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