Projects 2013 > Quipu: Living Documentary > Journal
19 September 2013
I am in Lima, Peru, doing some preparatory work for the Quipu project. We want to build a platform that might allow victims of the mass sterilization programme carried out under the government of Alberto Fujimori, to share their stories and participate in the telling of the history of this process, which has tended up to now to be skewed against them.
I have been talking about our project with a variety of Peruvians, gauging the opportunities that we might be able to offer against the many difficulties which surround the project and the politicised opinions which surround any subject linked to the polarising Fujimori regime. I was last in Peru in 2000, the year Fujimori was ousted from power, and was replaced by a more moderate, democratic regime. Then, the long process of understanding what happened in Peru during the rebellion of Shining Path and the counter-revolution unleashed by the state across the country in the 1980s and 1990s, was just beginning. I had worked for Amnesty International in Lima during the year 1996-1997, when the capital, Lima, was relatively calm but a militarised state remained in operation in much of the national territory. A national Commission of Truth and Reconciliation reported in 2003 – most people now know what happened, though few of the perpetrators of the worst abuses have been brought to legal justice. Fujimori is in jail for his leadership of the corrupt and abusive government. A new Place of Memory will open in Miraflores, Lima, in 2014 as a site where Peruvians and visitors can engage with this recent past. Keiko Fujimori, the ex-President's daughter, is likely to stand again as a presidential candidate in the next election; last time she missed out on victory by a narrow margin.
And yet: memories of the mass sterilization project have not received the same level of political or judicial attention as what we might see as more straightforward, 'political' human rights abuses. Perhaps this is due to memory fatigue, a desire by Peruvian society to move on from thinking about its past at a time of relative economic upturn. Perhaps it is because global economic crisis has reduced the funds available to campaigning NGOs. Or perhaps it is because the majority of victims were women, and because they lived in the provinces, far from central government.
Peru remains a highly macho society, despite several legal and social advances in the direction of gender equality, and the election of a woman, Susana Villarán, as mayor of Lima. Taxi-drivers have routinely made fun of President Ollanta Humala to me on the basis that his wife, a sociologist, gives him advice and he sometimes takes it. The role of the man as the authority figure in family life is, at least in public discourse, generally taken for granted. The question of who should decide about contraception or the number of children to have, remains a particularly moot one in many Peruvian families. The subject of family planning, and the role that the state should have in controlling Peruvian women's bodies, remains a divisive, complicated and often peripheral issue in a male-dominated public sphere and media.
In conversation with Peruvian lawyers, politicians, street-sellers, NGO activists, sociologists, taxi-drivers, anthropologists, security guards, and historians this week I have tried to explore some of the most compelling issues around the Quipu project. Summing up, the most common doubt appears to be: will womenreallycall an impersonal phone line to leave a testimony around such a sensitive subject? This seems especially relevant around the question of language: can we use Quechua or Spanish, or both? What meanings would either choice have? Can we afford on the translation/interpretation costs on our tight budget? The test work that Rosemarie is doing now will help us to answer that question and move on from it.
The other principal concerns and areas to explore in our project will be:
Anonymity: how to record and store testimonies, on what grounds to accept them?
Archive: how can we make sure that the material we gather is available to future researchers, and on what basis? (particularly important given ongoing legal processes)
Victimhood: how can we be sure that we are not promoting a culture of victimhood amongst women who are independently organising to defend their rights?
The whole story: how can we be sure that we don't end up telling only one side of the story, by focusing only on the subjects of the surgical act, and therefore omitting the larger picture, which involved nurses, doctors, politicians and the wider political system?
Can we develop the Quipu model so that it allows the broader picture to unfold, and for themes and commonalities to emerge that might not otherwise be appreciated? Let's hope that we can make it work.
Adios, Peru. Hasta pronto.Posted by Matthew Brown