Ayacucho’s voice in Peru’s Amazon conflict
¡La selva no se vende, la selva se defiende!
“The forest is not for sale, The forest we defend!” shouted the community of Ayacucho while pumping their fists in the air. Sweat dripped down their foreheads in the midday sun and not a soul was dressed for a day at the office. The spirit of the crowd was overwhelming, as if every person had their heart invested in the political crisis unfolding in Peru, no matter its geographic distance from here.
Hours after my arrival in Ayacucho on Tuesday, while I was still entranced by the cultural beauty of the place and struggling for air due to altitude, I was told the roads into the town were to be closed at midnight, and water and electricity might be shut off. The other volunteers at my MFI and I joked that the Peruvians were hazing me – the newest guerita in town.
In the Bagua region of Peru, an area where life is sustained by the Amazon’s great forest, live many indigenous people who have subsided on local hunting for generations. Far away in the urban metropolis of Lima, Peruvian President Alan Garcia has been coming up with a plan for Peru to have freer trade and more room for foreign corporations, at the request of the U.S. Two bills were created that would allow thousands of square miles in a formerly protected area of the Amazon rain forest to be for sale – which could indicate logging and/or a foreign oil company.
The indigenous have been rioting. They feel that their rights are being ignored, as this is an area they consider their own. The other side, including many urban dwellers, see the indigenous as unfairly resistant to change and purposefully difficult to negotiate with.
Another chant begins.
“Pueblo Amazona, Ayacucho esta contigo!”
Amazon region, Ayacucho supports you. Ayacucho can relate to the plight of rural farmers and indigenous communities often ignored and forgotten by the national government. And once they heard of the violence from the conflict last Friday – over 30 indigenous killed and hundreds more missing – it became a personal call to action. Further fanning the flame is a rampant rumor that the missing indigenous were killed and thrown into the nearby river by the police in order to cover up their deaths.
Two decades ago, the socialist terrorist group Sendero Luminoso ruled the region and city of Ayacucho. If you went out past 8pm, you would be killed by either the military or the terrorist group, as they assumed that by being out late you must have been doing something for the other side. Over 40,000 people disappeared in this area. Virtually every single FINCA Peru borrower in this area lost a loved one. Wives awoke in the middle of the night to their husbands being taken, never to be seen again. Many teenagers here do not have fathers.
Ayacucho’s heart is invested in Peru’s indigenous in the Amazon region: they’ve closed their markets and businesses the past two days, and those that had to work protested by wearing civilian clothes – even at FINCA. The streets have felt barren and boarded up.
Yet the most entrancing moment of the protest was watching a Peruvian woman climb up to the megaphone and tell the story of the day she never saw her husband again. She spoke in Quechua with power and a strength that simply transcended the language barrier.
This tiny little town’s protest might not make the national Peruvian news, nor is this crisis in general making headlines internationally without hunting through websites to find news pertaining to South America. As I watched the crowd overcome with emotion, I became overwhelmed and encouraged that Kiva allows its Fellows to share the resilient life stories of our Kiva borrowers on this blog.
It brings tears to my eyes to see an elderly woman, with four grown children, get excited about her next loan – twenty years after her husband’s life was taken. It brings tears to my eyes that her daughter sits next to her, breastfeeding her newborn, and counting out their next loan payment, literally juggling everything in her hands.
My heart has been pounding to get this story out.
Thank you, Kiva, on behalf of the rural campesinos in Ayacucho and in Peru’s Amazon, who’ve lived through the unimaginable, for letting me tell their story.
Because “justice is what love looks like… in public.” –Dr. Cornel West
Suzy Marinkovich is a Kiva Fellow at FINCA Peru in Ayacucho, the first of her three placements. She has a wholehearted passion for microfinance, social justice, and poverty alleviation. Suzy is most excited to listen to the incredible stories of Kiva borrowers in South America and let them know how much they continually inspire us all./>