Angélica Mendoza

3 September 2017

The death last week of Angélica Mendoza has brought sorrow to many. Angélica, 88, emerged as a leading figure of those in Ayacucho who sought answers from the military over the whereabouts of their loved ones, forcibly ‘disappeared’ during the 1980s when this part of the country was made an ‘emergency zone’ under the jurisdiction of a military commander.

Angélica, known to many was ‘Mama Angélica’, spent 34 years seeking answers to the whereabouts of her own son, Arquímedes. A student at the Universidad San Cristóbal de Huamanga in Ayacucho, he was led away from his home at gunpoint. Arquímedes was taken, it seems, to the Los Cabitos military detention centre where, recent investigations show, prisoners were assassinated and their bodies burned in a specially-prepared crematorium.

Along with 35 other mothers of the disappeared, Angélica helped form Anfasep, the Asociación Nacional de Familiares de Secuestrados, Detenidos y Desaparecidos (National Association for the Families of those Kidnapped, Detained and Disappeared). Against all the odds, facing official hostility, Mama Angélica and those with her campaigned and confronted both the military and judicial officialdom in Ayacucho, demanding explanations, highlighting the crimes that took place within Los Cabitos and elsewhere.

It was in large measure because of their efforts that the true nature of Los Cabitos was clarified in recent weeks and some of those involved brought to justice. But this has taken decades to achieve.

It was perhaps telling that the day of Angélica’s death was the 14th anniversary of the publication of the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission into the atrocities committed during the 20-year war between Sendero Luminoso and the Peruvian state. The Commission’s report represented (and still represents) the best narrative of the violence perpetrated on both sides, resulting in the death of at least 70,000 people.

In the words of Salomón Lerner Febres, the former president of the Commission, “her love as a mother was stronger and more tenacious than the conspiracy of the unjust [who opposed her]. She was the inspiration for many other families and her dignity stood forth as a symbol of love confronting barbarity”.

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