Battles over memory

20 May 2018

The past week has seen an escalation of the bitter disagreements over how to frame the memory of more than two decades of violent conflict (1980-2002).

First came the episode where an assistant working for Congresswoman Maria Elena Foronda, from the leftist Frente Amplio party, was found to have been previously condemned for terrorism. The assistant, Nany Madrid, had served 16 years for having been a member of the MRTA (Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement). Foronda claimed that she knew about Madrid’s background, but that, as she had served her time there was no reason not to employ her, that is if the Human Resources Committee approved.

This has resulted in a heated debate on whether those who have served time in prison should be allowed to work for the state. As a result, a new law has been proposed, and it passed its first reading on 18 May, under it all those who have been found guilty and served time for terrorism or justification of terrorism (apología) will not be allowed to work for any state entity. They will be added to a list which includes those who have been found guilty of drug dealing and taking people into sexual slavery. 

The debate over the past heated up still further last week as Congressman Edwin Donayre from Alliance for Progress (APP), the party of the currently serving prime minister, presented a heavily edited video at the Museum of Memory (LUM) accusing one of their employees of the crime of apología. Donayre, formerly head of the army, called for the re-evaluation of the museum and its contents; he considered them biased.

Donayre went to the museum in disguise, posing as a deaf/mute victim of the Colombian armed forces. He asked for a special visit which lasted over three hours, during which his companions kept asking the person conducting the visit leading questions to try to get her to say something that could be construed as problematic. As it happened the person who led his tour was not one of the trained guides but the person in charge of teacher training, Gabriela Eguren. Given that Donayre was presenting as a victim she undertook the tour, as the museum endeavours to attend all comers. 

Following release of the video, Eguren was fired from LUM. She has now been the object of numerous attacks, accused of terrorism, and even death threats. Culture Minister Patricia Balbuena justified the dismissal on the grounds that she expressed personal opinions. She defended the work of the museum, however. The interim director had resigned on 20 April and a new one was appointed on a temporary basis only. The previous director resigned after an earlier confrontation with a congressman from Fuerza Popular. 

The battles over memory thus continue to rage, fed in part by the freeing of those who have now served long sentences for terrorism. The mere existence of the LUM is considered problematic by many of those who would rather bury the past.

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