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Peru twenty years on

More than 20 years of internal armed conflict in Peru have had horrendous effects with some 10,000 people killed, families split up, entire communities forced to flee their homes and widespread damage to infrastructure. Despite all this, today life is slowly returning to normal even in the most affected villages such as Marccaraccay in the Ayacucho mountains.

AS the ICRC team arrived in Marccaraccay in August 2004 a full-scale fiesta was under way. Everyone was dancing and celebrating the feast of animal branding, during which cows, bulls and sheep of reproductive age were being “baptized”. This involved festooning their ears with coloured wool to mark their identity.

Some 15 young villagers, radios in their hands, were dancing and singing local songs. They invited us to join them in this celebration of joy and fraternity in the community.

Seeing such festivities, who would have believed that this was one of the villages that suffered the most during the internal armed conflict that ravaged Peru over the previous two decades? In 1983, the few villagers who had survived the incursions and constant fighting between soldiers and groups of insurgents decided to flee in the middle of the night, leaving absolutely everything behind.

Their exodus was fraught with hardship. They fled towards the mountains, spending the nights in caves like nomads, and eventually dispersed to seek refuge and a place to live in the towns throughout the country.

Daily breakfast distribution to displaced children in Ayacucho. © CHRISTINA FEDELE / ICRC

The long road back

Almost 20 years went by before some families decided to return to Marccaraccay and rebuild. At first only a few people dared to go back and face the stark reality: a village that had been abandoned, plundered and burned to the ground, and fields neglected and overgrown. It was difficult to cope with the immense sadness of coming back to find an empty village full of painful memories.

The older villagers were the most enthusiastic about returning, but some younger people also wanted to go back to their roots, learn about their past and begin a new life. At the beginning of 2000, through the Programme for the Repopulation and Development of Emergency Zones (PAR), the Peruvian government offered incentives for a number of displaced families to return to their villages. In 2003, the ICRC decided to support the PAR by means of a pilot project involving the construction of homes and latrines and the distribution of seed and agricultural tools in the village of Marccaraccay.

Fifteen homes were built of adobe — the material used for house construction everywhere in the Peruvian highlands — and handed over to the most needy families. Although basic services such as electricity, safe water and waste-water disposal were lacking, the village continued to attract former inhabitants.

Today Marccaraccay is very well organized, with a village assembly and a radio station for communication with other villages. The authorities work together to promote the well-being of the population. Out of the ashes of a hastily abandoned village, a lively community is gradually emerging, with regular arrivals of more people.

Between traditions and modernity

While some young men were patrolling the paths around the village, the feast of Santiago was in full swing. A mixture of joy and nostalgia could be seen in the expressions of the older people. Speaking in Quechua, the native tongue of the Peruvian highlands, they told us how for many years they had been unable to celebrate their feast days and traditions, and how they had wandered for a long time looking for a place to live. But forced displacement had not succeeded in making them forget their traditions, as demonstrated clearly by the events of the day.

Although some people were returning to the village, others were too attached to the modernity and development of the provincial capitals to feel that it was possible to go back, and were still living in miserable conditions on the outskirts of cities, in the so-called “belts of poverty”.

Marccaraccay is an exemplary case. This pilot project, conducted with ICRC support, is bearing fruit, attracting more settlers, restoring traditions and consolidating the identity of a community. The National Truth and Reconciliation Commission regards it as a successful example of a project that provides what are known as “collective reparations”, intended to compensate victims of the internal armed conflict. The programme does not claim to solve the more structural problems of poverty, injustice and exclusion, but sets out to provide basic community services for the benefit of the population in general.

Up in the heights of Marccaraccay progress is being made and wounds are healing, but there is still a great deal of work to be done. However, the community has enough energy and determination to succeed; all it needed was a helping hand.


Marccaraccay village, Ayacucho province, 3,800m above sea level, was partly destroyed by the conflict in 1983. © BORIS HEGER / ICRC

Dafne Martos
Dafne Martos is ICRC communication and press officer in the regional delegation for Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru.

Displaced people in Peru

A few figures:
• The National Truth and Reconciliation Commission estimates that there are some 500,000 displaced people in the country as a result of the armed violence.
• Most of the people displaced by the internal armed conflict have not returned to their places of origin because of economic difficulties, problems of adaptation and lack of incentives and prospects for development.
• Displaced people who do not return are still suffering the effects of the mental trauma caused by the armed clashes, the loss of family members and documents, and economic problems.
• The requests most frequently made by returnees are for employment opportunities, the upgrading of agriculture, equipment, access to basic services, construction of schools, access to justice and clear replies concerning what happened in their communities.


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