicion” of authorities [p.68] and then used those same assumptions to seek leniency in the courts. They played on ideas about women’s naiveté to claim ignorance of laws, while also appealing for sympathy by citing their roles as mothers whose imprisonment would leave their children abandoned. Carey argues that these cases gave women a chance to “inform authorities of their privations” [p.80]. The cases also give the reader extensive insight into women’s dynamic roles in Guatemala’s market economy not only as liquor bootleggers, but also as the primary vendors who “became politicized” in the marketplace [p.114]. 

Indigenous women’s roles in Guatemala’s market economy offered them a greater measure of autonomy than ladinas. This autonomy was offset by the ways in which the dictatorial regimes of Manuel Estrada Cabrera and Jorge Ubico permitted, participated in, and encouraged violence against women to affirm the dictators’ own violent authority. “By not adequately punishing men’s violence against women, the judicial system reinforced violence as a mechanism of social governance” [p.176]. Moreover, violence against women served the state by giving impoverished men an outlet for their rage and thereby depoliticizing it [p.154]. Carey argues that “few indigenous women simply accepted this fate” [p.6]. Nonetheless the cases he examines reveal that “some highland women lived in terror because violence was the rule, not the exception” [p.176]. While 96.8 percent of the fifty-six women and eleven men cited for marketplace violations were convicted of their “crimes” [p.92]; only 1 of the 15 men tried for rape was convicted and his charge was reduced to rapto (abduction) [p.169]. When “José Coc kicked his wife and pulled her hair in front of the alguacil (bailiff)  . . . [and] tried to hit his wife again when he was brought into the courtroom,” the judge sentenced him to five days for hitting his wife and fifteen days for disrespecting the tribunal [p.178]. Women also were subjected to legal constraints that men escaped. Only women and their parents could be accused of infanticide, even though men also killed their children [p. 118-119]. Courts and newspapers depicted women accused of infanticide, even if they were victims of rape, incest, and extreme poverty, as “madres desnaturalizadas (unnatural mothers)” and “madres sin entrañas (soulless mothers)” [p.121]. No equivalent term applied to men responsible for infanticide or physical abuse of women.

Carey demonstrates that violence against women, far from being incidental to the power of violent dictatorship, was a means by which it was sustained and reinforced. Still, indigenous women fought for justice in the face of impunity. They appealed to the judicial system, often bypassing the municipal level, where the maximum sentence for assault and battery was ten days, and going directly to the departmental juzgado de primera instancia, where judges had more leeway in keeping men incarcerated [p.230]. They forced the state into a dialogue that recognized implicitly the injustice of the violence they suffered and made them a part of the process of state formation. In one sense, their roles were analogous to those of indigenous women who testified against Ríos Montt in the genocide trial, and the early cases may help to explain why sexual torture was integral to genocide. Not only did rape achieve the goal of genocide, it also reinforced the power of the authoritarian state by enhancing soldiers’ (often poor indigenous men) roles as agents and accomplices who engaged in an intimate violence with deep historical roots in the country’s dictatorships. 

David Carey’s I Ask for Justice offers insight into Guatemala’s past and its present. It should be read as a model of sophisticated scholarship that examines a plethora of sources to reveal a multiplicity of meanings and voices, and specifically for the insight it offers into gender, daily life and the role of the judicial system in state formation. It should also be read to stimulate thinking about contemporary court processes that seek justice, but may serve more to provide a forum for dialogue, a space for denunciation, and a means of participating in “everyday forms of state formation.”


Susan Fitzpatrick-Behrens was the 2013-14 DRCLAS Santander Visiting Scholar. She is a professor of Latin American history at California State University, Northridge. Her research examines religion, indigenous communities, and gender in Guatemala and Peru, emphasizing transnational religious networks. Her book, The Maryknoll Catholic Mission in Peru: Transnational Faith and Transformation, 1943–1989, was published in 2012. 

The Aesthetics and Ethics of Faith: A Dialogue Between Liberationist and Pragmatic Thought 


Building Bridges 

The Aesthetics and Ethics of Faith: A Dialogue Between Liberationist and Pragmatic Thought 
By Christopher D. Tirres
Oxford University Press, 2014. 223 pages

A young boy witnessing a reenactment of the Passion Story in San Antonio, Texas, screams at his mother as Roman soldiers “whip” Jesus: “Mommy, call the police, that’s wrong! They just can’t hit him like that!” The aesthetics of the Good Friday rituals at San Fernando Cathedral evoke empathy and a call for action. Author Christopher Tirres uses the ethnographic description to explore the relationship between beauty and justice in ritual and other religious practices in a critical fashion. 

Tirres, a Harvard Divinity School graduate, notes that Latino/a liberationist writings have tended to focus on one to the detriment of the other. Thus, for example, among U.S. Latinos/as aesthetic representations of group pride, solidarity and cultural resistance can hide the need for deeper social transformations, or even become an escape into the world of the symbolic when the harshness of reality becomes too overwhelming. As Tirres avers, scholarship on U.S. Latino/a public ritual and other symbolic representations unfortunately has often mirrored these same relatively narrow emphases. 

He makes a significant contribution to scholarly analyses that adopt a hemispheric or global approach, building bridges between Latin America and U.S. Latino/s. The trend to reframe subjects of inquiry in transnational and global frameworks has of course cut across an array of disciplines, including history, literature and religious studies. Ecclesial leaders have participated in such trends, as is evident in documents such as Pope John Paul II’s Ecclesia in America (1999), which notes explicitly that “the decision to speak of ‘America’ in the singular was an attempt to express not only the unity which in some way already exists, but also to point to that closer bond that the peoples of the continent seek and that the church wishes to foster as part of her own mission.” Tirres enhances both the efforts to build greater solidarity across the American hemisphere and to advance scholarship that explores what liberation entails in this context. 

He explores in some detail how a number of liberation thinkers in the United States are indebted to the earlier tradition of Latin American liberation theology, often closely associated with calls to action. He spells out two ways of “doing” liberation theology, one starting from a theoretical basis and another with a more practical intent that concerns concrete “social phenomenon that touches the entire social and historical reality lived by the oppressed,” as expressed by Brazilian theologian Leonardo Boff.

To establish the dialogue between aesthetics and ethics, Tirres takes a critical look at pragmatists, especially John Dewey, and Latino/a liberationist theologians from Latin America and the United States, most extensively Ivone Gebara and Roberto Goizueta. Tirres draws on Dewey’s model of reconstructive education to set forth a dynamic understanding of ritual. He recognizes that some readers might object to his interpretation, especially those who employ Dewey’s strict pragmatic method with its deep suspicion of institutional religion as a force that undemocratically imposes the tenets of dogma. But Tirres contends that Dewey also used a developmental approach that allows for a more incisive reading of his corpus. Thus he avows that Dewey’s most noteworthy work on religion, A Common Faith, “is most fruitfully read. . .when Dewey’s strict pragmatism is placed in the context of his broader aesthetic and educational commitments” (192).

Such an approach leads Tirres to an innovative interpretation of Dewey’s contribution to analyses of religious ritual. He notes three bases for human engagement in ritual. The naturalistic basis is the precariousness of human life and the fear of nature that give rise to ritual and religion. Ritual also provides an aesthetic means to imagine an alternative world and to enact the dramas of life without the risk of harm. Finally, the ethical basis of ritual is that it initiates participants into group customs and mores, though it can also generate what Dewey considers a higher level of moral development: the formation of individual conscience that leads to voluntary moral action. For Dewey, the negative side of ritual is that it can merely be a fearful response to perceived danger or, worse, become so habitual that it imposes authoritative norms and inhibits individuals from developing as responsible moral agents. But if intelligently guided, ritual can advance personal development and moral progress. Tirres underscores his interpretation of Dewey with a passage from Art as Experience in which Dewey argues that the three bases of ritual can function together effectively. Dewey concludes that “Each of these communal modes of activity [rites and ceremonies] unite the practical, the social, and the educative in an integrated whole having esthetic form” (184).

Like Dewey’s insights on human experience in general, this understanding respects the complexity and fluidity of religious experience in ritual. In his ethnographic analysis of the Passion scene, Tirres shows how rituals like the graphic enactment of Jesus’ way of the cross are aesthetic because they are sensorial dramatizations, but also because they engage the imagination of participants. At the same time, the rituals address ethical concerns like human suffering, violence, and the call of believers to solidarity and conversion of life. References to such concerns are verbally explicit in the preaching and prayer texts of San Fernando’s Good Friday rituals. But they are also evident in more symbolic ways, such as the collapsing of the past and the present in ritual performance. For example, the blurred distinction between Jerusalem of 2,000 years ago and devotees’ lives today as the crowds accompany Jesus through the streets of San Antonio links the visceral reality of the crucifixion with the challenge of how to respond to the plight of one’s neighbor. Tirres’ persuasive example of a ritual enactment that interweaves aesthetics and ethics could be further enhanced in future studies that explore the limits and obstacles to such a cohesive interweaving. 

Tirres completes his dialogical circle by presenting the ways Latino/a religious experience and scholarship can enrich pragmatists’ treatment of religious faith. Most importantly, Latin American and U.S. Latino/a thinkers have consistently highlighted the social dimensions of faith. They insist that the essence of the human person is not the autonomous individual, but a being in relationship to others. Indeed, these thinkers contend that “community is the birthplace of the self” (99). While Dewey’s focus on the formation of individual conscience and moral agency is important, it is equally important to bear in mind that human lives and moral responsibilities are inherently relational. Thus the social dimension of rituals is not necessarily autocratic and coercive, but can be a positive force for forming participants in solidarity with their fellow human beings. This possibility undercuts the generally antagonistic stance toward institutional religion in the writings of Dewey and other pragmatists. 

Latino/a theologians of the Americas have certainly been critical of institutional religious structures and practices. However, they do not dismiss them outright since they recognize that churches are comprised of communities of faith and not just organizations run by hierarchical leaders. Moreover, many pastoral leaders in Latino/a communities link faith practice with critical pedagogy in a manner similar to what Dewey considers the role of a teacher in the developmental process of learning. A number of Latin American and U.S. Latino/a theologians present reflections on pastoral leadership intended to develop faith communities in a manner akin to what Dewey advocates vis-à-vis the developmental process of education.

Some readers may dispute Tirres’ reading of particular claims in the thought of Dewey, Gebara, Goizueta, or the various other thinkers he examines. Nonetheless, he has clearly demonstrated that “popular ritual as a form of faith-in-action is not simply an expression of institutional religion, somatic engagement, or emotional stimulation. Rather, at its best, it is also an enculturated form of social praxis that widens the moral imagination through dialogical and prophetic forms of pedagogy” (198). The Aesthetics and Ethics of Faith admirably advances the significant conversation in liberationist thought and pastoral praxis about the relation between beauty and justice. Tirres has laid a solid foundation for what this reviewer hopes will be his ongoing exploration of this vital theme, and, above all, for his continuing scholarly investigations in religion and theology that bring important thinkers from across the American hemisphere into critical and mutually enriching conversation. 


Timothy Matovina is professor of theology and executive director of the Institute for Latino Studies at the University of Notre Dame. He is the author of Latino Catholicism: Transformation in America’s Largest Church (Princeton University Press, 2012). He can be reached at

A version of this review appeared in the June issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Religion.

See also: Book Talk

Construcción de paz en Colombia

A Prescient View of  Colombia’s Path to Peace

Construcción de paz en Colombia
Edited by Angelika Rettberg
Bogotá: Universidad de los Andes, 2012, 512 pages

On June 15, 2014, Colombians reelected President Juan Manuel Santos for a second term by a six-point margin in one of the most hotly contested elections in recent years. The 2014 presidential election was a de-facto referendum on the country’s peace endeavor. Colombians went to the polls to choose between one man who would preside over the peace process and another who would disrupt it. It was an important inflection in the direction of a negotiated settlement in a history marked by mistrust.

Santos, who had won the earlier 2010 election as a political heir to former President Álvaro Uribe, changed his original hawkish stance once he took office. Once in power, Santos, who as Uribe’s defense minister oversaw the secret operation that freed politician Ingrid Betancourt, distanced himself from the previous policies and began a series of moves aimed at starting the long road to negotiations. In 2012, he announced that his government was opening negotiations with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) to end the armed conflict that had badly wounded his country for more than half a century. Santos was not the first Colombian president persuaded to explore this option, but he was the boldest. 

Construcción de paz en Colombia is a prescient book published just as President Santos, a former defense minister in Uribe’s government, began his first term in office and was thought to favor a continuation of a military strategy to defeat the FARC. When he announced his plans for dialogue, Colombians had reason to be skeptical because of previous failures in reaching accords with the FARC. Former President Uribe felt betrayed, and made it his one and only objective to attack Santos and his government by accusing them of undermining the rule of law, by dealing with criminals. Obviously, these events and its consequences are not contemplated in the book.

The book came out just around the time Santos first met with the FARC in a secret round of meetings in Oslo, Norway, to set groundrules for the process to follow. The governments of Cuba, Venezuela and Chile pledged to accompany the process to lend it credibility. No truce or cease-fire agreements were previously agreed between the parties, as they sat face to face for the first time in the fall of 2012 in Havana. 

Construcción de paz en Colombia is an ambitious and rigorous attempt to map theoretical and methodological approaches to the construction of peace in Colombia in sixteen essays by Colombian sociologists, anthropologists, political scientists, lawyers, economists and diplomats. They expound the basic theories for the construction of peace, and present the necessary terms to build a common language. The authors draw on recent precedents such as those of South Africa, Rwanda, Afghanistan and Argentina to illuminate how past experiences in resolving political conflicts can shed light onto a prospective negotiation for peace in Colombia, as well as the subsequent reconstruction of institutions, promotion of economic development and renovation of public trust. 

The book’s relevance as an introduction to the recent history of violence and guerrilla warfare in Colombia cannot be overstated. It is coherent, well written and accessible to readers without previous knowledge of the country or the subject. 

The book’s five sections span a wide range of topics: a theoretical framework for constructing peace in Colombia; justice, memory, reparation and reconciliation; economy, development and the private sector; arms, demobilization and the Armed Forces; and contextual factors and construction of peace.

The volume is not a how-to guide to a quick solution but rather a thorough assessment of possibilities to frame and define the very concept of peace, an elusive objective indeed, given the competing notions held by different groups. It offers a panoramic view of the subject, as well as a general sociological landscape of an elusive yet powerful topic. Rettberg, herself a political scientist, does a splendid job in laying down the fundamental ideas in the opening essay entitled “Construction of Peace in Colombia: Context and Balance.” She offers the reader a fundamental explanation of the complexities involved in defining a framework that is proven, concrete and effective in achieving results. 

She begins by presenting the reader with a list of components used by 25 international institutions and agencies to deal with the construction of peace. They encompass violence reduction or elimination, infrastructure reconstruction, political transition, economic development, social reforms, rule of law, strengthening of civil society and humanitarian action. The author reviews recent precedents in countries such as Sudan that have dealt with similar internal conflicts, summarizing Colombia’s recent attempts to achieve a peaceful solution to its war. This includes a list of all 21 state and international agencies involved with peace efforts in the country, beginning with the Organización Internacional para las Migraciones (1956), and ending with the Área de Memoria Histórica de la Comisión Nacional de Reparación y Reconciliación (2007), as well as the 26 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) doing similar work. She also makes an important distinction between peace and security, two terms that are intimately related but are very different in practice. She warns that peace efforts, if not defended, may be hijacked by partisan groups seeking to exploit them to their own political benefit.

Transitional justice and economic development also occupy an important part of the book. Colombia offers a special set of political and historical circumstances that distinguish it from other experiences in Latin America. First and foremost, the war between the government and the FARC is ongoing, which means that any discussion of prospective arrangements is contingent upon the cessation of hostilities. Javier Ciurlizza, program director for Latin America of the International Crisis Group, defines transitional justice as the interaction of measures created to redress massive human rights violations, recognizing victim’s rights to truth, justice, reparations and reforms for the prevention of said abuses. Argentina, Chile, El Salvador and Guatemala offer important models in general, but the Colombian reality itself will require imagination and discipline to balance a strong state that guarantees security and human rights while preserving democratic institutions. He warns that the public’s need to know the truth cannot mean impunity for those who engaged in violence.

Rettberg stresses the need to develop empirical tools to measure outcomes as a way to assess effectiveness and real progress. In addition, she warns of the need to educate beyond the establishment to reach the general public and give it ownership of the process. Without a complete understanding of the implications and risks, she argues, there can be no lasting peace for all Colombians. 


Pedro Reina Pérez, a historian, journalist and blogger specializing in contemporary Spanish Caribbean history. was the 2013-14 DRCLAS Wilbur Marvin Visiting Scholar. He is a professor of Humanities and Cultural Agency and Administration at the University of Puerto Rico. Among his books and edited volumes are Poeta del Paisaje (2013), El Arco Prodigioso (2009) and La Semilla Que Sembramos (2003). 

See also: Colombia, Book Talk

The Invaded: How Latin Americans and Their Allies Fought and Ended U.S. Occupations 


Occupational Hazards

The Invaded: How Latin Americans and Their Allies Fought and Ended U.S.

By Alan McPherson 
Oxford University Press, 2014


There was a time when U.S. naval officers were tasked with running entire countries. They did their best. In Nicaragua from 1912-1933, Haiti from 1915-1934 and the Dominican Republic from 1916-1924, contingents of Marines directly administered or determined who ruled nominally independent nations, trying to apply Progressive-era notions of good governance and economic progress. In Haiti, while fighting a rural insurgency, they embarked on education reform, sanitation projects and an ambitious program of building roads—literally paving Haiti with good intentions. Thousands of deaths and millions of dollars later, the Marines withdrew. The national guard they trained became an instrument of dictatorship. Their good intentions seemed to have accomplished nothing so much as to put Haiti on a path to hell.

Alan McPherson’s outstanding new book does much more than chart the sweeping impact of the major U.S. occupations in the Caribbean. It also does more than remind us vividly and in greater detail of some of what we already knew about the conduct of those occupations. He illustrates, for example, the paradox of nation-building in Haiti, where the Marines’ civilizing mission included reintroducing the corvée, a system of brutal forced labor that did not go down well in a republic founded by former slaves. The occupation was also hampered by the views of officers such as company commander William Upshur, who found Haitians “no more fitted to govern themselves than a tribe of apes” (31).

McPherson’s book is not merely a breathtaking compendium of evidence about the sordid nature of the occupations drawn from sources from five countries in three languages. It also benefits from his rare ability to engage in historical comparison through multinational research and deep knowledge of more than one country. Norbert Finzsch once called comparison the Bigfoot of historical scholarship: often reported, seldom found. McPherson’s uncommon ability to handle this Bigfoot allows him to draw conclusions from three cases that reveal the many varieties of resistance to occupation, and the diverse motivations behind it. His most significant argument is that attributing the resistance the Marines encountered to the power of nationalism is mistaken: instead, it emerged from below the national level. Subnational power brokers, from partisan politicians to caudillos and caciques (strongmen operating, respectively, at the regional or local level), eager to defend or advance their own standing and patronage networks, were the earliest and most tenacious opponents of the occupiers, and their followers made up the majority of armed insurgents. Typically, the United States sparked resistance not from nationalists who resented a foreign presence, but from locals who saw the Americans’ centralizing project—their nation-building—as a threat to their own parochial or personal interests. 

This finding is of great consequence, since the main idea behind counter-insurgency efforts a century ago and today has been to strengthen the state, improve its legitimacy through political and economic reform and assure it a monopoly on violence. McPherson’s study suggests that the very strategy of nation-building that is supposed to thwart insurgencies instead spawns more resistance by challenging dispersed power centers. So did other aspects of U.S. reform intended to “modernize” society and create a stronger central state, such as regularizing land ownership records, which disrupted traditional holdings and created a class of aggrieved peasants thrown off their farms. Progressive-style reforms to license bakers, fishmongers and midwives for hygienic purposes alienated poor people who had been able to earn a living until the Marines arrived. Attempts to promote more widespread education could backfire, as when Dominicans protested the financing of schools through loans from U.S. banks, or Haitians defended their traditional belles-lettres curriculum over the vocational education Marines thought more suitable to train Haitians for manual labor. 

The first phase of resistance to the initial intervention arose for local reasons by those directly affected. A second phase then emerged against the conduct of occupation, provoked by abuses committed by the occupiers, from the killing and torture of civilians to forced labor, from the requisition of land and livestock to forcible home entries and nighttime arrests that only increased hostility. The echoes in today’s counterinsurgency efforts are deafening. Current debates over whether sending more troops is the way to overcome resistance should take note of McPherson’s finding that when the number of Marines went from the hundreds to the thousands, the increased scale of unwelcome interactions with the population, especially violent incidents, created “a recruiting bonanza for insurgents” (93).

In the second phase, resistance tended to expand from rural areas to urban professionals and thence to the international plane. One of the most interesting aspects of McPherson’s research is his analysis of extensive transnational networks stretching from Mexico City to Buenos Aires and New York. These networks allowed occupation opponents to supply financial support to resistance forces or to use newspapers and direct lobbying to pressure the U.S. Congress and executive branch to withdraw the Marines. Haiti benefited less from transnational solidarity in Latin America than did the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua, because of racism and cultural distance from Spanish-speaking countries. All three attracted the sympathy of progressive U.S. citizens, from labor groups and left-wing scholars to African Americans across the political spectrum, who published exposés, demonstrated in the streets and testified in Washington against the occupation of Haiti. McPherson argues that the role of foreigners and exiles was essential to ending the occupations, but that since their interest was drawn by acts of resistance inside the occupied countries, credit should go to “the invaded” themselves.

McPherson acknowledges that some of the most prominent opponents of occupation, from Augusto Sandino in Nicaragua to ousted Dominican president Francisco Henríquez y Carvajal, both major figures in his account, did effectively articulate nationalist platforms. Resistance acquired a permanent nationalist tint in the hindsight of later movements such as Nicaragua’s Sandinistas in the 1970s. McPherson dismisses economic determinists and conspiracy theorists who saw Wall Street investors pulling the strings of the occupation to fatten their profits or exploit the circum-Caribbean for economic gain. The Haitian occupation, he points out, cost $50 million during a period when U.S. investments in Haiti were worth only $15 million. (That made it unprofitable for the United States, but not necessarily for individual companies.) He also documents the reluctance of occupation officials and State Department officers to entertain requests for assistance that came from private investors with grievances in the countries under U.S. rule. 

McPherson’s accounting does leave room for an economic interpretation of occupation alongside the political project he has so ably documented: the long-term desire to redesign Caribbean economies so that their role was essentially to convert foreign capital and local land and labor into export commodities, with costs for land, labor and taxes kept low enough through repression and emoluments to produce exalted returns for U.S. investors. When Latin Americans challenged any part of that system, they soon encountered new forms of U.S. intervention.

Those who judge the book by its title may expect to find a study that extols virtuous victims who threw off the yoke of imperial control. McPherson praises selfless action where he finds it, but most individual actors in his history are less heroic than prosaic. In the encompassing category of resisters to occupation, we find rural folk from 14 to 80 years old taking up arms or tearing up railroad ties to slow the Marines’ advance, but doing so for a daily wage from a local caudillo; cabinet members resigning en masse, but because they are no longer able to dominate the political system; and disappointed job-seekers trying to beat the Marines and their appointed functionaries after failing to join them. Eloquent intellectuals who published nationalist tracts (and were sometimes jailed by the occupiers as a result) often appear as self-promoting elitists whose nationalism was colored by contempt for their darker neighbors. 

McPherson does not romanticize resisters and seems to hold special disdain for those who proclaimed idealistic commitment while lining their pockets. But this is not a pox-on-both-their-houses account. He clearly denounces the occupations as misguided, not only for their excesses and for violations of international law, but for interfering with the right of each people to unfold its own history. The determination of retrograde caudillos to preserve their local autonomy existed alongside indigenous processes of centralization that were disrupted rather than furthered by the Marines’ arrival, and the substitution of a U.S.-imposed regime under U.S.-trained national constabularies led not to the preservation of democracy but to the emergence of dictatorship. McPherson’s intimately detailed portrait of good intentions gone bad demonstrates the “folly” (269) of occupations that intend to teach self-government by imposing military government. 


Max Paul Friedman, a professor of history at American University, is the author of Rethinking Anti-Americanism: The History of an Exceptional Concept in American Foreign Relations (Cambridge University Press, 2012) and Nazis and Good Neighbors: The United States Campaign against the Germans of Latin America in World War II (Cambridge University Press, 2003), winner of the Herbert Hoover Prize in U.S. History and the A.B. Thomas Prize in Latin American Studies. 

See also: Book Talk

Making a Difference: A Look at Microfinance

By Roisin Duffy-Gideon

I spent ten months working for Natik, a small non-profit organization that supports grassroots organizations around San Cristóbal de las Casas and Santiago Atitlán, Guatemala. One of these projects is a microfinance fund called Veredas.

Over the past several years, academics, development professionals and grassroots activists have begun to voice concern about microfinance, arguing not only that it is not effective in fighting poverty, but that it can be harmful to clients and communities. Criticisms of microfinance range from critiques of how microfinance programs are implemented, including their high interest rates, the inability of their loan officers to effectively track their clients, and their exaggerated focus on profitability as well as more philosophical arguments that microfinance unfairly places the onus of development on individuals instead of on the state, and that the expectation that people in deep poverty become successful entrepreneurs is unrealistic. 

San Cristóbal, like most of Chiapas, is full of microfinance institutions that vary greatly in terms of both financial success and commitment to the poor communities in which they work. Many charge very high interest rates and require that their clients take out large minimum first loans. Since its founding in 2009, Veredas has striven for a different model, providing loans to small cooperatives of women who make artisanal soaps, woven and embroidered textiles, and corn products. The loans are small by microfinance standards, and interest is symbolic, barely covering the cost of inflation. Most importantly, Veredas is committed to providing comprehensive “accompaniment” of every loan it disburses. This support can range from help filling out the loan application to input on product design, depending on the requests of each group. 

Veredas hopes that this small, non-profit model of microfinance can provide insight into how microfinance can work better. By focusing services on women who already work together, Veredas avoids creating an expectation that every poor person become an entrepreneur. Interviews with program participants suggest that this vintage model of microfinance may have real positive effects. Participants report feeling more empowered in activities such as managing their own finances. 

As part of Veredas’ commitment to providing services that respond to the goals and needs of the cooperatives, other Natik staff members and I visited loan recipients frequently to get to know them and track their progress. When we asked, “What aspects of your business would you like help with?” participants overwhelmingly asked us to help them sell more of their products. Unfortunately, the market for artisanal products is saturated in San Cristóbal and fluctuates seasonally. Despite their skill, creativity, and attention to detail, cooperatives receiving Veredas loans have difficulty selling their crafts.        Thus, I worked with Natik to help artisans in one textile cooperative market their products on Etsy, a burgeoning online crafts marketplace. There, the cooperative can reach a wider audience and charge slightly higher prices for their items. In order to relieve the pressure of packaging, shipping and marketing from the artisans who already have so much to do, Natik relies on an extensive network of volunteers throughout the U.S. to receive bulk shipments from the artisans, post them to the site, and respond to orders and inquiries. 

The Etsy project began in January 2013 and is currently in the process of evaluating its first year of operation. In one year, the project has resulted in more than US$1200 of revenue for a small cooperative that feels the benefit of every extra dollar raised. Sales increased steadily over the course of the year, and the site now also includes products from a Guatemalan artisan’s cooperative supported by Natik. In the coming year, Natik plans to streamline the project to make it as sustainable as possible and seriously evaluate its results with significant input from the cooperatives. Microfinance is a complicated project, but we hope that through intentional program design and hard work to expand the opportunities available to participants, we can create a model worth taking seriously.

Roisin Duffy-Gideon received a DRCLAS Steve Reifenberg Traveling Fellowship in 2012 to work in Mexico and Guatemala.

En español

Afro Perú


Una escultura de San Martín de Porres, quien es especialmente en Peru por sus poderes de sanidad. 


Un Legado de Trabajo y de Cultura Negra 

Por Omar H. Alí

Durante más de tres siglos, los flujos de gente, el humo del incienso, y los sonidos de trompetas, campanas e himnos han llenado las calles de Lima a fines del mes de octubre. Cada año decenas de miles de peruanos le hacen homenaje a un fresco de Cristo crucificado pintado por un esclavo angolano del siglo XVII.

La tradición local cuenta cómo la pintura sobrevivió varios terremotos poderosos, incluyendo uno en 1867 que dejó en pie solamente al fresco y al altar debajo de él. Cada año los fieles, muchos de ellos usando túnicas o hábitos de color púrpura, similares a los de las monjas nazarenas encargadas de cuidar la pintura, siguen a una réplica de El Señor de los Milagros por las calles de Lima en la procesión religiosa más grande de toda América Latina.

Entre las masas se encontraba mi abuelita, católica devota y experta en la fabricación de muñecas. Con su vestido púrpura, velo blanco, y llevando una pequeña copia de El Señor de los Milagros, mi abuela Carmela se unía al flujo de peruanos de todas las razas, grupos étnicos y trayectorias detrás del “Cristo Negro” – como también se conoce a la pintura.

Aunque el nombre del pintor de El Señor de los Milagros ha sido olvidado desde hace mucho tiempo, su creación se yergue como un testamento de su vida y de sus compatriotas y mujeres que sobrevivieron la devastación de siglos causada por la trata trasatlántica de esclavos.

El costo humano de la trata trasatlántica de esclavos no puede ser cuantificado y no habrá jamás compensación razonable posible: cualquier intento palidecerá frente a la magnitud de su horror. Sin embargo, sabemos que gran parte de la riqueza del imperio español fue producida por el trabajo de negros esclavizados.

Además de construir gran parte de la infraestructura de Lima, los africanos occidentales y centro-occidentales infundieron sus tradiciones y costumbres a la sociedad peruana que se estaba creando. Su historia es, sin embargo, poco conocida en América Latina y sigue siendo poco conocida aún entre los peruanos de hoy día.

Mi propio viaje a la historia del Afro-Perú comenzó hace unos veinte años cuando mi madre me regaló un pendiente para ayudar a recuperarme después de haber sido atropellado por un carro. Una cara del pendiente tiene una imagen de El Señor de los Milagros; la otra, una imagen de San Martín de Porres.

San Martín de Porres es uno de los santos más célebres del Perú - venerado en particular por sus poderes curativos – quien fue el hijo de una esclava negra y de un funcionario colonial español. Las historias del hacedor de milagros afro-peruano habían circulado en mi familia desde hacía mucho tiempo pero se hablaba muy poco del pasado africano del Perú o de su legado vivo.

La diáspora africana en el Perú se inició en 1527 con la llegada de los primeros soldados negros (ladinos, africanos hispanizados) bajo el mando de Francisco Pizarro. Los ladinos fueron usados para conquistar a los pueblos indígenas del Perú como parte de las incursiones españolas en las tierras imperiales incas. Muy pronto se importaron esclavos africanos no hispanizados (bozales). Con el correr del tiempo, muchos cautivos negros se escaparon y formaron colonias cimarronas (palenques, o comunidades de esclavos fugitivos), algunas de ellas en los alrededores de las haciendas donde habían trabajado y que ahora asaltaban para obtener alimentos y suministros.

Comunidades indígenas completas fueron destruidas como resultado de la guerra continua en el Perú y de su falta de inmunidad a la viruela y a otras infecciones (el ejército invisible más letal de los extranjeros). Los cautivos africanos de guerra eran traídos a través del Atlántico para trabajar en las minas y plantaciones peruanas - es decir para complementar el trabajo de los indios quechuas y aimarás. Durante los tres siglos siguientes decenas de miles de esclavos africanos fueron llevados a través del Atlántico, y del istmo de Panamá para ser embarcados por la costa pacífica al Perú.

Los africanos eran llevados desde El Callao, el puerto de entrada de Lima, a Malambo, donde eran preparados para subasta y distribución. Aproximadamente una cuarta parte de los africanos llevados al Perú por vía del Pacífico permanecieron en Lima; el resto fue vendido a las plantaciones, tales como la temida Hacienda San José, donde hasta 800 hombres, mujeres y niños trabajaron la tierra en un momento dado. Pero muchos escaparon también. Con el correr del tiempo los cimarrones de la hacienda formaron su propio palenque cerca del pueblo de EL Carmen en la Provincia de Chincha.

Aunque la mayoría de los esclavos africanos fueron llevados al Perú por el puerto caribeño de Cartagena en la Nueva Granada, otros llegaron vía Buenos Aires en el Atlántico, desde donde los hicieron caminar a través de las abrasadoras pampas y de los gélidos Andes para trabajar en las minas. Los angolanos, que incluían una amplia variedad de gentes y culturas – fueron los cautivos más prominentes del Perú, seguidos de los del Congo, Mozambique, la Costa de Oro y Senegambia.

Varios cronistas explican la presencia visible negra en Lima durante la era colonial temprana. Como lo anota el historiador peruano Carlos Aguirre en el documental de PBS Black in Latin America (Los Negros en América Latina), narrado por Henry Louis Gates, Jr., de Harvard, Lima fue en una época considerada una “ciudad negra”. La sede imperial recibió decenas de miles de hombres y mujeres esclavizados, cuyas tradiciones, habilidades, culturas, religiones y prácticas espirituales diferían considerablemente. Algunos eran animistas; otros practicaban la veneración ancestral, y otros más eran politeístas aunque había monoteístas – notablemente musulmanes de Senegambia. Muchos practicaban una combinación de estas prácticas religiosas y espirituales.

Como lo describe el historiador Frederick Bowser en su estudio clásico The African Slave in Colonial Peru, 1524-1650 (El Esclavo Africano en el Perú Colonial, 1524-1650), los cautivos en el Perú limpiaban la tierra, construían las calles, llevaban los suministros, y construían las iglesias, casas y palacios de la élite española. De puertas adentro servían como cocineros, encargados de la limpieza, nodrizas y empleados domésticos. Al mismo tiempo, el trabajo urbano africano hacía funcionar la mayoría de las actividades cotidianas de Lima; los africanos y sus descendientes trabajaron como artesanos, vendedores ambulantes, pasteleros, aguateros, jardineros y vendedores de frutas y verduras.

Sus vidas estaban en marcado contraste con las de los esclavos que trabajaban en las montañas. Las tasas de mortalidad en los Andes entre las poblaciones esclavas negras eran particularmente altas y la esperanza de libertad muy débil. Allí, en las entrañas de las minas, los capataces rompían los dorsos y los espíritus de la gente negra, para maximizar la extracción de la plata que alimentaba la riqueza del imperio español.

Mas la resistencia a la esclavitud, que comenzó en Africa occidental, se llevó a cabo a lo largo de todo el proceso de trata de esclavos: tierra adentro, en el primer punto de contacto, en las marchas forzadas a la costas, al abordar los temidos barcos de esclavos, en alta mar, y continuó en las Américas bajo la forma de fuga, pretensión de enfermedades, destrucción de herramientas, incendio de cosechas, y menos frecuentemente, con la rebelión armada.

Hombres y mujeres resistieron a la esclavitud de diferentes maneras. Los archivos españoles están llenos de tales sugerencias o de casos explícitos, siendo el registro más frecuente el de los cimarrones: en 1595 un tal Domingo Biafra se escapó una vez durante semanas (su nombre indica que venía del Golfo de Biafra, hoy día la moderna Nigeria); en 1645, Francisca Criolla fue vendida “sin garantía” a causa de su reputación de escapar. El castigo oficial por escapar cambió con el tiempo, pero 100 azotes, para comenzar, no eran poco comunes.

Aunque Lima pudo haber tenido la más alta concentración de africanos y de sus descendientes en el Perú, los negros y otras gentes de alguna manera descendientes de africanos tenían una presencia significativa en otras ciudades. Por ejemplo, tan tarde como en 1763, cerca de la tercera parte de la ciudad nórdica de Trujillo y de sus alrededores inmediatos era gente de ascendencia africana. En total más de 100.000 africanos occidentales y centro-occidentales fueron llevados por la fuerza al Perú.

A diferencia de los aprietos de los africanos que terminaron en las montañas, la esclavitud en la costa urbana del Perú permitía cierto grado de movilidad social. Una clase particular de esclavo urbano, el jornalero, un trabajador por días que le daba una porción de sus ganancias a su propietario, trabajaba con poca o sin supervisión. Bajo tales condiciones, los trabajadores por días tenían la capacidad de ahorrar lentamente suficiente dinero para comprar su libertad y la de sus seres queridos – creando así una población cada vez más grande de descendientes africanos libres en Lima.

El pintor afro-peruano del siglo XIX Pancho Fierro nos da una valiosa vista de las vidas de los afro-limeños. Tanto pintor como etnógrafo, sus pinturas muestran escenas cotidianas de los negros, mulatos, mestizos (indio-españoles) y de otras personas racialmente mezcladas que constituían el vibrante tejido multirracial y multiétnico de la ciudad. (Con el correr del tiempo, se crearon en el Perú las castas, un muestrario aturdidor de categorías que definían las combinaciones y fronteras raciales).

El análisis lingüístico, así como el de la música, danza, y prácticas religiosas, indica influencias africanas o inspiradas en Africa en la cultura y sociedad peruanas. Pero también es el caso de que los mismos africanos se transformaron por las prácticas y tradiciones españolas e indígenas. Como lo hacen claro las pinturas de Fierro, los afro-peruanos crearon nueva cultura con lo que sus ancestros trajeron y con lo que encontraron. Entre las manifestaciones más notables están las celebraciones de “Amancaes” y “Pinkster”, siendo la última una especie de coronación de martes de carnaval. La fusión de estilos musicales, danzas y costumbres habla por sí misma de la síntesis de culturas en el Perú.

En la actualidad existen aproximadamente tres millones de afro-peruanos. Es menos del diez por ciento de la población total del Perú, un porcentaje significativamente inferior al del período colonial temprano. El fin de la trata de esclavos (y en consecuencia de africanos nuevos), la migración de los indígenas de las tierras altas a las ciudades de la costa, y las presiones para incorporarse a la sociedad dominante son todos factores de la caída de la población negra visible. A esto hay que añadir el aumento de nuevos grupos de inmigrantes, incluyendo a los trabajadores chinos obligados después de la abolición de la esclavitud en 1854, que fueron seguidos de inmigrantes italianos, alemanes, polacos, checos y japoneses.

Sin embargo, un motivo prevalente para la visibilidad más baja de los afro-peruanos es la permanente glorificación de los ibéricos y de otros europeos blancos, acompañada de formas sociales e institucionales de discriminación hacia la personas de ascendencia africana. En el año 2009 el gobierno peruano formuló formalmente “excusas a las personas afro-peruanas por el abuso, la exclusión y la discriminación perpetuados en su contra desde la época colonial” – un gesto simbólico, pero como lo enfatiza la artista-activista afro-peruana Mónica Carillo, cuando se trata de dar tratamiento igual: “No pedimos, exigimos; no es un favor, es nuestro derecho”. Ella y otros afro-peruanos han usado el arte como medio para documentar su historia y su presencia viva.

La música, danza y cocina afro-peruanas se han vuelto cada vez más conocidas (aunque no siempre producidas bajo los términos de los afro-peruanos mismos): Manos Morenas, una peña o restaurante con música en vivo, fue durante mucho tiempo un sitio favorito del vecindario de Barranco en Lima, con atracción principal de música y cocina afro-peruana – comida criolla.

En danza, el landó, con los sonidos rítmicos y poderosos de los cajones (tambores de madera en forma de caja), ha sido popularizado por Eva Ayllón, la “reina del landó”. Es una forma de danza y música afro-peruana particularmente elegante que los etnomusicólogos han rastreado al londú angoleño. Este, como otros géneros de música afro-peruana tales como el Festejo, es parte integral de las festividades, incluidas las del Día de Independencia (28 de julio) y la de Emancipación (3 de diciembre).

            Tal vez ninguna otra persona haya hecho más para llevar a la cultura afro-peruana a la atención pública que el músico y poeta del siglo XX Nicomedes Santa Cruz; (otros embajadores culturales incluyen al difunto Ronaldo Campos del conjunto musical afro-peruano Perú Negro y a Susana Baca, cantante dos veces ganadora del Premio Grammy).

A pesar de la conciencia creciente de los afro-peruanos, su historia, y los retos que enfrentan como grupo, todavía tienen la tendencia a ser excluida de la mayoría de las narrativas y de las caracterizaciones de la nación, que minimizan sus contribuciones a la formación de la sociedad peruana – una fusión no homogénea de múltiples tradiciones, que incluyen indias, africanas y españolas.

Pero como sucede en los casos de construcción de todas las identidades raciales y étnicas, estos términos tienen un origen político. Como lo argumenta la historiadora Rachel O’Toole en Bound Lives: Africans, Indians, and the Making of Race in Colonial Peru, (Vidas Atadas: Africanos, Indios y la Formación de la Raza en el Perú Colonial), las autoridades españolas le daban el rótulo de “negro” a diversas poblaciones africanas para connotar un estatus de esclavitud y al mismo tiempo obtener tributo y trabajo de diversas comunidades indígenas o “indios”. En consecuencia, las identidades raciales y étnicas que todo lo abarcan niegan la complejidad de nuestra diversa y compartida humanidad e historia.

A pesar de las limitaciones de identificación racial, las vidas del pintor de El Señor de los Milagros, los trabajos de milagros de San Martín de Porres, las viñetas visuales de Pancho Fiero, la música y poesía de Nicomedes Santa Cruz, y el activismo social y político de Mónica Carillo, indican los múltiples papeles y contribuciones de la gente de ascendencia africana en la construcción y reconstrucción del Perú.


 Omar H. Alí, Ex-Becario de la Biblioteca DRCLAS, es profesor de historia comparada de Diáspora Africana en la Universidad de Carolina del Norte en Greensboro. Fue Profesor Fulbright de historia y antropología en la Universidad Nacional de Colombia en Bogotá.

See also: Peru, En español


El autor de este artículo, Edilberto Jiménez Quispe, parado enfrente de uno de sus retablos que representa la violencia política. 

Violencia Política y los colores del arte

Por Edilberto Jiménez Quispe 

Ayacucho es capital de la artesanía peruana con más de 60 líneas artesanales, pero también es uno de los departamentos que se ubica dentro del mapa de la pobreza,  e históricamente siempre estuvo entre la pobreza y la violencia. El 17 de mayo de 1980, los miembros del Partido Comunista del Perú Sendero Luminoso (PCP-SL), dieron inicio a sus acciones armadas, y algún tiempo después el gobierno peruano decidió la intervención de las Fuerzas Armadas (FFAA), generándose una cruenta guerra interna, que obligó a la  población civil a sobrevivir, a un alto costo. Los que más sufrieron fueron los campesinos/as quechua hablantes y nativos Asháninkas, quienes sufrieron desapariciones forzadas, violaciones sexuales, torturas, asesinatos y ejecuciones extrajudiciales de ambos bandos, sin tener piedad por la edad o por el sexo. La Comisión de la Verdad y la Reconciliación (CVR) estima que la cifra más probable de víctimas fatales de la violencia, muertos y desaparecidos, es de 69,280 personas, de los cuales se concentra en Ayacucho más del 40%. Frente a los acontecimientos deshumanizadores de esos años, el arte popular ayacuchano fue la voz silenciosa, recreando esos sucesos dolorosos del poblador desamparado, como un acto de denuncia a la barbarie cotidiana, sin ningún respeto por los derechos humanos básicos. Retablistas, ceramistas, tejedores, escultores de piedra de Huamanga, pintores de las tablas del distrito de Sarhua, expresaron la  violencia política de 1980 al 2000. Muchos artesanos fueron detenidos, desaparecidos y asesinados, como consta en los testimonios que dieron sus familiares a la CVR.

Como retablista, descubrí los colores en mi infancia, gracias a mi padre Florentino Jiménez, imaginero y pintor; y de mi madre Amalia Quispe, tejedora de mantas y fajas multicolores, ellos eran del pueblo de Alcamenca, en la provincia de Víctor Fajardo, del departamento de Ayacucho. Soy de aquel pueblo y crecí en esa hermosa envoltura de la cosmovisión andina. Muy tierno jugaba bajo la mirada de los cerros majestuosos,  de los cóndores, del sol, de la luna, de las estrellas, en un mundo de vida, y alegría. Descubría, sentía y cortejaba a los paisajes, al color del arco iris, a las flores multicolores, que me proveían sus estímulos, sus pigmentos y se apoderaban de mi alma, y así cada color florecía en mi existencia y me procuraba su sabiduría. Cuando el atardecer exponía sus celajes de matices rojizos me decían, “va a llover, es vida para las plantas y animales”; cuando exponía sus celajes de matices amarillentos decían, “es para la ausencia de la lluvia, es para la angustia y el llanto”. En la fiesta de los ganados, los dueños  colocan las cintas de su color preferido en las orejas de sus animales, y la sangre se bebe junto al aguardiente, luego se colorean sus caras en medio de cantos ceremoniosos; recuerdo que me decían que era “para la  procreación de los ganados y para que perdure el apego entre el animal y su dueño”. En la fiesta de los carnavales, las mujeres muy gozosamente entre risas se pintan sus caras de un matiz de rojo vivo, con ello expresan estar listas para dar inicio al matrimonio. En el pueblo siempre a las mujeres solteras no les faltan las flores más blancas en sus sombreros, dicen que es señal de su pureza y de su virginidad.

Pero cuando era niño, la noche oscurecía, y lo más oscuro expresaba el miedo donde transitaría el “kuku” diablo, condenado, incestuoso, sancionado por el castigo  divino. Los meses de lluvia hacen que las siembras y el campo se vistan de un hermoso matiz verde, ahí se oye el trinar de las aves, se ve el coqueteo de picaflores ante la mirada de las magníficas flores, entonces es la época de la felicidad y de la nueva vida. Viví en ese mundo y coloreaba mis retablos con aquellos matices de la vida.

Pero la violencia política de los años de 1980, también me violenta a mí, y sentí que debía expresar mis sentimientos, mi dolor, ese dolor humano que percibía,  sentía y vivía en esa maldita guerra que habían iniciado los miembros de Sendero Luminoso. Los colores de mi infancia se habían manchado con los colores de la barbarie, que revelaban ya el horror de lo cotidiano: el rojo señalaba el peligro y el miedo, era la sangre del detenido, torturado y asesinado; el  verde que conocí, mostraba ahora el matiz moteado de las fuerzas represivas del Estado; el amarillo palidecía  y señalaba la muerte lenta del torturado, y la tristeza de los familiares de los detenidos y secuestrados. La oscuridad de la noche era el miedo, el tormento y el salvajismo que  cometían los del PCP-SL y las FFAA. Los familiares víctimas de la violencia política se vestían de negro, como luto permanente, por sus seres queridos. Consta en los testimonios a la CVR que los conducidos al destacamento militar del Cuartel los Cabitos Nro 51, eran vendados de distintos colores: si el detenido tenía una venda roja, era porque había cometido algún delito y tenía que ser ejecutado; los que tenían venda verde eran investigados, y si tenían vendas blancas eran liberados. Entonces en Ayacucho primaron los matices del color rojo, verde, amarillo, negro y blanco, los cuales ingresaron fuertemente a mis cajones portátiles (retablos). Y cada retablo poseía el nombre de un acontecimiento específico de la violencia: los condenados, la muerte, la labor humanitaria de la Cruz Roja Internacional, el hombre, el huamanguino, la tortura, a oscuridad, el juicio popular, el choque armado, los detenidos, el abuso a las mujeres, el asesinato de niños, la muerte en Yerbabuena, la fosa en Chuschihuaycco, el sueño de la mujer huamanguina en los ocho años de la violencia, entre otros.

Puedo expresar un breve testimonio del retablo “Sueño de la mujer huamanguina”: Pensé en la lucha incansable de la mujer ayacuchana quien desde el primer instante del terror, batallaba en medio de la guerra desigual para  encontrar a sus seres queridos, arrebatado por los militares. Las mujeres constituirían luego la  Asociación Nacional de Familiares de Secuestrados, Detenidos y Desaparecidos del Perú-ANFASEP. Para ellas, no terminaba el día y aún de noche debían buscar al detenido. Entristecidas, con lágrimas en los ojos, rogaban a los verdugos en la puerta del cuartel, en las dependencias policiales. Caminaban, como llevadas por el viento, a lugares donde los militares acostumbraran arrojar a sus víctimas. Vestidas de negro, pedían colaboración para enterrar a sus hijos. Una cruda realidad. Entonces la figura principal del retablo es la mujer huamanguina vestida de luto (negro) quien después de tanta búsqueda, ya cansada, se queda  dormida en el interior de una montaña (apu o wamani) de oro y de plata; allí, abrazando a sus dos hijos, sueña que está encima de un charco de sangre,  y percibe la detención de su esposo por los militares, que está encarcelado, luego asesinado y arrojado a un abismo de tunales y cabuyas en donde los animales hambrientos lo devoran. El Padre Eterno, espantado de los hechos, manda al arcángel de Paz a recoger el alma del asesinado, mientras el padre sol, la madre luna y los cerros (apus) apenados, entre lágrimas, observan el horror del salvajismo inhumano. 

Edilberto Jiménez Quispe es antropólogo, periodista y retablista egresado de la Universidad Nacional San Cristóbal de Huamanga. Premio Nacional Bienal-Caretas 1991. Actualmente se encuentra afiliado al IEP, trabajando como miembro del equipo del programa Apoyo para la Paz, con sede en Ayacucho-Perú.

See also: Peru, En español

El Diario Más Vendido en el Mundo de Habla Hispana se Hace en Perú

Headlines from the tabloid newspaper Trome feature sports and scandals. The paper appeals to an audience with a desire for social mobility. Photo by Alonso Chero. 

By Liz Mineo

Mabel Cueva trabaja vendiendo cartas de Tarot, manuales de auto-ayuda, libros piratas de Paulo Coelho y otros bestsellers en un kiosko en una librería informal que funciona en una cochera en el Boulevard Quilca en el centro de Lima. Cuando el día es lento, Cueva hojea Trome, un diario sobrecargado con titulares en letras rojas, premios tentadores y chismes jugosos sobre celebridades locales.

“Lo leo para pasar el tiempo”, dice Cueva, de 34 años.

Trome, que significa as o campeón en jerga peruana, es el diario que promete a sus lectores “entretenimiento para toda la familia” y, según Cueva, cumple con creces.

Como muchos tabloides, en las páginas de Trome abundan escándalos y chismes, noticias de entretenimiento y fotografías de mujeres semi-desnudas. Pero a diferencia de los que cubren sus portadas con fotos sangrientas y titulares destemplados, Trome envía el crimen y la nota roja a sus páginas interiores junto con secciones de belleza y salud, horóscopos de amor y sexo y columnas de chismes. Para Trome, el escándalo vende más que la sangre.

Esta fórmula audaz lo ha convertido en el periódico de más ventas en Perú y el mundo de habla hispana. Trome vende más que El Comercio de Perú (90,000 ejemplares), Clarín de Argentina (280,000), El País de España (325,000) o El Tiempo de Colombia (400,000). Su éxito arrollador ha hecho que Trome sea un caso de estudio en la escuela de negocios de la Universidad de Harvard.

La historia de cómo un tabloide peruano rompe récords de ventas mientras en el resto del mundo siguen en caída libre tiene como protagonistas a editores con alto conocimiento del gusto popular y laboriosos investigadores de mercado con el telón de fondo del auge económico peruano.

El tabloide fue lanzado en 2001 por los dueños de El Comercio, el diario más antiguo del Perú y la publicación de bandera del grupo, para atraer a la nueva clase media que emergió con el boom que empezó a fines de los 1990s.

“No es la clase media tradicional”, dice María Elena Otiniano, sub-gerente de investigación de mercados y capacitación del Grupo El Comercio. “Son más como la nueva clase media en China o India. Son muy pragmáticos, orientados al éxito y la adquisición de bienes materiales. Quieren un carro nuevo, muebles finos, una casa mejor, todo lo que los ayude a mejorar su estatus social”.

Estos nuevos consumidores también se destacan por su desinterés en la política, fenómeno alimentado por la desesperanza que siguió a la guerra civil que devastó el país en los 1980s.  La década del reino de la corrupción en los 1990s con Alberto Fujimori acrecentó la desconfianza tradicional de los peruanos en el gobierno.

Los editores de Trome entienden bien este nuevo mercado pero no siempre fue así. Seis meses después de su lanzamiento, las ventas eran escuálidas y los ejecutivos no sabían qué hacer. El caso de estudio “Trome—Noticias para la Base de la Pirámide” de los investigadores Guillermo D’Andrea, Javier J.O. Silva y Maricruz Prado de la Universidad Austral de Buenos Aires narra una reunión tensa en la que un editor demanda: “¿Por qué no seguimos con un producto que sabemos que funciona… Nuestros lectores quieren un contenido similar al de nuestros competidores… sexo y violencia”.

El editor en cuestión fue despedido y reemplazado por Carlos Espinoza y Víctor Patiño, quienes fueron reclutados de Ajá, un tabloide de alta circulación. Las investigaciones de mercado mostraban que los lectores estaban hartos de crónicas policiales truculentas, fotos sangrientas y mujeres en poses incitantes y reclamaban un diario que pudieran llevar a sus hogares que no ofendiera a sus esposas o hiriera la susceptibilidad de sus hijos.

Los nuevos editores dictaron nuevas reglas que aún se mantienen. Rompiendo una costumbre común en muchos tabloides, los artículos en Trome tenían que estar basados en hechos reales y no en mentiras o exageraciones. Las fotos subidas de tono pasaron a la contraportada aunque siempre una modelo/actriz/celebridad en minifalda o shorts decora la primera plana. Otro gran cambio fue deshacerse de las fotos de modelos extranjeras en poses provocadoras y reemplazarla por mujeres locales en la sección llamada “Malcriadas”.

 “Las malcriadas pueden ser tu vecina de al lado”, dijo el editor Patiño. “Las que usábamos antes parecían de Suecia”.

A los nuevos toques de color local, el diario añadió promociones y premios en cash. Para recompensar a sus lectores, organizan festivales musicales y caravanas de salud en las que los asistentes escuchan a sus bandas favoritas y pueden hacerse un test de Papanicolau o un chequeo dental.  Cada día el diario ofrece premios en cash, rifas de autos nuevos o sorteo de cupones de juegos de muebles de sala o comedor.

Algunos críticos dicen que el bajo precio (se vende al equivalente de $0.20) es la razón del éxito de Trome además de los premios, pero los editores se defienden diciendo que ellos atienden las demandas de sus lectores.

“Somos muy concientes de su deseo de movilidad social,” dijo Patiño, en su oficina decorada con una copia del retrato que hizo Andy Warhol de Marilyn Monroe. “Por eso les vendemos más que noticias. Nuestros lectores son consumidores aspiracionales”.

Expertos en marketing sostienen que el suceso de Trome reside en haber hallado su público objetivo: taxistas, vendedores ambulantes y pequeños negociantes que conforman la clase media emergente peruana.  Es un grupo que está creciendo en Lima y en el interior, donde el tabloide se vende como pan caliente.  Entre 2009 y 2013, Trome duplicó sus ventas en provincias mientras que las de El Comercio cayeron.

Después de la compra de la mayoría de acciones en 2013 de Epensa, una compañía editora de diarios populares exitosos, Grupo El Comercio controla ahora casi 80 por ciento del mercado nacional de diarios. La compra ha encendido el debate sobre concentración de los medios en Perú.

El suceso comercial de Trome lo ha convertido en un diario con influencia política. Luis Favre, un asesor que trabajó en la campaña que llevó a la presidencia a Ollanta Humala, dijo que los lectores de Trome pueden decidir las elecciones y los que quieren ser elegidos deben leerlo para conocer a sus votantes.  

Políticos y autoridades siempre están dispuestos a declarar para el diario, dice Patiño, quien escribe una columna bajo el seudónimo de El Búho. Allí condena a la clase política, deplora el estado de la selección nacional de fútbol o ensalza a Oscar Wilde, John Dos Passos o Charles Bukowski, algunos de sus héroes literarios. Su columna, es muchas veces, el único contenido intelectual del diario. Patiño, que estudió historia en la Universidad de San Marcos y adora la literatura y la cultura popular, dice que escribe las columnas para sí mismo.  Lo sorprendente es que es un hit con lectores de poca educación.

“El Búho siempre dice la verdad,” dice Joel Navarro, un taxista que lee Trome todos los días. “Dice las cosas como son”.

Críticos de Trome arguyen que la lectura del diario refuerza los bajos niveles educativos de sus lectores. Según un reporte de la UNESCO, la mayoría de peruanos (71 por ciento ) prefiere leer periódicos y los que leen libros son sólo 35 por ciento. Los que leen libros, los prefieren usados, piratas o baratos como los que se encuentra en el Boulevard Quilca. Aún así, la lectoría de libros no se acerca al de Argentina o Chile, donde más de la mitad de la población reporta leer libros.

“Este diario no funcionaría en Uruguay o Chile”, dice Mario Munive, profesor de periodismo en la Universidad Católica de Lima.  “Y me pregunto si los peruanos leerían Trome si su cultura y educación fueran más altos”.

Las notas más leídas de Trome suelen ser chismes y escándalos de Chollywood, como llaman a la farándula limeña. Algunas de sus notas más leídas: “Millonario de 81 se Casa con Rubia de 24”, “Fotos Muestran El Trasero de la Duquesa de Cambridge”,  “Actriz de Django Unchained Sí Estaba Teniendo Sexo: Salieron las Fotos del Encuentro”. 

El diario ha tenido pegada con las mujeres que forman más de la mitad de su lectoría. Navarro, el taxista limeño, dice que su esposa lo lee religiosamente todos los días.

Cueva, la librera informal en el centro de Lima, comparte el sentimiento. Leer Trome la ayuda a calmar su aburrimiento mientras espera en su kiosko en el Boulevard Quilca pero sabe que los efectos de la lectura ligera son fugaces y no dejan huella.  

“Me entretiene leerlo”, Cueva dice. “Pero después que lo leo, no me acuerdo de nada”. 

Liz Mineo es una periodista freelancer que escribe sobre Latinos e inmigración para el Servicio en Español de Associated Press y el website Global Post desde Boston, donde vive hace 15 años. Cubrió temas de trafico de drogas, corrupción y terrorismo como periodista de investigación en Perú, su país natal, y escribe ocasionalmente sobre las vidas de los inmigrantes peruanos en Estados Unidos para el diario La República en Lima. 

Fusión culinaria y colonialismo

 A child sits atop a mound of Peruvian potatoes. Photo by Luis H. Figueroa, Ojos Propios/Reniec, "Rostros del Perú". 

Ver la galería de fotos. 

Una mirada crítica al boom de la cocina peruana 

Por María Elena García

Gastón Acurio, probablemente la figura pública más conocida en el Perú, comenta ante los espectadores de Mistura: The Power of Food (2011), documental dirigido por Patricia Pérez, que su misión es “hacer los restaurantes mas hermosos que pueda, en las ciudades mas hermosas del mundo para que algún día mi cultura sea considerada y valorada como mi pueblo espera que sea considerada y valorada.” Acurio estudió arte culinario en Madrid y París, pero desde que volvió al Perú a mediados de los 90, momento que coincide con el final del conflicto armado entre el Estado y los insurgentes de izquierda, el chef ha encabezado el desarrollo de la “bella fusión” de productos indígenas peruanos. En una entrevista para la revista Food & Wine, declara: “Nuestra misión no es solo abrir nuevos restaurantes. Lo que realmente estamos haciendo es vender un país.”

Apega, la Sociedad Peruana de Gastronomía fundada en el 2007, es una pieza clave en la comercialización y venta de la cocina, cultura, y nación peruana. El objetivo, según su página web, es “establecer puentes de armonía entre los pueblos peruanos revalorizando el papel que los productores tienen en la cadena alimentaria. Los campesinos y cocineros… somos iguales; queremos cocinar la misma receta: el progreso del Perú.” Apega promete “integración, calidad, identidad cultural, y biodiversidad,” e igualmente se encarga de organizar y realizar el festival gastronómico más importante de Latinoamérica: Mistura.

En febrero del 2012 hablé con Mariano Valderrama, director ejecutivo de Apega, en su oficina en Lima. Tuvimos una conversación interesante sobre cocina, integración social y turismo, pero Valderrama quería conversar especialmente sobre el desafío de Apega al transformar a Lima en la capital gastronómica de América Latina. Valderrama estaba particularmente preocupado por lo que él denominó “el problema de la higiene.”  Por ejemplo, insistió en la necesidad de “limpiar nuestros mercados peruanos” para que los turistas puedan “pasearse por nuestros coloridos mercados cómoda e higiénicamente.” Durante Mistura, Apega despliega “brigadas higiénicas” para asegurarse de la limpieza de los puestos de alimentos, de las áreas de comida y de los empleados en la feria. Culpa a las autoridades municipales de “no cumplir las normas básicas de higiene en los mercados,” señalando este como uno de los mayores obstáculos para la labor de Apega. “Nuestro mercado más representativo, La Parada, es Calcuta,” me comentó. La conexión que Valderrama establece entre los “mercados sucios” de Lima y una de las ciudades más grandes de la India, revela ideas entrelazadas sobre el desarrollo desigual, raza, y salud pública.

Sin embargo, Valderrama estaba visiblemente orgulloso de la labor que Apega lleva a cabo en integración social, mencionando en repetidas ocasiones la “alianza” establecida entre chefs y campesinos gracias a Apega y Acurio, entre otros. De hecho, Apega financia publicaciones que acentúan el valor de productos nativos como la papa, la quínoa o el ají, y también subvenciona viajes de medios de comunicación a “zonas de producción” para que así los peruanos puedan comprender de dónde vienen ciertos productos y quién los produce: “Se trata de revalorizar el producto, de revalorizar la autoestima del productor.” Después de años de violencia política y depresión económica, Valderrama comenta: “ahora uno encuentra un optimismo en el Perú, y parte de esto es el aprecio a la identidad cultural.” Muchos peruanos con los que he hablado coinciden con esta idea y perciben que la actual revolución gastronómica es una de los pocas cosas que hoy en día une al país.

La revista Gourmet describe a Lima como la “próxima parada” de la gastronomía sofisticada, mientras que Food & Wine promueve la cocina del Perú como de primera clase. Hoy turistas viajan frecuentemente a Lima para “saborear un poco del Perú,” o como una página web anuncia, para experimentar “un viaje culinario a la tierra de los Incas.” Por supuesto, estos aventureros culinarios demandan el paquete completo de seducción y belleza junto a la tradición y autenticidad peruana, precisamente lo que Valderrama y Acurio intentan vender. En este sentido, la cocina novoandina es una versión exportable y refinada de lo que previamente se consideraba local y atrasado. En una entrevista con Gourmet, un amigo de la infancia de Acurio comenta: “Cuando era chico, si comías cuy eras un salvaje.” Este comentario lo hizo “comiendo un plato de pierna asada de cuy puesta sobre unos raviolis de oka en salsa de pecanas con Pisco.”

El desarrollo de platos tradicionales “alternativos” ha sido una estrategia fundamental para transformar la cocina desde lo “salvaje” hacia lo “sofisticado.” Puede que los turistas de alto nivel quieran probar el cuy, por ejemplo, pero un cuy preparado a manera tradicional, y servido con todo y ojos, dientes, uñas e incluso con un poco de pelo carbonizado quizás no les apetezca a ciertos turistas europeos y norteamericanos. Por esta razón, Acurio y otros chefs crean recetas que mantienen los ingredientes exóticos y tradicionales, pero haciendo invisibles esos componentes. Servir raviolis rellenos de carne de cuy, por ejemplo, permite a los turistas probar a este animal tradicional sin tener que verlo. De este modo también se enfatiza la mistura o “hermosa fusión.” Acurio describe esta fusión en el documental de Pérez: “La palabra mistura significa mescla, pero Mistura es una mescla bonita. La cocina peruana es una hermosa mistura.” En otro documental dirigido por Ernesto Cabellos (De Ollas y Sueños, 2009), Acurio describe la situación contemporánea en el Perú de esta manera: “En este momento en donde la fusión es una tendencia en el mundo, en donde la integración, la globalización y todos esos conceptos se vuelven conceptos muy modernos, aparece esta cocina peruana que viene fusionando culturas pero de una manera muy equilibrada, muy reflexiva, muy consensuada a lo largo de 500 años, y esto es lo que la hace mágica, esto es lo que la hace atractiva.”

Animadamente Acurio presenta al Perú como un ejemplo de nación en la que la cocina ha desempeñado un papel mágico, “equilibrado” y “consensuado.” Mientras tal afirmación es, por supuesto, demasiado buena para ser verdad—la violencia de los últimos 500 años, sin mencionar los últimos 30 años, no puede considerarse ni equilibrada ni consensuadaa manera de mercantilizar la comida e historia peruana es nada mas y nada menos que brillante. De hecho, una de las gran habilidades de Acurio es hacer desaparecer los antagonismos históricos y políticos.

Acurio promueve lo que él llama “una ética culinaria que va más allá del mero placer.” Insiste en que el movimiento gastronómico debe ser guiado por principios éticos que tengan en cuenta de dónde procede la comida y quién es el principal beneficiado de su consumo. Utilizando productos locales, elogiando a los productores indígenas y entrenando a nuevos chefs de origen humilde, Acurio combina ética y estética en el mismo plato: “La gastronomía y el hambre no van de la mano. Es inmoral disfrutar de un buen plato…cuando eres consciente de que el pescador que atrapó a tu divinamente cocinado pescado vive en una cabaña miserable y debe sobrevivir con casi nada.”

Para la Sociedad Peruana de Gastronomía, todo tiene que ver con el éxito gastronómico y económico. En un breve vídeo promocional para Mistura, Apega sostiene que este es el momento adecuado para emprender en el sector culinario, y alaba a Lima como una “ciudad donde los sueños de unos pocos se convierten en una realidad para todos; el sueño de un pequeño grupo de chefs… unidos a un grupo emergente de chefs en formación, además de la labor de Apega, se ha extendido por toda una nación.” La página web de Apega describe a Mistura prácticamente con el mismo lenguaje que utiliza el filósofo alemán Jürgen Habermas para hablar del concepto de esfera pública, según el cual “las diferencias se dejan en la puerta.” Sin embargo, como Nancy Fraser apuntó en una crítica en 1990, poniendo en paréntesis la diferencia social, como si no existiera, “normalmente funciona a favor de los grupos dominantes en la sociedad y en contra de los subordinados.” Recurriendo a la noción de Habermas sobre esfera pública, Fraser explica qué esta ideología –compartida por Apega—no funciona, ya que ignora el hecho de que las esferas públicas reales se sustentan siempre en un “número significativo de excluidos.”


Mundos ocultos

El punto de vista indígena sobre estos avances culinarios se oye menos que el de los chefs e intelectuales públicos. La organización indígena en el Perú que quizás ha realizado un mayor esfuerzo en el área de la alimentación ha sido Chirapaq, el Centro de Culturas Indígenas del Perú. Chirapaq es una organización de gran influencia especializada en el trabajo con mujeres indígenas, en la soberanía y seguridad culinaria, y en la recuperación y revalorización del conocimiento ancestral. Chirapaq también colabora estrechamente con las comunidades de Ayacucho, el departamento más afectado por la violencia política de las décadas de los 80 y 90. 

En febrero del 2012 pasé por la oficina de Chirapaq y hablé con varios activistas indígenas. Cuando le pregunté a uno de ellos (a quien llamaré Nelson) sobre la labor de Chirapaq en relación al derecho soberano sobre la comida, y al boom gastronómico, Nelson sonrió, diciendo que le sorprendía mi pregunta, ya que el boom “va contra todo lo que hacemos.” A otro activista (a quien llamo Rendón) también le extrañó que yo mencionara el boom en un centro cultural indígena. Por sí mismo ese asombro sugiere los límites de la retórica inclusiva de la cocina novoandina, que no parece estar incorporanda a Chirapaq sino más bien estar en tensión con ella. Para entender esta falta de conexión entre las promesas de integración y la sensación de exclusión es esclarecedor citar las palabras del chef peruano Adolfo Perret en El Comercio, el principal periódico del Perú: “Una de las cosas mas espectaculares que podemos haber hecho los cocineros del país es la alianza entre agricultores y cocineros. Gracias a ello podemos ver que la inclusión social es real y es una manera para que ellos [agricultores] también merezcan el aplauso que nosotros [cocineros] podamos haber obtenido con los platos de la cocina peruana.”

Este comentario ilustra algunas de las preocupaciones que Chirapaq y otros críticos indígenas han planteado sobre las declaraciones paternalistas de integración social: “Nosotros (los chefs mestizos urbanos) hemos hecho esta buena acción promoviendo una alianza con ellos (productores indígenas rurales); porque nosotros deseamos compartir nuestras alabanzas y reconocer su participación en nuestra creación de exquisitos platos peruanos, la integración social existe. Pese a las buenas intenciones, esta alianza social ancla a los pueblos indígenas a determinadas áreas y en determinadas maneras. Son productores, no chefs; son vendedores ambulantes, nunca celebridades. La jerarquía social permanece notablemente inalterable gracias al espacio mágico de Mistura. En todo caso, los pueblos indígenas son reinventados a través de brillantes promociones que festejan “un espacio único donde la nación entera se siente armoniosamente integrada.”

La gente con quien hablé en Chirapaq no se sentía armoniosamente integrada. Hablando sobre la gastronomía peruana, Rendón compartió tres preocupaciones principales. La primera está relacionada con los efectos negativos para la salud originados por no conocer el valor nutricional y medicinal de la comida tradicional andina. En segundo lugar, argumentó que hay una tendencia inquietante entre los jóvenes de abandonar la alimentación tradicional a cambio de comida procesada e industrializada, optando por cadenas de comida rápida. Por último, expresó su malestar por el trastorno económico provocado por algunos chefs especializados en trabajar solo con ciertos productos en detrimento a otros.

Según las personas con las que hablé en Chirapaq, el boom gastronómico en el Perú va directamente en contra del esfuerzo a revalorizar y descolonizar la dieta andina. El boom celebra ciertos productos andinos y amazónicos icónicos—la quínoa o el awaymanto—e  irónicamente incrementa el precio de los mismos, convirtiéndolos en productos menos accesibles para muchas comunidades rurales, e incita a los productores a centrarse en una pequeña gama de productos para dar así respuesta a su creciente demanda.

Rendón añadió que las preocupaciones sobre la violación de la propiedad intelectual indígena se han perdido durante la celebración de fusión y gastronomía. Es más, el pueblo indígena, fuera de ciertas personas apoyadas por Apega, Acurio, y otros, no aparece como parte de este boom. ¿Dónde están los pueblos indígenas en esta revolución? En ese momento, Nelson sumó a la conversación la siguiente pregunta: “¿Cuál es el Perú que ‘marca Perú’ está vendiendo?”

Como respuesta parcial, Chirapaq estaba planeando lo que Rendón describía, aunque vacilando un poco, como “un festival gastronómico.” Se sentía indeciso sobre esta calificación porque la reunión sería sobre algo más que gastronomía. El evento, que tendrá lugar en Ayacucho, pretende promover prácticas agrícolas, medicinales y culinarias ancestrales. No trata solo sobre sabores o estética, sino sobre nutrición y salud; igualmente resaltará el rol de los sabios y ancianos como importantes agentes del conocimiento de las comunidades indígenas. Rendón destaca la necesidad de transmitir en un modo intergeneracional ese saber, ya que sin él sería imposible para los jóvenes avanzar y continuar con esas tradiciones. Finalmente, el evento no está pensado para los turistas, ni tampoco pretende competir con Mistura. Más bien, Chirapaq desea crear un espacio alternativo en el que los indígenas hablen y aprendan sobre su propia comida.

Si Mistura aspira a ser una esfera pública culinaria Habermasiana, el espacio alternativo en Ayacucho estaría mas bien próximo a lo que Nancy Fraser llama “contra-públicos subalternos,” o “espacios discursivos paralelos donde miembros de grupos sociales subordinados recrean y confrontan ideas opuestas para formular interpretaciones diferentes sobre sus identidades, intereses y necesidades.” Estos espacios no son solo comparables, como Fraser podría decir, sino que están caracterizados por diversas lógicas. Trasladándonos desde términos Habermasianos a andinos, Rendón destaca la importancia de la cosmovisión andina para Chirapaq y las comunidades indígenas. Me dijo que “el boom” no ofrece un diálogo de reciprocidad, complementariedad o armonía: “podemos obtener frutos de la Pachamama, pero tenemos que devolverlos, preparar un pago a la tierra.” Como la antropóloga Marieka Sax ha advertido, incluso la práctica de alimentarse tiene un relevante propósito que es secular y sagrado. Los miembros de la comunidad, los espíritus de las montañas y los demonios en las minas solicitan ser alimentados, una práctica que “articula las relaciones entre los otros sociales, y mantiene relaciones entre lo vivo y lo muerto; la ofrenda de comida y bebida a los espíritus de las montaña, pachamama, santos, y otros poderes divinos garantiza que estos continúen avivando y estimulando la energía viva en circulación que asegura la fertilidad, la productividad y el bienestar.” Qué diferente es la ideología de Mistura, donde ciertos chefs son conmemorados, y donde el placer y la estética—sin reciprocidad o religiosidad—predominan.

Como todas las críticas, las de Chirapaq son debatibles y no hay duda de que los chefs de Mistura podrían discutir muchas de ellas. Es más, los productores rurales, entre otros, quienes participan en eventos de alto nivel como Mistura reciben apoyo y beneficios materiales. Mi propósito aquí no es apoyar todas las críticas de Chirapaq, sino poner de relieve algunos aspectos que quedarían ocultos si solo nos centráramos en las promesas integradoras de Mistura. En la polémica sobre el poder de la comida peruana, es necesario bajar el volumen, aminorar el paso y analizar las consecuencias de este boom, especialmente sobre esas poblaciones y cuerpos que no se benefician del festival de los sabores.

María Elena García es Directora del Departamento de Historia Comparada de las Ideas y Profesora Asociada en el Jackson School of International Studies en la Universidad de Washington (Seattle, EEUU). Recibió su Doctorado en Antropología en la Universidad de Brown y ha sido Mellon Fellow en la Universidad de Wesleyan y la Universidad de Tufts. Su primer libro, Making Indigenous Citizens: Identities, Development, and Multicultural Activism in Peru (Stanford, 2005; publicado en el 2008 por el Instituto de Estudios Peruanos en Lima como Los Desafíos de la Interculturalidad: educación, desarrollo, e identidades indígenas en el Perú) examina las políticas indígenas y la interculturalidad en el Perú. Su trabajo sobre políticas indígenas ha aparecido en múltiples volúmenes y revistas.

 Una versión ampliada de este ensayo, en el cual la autora examina el impacto del boom gastronómico sobre las poblaciones indígenas y animales, ha sido publicada bajo el título “The Taste of Conquest: Colonialism, Cosmopolitics, and the Dark Side of Peru’s Gastronomic Boom,” en la revista The Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology (Vol. 18, No. 3, 2013). Este ensayo a sido publicado aquí con el consiguiente permiso. 


See also: Peru, En español

La comida de los dioses

Una pintura en estilo tradicional del pueblo de Sahua, Ayacucho. La escena representa el banquete de montañas que rodean el pueblo. La figura central es la montaña Mariano Borao que protege la comunidad, y las otras figuras son las montañas vecinas o las apus. Pintura por La Asociación de los pintores de Sarhua/cortesía de Luis Millones.

Por Luis Millones

A principio de la década de los noventa, viajé con frecuencia a Osaka. Los investigadores del Museo Etnográfico Nacional de Japón tenían como eje de su labor la sierra del Perú, y en especial Ayacucho, departamento de una larga y sufrida historia. Como parte de este equipo y en calidad de profesor invitado, se me abrieron las puertas de una sociedad que mostraba sus encantos día a día. A lo largo de mi estadía, descubrí que uno de mis colegas tenía una relación importante con el sacerdocio de la Iglesia de Tenrikyo. Me interesé por su religión y lo que aprendí de ella fue suficiente como para querer participar en el peregrinaje anual de sus creyentes, a la ciudad sagrada de Tenri, en la prefectura de Nara, región de Kansai. Por un corto período, Tenri había sido la capital del Imperio de Japón (488-498), y aún hoy es una ciudad hermosa y sede del culto de Tenrikyo.

 El recorrido fue duro y fascinante; de lo mucho que conocí esos días, es pertinente recordar en esta ocasión lo que me respondieron cuando pregunté sobre lo que se comía en el Paraíso, o su equivalente al dogma cristiano. Para mi total sorpresa, el lugar de premio o Youkigurashi era un espacio similar al de castigo: un gran banquete, con viandas iguales en ambos lugares. Si se observaba con detalle, condenados y bienaventurados tenían para comer palillos de un tamaño desmesurado, y quienes estaban castigados lucían demacrados y padecían de hambre, mientras que los premiados aparecían rozagantes y bien nutridos. La explicación era simple para una fe que practica y enfatiza la solidaridad: mientras que los condenados intentaban comer cada uno de ellos con palillos de ese tamaño, y no acertaban a hacerlo, por su parte, los favorecidos por la divinidad aprovechaban la longitud de sus instrumentos para alimentarse uno al otro. 

De regreso a tierras ayacuchanas, llevé la pregunta a mi trabajo de campo, recordando que en Huamanga estaría tan lejos del pensamiento occidental europeo como lo había estado en Tenri, cuando los sacerdotes bailaban en los recintos subterráneos del templo, para renovar la creación del universo.

Conocía las cosas escritas por los cronistas españoles o indígenas cristianizados de fines de siglo XVI y XVII. Las fuentes concuerdan en que los dioses andinos comían mullu, es decir conchas de mar (Spondylus), e incluso nuestra única fuente escrita en quechua nos recuerda que al masticar el sonido que hacían era «¡cap, cap!» rechinando los dientes mientras comían (Ávila 2007, 127). 

Todavía hoy las conchas de mar, también las menos vistosas, tienen prestigio religioso; se les usa en las ceremonias como recipiente para absorber por la nariz los jugos de plantas alucinógenas, en otras regiones del Perú. Pero en Ayacucho, Cusco, y en general en la sierra peruana, alimentar a los dioses es un tema complicado. 

En primer lugar, conviene aclarar que la evangelización cristiana destruyó toda imagen visible de las religiones precolombinas. Quedó incólume la geografía sagrada: el culto a la Tierra y a sus expresiones visibles, los cerros. A lo que hay que agregar las áreas de contacto con los seres humanos: las cuevas y los manantiales. Pero, además de la imposibilidad de borrar esta última forma de religiosidad, la persecución se detuvo porque el trabajo forzado de los indígenas era la fuente de riqueza del imperio español y todo hostigamiento a su labor perjudicaba su rendimiento. En el siglo XVIII, ya la sociedad andina había consolidado una estructura religiosa que reinterpreta la doctrina cristiana y la suma a las reminiscencias precolombinas, y que es el germen de la religión indígena que ahora conocemos. En ella, los dioses, es decir, la Madre Tierra y los cerros (apus o wamanis) deben recibir alimentos de sus muchos creyentes. Se los envían a través de una ceremonia que tiene por lo menos dos nombres en español quechuizado: pagapu y despacho. Así se alude a las razones primordiales de la ceremonia que vamos a describir: se paga a la Tierra y se despacha, es decir se envía lo que ella necesita. Si el oferente es un quechua hablante usará las voces apachiku, mallichi, kutichi, etc., en general las variaciones tienen relación con la composición de lo que se ofrece y del lugar en que se hace, que están vinculados con los intereses de quien o quienes van a alimentar a la Mama Pacha. Esto quiere decir que hay pagapus específicos para ser usados por ganaderos, los que necesitan agua de la lluvia o del caudal de los ríos, los que van a cazar animales silvestres, o aquellos que buscan de recobrar la salud, etc., etc.

Como dije líneas arriba, hay varias formas de preparar un pagapu, pero una de las más importantes es la que debe alimentar la Mama Pacha o Madre Tierra, para que nos asegure su generosidad al permitir que obtengamos buenas cosechas. Dejaré a continuación que don Juan Quispe Andia, nos relate desde Chungui, La Mar, Ayacucho, cómo se hace un pagapu

«En las alturas de Chungui, cuando se va a cosechar papas, el dueño invita a todos sus vecinos para que le ayuden, todos van a ayudarle porque es ley, todos ayudan siempre. El dueño les da a cambio de la ayuda coca, trago, comida, y cuando toca a otro campesino cosechar, tiene que ir a pagar la ayuda que le ha dado. Por eso nadie deja de ayudar. Los vecinos van con toda la familia, los hombres son los cosechadores, las mujeres las pallapadoras y las que cocinan, los jóvenes son los ayudantes para trasladar y amontonar la papa. Se cosecha haciendo siempre bromas, a veces con música y si no, contando chistes, siempre con alegría, por los frutos que da la tierra. Cuando termina la cosecha, las papas se guardan en la casa del dueño, pero primero se escogen las que van a servir de semilla para la próxima siembra, y las papas que se han malogrado con las lampas. La dueña cocina para invitar a los comuneros la papa malograda al cosechar mientras los hombres guardan la papa y las semillas. Cuando ya han terminado, comen la papa cocinada con ají y sal, a veces con carne o algún picante que ha preparado la dueña y con la chicha y con el trago. Todos después chacchan su coca y fuman su cigarro. Entonces, todos se van menos el compadre del dueño. Ellos regresan a la chacra solos llevando las mejores papas, las más hermosas, para hacer el “pago” a la tierra para que les siga protegiendo. El compadre hace un hueco en un rincón de la chacra, de unos 50 o 60 centímetros y cuando ha hecho el hueco, le tinka con trago en forma de cruz y luego le hace la ofrenda de la papa, con su trago, generalmente un cuartito, un puñado de coca kinto, un par de cigarros, y luego lo tapa diciendo: Madre Tierra recibe la ofrenda de tus hijos para agradecerte la cosecha que mi compadre ha recogido y para que le sigas dando buena producción, por eso te pagamos para que tu abundancia nos des. Luego regresan a la casa y el dueño invita a su compadre a tomar y comer. Pero durante el “pago” el dueño no dice nada, todo lo dice el compadre que hace de intermediario para que acepte la tierra» (Delgado Sumar 1984, 146-147).

Cabe algunas aclaraciones: 1) coca (Erithroxylum coca) es el arbusto cuyas hojas mantienen su carácter sagrado y son el signo de respeto en las relaciones interpersonales. Chaccchar es masticar las hojas con una pasta hecha de ceniza de vegetales que se denomina generalmente lluqta. Al mezclarse con la saliva produce la sensación de revigorizar al consumidor, anulando el cansancio. 2) Trago: alcohol industrial puro, diluido con tres volúmenes de agua hervida con semillas de anís y otras plantas, a lo que se agrega azúcar. 3) Pallapadoras proviene del quechua pallay, que significa ‘recoger’. Son mujeres habitualmente jóvenes que colaboran en la cosecha. 4) Tinka: rociar con el dedo índice un poco de chicha o licor, del vaso que se va a beber. 5) Cuartito: vaso pequeño o porción pequeña de licor.

 El texto de Quispe Andia no necesita mayores explicaciones, el hueco «en un rincón de la chacra» en general es interpretado como «boca» de la Madre Tierra y al alimentarla, la familia agradece la cosecha y asegura prosperidad futura.

Luis Millones, Doctor en Letras (Historia) por la Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú (1965) y Profesor Emérito de la Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos, es Director del Fondo Editorial de la Asamblea Nacional de Rectores del Perú en la actualidad.

See also: Peru, En español

La violencia de los palcos

El museo del arte contemporáneo MALI atrae gente de diferentes clases sociales.

Por Víctor Vich 

En el Perú, a las clases altas no les gusta mezclarse con quienes consideran que son diferentes o inferiores. Las playas de la panamericana Sur son un buen ejemplo de ello pues las empleadas domésticas no pueden bañarse en las piscinas de los clubs y, a veces, tampoco en el mar. Los desdichados palcos del actual Estadio nacional son también otro ejemplo: son un remedo público de una práctica privada, un burdo simulacro que, en lugar de instalar prácticas alternativas, reproduce -desde lo público- lo más nefasto de la jerarquización privada.

¿Cuáles son las “zonas de contacto” entres las distintas clases sociales en el Perú de hoy? ¿Dónde se encuentran? ¿dónde comparten algo? ¿dónde se crea un espacio horizontal donde puedan comenzar a deconstruirse estereotipos mutuos? Estas preguntas me las hice hace poco en el MALI, en la exposición de Szyzslo, un domingo abarrotado de gente y donde efectivamente podía observarse el resumen de todo Perú. Diferentes clases sociales se encontrban ahí, mirando los cuadros, escuchando a los guías, haciendo cola y conversando entre ellas. Esta exposición -notable exposición- ha sido un éxito de gestión cultural pero no solo por la notable calidad de su curadoría ni por la gran cantidad de gente que ha acudido a verla (creo que nunca hubo en el Perú una exposición de arte tan masiva) sino porque, efectivamente, sus promotores se están esforzando por convertir al museo en un verdadero “punto de encuentro” entre los peruanos.

Es cierto: los peruanos ya no nos encontramos en las playas, nos peleamos en las pistas, ponemos rejas en las calles, ahora nos encontraremos ya muy poco en los estadios y hace poco nos dimos cuenta que también los mítines políticos dejaron de ser espacios públicos. A pesar de haberse metido al mar de “agua dulce”, PPK distribuyó entradas VIP para su mitin. ¿De dónde viene entonces la violencia en el Perú? ¿Solo de los narcoterroristas, de los asaltantes callejeros y de las barras bravas? ¿Solo del “perro del hortelano” y de la policía? ¿Solo de ahí?

La violencia es una pulsión que pertenece a la estructura misma del ser humano y todas las culturas la llevan consigo, pero lo cierto es que hay sociedades que la fomentan mucho más, que hacen muy poco por contenerlas y que no aprenden de sus errores del pasado. No se trata de un problema que se solucione solo con medidas jurídicas y con castigos ejemplares. La violencia, en el Perú, es un problema cultural (referido a las relaciones de poder, la permanencia de jerarquías y discriminaciones, las crisis de representación, el permanente autoristarismo) y es el Ministerio de Cultura el que tiene que tomar cartas en el asunto como la institución encargada de intervenir en las intermediaciones simbólicas a fin de modificar la cultura existente. Es triste que no se haya pronunciado. En muchas ciudades latinoamericanas (en Medellín, por ejemplo) las políticas culturales exitosas son aquellas que se concentran no solo en gestionar servicios culturales sino en ofrecerlos para construir ciudadanía, es decir, para generar espacios de visibilidad sobre estado de la convivencia social. Las políticas culturales son siempre pensadas para intervenir en aquellos poderes que segregan, marginan y que generan violencias de todo tipo; ellas se diseñan para construir espacios de reconocimiento mutuo al interior de la heterogeneidad social. En el Perú seguimos muy lejos de aquello y pensamos que solo basta con recuperar las piezas de Machu Pichu.

La década del los noventas instauró en el Perú un sentido común anti-estatal que trajo consigo no solo el intento de privatizar todo lo existente sino de degradar y perder interés por aquello que es colectivo. El desprestigio del Estado ha implicado la degradación de lo público y la pérdida de un sentido de comunidad. Hoy en día los ciudadanos solos nos preocupamos por nosotros mismos y el “otro” siempre es visto como un competidor al que no hay que dejar pasar en las pistas y al que hay que degradarlo o matarlo si es hincha de un equipo diferente. El deterior de los vínculos humanos en el Perú es cada vez más fuerte en términos de diferencias sexuales, raciales, ideológicas, etc.

El ingeniero Woodman insiste en que se tomen con él medidas muy drásticas si se encontrara implicado en los malos manejos de la remodelación del Estadio Nacional. Pero, en realidad, las reiteradas acusaciones que han ido en su contra no han estado dirigidas a inspeccionar sus bolsillos sino, sobre todo, a cuestionar culturalmente su posicionamiento servil frente al de ex presidente Alan García. De hecho, nuestra cultura democrática sigue siendo tan precaria que en el último quinquenio hemos observado, con pavor, cómo muchas autoridades optaron por posicionarse ante el presidente como si fuera un monarca al que hay que satisfacer en todos sus deseos. Se trata de las viejas prácticas coloniales que han impedido históricamente la construcción de una ciudadanía plena. Es increíble pero en el Perú, las autoridades elegidas “agradecen” los cargos (como si fueran premios) y los asumen como si la institucionalidad no existiera y se subordinan totalmente.

Quizá remodelar un Estadio sin un concurso público haya sido mucho más grave que robar. Quizá aprobar un diseño con solo seis carriles en la pista atlética sea algo efectivamente grave. Quizá, en efecto, haya sido muy grave para la cultura democrática en el país ceder a las presiones políticas y no mantener una autonomía técnica. De hecho, ser cómplice de inauguraciones atolondradas (como las del propio Estadio, la de un hospital sin camas, la del Teatro municipal sin baños, la del Teatro nacional sin nada) es algo inaceptable. Quizá, finalmente, haya sido muy grave haber optado por esos palcos, es decir, haya sido realmente grave no haber construido un segundo anillo de tribunas como lo tienen los grandes estadios del mundo y como lo ameritaba un escenario que es público y es de todos. Eso es lo más grave. Me refiero a que en el Perú contemporáneo (cargado ingenuamente de optimismo) seguimos insistiendo en sostener una cultura que continúa idealizando lo privado y desacreditando lo público. Con horror, con mucho horror, bastante de aquello lo hemos vivido esta semana. Todo ello es muchísimo más grave.

Víctor Vich, a Peruvian writer, is a professor at the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú (PUCP) and researcher at the Instituto de Estudios Peruanos (IEP). He was the 2007-08 Santo Domingo Visiting Scholar at DRCLAS.

See also: Peru, En español

Lima, la ciudad policentrica

Combis y caros dominan las calles de Lima, una ciudad ya no conocida por su centro. Photo de Oscar Malaspina. 

Por Aldo Panfichi

Son las 6 am y los paraderos de las combis de los conos de Lima son un hervidero de gente que pugna por conseguir un asiento y prepararse para el largo viaje que los llevara a Lima centro.  Micaela trabaja en un Starbucks de la Av. Arequipa y todos viajan apretados a los gritos de “suben, suben, que al fondo hay sitio”.   La combi avanza entre bocinazos, insultos de los otros choferes por malas maniobras, y uno que otro niño que canta o toca un instrumento para pagar su pasaje camino al colegio

Primero bajan señoras y dueños de pequeños negocios a lo largo de la Av. Perú. Luego los obreros de las fábricas del parque industrial de la Av. Argentina. Por fin en la Av. Venezuela, empiezan a bajar los jóvenes, primero de las academias preuniversitarias; más adelante en la Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos; pero la combi  se despeja casi completamente en la Universidad Católica, la privada, a dónde cada vez más estudiantes de la emergente Lima Norte se dirigen. Pocas cuadras adelante, en los distritos de Pueblo Libre y Jesús María, personas de la tercera edad, la mayoría empleados jubilados suben y bajan del carro con dificultad y algunos pasajeros les ceden el asiento. Al final de la Av. Cuba Micaela grita “ baja, bajan”, saltando entre las bolsas de mercadería que llevan señoras que subieron antes que ella, y que  se dirigen al viejo barrio de la Victoria, al emporio comercial de Gamarra con el producto de sus talleres informales y el trabajo familiar.  

Todos desconocidos, irrumpidos de cuando en vez por alguien que sube a venderles golosinas.  Tal vez a varios de ellos Micaela los haya atendido en el Starbucks, a otros tantos les haya comprado ropa idéntica a la de las grandes marcas, y a varios se los haya cruzado en la universidad. En la combi nadie se mira pero todos se miran (de reojo).  


La literatura académica sobre las ciudades latinoamericanas del siglo XX, muestra a Lima, la otrora colonial “ciudad de los reyes”, como un caso extraordinario de crecimiento producto de sucesivas olas migratorias de campesinos provenientes de las alturas de los Andes. La imagen dominante es la de una urbe dicotómica, donde una mayoritaria población migrante rodea la ciudad histórica habitada por limeños que se encierran en sus propios espacios crecientemente amenazados (Golte and Adams 1987). Una ciudad desconectada entre el área central y sus zonas de expansión, y donde los espacios públicos son ignorados. En ese sentido se impone la lógica de vivir separados, ya sea por muros, rejas, guardias privados, o hacer difícil el acceso de otros grupos al propio.   

Hoy esta imagen de Lima organizada por la dicotomía centro-periferia es evidentemente obsoleta ya que no da cuenta de la actual dinámica de la ciudad. La investigación reciente y la información disponible sugieren nuevas pistas de análisis.  La primera que Lima continúa siendo una ciudad de inmigrantes, aunque el peso demográfico de este segmento es cada año menor. En 1940 constituían un tercio de la población y en 1972 el 40 %. Desde entonces empezó lentamente a disminuir hasta llegar al 34% el 2007 (INEI, 2007).  Los nuevos inmigrantes, aquellos llegados a la ciudad entre 1993 y el 2007, son un porcentaje aun menor: solo el 6.0 %, pero sobre todo tienen características propias que lo diferencian de las migraciones previas. En efecto, a diferencia de la migración campesina de los años 60 y 70, formada por jóvenes hombres con baja educación y calificación laboral, la migración de hoy la forman jóvenes, mayormente mujeres (52%), en edad de trabajar y con un nivel alto de educación (30% con educación superior y 45% con secundaria completa) (INEI 2007). Los nuevos inmigrantes se ubican preferentemente en los distritos centrales de Lima y del Cono Este, en donde abundan los centros de estudio (academias, institutos, universidades) y las nuevas oportunidades laborales del sector servicios (Pontolillo 2011). Podríamos decir, entonces, que la migración a Lima de la primera década del siglo XXI está constituida por jóvenes calificados en busca de mayores oportunidades de educación y empleo en el sector moderno de la economía urbana. 

La investigación reciente muestra, además, que en las últimas décadas Lima  ha dejado de estar organizada en torno a un centro y se ha pasado a formar una ciudad policéntrica, con cuatro centros consolidados[1] y otros en proceso de afianzamiento[2]” (Gonzales y Del Pozo 2012).  Esto constituye un cambio histórico ya que el centro limeño desde su fundación en 1535 concentró el poder político y económico del país entero. Lima Centro continua siendo un gran eje articulador de las otras Limas, pero ahora se hace visible un entramado complejo de articulaciones, relaciones y tránsitos entre ellas. Los limeños se trasladan grandes distancias para estudiar, trabajar o cambiar de lugar de residencia.

La movilidad produce reacomodos ocupacionales. Lima Centro y Lima Este, concentran la población con mayor nivel educativo, mejor calificación laboral, y mayor capacidad de consumo. En efecto, en Lima Centro habita el 56% de los empleados públicos, el 45% de los profesionales y solo el 16% de los obreros, mientras en la emergente Lima Este reside el 22% de los empleados públicos, el 21% de los profesionales y el 26% de los trabajadores en servicios. Una situación intermedia pero en rápido proceso de cambio ocurre en Lima Norte, considerada actualmente como el lugar donde se forja la nueva clase media limeña.  En Lima Norte se encuentran el 19% de profesionales, el 23% de técnicos de nivel medio, el 21% de empleados de oficina, pero también el 26% de obreros

En el lado opuesto está Lima Sur y Lima Oeste, con los migrantes de mayor edad y más tiempo de residencia en la capital, menor grado de educación, y menor capacidad de consumo. Lima Sur tiene al 37% de obreros, 18% trabajadores no calificados, y solo el 5% de los empleados públicos y 8% de profesionales. Lima Oeste, por su lado, solo tiene el 7% de profesionales, el 11 de empleados y el 10% de obreros (INEI 2007).


Con distintos ritmos y particularismos en toda la ciudad se despliega con inusitado dinamismo diversas iniciativas emprendedoras, grupos con identidades propias, y se ocupan masivamente los espacios públicos disponibles. Sin embargo, la movilidad y os encuentros no están exentos de tensiones, recelos, e incluso de conflictos. La coexistencia entre grupos desiguales reproduce además formas de segregación a nivel local, mas aun cuando existen diferencias marcadas de ingreso y nivel de consumo (Peters and Skop, 2007). Precisamente la conflictividad que preocupa tanto a las autoridades y a la opinión pública proviene de esta situación. No es anomia o la ley de la selva como alarmistamente se lee en los titulares de la prensa amarilla, sino de una interacción tensa y accidentada entre individuos que disputan bienes y oportunidades pero que se necesitan para intercambiar, recorrer la ciudad, e incluso para movilizarse políticamente. Los limeños cruzan fronteras, puentes y laberintos todo el tiempo. 

Los espacios públicos y los lugares de educación, comercio y entretenimiento que se han extendido en estos últimos años, son los espacios de encuentro e interacción entre los limeños.  La mayoría de estos ya nos mayoritariamente migrantes sino descendientes de segunda, tercera e incluso cuarta generación de inmigrantes. Allí están las numerosas lozas deportivas (para la práctica de fulbito y voleibol) de los barrios populares que inauguran alcaldes y políticos en busca de votos, los mercados de productores de alimentos de las distintas regiones del país, los modernos Mall con tiendas de marca y “food courts” como el emblemático Maga Plaza, los conglomerados comerciales de pequeñas empresas como Gamarra o el parque industrial de Villa El Salvador, e incluso los mercados de objetos robados, de contrabando o de procedencia informal como Las Malvinas o la Cachina donde reina la economía delictiva.

En suma, frente a la imagen desactualizada de una Lima fragmentada entre un centro moderno y una periferia atrasada, recoge la noción de ciudad policéntrica, con distintas Limas heterogéneas dentro de la metrópoli y sin un solo centro. La mayor parte de sus habitantes han nacido en la ciudad aunque la nueva migración es de jóvenes educados en busca de mejores oportunidades educativas y laborales.  No obstante ellos pertenecen a múltiples micro-sociedades cohesionadas por vínculos de clase, parentesco, barrio, educación, y estilos o aspiraciones de vida.  Micro-sociedades en los que la confianza entre sus miembros convive con la desconfianza  a otros grupos, al estado o a las autoridades. Sin embargo, a pesar de los recelos, los limeños del siglo XXI con mucha vitalidad callejera diariamente construyen y transitan puentes entre estas micro-sociedades, como nos muestra Micaela en su recorrido con la combi todos los días.     


Un caso paradigmático del nuevo dinamismo de la ciudad es el Centro Comercial Mega Plaza, ubicado en Lima Norte, hasta hace poco considerado una zona pobre y periférica. Fue fundado en el año 2002, en medio de la incredulidad de muchos pero hoy 40 000 personas lo visitan diariamente, y las ventas lo colocan por sus ventas como el segundo o tercero en la capital. Pero no es un centro comercial como cualquier otro mall latinoamericano. Mega Plaza conecta culturalmente bien con una población con estilos de vida y consumo impregnados de herencias culturales regionales pero también identificadas con la modernidad y la tecnología propia del capitalismo global. 

Cuenta con un diseño arquitectónico que muestra los locales de las principales tiendas de retail ubicados alrededor de una plaza central, que evoca las plazas de las ciudades provincianas como el espacio público por excelencia donde todos confluyen y circulan. En ella se presentan los principales grupos musicales de Cumbia andina, amazónica, o norteña.   Además, cuenta con un Food-Court donde la oferta gastronómica brinda porciones generosas y mezclas innovadoras como 'pollo a la brasa con papa a la huancaína' o 'cuy broaster con choclo', y una versión criolla de fast food con anticuchos de corazón, mollejas y rachi (tripas e intestinos). Todo servido con Inca Kola o Kola Real. Junto a ella además se ubica el local de Golden Gym más grande de toda la ciudad.

Por su parte, en las calles contiguas se sitúan restaurantes étnicos de distintas regiones del Perú, locales de Western Union donde se reciben las remesas que envían los parientes del exterior, Cajas Municipales de ahorro y crédito  que ofrecen préstamos con bajos intereses y Notarias para legalizar las transacciones. Además, alrededor de Mega Plaza surgen tiendas o locales comerciales cuyos productos provienen del emporio textil de Gamarra en La Victoria, o del parque industrial de Villa el Salvador en Lima Sur. Así, la demanda de los clientes que provienen de distintos puntos de la capital puede ser cubierta por numerosas empresas familiares,  y su dinamismo produce un efecto arrastre a otras zonas de la ciudad. 

Definitivamente el éxito de Megaplaza refuerza la idea que desde la antigua “periferia” han surgido otras Limas con nuevos sectores medios pujantes y progresistas que le han cambiado el rostro a esta ciudad. 

Aldo Panfichi is Professor and Chair, Department of Social Sciences, Universidad Católica del Perú. He was a 2002 Visiting Scholar at DRCLAS.

Noelia Chávez, who assisted with this article, has a degree in Sociology from Universidad Católica del Perú.

See also: Peru, En español

Literatura peruana

Una riqueza inasible 

Por José Antonio Mazzotti 

Con más de sesenta lenguas aún vivas, a cada una de las cuales corresponde una rica tradición oral, difícilmente puede hablarse en el Perú de una sola literatura nacional. Y es que los conceptos de nación, modernidad y literatura revelan desde su inicial coexistencia más una forma de la desintegración social y cultural del país que el deseo realizado de quienes, desde la crítica o la política, han querido acoplarlos y armonizarlos. La literatura peruana “oficial” ha mantenido siempre una relación ambigua y sinuosa con la idea de nación moderna, pues desde el triunfo de la ilustración en las prácticas políticas de fines del XVIII y principios del XIX, el nacionalismo moderno surgió a manera de artefacto cultural que alimentó y fue alimentado por la necesidad de crear un estado homogeneizante y modelador antes que moderador. Pero la realidad es muy distinta, y esto se percibe con una mirada básica a la inmensa riqueza literaria del país.

Desde la independencia frente a España en 1821, una nacionalidad étnica criolla prevaleció hasta el punto de que en la práctica legislativa y económica el concepto general de una "ciudadanía peruana" era más un gesto de buena voluntad que el reconocimiento de las profundas diferencias culturales y económicas entre los heterogéneos habitantes del Perú.

Sin embargo, hoy la mejor crítica literaria coincide en que no se puede hablar más de un solo sistema literario en el país, sino, por lo menos, de tres: el “oficial” en castellano “culto” y que se transmite por medios tradicionales como los libros y en géneros heredados de la tradición europea; el “popular”, también en castellano, pero de transmisión oral y circulación generalmente anónima y performativa; y el gran sistema de las literaturas indígenas, principalmente en quechua y en aimara, pero también en todas las otras sesenta lenguas de la Amazonía peruana. En general, este último gran sistema es una serie de subsistemas autónomos, también de transmisión oral, y generalmente ligados a contextos específicos de emisión ritual y colectiva, aunque existen muestras importantes de carácter escrito desde tiempos coloniales.

Pese a sus aspiraciones cosmopolitas, en la tradicionalmente llamada “literatura peruana” (la “oficial”, escrita en castellano y dentro de los moldes heredados de Europa) el pasado y sus traumas aparecen recurrentemente como la revelación constante de un universo de oralidad multiforme o formalizada que acompaña subrepticiamente la plasmación de las obras más canónicas, con las cuales mantiene un diálogo secreto y subterráneo. Por eso, los lenguajes que configuran el mundo estéticamente entre los distintos sujetos sociales del territorio peruano subyacen o se infiltran en el circuito letrado y en las principales tendencias, géneros y obras de la tradición oficial. La oralidad reprimida retorna constantemente, hasta el punto de contribuir, ya en los siglos XX y XXI, a la dinámica experimentación formal que de ella recogen algunos de los más conocidos autores “nacionales” hispanohablantes. Considerando la gravitación de las tensiones discursivas existentes a partir de 1532 (año en que comienza la conquista española), conviene examinar algunas de las pautas sentadas desde el Inca Garcilaso y Guaman Poma de Ayala en el siglo XVII hasta la obra moderna de César Vallejo, José María Arguedas, Mario Vargas Llosa, Oswaldo Reynoso y Miguel Gutiérrez, entre otros.

En un trabajo de investigación publicado en 1996 (Coros mestizos del Inca Garcilaso, traducido al inglés como Incan Insights), me dediqué al rastreo de la oralidad cortesana cuzqueña en la obra mayor del Inca Garcilaso, sus ya clásicos Comentarios reales (1609). En mi libro, que lleva el sospechoso subtítulo de "resonancias andinas", aludía a los sistemas de historización existentes en la antigua corte cuzqueña y a la forma en que esa fuente probable se infiltró en la prestigiosa escritura historiográfica del renacimiento tardío que el Inca Garcilaso, a pesar de ser mestizo y quechuahablante nativo, dominó a la perfección. A través de poemas históricos de difusión ritual y destinados a la manipulación política por parte de los gobernantes incaicos, la corte cuzqueña rememoraba su pasado con una perspectiva claramente ejemplarizante. Ni épica, ni teatro, ni narrativa, ni ceremonia religiosa, sino todo ello y más, este género discursivo tiene sus primeras descripciones en cronistas como Pedro de Cieza de León y Juan Díez de Betanzos, y permite entrever un sistema sofisticado de composición, a través de fórmulas, repeticiones y campos semánticos que de alguna manera son discernibles en la primera edición de los Comentarios reales, de 1609, a través de marcas de estilo, puntuación y simbología subyacente.

Contemporáneo al Inca Garcilaso, el cronista indígena Guaman Poma de Ayala dirige un extenso documento al rey Felipe III de España describiendo el orden anterior a la conquista y el desorden y mortandad surgidos con el sistema colonial español. En su Nueva coronica y buen gobierno (1615), famosa por las 404 ilustraciones que la acompañan, Guaman Poma, un cacique de la zona de Ayacucho, explica, en un castellano fuertemente intervenido por el sustrato quechua, todo un saber interno a las culturas andinas que recompone el mundo dentro de una monarquía universal dirigida por el rey de España, pero proponiendo que la administracón local vuelva a las manos de los indígenas. El alegato de Guaman Poma es contundente pero a la vez ambiguo: acepta el cristianismo y exalta las virtudes de la población nativa, pero repudia el mestizaje y las mezclas raciales en general, negándose así a los cambios de una realidad irreversible. En su larga crónica, inserta numerosos pasajes y poemas en quechua, lo que hace del libro un trabajo profundamente heterogéneo.

Paralelamente, en el Perú del siglo XVII la lectura letrada, sin duda, aprovechó de su protagonismo y acceso privilegiado a la imprenta para relacionar la obra del Inca Garcilaso con la sustentación de sus propios intereses políticos y económicos. Desde las extensas crónicas de Buenaventura de Salinas, Antonio de la Calancha, Diego de Córdoba y muchos otros, el reclamo por la prelacía o preferencia criolla frente a los peninsulares pasaba por la legitimación de su postura gracias al supuesto mejor conocimiento que los criollos tenían de la población indígena y, paradójicamente, su propia pureza de sangre española. Alimentados por la benignidad del suelo y el clima limeños, los retoños criollos daban –según ellos mismos– frutos más ingeniosos y nobles que los de la propia nobleza peninsular. Salinas decía de los criollos, por ejemplo, en loa que se haría común con el correr del siglo, que “son con todo estremo agudos, viuos, sutiles, y profundos en todo genero de ciencias”, y que “este cielo y clima del Pirú los leuanta, y ennoblece en animos”, refiriéndose a la nobleza española que resultaba mejorada en sus descendientes limeños.

Así, colocándose en la cúspide intelectual y sanguínea del Virreinato, los criollos ordenaban el paisaje social y sustentaban con dudosos argumentos su superioridad moral y biológica, rescatando del imperio incaico solamente sus portentos arquitectónicos, y desestimando cualquier altura moral por parte de sus descendientes. Así, mientras los criollos se autodiferenciaban de los españoles, lo hacían también de los sectores sobrevivientes de la nobleza cuzqueña. El llamado “renacimiento inca” corría paralelo al de la construcción del discurso criollo que se focalizaría desde Lima y pasaría con el tiempo a sustentar el socorrido dualismo nacional peruano, que tendría en el Cuzco su segundo eje de gravitación. Sin embargo, muchos criollos reclamaban ser los defensores y mejores intérpretes de la población indígena, fundando así una tradición indigenista que sobrevive hasta nuestros días.

Esta postura apologética anticipa en más de doscientos años las defensas de la población indígena que harán Flora Tristán, Manuel González Prada y Clorinda Matto de Turner bajo la égida del positivismo en el siglo XIX. Esas defensas muchas veces repetían estereotipos discursivos de origen colonial sobre la población nativa. Algunos de ellos serían, por ejemplo, las alusiones al indio como bueno y generoso. Entre muchos ejemplos de correspondencia moderna basta mencionar el del bucólico ambiente del cuento “Malccoy” (1886), de Clorinda Matto de Turner, en que se afirma que “los indios tienen el corazón lleno de ternura y generosidad”.

Otro estereotipo notable de origen virreinal está en la imagen del indio flemático y triste, que surgió inicialmente a partir de un supuesto carácter inherente (frente al humor colérico del español). Una muestra moderna que reproduce este lugar común es el pasaje sobre "las indias que todavía lloran la muerte de los incas, ocurrida en siglos remotos, pero reviviscente en la endecha de la raza humillada", en el cuento "El alfiler" (1924), de Ventura García Calderón.

Tenemos también el estereotipo denigrante del indio vicioso, idólatra y degenerado, que según algunos autores virreinales como Luis Jerónimo de Oré nace de su apego a sus costumbres antiguas. En el discurso republicano, sin embargo, este tipo de indígena debe su decaimiento y su estado de naturaleza a la falta de letras. Así pueden verse, por ejemplo, en Peregrinaciones de una paria (1836), de Flora Tristán, expresiones como “el embrutecimiento del pueblo es extremo [pero sólo] cuando los periódicos penetren hasta la choza del indio [...] adquiriréis [vosotros, los peruanos] las virtudes que os faltan”; también en la definición (claro que acusatoria) de Manuel González Prada, cuando proclama en su “Discurso en el Politeama” (1888) que “trescientos años ha que el indio rastrea en las capas inferiores de la civilización, siendo un híbrido con los vicios del bárbaro y sin las virtudes del europeo”; o en “la sonrisa idiota” de algunos personajes de “Ushanam-Jampi” (1920) de Enrique López Albújar; o, más recientemente, en los indios caníbales y salvajes de Lituma en los Andes (1993), de Mario Vargas Llosa. (Esto, por supuesto, no anula la enorme importancia de este autor, el único peruano que ha recibido un premio Nobel).

Por último, tenemos el estereotipo del indio mejorable, que constituye un tema común a muchos autores virreinales, en la medida en que tiene una capacidad ingénita para lograr grandes avances civilizatorios, pero alejado de éstos –ya en el discurso indigenista republicano– por su falta de modernidad en un mundo que exige, demanda, prescribe e impone –muchas veces con sangre– una occidentalización plena.

Como se ve, varios conceptos del discurso republicano que trata del indio mantienen una coherencia básica con los postulados virreinales que determinan la posición cultural y materialmente inferior de la población indígena. Si bien la observación es simple y evidente en sí misma, es importante subrayar que pese a sus afanes reivindicativos y justicieros, buena parte de lo que se ha llamado indigenismo en el siglo XX en general sigue patrones discursivos de larga trayectoria histórica.

Una vez señalada la continuidad de las letras virreinales en los más preclaros defensores del mundo indígena durante la república, me interesa detenerme un momento en dos casos fundamentales de la construcción de otro sector de la moderna literatura peruana. Me refiero a César Vallejo y José María Arguedas, quienes han venido por consenso general a constituirse en los dos escritores verdaderamente “nacionales” del siglo XX peruano por excelencia. Paradójicamente, su carácter “nacional” tiene mucho que ver con un deseo de coherencia antes que con la identidad uniforme de sus voces. No es que sean nacionales automáticamente por provenir de los Andes y escribir en castellano, constituyéndose así en la encarnación de un programa mestizófilo armónico y feliz. Esa, en última instancia, lo mismo que la identidad criolla, sería una más de las formas de la nacionalidad. Intuyo más bien que lo que los hace tan profundamente peruanos es precisamente la zona intersticial, el espacio de la contradicción que supone expresar una visión del mundo, un sentido de la naturaleza y una nostalgia de la utopía con las formas propias del discurso importado desde 1532 y sus posteriores elaboraciones poéticas y novelescas.

En suma, el panorama es demasiado amplio y variado para caber en un solo artículo. Lo cierto es que la propia literatura peruana “oficial” resulta inasible para todo intento crítico que pretenda entenderla en su contexto multinacional y multilingüístico. Pero eso, precisamente, la hace más apasionante.

José Antonio Mazzotti is a professor of Latin American Literature in the Department of Romance Languages at Tufts University. A poet and literary critic, he is also president of the International Association of Peruvianists and director of theRevista de Crítica Literaria Latinoamericana. His books include Coros mestizos del Inca Garcilaso: resonancias andinas (1996), Poéticas del flujo: migración y violencia verbales en el Perú de los 80 (2002), Incan Insights: El Inca Garcilaso’s Hints to Andean Readers (2008), eight collections of poetry, and several edited and co-edited volumes on Latin American and Latino studies.

See also: Peru, En español

Nostalgia, anhelo y anomia

Una escena de la película El Evangelio de la Carne, dirigida por Eduardo Mendoza. Foto cortesía de Alberto Vergara.

El Perú contemporáneo en la pantalla grande

Por Alberto Vergara

El Perú, se sabe, es un país de distancias, tensiones y desencuentros. Cada discurso abarcador se quiebra ante la insolencia de lo concreto. Ya sea en términos económicos o sociales, regionales o culturales, toda tesis generalista se atrofia ante la insurgencia de lo particular.  Los economistas hablan de desigualdad, los politólogos de fragmentación y los antropólogos aseveran que no hay país más diverso. Los ciudadanos, por su parte, se topan unos con otros cada vez menos y se recelan cada vez más. Las elecciones en el Perú de los últimos años muestran un patrón hacia un voto cada vez más gregario: los de arriba por los de arriba, los de abajo por los de abajo. País de segmentos inconscientes de serlo.

Como casi todo en el Perú, en los últimos años el cine ha pasado por un boom. Las salas se han multiplicado en todo el país, del 2009 al 2013 la asistencia de espectadores dobló de 17 a 33 millones, tres películas peruanas han sido un éxito de taquilla asombroso y el reconocimiento internacional de La teta asustada brindan evidencia de un momento interesante para el cine peruano. Pero, ¿qué imágenes del Perú muestra el cine peruano? Aquí quisiera explorar esta cuestión a través de tres películas recientes. No se trata de una crítica de las películas, se trata de una lectura histórica de ellas. Aunque distintas por razones de género, de calidad, de objetivos, ellas ayudan a alumbrar los desencuentros y distintas velocidades que atraviesan el Perú de hoy. En primer lugar, la comedia ¡Asu Mare!, dirigida por Ricardo Maldonado que ha llevado al cine a más de tres millones de personas en un país de treinta millones: sería una gran distracción sociológica pensar en ella solo en términos de blockbuster. En segundo lugar, Sigo Siendo, dirigida por Javier Corcuera, en la cual  la música y el agua del Perú dan forma a un bello ensayo cinematográfico. Finalmente, El evangelio de la carne, la estupenda ficción de Eduardo Mendoza donde, acaso por primera vez, Lima pugna por ser el personaje principal de un film. 

¿De qué hablan estas películas? ¿Cuál es el tema que desarrollan detrás de la anécdota narrativa? El Evangelio de la Carne se ocupa del tejido social que acoge a individuos desamparados: se organizan polladas para pagar comunalmente viajes al extranjero o conseguir dinero para una costosa operación médica. Sin embargo la película muestra un tejido social que no es únicamente aquel destinado a aliviar la penuria, sino también uno que permite sobrellevar ahogos de otro tipo —del alma si la palabra todavía significa algo. Por ejemplo, a un ex chofer que arrastra la culpa de haber accidentado el bus que manejaba ebrio quitándole la vida de varias personas incluidos niños no lo mantiene vivo más que la esperanza de un día integrarse a la Hermandad del Señor de los Milagros, y jóvenes de barrios marginales encuentran una familia sustituta en la barra de la U.

El Evangelio, en suma, explora las formas de sobrevivencia material y moral de unos individuos desgajados en una sociedad fundada en la desconfianza y signada por la informalidad.

¡Asu Mare! y Sigo Siendo no podrían ocuparse de objetos más distintos. Aquélla es un biopic, su universo es el individuo. Carlos Alcántara es, simultáneamente, personaje y actor de esta historia de superación individual. Aun cuando las condiciones de vida te sean adversas, moraliza la película, el ingenio individual es el activo que pagará tus sueños. En algún sentido Alcántara (el personaje) es la llegada al cine peruano, finalmente, de los nouveaux riches que poblaron las novelas europeas del siglo XIX: un personaje de Balzac. Y como en aquellos personajes el ascenso social se confirma y sella con la seducción de la mujer de clase alta: la mujer perteneciente a la aristocracia en Europa, la mujer miraflorina en la pigmentocracia peruana.

El lente de Sigo Siendo, en cambio, no pretende atrapar al individuo sino a la cultura. Es una película genuinamente arguediana. La cámara de Corcuera parte en busca del Perú auténtico y lo encuentra en las distintas tradiciones musicales del país y en el agua que da vida a la selva, la cordillera y a la costa del Perú. Es una película que busca navegar “los ríos profundos” de la nación. Ella se inicia con una escena que impone el que será el tono de la película: una mujer de la etnia selvática shipibo canibo aparece sentada sobre un árbol cuyas raíces imponentes se hunden en la tierra con decisión. La oímos cantar y hablar, escuchamos la lluvia caer pesadamente y, gracias a los subtítulos, sabemos que añora un tiempo cuando existía respeto, el tiempo de sus abuelos. La puesta en escena y la melancolía que la domina hacen del personaje casi una prolongación de las raíces del árbol, una escena preñada de inmovilismo. Al filmar el Perú, Sigo Siendo privilegia lo inmutable, la cultura, la tierra, lo ancestral.        

Si cada película registra una dimensión diferente del Perú contemporáneo (la sociedad, el individuo y la cultura), ello las empuja también a poner en escena miradas morales distintas vis-à-vis esas dimensiones. Según Eduardo Mendoza, director de El Evangelio, la sobrevivencia en medio de la jungla informal que nos propone su película es una crítica al discurso de éxito que predomina en el Perú contemporáneo. Es una historia donde la pertenencia a clanes es lo único que puede salvarnos en medio de una sociedad hobbesiana. Y, sin embargo, acaso la virtud de la película de Mendoza sea no hacer una crítica explícita de esta ciudad sin ley, sino mostrárnosla en su dinámica más cotidiana. 

En cambio, ¡Asu Mare! y Sigo Siendo tienen posiciones político-morales explícitas. La primera es una película de superación individual, su tono es de puro optimismo, es menos yes we can que yes you can. ¡Asu Mare! es una metáfora del Perú contemporáneo. Aunque parecía que el país y Alcántara durante los años ochenta estaban destinados a desangrarse y perecer debido a la precariedad y carestía general, su esfuerzo, tesón e ingenio permitieron detener la sangría y prosperar. En la película el Perú y Alcántara se vuelven uno; la narrativa oficial y optimista de la época se fusiona con los avatares de Alcántara, el personaje. No es casualidad que el film termine con su héroe vistiendo la camiseta del equipo peruano de fútbol. Es una película donde ya no se obvia (ni odia) al parvenu, se hace de él un ejemplo. Cachín Alcántara es un fino, sano y raro miembro de ese gremio celebrado hasta el cansancio en el Perú de hoy: el emprendedor.

En el otro extremo, Sigo Siendo no es una película optimista, su tema es, más bien, el olvido. La música y el agua que dan vida a la película transparentan un país marcado por la incapacidad de recordar y, diría más, por la incapacidad de reconocer aquello que le es consustancial. Aunque la película se llama Sigo Siendo acaso un título más preciso sería Sigo Sobreviviendo pues su talante es tan nostálgico que, en realidad, transmite la imagen de la paulatina derrota de cada tradición nacional. No importa de qué se hable siempre se enfatiza que todo tiempo pasado fue mejor. Y ese pasado se eclipsa irremediablemente mientras el Perú oficial se niega a rescatarlo, a reconocerlo. El pecado original peruano es el olvido.   

Debido a estos distintos enfoques las películas tratan de manera diferente el tiempo histórico. Para Sigo Siendo, evidentemente, la historia del Perú —y acaso habría que decir la de las naciones que pueblan ese territorio llamado Perú (todas las sangres)—, es una larga continuidad. Una continuidad desfalleciente, abrumada por el olvido y la necesidad, pero, sobre todo, amenazada por el cambio. Los personajes pertenecientes a cada tradición musical observada (selvática, andina o costeña) regresan siempre a la nostalgia, “como antes no hay” dice una cantante criolla limeña. Se impone una melancolía preñada de desánimo —no es saudade, valga decirlo. Aunque cada personaje importante de la película hace suyo este tono, es el violinista Máximo Damián quien encarna esta sobrevivencia de la tradición. “No vayas a cambiar por nada”, recuerda que le advirtió una vez su amigo y maestro José María Arguedas. Nos cuenta que su violín es como su papá y su mamá (no es como su hijo, déjenme anotarlo). Y la película se cierra con don Damián, este eximio y puro violinista del Ande, vendiendo helados en una playa limeña, con un uniforme amarillo, sin que ninguno de sus clientes perciba el destierro histórico que encierra el entrañable heladero violinista. Don Damián es la continuidad de un país olvidado pero presente, y cuyo elemento ancestral no debe llevarnos a creer que está enclaustrado ni en el tiempo ni geográficamente, se trata, más bien, de unas raíces nómadas y asediadas: la pureza histórica del manantial andino parece peligrar ante el ajeno océano pacífico.        

¡Asu Mare!, por su parte, es una película sobre las mutaciones nacionales y personales en las últimas décadas. Alcántara pasa de ser un fumón condenado al fracaso a ser un comediante de éxito imparable. Pero esto es paralelo al éxito nacional. La película necesita de un espectador peruano, precisa de un espectador a quien se le va a confirmar que hemos surgido de las tinieblas económicas. Esto se ve bien en la escena donde la madre de Alcántara apremiada por la necesidad empeña una sortija y la agiotista le ofrece “dos cientos cincuenta mil millones de intis” ante lo cual la madre cargada de decepción replica “¿tan poquito?”. Los espectadores nos reímos pues reconocemos la historia, la inflación y el papel moneda que no valía nada. De ahí venimos. Como la sortija de la madre de Alcántara el país estaba también para empeñarlo y, sin embargo, como Alcántara sacamos la cabeza del pozo. Algo cambió en el país; la película busca la complicidad de ese público que como Alcántara prosperó en los últimos quince años. Y se ríen a carcajadas con su propio e inesperado éxito.

Más que una película peruana, El Evangelio quiere ser una película de Lima. Y el magma limeño que filma no parece particularmente nuevo (como en el caso de ¡Asu Mare!), tampoco el de la venerable tradición (como en Sigo Siendo). Al ver El Evangelio recordé el debate de fin de los años ochenta sobre la anomia en el Perú. En él, el sociólogo Hugo Neira defendió que la sociedad peruana había entrado en un proceso de descomposición social y moral que se contradecía con las esperanzas de la izquierda de ver surgir un movimiento popular virtuoso. A su vez, Neira hacía un llamado a que las ciencias sociales renovasen sus lentes teóricos e intentasen entender ya no el progreso de las sociedades, como estaban acostumbrados los científicos sociales peruanos de talante marxista, sino a comprender el retroceso de las sociedades. La informalidad peruana, la desconfianza, la miseria, la descomposición de todo lazo político y la ausencia de un Estado que haga valer la ley eran muestras de lo que Neira, rescatando a Durkheim, llamó la anomia peruana. Eduardo Mendoza nos muestra que esa anomia no se acabó gracias al crecimiento económico de los últimos años. Los personajes de la película saben que los contratos no valen, el transporte,  las comunicaciones, la música, todo es pirata, la policía sabotea la ley, se cambia moneda extranjera en las calles y se dilapida el dinero ganado informalmente en casinos y tugurios clandestinos; como dice un policía en medio de un mercado ilegal de programas informáticos: “Los gringos sacan un programa nuevo y en menos de una semana estos ya lo copiaron. ¡Qué rico Perú!”. La película de Mendoza, entonces, nos recuerda la continuidad de cierta descomposición social que el crecimiento económico no ha desaparecido y tal vez en algunos casos haya agudizado.   

Si las películas ponen en escena distintas miradas de la sociedad peruana y de su relación con la historia del país, uno podría sugerir que también aluden al país político de los años dos mil. ¡Asu Mare! es en forma y fondo una película ppkausa. Su estética importada de la publicidad y su ánimo urbano, optimista y acriollado la acercan tanto al candidato Pedro Pablo Kuczynski como a su electorado: es una película sobre ganadores. El evangelio de la carne, en tanto, es una película de tintes fujimoristas, una sociedad acostumbrada a la ilegalidad, donde el fin justifica los medios y la anomia es la placenta última del próximo caudillo autoritario. Finalmente, Sigo Siendo es una película que asemeja al Perú humalista (Humala el candidato y no Humala el presidente, si hace falta aclararlo), la película le brinda voz a ese país que necesita de subtítulos para hacerse entender, una película que, en fin, intenta redimirlo con la consideración de un misionero que trocó las escrituras sagradas por una cámara: es una película sobre olvidados.

Los tres films nos recuerdan el extraño momento que vive el Perú contemporáneo. Se prospera al mismo tiempo que no podemos salir de otros entrampamientos; ganadores y perdedores se ignoran, algunos despegan y otros se estrellan. Pero, además, nos ayudan a atestiguar los segmentos ciegos que constituyen la sociedad peruana y, de otro lado, percibir que no son puro aislamiento sino que están menos segmentados y aislados de lo que creen, que los puentes y vías que los relacionan son muchas más de los que imaginan. Asimismo, en una época de cambios acelerados el cine sirve para ser conscientes de ellos y, al mismo tiempo, útil para observar aquello que, en medio de la vorágine, somos incapaces de notar que perdura en silencio.

Finalmente, estas películas y la recepción tan distinta que reciben del público las convierte en un indicio de las distancias y tensiones que cohabitan en los propios peruanos. Los millones de espectadores que congrega ¡Asu Mare! contrasta con la escasez de espectadores que reciben otras películas peruanas que deben luchar incluso para conseguir una semana de exhibición en salas comerciales. ¿Qué quieren ver y qué prefieren negar los peruanos? Estas tres películas son un buen reflejo de esos deseos íntimos. Para bien y para mal, la pantalla grande sugiere que los peruanos buscamos ignorar la anomia y el olvido. Preferimos, en cambio –y no seré yo quien lo denuncie moralistamente— evadir, reírnos, dejar para mañana… después de todo, quién sabe cuánto dure este raro momento de ilusión. Preferimos, en suma, constatar el progreso con una sonrisa y anhelar la prosperidad…y una miraflorina.

Alberto Vergara is a post-doctoral Banting Foundation fellow at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, Harvard University. He has lectured on Latin American politics at the Department of Government, Harvard University, and at the University of Montreal. He works on political regimes in Andean countries. His last book,Ciudadanos sin República (Lima, Planeta, 2013), gathers his political essays in Spanish.

See also: Peru, En español

Paz y reconciliación en Perú

Esta plaza en Ayacucho comemora los muchos desaparecidos y asesinados en la región durante el periodo cruel de violencia política. 

Una oportunidad en riesgo 

Por Salomón Lerner Febres

Han transcurrido once años desde la presentación del informe final de la Comisión de la Verdad y Reconciliación (CVR) de Perú. Esta funcionó entre los años 2001 y 2003 como componente de la transición política iniciada en 2001 tras la caída del gobierno de Alberto Fujimori y el cierre del periodo de violencia armada iniciado en 1980. La creación de la CVR fue una forma de responder a las víctimas de masivas violaciones de derechos humanos cometidas a lo largo de veinte años. Estas violaciones fueron cometidas tanto por las organizaciones subversivas –principalmente la organización Sendero Luminoso—como por las fuerzas armadas y la policía. En dos décadas, ningún gobierno había procurado ninguna investigación sobre los asesinatos, masacres, desapariciones y muchos crímenes más cometidos. Tampoco se había delineado una política de respeto de los derechos humanos ni mucho menos de atención a las víctimas. Por ello, cuando en 2001 se busca una reconstrucción de la democracia peruana, se decide seguir el ejemplo de otros países que había desarrollado políticas de búsqueda de la verdad. Argentina, Chile, El Salvador y Guatemala fueron, así, precursores del proceso iniciado en Perú.

La CVR trabajó durante 26 meses. En ese lapso se desplegó por todo el territorio nacional afectado por la violencia mediante la creación de cinco oficinas regionales. Ese despliegue le permitió desarrollar una amplia estrategia de acercamiento a las víctimas y a las poblaciones afectadas en general. Se pudo, así, recabar casi 17 mil testimonios y realizar muchas otras actividades que expresaran respeto y atención. Entre estas actividades, destacaron las audiencias públicas de víctimas organizadas en una decena de ciudades. Ellas sirvieron como reconocimiento de la dignidad de las personas afectadas y también, en cierta medida, para sensibilizar a la población menos golpeada por la violencia y, por tanto, más indiferente al drama.

El trabajo de la CVR tuvo como su centro de gravedad, en efecto, el brindar muestras de respeto a las víctimas. Se puede decir que tal era el sentido moral profundo de su creación y de sus labores. Pero, como es natural, brindar un servicio efectivo a las víctimas y, por extensión, a toda la sociedad peruana, implicaba cumplir un mandato muy específico dirigido a la investigación de los hechos pasados, a la interpretación de los factores sociohistóricos que los hicieron posibles y a la elaboración de recomendaciones para superar el pasado.

En el entendimiento que la CVR tuvo de su misión, todo ello era necesario para darle un sentido verdaderamente justo a la noción de reconciliación. Para la CVR la reconciliación solo podía existir como una derivación natural de la verdad y de la justicia. No se podía pensar en una reconciliación consistente en la simple condonación o el olvido de los crímenes pasados. Los mecanismos de amnistía a los culpables, que tan recurrentes fueron en el pasado en la región, no resultaban ni moralmente justificables ni legalmente posibles. Para la CVR, cualquier concepción de reconciliación exigía, primero, que se revelaran y se reconocieran los hechos, y segundo, que se hiciera justicia a partir de ese reconocimiento. Tal justicia, por otro lado, no se limitaba a su dimensión judicial. Hacer justicia a las víctimas requería, ciertamente, llevar a juicio a los presuntos responsables, pero también dar reparaciones a las víctimas, realizar reformas institucionales que dieran garantías de que la violencia y los abusos no se repetirían y hacer gestos oficiales de reconocimiento y redignificación a quienes fueron afectados.

Las conclusiones y las recomendaciones de la CVR tuvieron esa finalidad. El informe final fue un servicio al reconocimiento y a la verdad. Se puso en evidencia la perpetración de graves abusos que alcanzaba la categoría de crímenes contra la humanidad y se reconstruyó la historia de muchos casos de masacres, torturas, asesinatos y otros crímenes graves. Así mismo, se aportó una interpretación de los grandes fracasos institucionales y de las fallas de nuestro orden político y cultural que hicieron posible la violencia. Ese enorme volumen de abusos y de daños reclamaba la acción decidida del Estado. Se propuso, por ello, medidas para que actuara el Poder Judicial, así como un amplio plan de reparaciones y reformas de las instituciones con un horizonte claro: transformar las relaciones del Estado con la población y construir una auténtica democracia de ciudadanos con derechos plenos.

Falta de voluntad estatal

Por lo dicho hasta aquí, la forma más precisa de observar el trayecto seguido por la reconciliación en el Perú es a través del tratamiento dado a las recomendaciones de la CVR. Los discursos sobre la reconciliación pueden ser muy persuasivos y bienintencionados; pero, en última instancia, la reconciliación se medirá por la atención que el Estado y la sociedad sepan dar a las víctimas de la violencia. Y, por extensión, por el tratamiento que se dé a los ciudadanos en general. Como lo aseveró la CVR, la reconciliación en el Perú debe significar una transformación, en sentido democrático, de las relaciones entre Estado y sociedad y de los lazos que unen a los peruanos y peruanas en su vida cotidiana.

Lamentablemente, los balances del cumplimiento de esas recomendaciones no dejan mucho espacio para el entusiasmo. Es cierto, y esto es importante, que el país conoce desde hace años una situación de paz y de relativa estabilidad institucional, a lo que se suma una tendencia al crecimiento económico que tiene ya más de una década de vida. Ello ha venido acompañado de una reducción significativa, pero nunca satisfactoria del todo, de los niveles de pobreza. (En contraste, sin embargo, se puede observar que sectores clave del funcionamiento del Estado y de la sociedad, como el sistema de educación escolar y universitaria, sigue estancado y en una situación ruinosa).

No obstante, pese a esos signos de progreso, lo cierto es que la respuesta estatal a las demandas de justicia de las víctimas ha sido muy débil y carente de voluntad, al mismo tiempo que la reflexión de la sociedad sobre lo sucedido ha resultado a todas luces insuficiente y pobre frente a la magnitud de los hechos históricos que afrontábamos.

Un aspecto muy concreto de esa falta de respuesta se encuentra en el escenario judicial. Fuera del Perú, la condena al ex presidente Alberto Fujimori por violaciones de derechos humanos genera una imagen algo errónea de lo que ha sucedido realmente. Es cierto que esa fue una condena importante por casos de corrupción y por delitos contra los derechos humanos: una condena dada en un juicio ejemplar que debió sentar un precedente valioso. Pero el panorama general es mucho menos positivo. En los primeros años posteriores al funcionamiento de la CVR, el Poder Judicial mostró cierta voluntad de hacer justicia. Para ello adoptó criterios jurídicos de avanzada que permitieran hacer frente a crímenes masivos que, por lo demás, habían tenido lugar muchos años atrás. No obstante, a partir del año 2007 los tribunales dieron un giro que los condujo a retractarse de  lo avanzado. Nuevas sentencias evidenciaron una falta de voluntad institucional para hacer justicia en casos graves de desaparición forzada. Y, en general, se adoptó criterios que hacen mucho más difícil establecer responsabilidades de agentes del Estado en casos de violación de derechos humanos. Esta corriente vino acompañada, incluso, de una ley que significaba en la práctica bloquear el camino a juicios a militares y a policías. Ante la protesta ciudadana, la ley quedó sin efecto, pero la voluntad de negar justicia a las víctimas quedó patente.

El itinerario seguido por las reparaciones es igual de complejo y poco alentador. Las primeras respuestas al plan de reparaciones propuesto por la CVR fueron alentadoras. No tardó mucho la aprobación de una ley de reparaciones aprobada por el Congreso. Y a raíz de la ley se creó la institucionalidad responsable de aplicarla. Por un lado, una comisión del Poder Ejecutivo encargada de coordinar la acción de los diversos ministerios involucrados en la tarea de dar reparaciones; por otro lado, un organismo llamado Consejo de Reparaciones que tenía el encargo de elaborar una lista exhaustiva de las personas y colectividades que tendrían derecho a recibir reparación.

La ejecución de esas tareas no ha sido todo lo cuidadosa y expeditiva que se necesitaba que fuese. Si bien durante los anteriores gobiernos se procedió a avanzar en materia de reparaciones colectivas, estas no han seguido un curso ordenado ni a la altura de la misión. Las reparaciones económicas individuales siguen siendo una tarea completamente descuidada, con el consiguiente malestar y sentimiento de defraudación de las víctimas. Si se tiene en cuenta que muchas de ellas son personas de avanzada edad que perdieron a sus hijos o cónyuges décadas atrás, y que viven en una permanente situación de pobreza y privaciones, la insensibilidad del Estado y de las elites políticas resulta sumamente criticable.

Insensibilidad e indiferencia son, en efecto, el más grande obstáculo al avance de la reconciliación así entendida, como justicia básica para las víctimas y reconocimiento colectivo de nuestras fallas y culpas. Ello se refleja bien en las dimensiones de reforma institucional y de reflexión colectiva sobre el pasado violento.

Ninguna de las recomendaciones de la CVR sobre reformas institucionales ha sido tomada en cuenta por los sucesivos gobiernos ni por ninguno de los grupos políticos que compiten por lugares en el Congreso. Las áreas donde esas reformas eran especialmente necesarias son: administración de justicia, fuerzas armadas, policía y educación. El caso de la educación es especialmente preocupante. La educación en el Perú es desde hace décadas un espacio donde se reproduce el autoritarismo, donde se mutila el espíritu crítico y donde se transmiten formas de pensar ajenas a la cultura ciudadana que necesita el Perú. Una institucionalidad educativa reformada podría ser un efectivo medio de bienestar futuro y de integración del país. Una educación que promoviera el pensamiento autónomo y fortaleciera las identidades individuales y colectivas podría ser el espacio de generación de una ciudadanía efectiva. Por último una educación mejor habilitada para cumplir sus funciones tendría que ser también el lugar donde se cultive la memoria de la violencia desde una perspectiva particular: una memoria orientada a aprender las lecciones del pasado, que muestre hasta qué punto el racismo y el pensamiento jerárquico son causas de muerte y sufrimiento, que permita entender que la violencia ciega nunca es el camino ni para la transformación de la sociedad ni para la búsqueda de orden y estabilidad.

Lamentablemente, esa educación no existe en el Perú de hoy. Por lo tanto, no hay un cultivo de la memoria que fructifique en los años posteriores, así como tampoco hay una discusión y un aprendizaje fuera de las escuelas, en los espacios públicos. En la política, las lecciones de la violencia están completamente ausentes de los temas de debate. Por lo tanto, las víctimas casi no tienen oportunidad de que sus inquietudes sean oídas en lugares como el Parlamento. En los medios de comunicación, se sigue tratando el tema de manera sensacionalista, mientras que en la televisión, el racismo patente contra la población indígena continúa siendo aceptado e incluso aplaudido. En esas circunstancias, hablar de una reconciliación en el sentido amplio y abarcador, no interpersonal, propuesto por la CVR, resulta muy difícil. Frente a un pedido de reconocimiento, responsabilidad y compasión, la respuesta de las elites políticas y económicas es siempre hostil.

Esto no quiere decir, naturalmente, que el Perú de hoy sea una sociedad que esté al borde de repetir un conflicto armado. Es cierto, sin embargo, que el Perú sigue siendo una sociedad violenta en aspectos muy concretos como se ve en la respuesta  las protestas ciudadanas en los andes y en la Amazonía. Pero ello se da en un contexto de cierta estabilidad institucional y de crecimiento económico. El Perú vive en estos años una oportunidad grande de convertirse en una democracia asentada y firme. Pero para serlo, debería reconocer a sus ciudadanos como sujetos de derechos plenos, sin discriminaciones. Al cerrar los ojos a las lecciones de la violencia, el país se arriesga a desperdiciar esta oportunidad.

Salomón Lerner Febres, rector emeritus of the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru (PUCP), is the former president of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Peru (CRV). He is currently executive president of the Center for Democracy and Human Rights at PUCP (IDEHPUCP).

See also: Peru, En español

Seis jóvenes poetas peruanos durante la guerra interna peruana

"The Three Trapped Tigers" sone los poetas Peruanos Raúl Mendizábel, José Antonia Mazzotti y Eduardo CHirinos. Foto cortesía de Paolo de Lima. 

Por Paolo de Lima

En mi libro Poesía y guerra interna en el Perú (1980-1992), publicado el 2013 en New York por The Edwin Mellen Press, estudio seis poetas que hacen su aparición como escritores durante una de las décadas más difíciles de la historia republicana peruana, atravesada por una cruenta guerra interna que dejó un saldo de más de 69.000 muertos, miles de desaparecidos y de viudas, huérfanos, desplazados y mutilados. Esta situación inusitada explica el criterio de selección a partir del cual establezco un corpus de cuarenta y un poemas, definido en función de la relación directa o indirecta que esos textos establecen con la guerra. Esto de ningún modo implica que la producción literaria de los seis autores se limite exclusivamente al periodo histórico 1980-1992 y al contexto de la violencia política abordado. Dicha producción, tanto temática como formal, es múltiple y variada en cada uno de estos poetas, cuya obra toda (en plena elaboración y producción) remite a diversas épocas y a experiencias más allá de las por mí estudiadas. Sin embargo, dicha coyuntura histórico-política, sin duda, marcó sustancialmente su poesía. Estos autores abordan desde diferentes perspectivas la realidad político-social del inocultable fenómeno de la violencia política de una manera que trasciende la mera preocupación temática.

Esos poetas son los “Tres Tristes Tigres” Raúl Mendizábal, José Antonio Mazzotti y Eduardo Chirinos, y tres integrantes destacados del grupo “Kloaka”: Domingo de Ramos, Róger Santiváñez y Dalmacia Ruiz-Rosas. Todos ellos nacieron entre los años 1956 y 1961, y empezaron a producir y publicar sus primeros textos en Lima entre finales de la década del setenta e inicios de la del ochenta. ¿De qué sector social y cultural provienen estos autores? Los seis pertenecen a la pequeña burguesía ilustrada. Nacieron tanto en barrios residenciales de la capital limeña (Mazzotti, Chirinos, Ruiz-Rosas) como en otros lugares de la costa peruana: Santiváñez y Mendizábal en la pequeña ciudad norteña de Piura y De Ramos en un caserío en el departamento de Ica, al sur de Lima, con lo que tenemos a un grupo de autores cuya visión del país está filtrada, en primer término, por esa pertenencia a una misma región natural históricamente asociada con lo hispano colonial y lo occidental en general, a diferencia de la sierra andina y la selva amazónica, que guardan una relación de dependencia directa respecto de los grupos dominantes criollos, y su vinculación con las metrópolis occidentales está más mediatizada por la burguesía criolla intermediaria.

Durante la década del ochenta, estos autores se hicieron de una educación superior en dos prestigiosos centros de estudios ubicados en la capital: la Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú y la Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos, aunque hay que anotar que Mazzotti estudió en ambas a la vez, y sirvió de nexo entre un grupo y otro. Los “Tres Tristes Tigres” estudiaron en la Católica, y los “Kloaka” en San Marcos. Esta es una primera diferencia importante que se debe tomar en cuenta entre estos dos grupos de poetas. La Universidad Católica es privada y está considerada como un espacio privilegiado al que solían acceder principalmente las clases acomodadas. San Marcos es una universidad administrada por el Estado, de ahí que sea de acceso gratuito, por lo que siempre ha sido considerada como un microcosmos del país.

A su vez, estos seis poetas tuvieron una presencia activa al interior del circuito literario “oficial”. Son, pues, escritores profesionalizados o con aspiraciones de serlo, conscientes de una tradición literaria tanto nacional como occidental, tal como puede apreciar en los intertextos que atraviesan el corpus. Aquí es pertinente señalar que en la crítica literaria peruana suele hablarse de circuito “oficial” para denominar el corpus impreso en español “culto”, es decir, la producción que se modela sobre la base de una concepción occidental de la literatura, y que es aceptada como la única por los aparatos ideológicos del Estado, esto es, programas escolares, universitarios, periódicos, editoriales, etc. Es “oficial” (entre comillas) no porque necesariamente converge con un programa político o un gobierno, sino porque se adecúa al sistema de dominación cultural vigente, es decir, a lo que Martín Lienhard llamó la prevalencia del estrato superior de la “diglosia cultural”, que desconoce la validez literaria y hasta cultural de una inmensa producción oral y en lenguas indígenas.

Para situar mejor al lector, y a riesgo de simplificar el complejo periodo 1980-1992 en el que he delimitado mi estudio, me parece apropiado detallar algunos acontecimientos cruciales relativos a la aparición de la guerra interna. Así, tenemos que en el año 1980 coinciden dos hechos de suma importancia. Por un lado, se produce el retorno del sistema democrático constitucional con Fernando Belaúnde Terry (1980-1985) luego de doce años de dictadura militar. Este retorno implicó la apertura de los mercados de importación, reprivatizaciones y la entrada inicial de la globalización económica en el país. Paralelamente, dicha apertura coincidió con el inicio de la lucha armada del Partido Comunista del Perú-Sendero Luminoso, el cual dio origen a la espiral de la violencia política y su correspondiente “guerra sucia” como respuesta desde el Estado. Por otro lado, 1992 es el año del inicio de la dictadura de Alberto Fujimori. Este gobernante fue elegido democráticamente en 1990, pero el 5 de abril de 1992 dio, con el apoyo de las Fuerzas Armadas, lo que fue calificado como un “autogolpe”, que posibilitó restricciones de las garantías individuales, que fueron justificadas desde el poder por la captura del líder senderista Abimael Guzmán el 12 de septiembre de ese año. En mi libro, pues, abordo un periodo histórico que, desde el punto de vista político, se presenta bajo la forma democrático electoral; periodo que es un paréntesis entre dos dictaduras, una militar y otra cívico-militar, y que se vio fuertemente afectado por la presencia y despliegue inédito de un sangriento enfrentamiento civil. Hay que destacar, a su vez, que este periodo democrático se encuentra enmarcado por la promulgación de dos constituciones, la de 1979 y la de 1993, las cuales, coincidentemente, entraron en vigencia durante el ejercicio de gobiernos dictatoriales, los de Morales Bermúdez y Fujimori, respectivamente.

El historiador Alberto Flores Galindo (1949-1990), en un texto redactado en 1987, pero publicado póstumamente en 1999, elaboró una metáfora del péndulo para explicar el periodo descrito. Vale la pena detenerse un instante en el significado de esta metáfora, pues permite entender con mayor claridad el paréntesis democrático entre 1980 y 1992. En palabras de Flores Galindo de su libro La tradición autoritaria, la historia republicana del Perú puede ser vista como “el ir y venir de un péndulo en cuyos extremos se ubican civiles y militares, sinónimos de democracia y autoritarismo, respectivamente”. Durante el periodo de la violencia política, sin embargo, “la imagen del péndulo se desdibuja, así como se aproximan, en la práctica, civiles y militares”. ¿Por qué es importante destacar esta imagen? Para tener en cuenta que es dentro de un Estado de derecho, si bien desdibujado (por la fusión entre los polos civil y militar, democrático y dictatorial), donde se elaboran los poemas del corpus. Cabe decir, pues, que la producción de los poetas analizados surge dentro de un relativo estado de libertad de expresión, que, sin embargo, se vio coaptado por la estrategia estatal de neutralizar voces disidentes radicales. Estos poetas, si bien pertenecientes a la franja social de los intelectuales, presenciaron de manera directa el deterioro de la sociedad civil en vías a una creciente militarización y, por lo tanto, un estado de angustia y temor generalizados. Nos encontramos, así, en este periodo 1980-1992, en medio de una nación conducida por un Estado democrático, que, sin embargo, posibilitó la completa militarización de grandes porciones de su territorio, sobre todo  de los Andes, columna vertebral del Perú, así como el control férreo e indiscriminado en las ciudades.

La violencia política, ejercida tanto por los aparatos represivos del Estado como por los grupos alzados en armas, con variantes como el etnocidio y el genocidio, y en la que entra perfectamente la “guerra sucia” que libraron el Ejército peruano y los movimientos subversivos, está relacionada con los “aires neoliberales” que, en el plano cultural del segundo belaundismo, guardaban consonancia con fenómenos literarios explicables dentro del contexto del capitalismo tardío (o multinacional) y su secuela de liberación de las importaciones de bienes de consumo en lugares que hasta hace poco estaban privados de ellos. En el plano político, una de las constataciones más terribles fue verificar cómo el rostro del Estado neoliberal se reveló en sus dimensiones más sórdidas durante la “guerra sucia”. Por ello, es importante recalcar el contexto, pues, en la lectura que realizo de los cuarenta y un poemas escogidos, encontraremos rasgos de esa radicalidad de opciones, de ese desasosiego y desconfianza que se da en la década de los ochenta de manera mucho más clara y contestataria que en décadas anteriores, hasta el punto de desarrollar nuevas focalizaciones y fracturas en la visión y la dicción de los nuevos sujetos de escritura.

Paolo de Lima is a Peruvian poet who holds a doctorate in literature from 
the University of Ottawa. He is the author of 
Poesía y guerra interna en el Perú (1980-1992), Edwin Mellen Press, New York, 2013.

See also: Peru, En español

Sombras coloniales

El chofer (The Chauffeur) de la serie, "La tuya, la mía, la nuestra" by Moico Yaker, 1998. Arte cortesía de Gustavo Buntinx. 

Ver la galería de fotos. 

Trabas para imaginar la comunidad

Por Gustavo Buntinx y Víctor Vich 

El Perú se encuentra inmerso en una nueva oleada de modernización capitalista: el mercado se expande de maneras impresionantes y la movilidad social ha dejado de estar encasillada en una estructura que limita los ascensos. Sin embargo, todavía nos encontramos muy lejos de articularnos como nación o comunidad imaginada, por utilizar la célebre fórmula de Benedict Anderson: la imagen todavía negada entre nosotros de un colectivo de ciudadanos iguales, con los mismos derechos y responsabilidades.

Hay, así, algo de una vieja historia que no consigue destrabarse, que se repite como un karma y continúa jugando un papel importante en nuestra sociedad. Aunque tiende a generalizarse un nuevo horizonte mesocrático, con excesiva frecuencia persisten en las interacciones entre los peruanos los antiguos vicios de la desigualdad extrema, las prácticas tutelares, el racismo (tradicional o invertido), la manía jerarquizadora. 

Como parte de una investigación mayor, esta muestra procura indagar en algunas de las maneras en que el arte contemporáneo acusa esos golpes. Se concentra para ello en el trabajo de apenas cuatro de los muchos artífices que intentan hacer ver lo que la inercia cotidiana nos invisibiliza. Nuestras comunidades inimaginadas.

Las obras reunidas dan cuenta de las brechas que impiden la construcción de relaciones más justas entre nosotros. Mediante la utilización de diferentes recursos estéticos, las composiciones que aquí se articulan ponen en evidencia lo ya evidente pero por lo general negado en los registros sensibles y políticos de la interacción cotidiana. Esas ocultas sombras coloniales que amenazan las liberaciones últimas de nuestra (post)modernidad vehemente y legítima. Restos ominosos de una tradición pretérita pero viva, mediante la que algo del antiguo orden se prolonga y procura reproducirse en nosotros.

A veces con marcas de profunda ambivalencia, que son también las de la incierta definición social de la que muchos artífices provienen. La figura del trabajo doméstico es en ese sentido incisiva, por la intimidad incluso afectiva con que ella encarna la diferencia social. Como en los emotivos retratos de los servidores de sus padres con que Moico Yaker ensaya en 1998 un angustiado testimonio personal y una amorosa reparación simbólica: aunque pequeños, todos los cuadros exhiben esos marcos de plata repujada cuyas reminiscencias coloniales sirven hoy para exaltar imágenes de devoción religiosa o sentimental. Connotaciones también presentes en los distintivos de servidumbre y oficio que cada retratado porta como su particular atributo, a la manera de santos cristianos identificados por los instrumentos de su martirio en la pintura virreinal. El mozo con la servilleta al brazo, o el chofer ostentando con resignación el auto ajeno entre sus manos. Y la lavandera inmersa en la sobredimensionada batea cuyas aguas turbias parecen haberse llevado hasta sus deslavados rasgos.

En contraste con esas semblanzas únicas, diminutas pero individualizables hasta con nombre y apellido, entre 2006 y 2008 Adriana Tomatis reinterpreta en grandes cuadros el anonimato uniformado de las nanas, en compañía a veces de los niños confiados a su custodia. Identidades desdibujadas incluso pictóricamente por un tratamiento formal que desvanece a la vez que estetiza esas presencias silenciadas de la intimidad doméstica. Una articulación compleja de sentidos plásticos y conceptuales, subrayada por títulos inquietantes como Prueba de color o Blanco sobre blanco. O incluso La otra, en alusión explícita a una secuencia fotográfica de Natalia Iguíñiz muy asociable a los temas de esta exposición.

Tomatis es también la autora de Panic Room (2009-2013), una punzante secuencia de dibujos y acuarelas que transfiguran a un lenguaje arquitectónico la presencia ubicua de casetas más o menos improvisadas para los servicios informales de seguridad callejera que se multiplican en Lima: nuestra gran ciudad capital, patéticamente desprotegida por la incompetencia y corrupción de la policía, y en general de casi todo aparato estatal. Es esa precariedad la que estos esquemas ironizan, con una agudeza acentuada por la belleza buscada en la expresión plástica.

Desde hace algunos meses Eliana Otta opta por una estrategia formal opuesta al abordar la misma problemática mediante ocho fotografías deliberadamente anodinas: apenas registros desangelados de los maltrechos asientos que se les suelen proporcionar a los vigilantes privados de las calles en los atemorizados barrios de nuestras clases medias. Un resto de lo doméstico que aflora en el espacio público para golpearnos políticamente desde el encuadre concentrado de estas tomas. Esas sillas –viejas, rotas, incómodas– se nos revelan así como un intento conmovedor de llenar el vacío del Estado, pero también como una evidencia adicional de la precarización del trabajo, de sus condiciones todavía lamentables en algunos contextos de nuestra prosperidad reciente. El título podría decirlo (casi) todo: Señores de la intemperie.

Pero todo logrado desde la re-presentación no de los individuos sino de los instrumentos laborales que los redefinen. Imágenes que desde ese descentramiento rechazan la estética casi publicitaria, hoy tan en boga, de “incluir” al personaje popular, convertido así en tarjeta postal. Por el contrario, el sujeto no aparece aquí por ningún lado, pues se trata más bien de enfrentarnos al carácter perturbador del propio objeto. Estas sillas –que nunca encontraríamos al interior de las casas que ellas resguardan– comienzan a hablar por sí mismas. Y su decir apunta a algo que la hegemonía oculta o minimiza. La inestabilidad que ese orden genera y que, paradójicamente, al mismo tiempo lo sostiene. Y la manera incómoda en la que algunos siguen siendo colocados como vasallos en las fronteras del propio proceso modernizador. 

Sobre esas –y otras– fronteras nos hablan también dos impresionantes fotografías de Roberto Huarcaya. De la manera más explícita posible, pero no menos poética por ello. A esto contribuye su formato panorámico y en extremo apaisado, que sin embargo apunta a la horizontalidad deficiente en la sociedad peruana: el elemento decisivo en ambas tomas es un eje central y divisorio marcando siempre el centro de la composición. En la primera imagen (2009) se trata del muelle que separa, como una muralla virtual, la playa exclusiva del club Regatas de las orillas populares de Agua Dulce y Pescadores. En la segunda toma (2011) tenemos la muralla literal –incluso con alambre de púas– que impide el tránsito de las barriadas populares de Pamplona Alta a los condominios cerrados de Las Casuarinas.

En ambos casos la desigualdad es planteada mediante equitativos términos visuales. Izquierda y derecha mantienen su proporción y simetría para la revelación de miserias y opulencias ordenadamente distribuidas. Y segregadas: áreas fronterizas impedidas de convertirse en zonas de contacto.

Fronteras tanto simbólicas como fácticas. A pesar de la innegable movilidad económica y la porosidad social crecientes, obras como las reunidas en esta exposición insisten en los elementos de inequidad que aún persisten. Los restos de la gran división y fractura que constituyeron nuestra sociedad hace ya centurias. La colonialidad supérstite.

P.D.: Atención al punctum sutil en el virtual díptico de Huarcaya. El punctum secreto: entrecortado sobre los cerros a la extrema derecha de la primera fotografía –Playa pública - Playa privada– asoma el perfil del edificio en el que el autor vive con su esposa y con sus hijos. Casi una atalaya para la contemplación cotidiana de las simétricas asimetrías que su cámara ahora registra de manera inversa. La mirada vital del artífice desdoblada, desconstruida, en su propia mirada tecnológica.

Y social. 

Gustavo Buntinx is an art historian, critic and independent curator, and director of the Cultural Center of the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos (Peru). A graduate of Harvard University, where he studied History and Literature, he completed postgraduate studies at the Universidad de Buenos Aires.

Víctor Vich, a Peruvian writer, is a professor at the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú (PUCP) and researcher at the Instituto de Estudios Peruanos (IEP). He was the 2007-08 Santo Domingo Visiting Scholar at DRCLAS.

See also: Peru, En español


Carlos Zegarra Zamalloa: Student Perspective

Carlos Zegarra Zamalloa, a native of Peru, is a MPH Global Health candidate at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health.

Terrorism in Peru: Our Historical Memory
By Carlos Zegarra Zamalloa
April 16, 2019


Para Español, vea acá


One peaceful August morning in 1991, my grandfather, Orlando Zamalloa, was getting ready to go to work in Cusco, a small city in southern Peru. He had been dividing his time between the town courts where he worked as a lawyer, and the university, where he advised law students. That day, while my grandmother was preparing breakfast, they heard a knock on the door. The visitors claimed they were his law students.

My grandfather sensed that something was not right as he approached and opened the door; he noticed that one of the students was hiding behind the wall. It was too late to react. They shot him seven times before fleeing and leaving him to bleed out and die. My grandfather was taken to the hospital to begin a painful process of recovery and severe health consequences that lasted until his death from liver cancer in 2007. The liver cancer was a result of the blood transfusion he received during his recovery from the assault. And the attackers? Terrorists of the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA), a group in force in Peru that destroyed the country, particularly during the decade of the 80s and 90s.

My grandfather represents in a certain way all that which the terrorists wanted to destroy: justice, that my grandfather sought every day in his work as a lawyer, and the peace of our families and society. This is why I object to this tumultuous time being called “a civil war,” whether in the name of a university conference or in the media. Let me explain further.

Nowadays, I feel that some segments of the population and especially the new generations have forgotten how difficult that time was. Along with this, there is a growing discussion in Peru about whether that part of our history should be called "terrorism," "internal armed conflict" or "civil war."

We should have things clear; the only goal of terrorism was to get power in any way and at any cost. Proof of this is that even though at one point they declared having an ideology, nowadays they seek to obtain it through an evil alliance with drug trafficking.

In the case of terrorism in Peru, to a large extent, its strategy was based on causing the most significant harm to the population outside of the power structures, to produce fear and anxiety in the country, with the assassination of innocent people. The destruction of infrastructure, the killing of leaders, politicians, military, and police officers, as well as their desire to cause a psychological impact that undermines a country's self-esteem were their primary weapons.

Massacres in places like Lucanamarca, Uchuraccay or Tarata bear witness to the legacy of destruction and death that these two terrorist organizations left during those years, with an estimated number of 69,280 people, between civilians and terrorists, as a result of the fight of the army and police against terrorists in different regions of Peru.

Those of us who lived through that time cannot forget the ever-present dangers and threats that made us all hesitate to open our front doors to welcome others in; the kidnappings of prominent businesspeople, village massacres of peasants, military assassinations, car bombs and power outages were in the news every day. We lived with the post-traumatic fear of uncertainty: in a state of constant unrest over who or what is next?

In areas such as public health, the presence of these groups in rural areas was a barrier to the implementation of health activities such as vaccination and eradication of diseases. Peru was the last country in America to eradicate polio—the last case occurred in 1991 in Junin (Central Sierra). Terrorist violence generated fear among volunteers in charge of vaccinations, and the destruction of health posts limited the action of doctors and nurses committed to vaccination campaigns. They attacked the volunteers and charged fees to the doctors in charge of the vaccinations.

In addition, the massive migrations from the countryside to the city, as a product of fear and violence, resulted in the creation of large areas in the peril of the cities, leading to precarious living conditions. The lack of water, electricity and health services caused the indexes of morbidity (presence of disease in the population) and mortality in areas of low resources to be unusually high.

We see how terrorism destroyed our country in many aspects, not only politically and economically, but also prevented the improvement of health conditions in the population. Is it appropriate to call this time "civil war"? Trying to equate these groups in terms of values and purposes with the Peruvian state seems wrong to me. There is nothing civil in killing or kidnapping people, preventing access to health for the poorest, and using fear to reach power by all means. Let's be clear, what happened in Peru was terrorism.