introduction | cynthia e. milton
art from peru’s fr actured past
Ithe
n Adiós Ayacucho [Farewell Ayacucho] Julio Ortega recounts from the perspec-
tive of Alfonso Cánepa, a community leader from the department of Aya cucho,
travails of finding postmortem justice in a country that offers little justice
for the living. When he was accused of being a terrorist rather than a peasant
leader the military mutilated his body and threw what was left of it into a pit,
leaving out many of his bones and thus denying him the possibility of a proper
burial and eternal peace. Since his death Cánepa has worked to reconstruct his
body, trying to get a sympathetic hearing from the president of the Republic in
the hope that the head of state will return his bones to him. Rejected, he climbs
into the tomb of the conquistador Francisco Pizarro and takes some of Pizarro’s
bones to complete his own skeleton. Written in 1986, this novella evokes the
tragedy and brutality of the war in highlands Peru, the racism and indifference
that lay at the heart of the conflict, and the long-standing historical violence
dating back to the arrival of the Spanish.1
Alfonso Cánepa’s story, though fictional, recalls the experience of hundreds
of thousands of Peruvians whose lives from 1980 until the mid-1990s were con-
vulsed by an internal war.2
According to the Peruvian Truth and Reconcilia-
tion Commission, which studied the years from the launch of Shining Path’s
“People’s War” to the fall of the Fujimori government in 2000, over 69,000
people were killed or disappeared, some 4,600 clandestine burial sites pock-
mark the country, over 40,000 children were left orphans, over 20,000 women
were left widowed, and some 600,000 internal refugees migrated to the cities
in search of safer lives.3
The scale of the destruction, loss of family and loved
ones, personal suffering, and fracturing of life trajectories and social bonds
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