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Closing of Public Hearings in Lima

Words by TRC’s Chairman

Ladies and Gentlemen,

When inaugurating these hearings, we pointed out that they would be the occasion to know in the most dramatic way, through the victims’ voices, the horrors that befell our country and our people during the last decades. We knew at that time that - along these days - we would learn about painful, repulsive and outrageous facts. However, I am sure that you, as well as all of us, the Commission members, must have felt along these days how limited, how timid and innocent our imagination is, as compared with the violence and the cruelty capacity, as compared to the self-destructive frenzy that seized our country in those years. The stories we have attentively heard, feeling sorrow and respect, create in us Peruvians the obligation of wondering what happened to us, how we arrived to those degradation extremes that the victims have courageously and generously shown us with their narratives.

I said degradation, and although this word may sound excessive, it is actually only a pale reflection of the acts we have been hearing these days. We have spoken about crimes committed from an absolute force position against unarmed and inadvertent victims. And if this had not been sufficient for the executioner, they were crimes committed under the cover of darkness and with malice aforethought, as the witnesses in these Hearings have told us repeatedly. Was not that already excessive? Apparently not. The violations had to be committed, besides, with rage and mercilessness as if the others’ suffering had become the main goal, a sick enjoyment motive for those executing these crimes, and for those who ordered them from comfortable and safe shelters or offices.

The testimonies that have been presented to us coincide in pointing out this relish for cruelty, this desire of destroying the victims’ dignity, starting by the use of language. The recurrence of insults, as if physical force were not sufficient, also reveals a disdain based on considerations of race, culture or poverty, and patently show the devaluation of women. This vulgar language of executioners against unarmed victims reflects, in brief, the social alienation patterns that, as we know, are still embedded in our country, and which are perhaps the greatest obstacles to achieve a fair and democratic society.

I am certainly speaking about those moral humiliations that, as the witnesses have shown us, were almost always added to physical abuses, and were as severe as the latter. In one case, this aggression to human honor and dignity went to the extreme of expropriating the name of a person to baptize a sinister criminal organization.

Deterioration of the whole society
The victims’ pain is immeasurable and in the end irreparable. Nothing we may do will fully compensate them for the loss of a father, a mother, a brother, nor for the years of anxiety or the long humiliation that meant on the contrary, given refuge and comforted.

The victims’ drama, on the other hand, although being individual and incomparable, also leads us to a collective tragedy. Our entire society was affected by years of violence and we have proven and realized – we realize it every day - the impoverishment of our civic culture, the lowering of our moral criteria, and our tolerance of the arrogance, abuse, cynicism, hypocrisy that have infected our public dialogue spaces.

Where is the root of this deterioration? It is hard to tell, but the victims who have shared their stories with us along these days offer us some cues that we should take into account for our thoughts. In fact, we have heard, in more than one case, how the family unit was destroyed by the murder of fathers and mothers, through kidnapping and threats, a destruction which would inevitably lead to a process of our social fabric corrosion. Where solidarity, mutual aid capacity and compassion should have surfaced, jealousness, mutual fear and selfishness appeared. Terror inflicted from the State or from subversive organizations worked – thus we have seen - as a paralyzing substance that broke our will and did not allow our society to resort to those moral reserves that perhaps would have prevented us from falling into the savagery that we now regret.

Degradation of a society also starts when an authoritarian culture is allowed to thrive, as a result of a perverse pedagogical trend that robs people of their spiritual freedom and reasoning capacity, which are our most precious gifts. The forced education that subversive organizations inflicted on some humble country people, inciting them to assume hate as a dogma and despise human life as if these were patent truths is part of that authoritarian history. Nevertheless, authoritarianism was also reflected in that other surreptitious education, disseminated from different State and society instances, teaching us that public order had to be enforced at any cost. Does the reason for our collective deterioration not lie in this submission of minds and hearts? And if this is so, is it not in our hands to get rid of this authoritarian culture and substitute it for a culture of peace and freedom?

Institutional failure
No society recovers it moral, civic and political health without restoring its institutions. During these two days we have also heard about the great defection of our country’s institutions when we needed them most. Subversive organizations on the one hand, and national police and the armed forces on the other, are habitually the most visible faces of violence. Nevertheless, we must not forget that entities such as the Prosecutor’s Office, the Judiciary and the Congress were not capable of complying with their duty, and neither did political parties or many press media. As they did not comply with their duty, our democracy - which just started to revive in 1980 - could not build itself on firm foundations and succumbed to the temptation, always present in Latin American history, of becoming an authoritarian regime or simply a dictatorship. This is the bitter – and hence instructive - lesson Peruvians today cannot ignore.

Final words
The terrible stories we have heard have several faces, and each of them comprises a lesson and an obligation for Peruvians. The lesson must be extracted by all of us together, by means of sincere reflection, and to that end is aimed the work done by Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Our obligations are many and, of course, they start with exposing the truth, with renouncing the coward or interested silence. Then, they must be followed by a compensation to victims. Many of them, in these days, have mentioned what they expect; we know that needs are many and diverse, maybe insuperable on the short term for such a poor country as ours. At the same time, we know that there are urgent tasks, such as providing good quality education, or attending to the traumas suffered by the population, as a gradual but sustained remedy to the deep material precariousness in which many people affected by violence were left. Added to this, and perhaps as a first requirement, there is a spiritual and moral change that must be verified in each one of us. The testimonies we have heard also offer us an example of this change, because as there was and still is anger, pain, indignation, intolerable sorrow, we have also heard stories of magnanimity and forgiveness, and they must inspire us in the search of this urgent moral regeneration of our country.

The attention given to this Public Hearing and the former Public Hearings, your presence here and the collaboration of the mass media, the respect shown to victims, all of that permits us to maintain our hopes that this change can operate. We know that not all Peruvians have yet been included in this thought; you, friends, concerned by the drama suffered by our countrymen, may help us to spread the message of compassion and reconciliation that is the ultimate aim of these Hearings.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission thanks you for your attendance and collaboration, and acknowledges the presence of our honored guests from different international organizations, who have accompanied us these days. But first of all, our gratitude goes to the victims, who have had the generosity and courage of sharing their painful memories with us. With the certainty of having made a great step towards reconciliation these days, towards being reunited with ourselves, I declare the fifth Public Hearing of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Lima, closed. Signed in Lima, capital of the Republic, on 21st and 22nd June 2002.

Salomon Lerner Febres
Truth and Reconciliation Commission Chairman