Peru’s “Place of Memory” Set to Unveil History

September 6, 2011 by

News & Alerts

The Miraflores District

The upscale Lima neighborhood of Miraflores is today known for its fine cuisine, trendy nightlife, eye-catching architecture, and appealingly rocky coastline. In July 1992, however, the posh hotspot made international headlines because of the Tarata bombing, when truck bombs detonated by the Shining Path—Maoist guerrillas or simply terrorists, depending on your source—killed 24 people, seriously wounded 200, and gutted the neighborhood.

The bombing ushered in a federal crackdown on left-wing activity across Peru, spearheaded by former President Alberto Fujimori. Today, though lauded in some circles for his successful efforts, he is serving time for human rights violations committed during that period—including massacres perpetrated by his notorious anti-communist paramilitary force, the Grupo Colina.

There are those who would rather forget the troubled decades of the 1980s and 1990s, which is understandable. But as new museums and monuments to the so-called dirty wars are erected across Latin America, it seems that the time has come to face the past. “Only injuries thoroughly cleaned can heal,” stated former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet at the inauguration of Santiago’s Museum of Memory and Human Rights, dedicated to the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990).

Thus, Miraflores will soon be home to the Place of Memory, a long-debated museum dedicated to the 70,000 civilians who died in Peru’s Cold War-fueled crossfire. The museum will be partially funded by a £1 million gift from the government of Germany, inviting comparisons with the WWII and Holocaust memorials. But, “The Holocaust memorials went up when most of the victims and perpetrators were long gone,” explained historian Jeremy Adelman to Newsweek. “In Latin America, they’re walking in our midst.”

The gift was originally refused by former President Alan García, who had hoped to avoid the controversy that would inevitably surround such a project. When it became clear that all political stripes supported the effort, however, García agreed to go ahead with the project.

Though very few individuals within Peru’s right-wing ruling class were directly responsible for the wartime atrocities, many worry that the Place of Memory will provide a biased historical account that could ultimately be used against them. The Peruvian military even suggested its own museum, to provide “balance.”

In response, García cleverly appointed Nobel Prize-winning novelist Mario Vargas Llosa as director of the planning committee. In addition to having the cultural credibility for such a position, Vargas Llosa is well known for his neoliberal politics, though Latin American lefties still appreciate his prose, and commitment to calling out all dictators.

“We must consolidate a democratic culture that can save us from fanaticism and drive home [the idea] that terror cannot be combated with terror,” Vargas Llosa stated. “Reconciliation is only going to occur if all sides see that they are represented with objectivity.” Despite the writer’s involvement, however, the project remained stalled until Humala, a former union leader, was elected last June. As of last month, all systems are go, with the museum scheduled to begin construction next month.

An architectural competition garnered almost 100 submissions, from which the designs of Sandra Barclay and Jean Pierre Crousse were chosen. President-elect Humala has also appointed famed abstract artist Fernando de Szyslo to the committee.

-Paige Penland

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