Surviving amid Peru's guerrilla war. Peasants seek to rebuild lives in war-torn villages
Six months ago, this remote village in the central Peruvian Andes was a ghost town, abandoned by residents that had fled the war raging between the Shining Path guerrillas and the Peruvian military. Today, the main plaza is still overgrown and surrounded by crumbling adobe houses. But new life is being breathed into the one-time Incan village and former guerrilla stronghold. Residents of Huambalpa are returning to begin their lives again with help from the 16-month-old government of President Alan Garc'ia P'erez.
Villagers are using government money to rebuild the local school and the town hall. (At the height of violence in 1983, they were dynamited by insurgents and painted with blood-red revolutionary slogans.) An irrigation canal is under construction to facilitate the planting of new fields of barley, beans, corn, and wheat.
About 500 of some 3,000 former villagers have come back as part of a government-sponsored project that began in May. The project is part of a broad effort by the Garc'ia administration to fight the guerrilla threat by focusing directly on the needs of the long-neglected Indians of the Andean Highlands. This year, the government plans to spend some $400 million to improve living conditions and provide agricultural credits to farmers from Huancavelica Province southeast of Lima to Puno on the Bolivian border.
Giving new hope to the Indians, the government says, should cut into the recruiting base of the guerrillas. But President Garc'ia has found he faces a bitter battle in towns and villages throughout the region, and those returning home to Huambalpa have learned that the days of terror and insecurity are far from over.
In late August, four Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso) gunmen came to Huambalpa in the early morning hours and accused a village teacher of being a government spy. After a torture session, they murdered him and left a warning at the scene: ``This is how infiltrators will die, and this is how anyone who buries this infiltrator will die.''
At first, villagers were afraid to report the death in the nearby town of Vilcashuam'an. A police contingent has since been posted to the village to provide security. But three young men elected as village representatives to administer the government's assistance program for Huambalpa have subsequently been detained as suspects in the killing.
Heraclides Gamboa, the only development committee member not detained in the slaying, says the arrests were the work of captured guerrillas seeking revenge. ``Sendero doesn't want people to return to Huambalpa,'' a frightened Gamboa said. ``We are doing something to rebuild the village, but Sendero doesn't want progress.''
The situation is much the same in dozens of other villages in the remote outposts of the Andes. Marcial Capelleti Cisneros, president of the government development corporation in Ayacucho, says that although the Shining Path has abandoned some government-supported villages, about 40 percent of government works in this area are either behind schedule or paralyzed because of guerrilla threats or violence. ``They don't want irrigation or roads or any type of public works.'' They want to stop progress, he says, ``so that they will have an easier breeding ground.''
Meanwhile, in the towns surrounding Huambalpa and throughout the emergency zone under military control, the Army has renewed efforts to crush the guerrillas. At least 73 deaths of suspected Shining Path activists and sympathizers have been reported in the Ayacucho zone in recent weeks as the military carries out a series of special operations.
The military said recently that in late October, in the villages of Pomotambo and Parcco Alto, several dozen kilometers from Huambalpa, it had killed Claudio Bellido Huaytalla - or Comrade Cazselly, believed to be the number three man in the Shining Path hierarchy - and 12 other leaders as they were preparing to hold a regional assembly. But earlier this week, Peru's leading newsmagazine said villagers claim that the Army massacred the mayor and other municipal officials in the Pomotambo raid.
Critics say that Garc'ia's government lacks specific policies to fight subversion and has left too much control in the hands of the military at the expense of civilian government and institutions. Human rights organizations say that while disappearances and killings have decreased substantially since Garc'ia took power, members of the military are still committing abuses in the war zone and lack respect for the peasant population. Dirty war tactics of the military only feed the spiral of violence in the country, opposition spokesmen say.
According to the Roman Catholic Church-backed Desco Institute in Lima, an estimated 8,560 people - including 309 police and soldiers - have died since Shining Path took up arms in mid-1980.
For his part, Garc'ia has called for more cooperation from the population and has attempted to call attention to innocent victims killed by the Shining Path.
For the people of Huambalpa, hopes that the country's nightmare of violence will end are fragile and pinned desperately on the government.
Said Sixta Huamani, a single mother of three who moved back to Huambalpa from Lima: ``Right now we're living on what the government gives us. What can we do? We are just living from day to day.''