Back Home in the Andes After War, Peruvians Try to Live Without TV
TO the rhythm of drum and flute, the villagers of Huamanquiquia are celebrating the annual feast day of their patron saint. But this year, the day has extra significance: They are also welcoming back former neighbors who fled the zone almost a decade ago in the face of guerrilla violence. ''They were killing us - we had to escape,'' says Arnulfa Barrantes. In 1987, she and her four children abandoned Huamanquiquia, a village in the south-central Andes, after attacks by the Maoist Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso) guerrilla group. In their attempt to turn Peru into a socialist workers' paradise, Shining Path had terrorized the country for 15 years and was responsible for 30,000 deaths. Some 600,000 people were displaced by the violence. Since the capture three years ago this week of founder Abimael Guzman Reynoso, the Peruvian countryside has enjoyed a relative peace. Some of those displaced have started to come home. Planting in peace Like many others, Ms. Barrantes fled to the overcrowded shantytowns of the capital Lima. Eking out a living was tough. ''But back here I can work on my own plot of land. I can plant everything, and there'll always be food on the table,'' she says. This return of 100 villagers native to Huamanquiquia, like Barrantes, is a pilot project organized and financed jointly by the Geneva-based International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Peruvian government's Repopulation Support Program (PAR), set up in 1993. ''Spontaneous migration shows people want to return, but in practice it hasn't worked,'' says Victor Torres of IOM. ''And it's potentially dangerous for the government if people return to their villages to find the basic conditions don't exist.'' For three months, a team of professionals, including doctors, psychologists, and legal experts assisted would-be returnees to prepare themselves physically and emotionally. In a Lima shantytown, natives of Huamanquiquia would meet regularly to undergo government-sponsored health checks, get their documents in order, and talk at length of their needs and aspirations. Hopes ran high, though wants were modest. ''They are asking for hats, sandals, picks, shovels, and a few small animals,'' explained Ponciano Torales, the Argentine-born migration specialist who heads the PAR module for the Huamanquiquia pilot project. ''What they seek is to recover their peasant identity.'' Back in Huamanquiquia, however, reality is harsh. It's a seven- hour drive from the mountain city of Ayacucha on an unpaved road, then another three hours by foot or horse to descend from the 14,000 foot-high, barren tundra to the village. Returnees received a cool welcome. Initially, the 300 locals who had remained throughout the decade of violence looked suspiciously upon the ''townsfolk,'' with their team of advisers and what looked like abundant food and medical supplies. For some returnees, Huamanquiquia now seems alarmingly primitive. City-bred children wailed at the prospect of long dark nights with no television. Young men wondered how they could iron their shirts with no electricity - and no prospect of it. Rebuilding the village Those who stayed have their own problems. The village medical center was burned by vengeful guerrillas. The town hall, which all helped build, is desolate. The solid, hierarchical structure of the typical Andean community has been broken: Most young and middle-aged leaders were wiped out when Shining Path tried to impose its rule. ''There is no community spirit any more,'' says Ilych Manrique, the psychologist on the IOM-PAR team. ''People have been forced to become aggressive and individualistic from fear; everyone is out of himself.'' The festival, nevertheless, as the planners had anticipated, helped forge a sense of kinship. Returnees joined in the traditional annual cleaning of the irrigation canals, then in a fertility ceremony in the dilapidated church. This planned return cost $120,000. Still pending - and far more costly - will be the essential infrastructure. The government of President Albert Fujimori has pledged: a road, drinking-water systems, electricity, a new health center, and an enlarged school. ''This assisted transfer will be judged on how many people stay,'' says Italo Orriolo, head of IOM's Lima mission. ''We realize that getting the young to remain in the countryside will be difficult. But if it works, the whole community will benefit, and this project will be repeated on a far larger scale.'' * A related story about Peru ran on Tuesday, three years after Guzman was captured.