Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of May 22, 2000
Peruvian helps political prisoners
Psychologist says cruel treatment leaves prisoners' lives scarred
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
Being Peruvian is not easy nowadays. Rampant poverty and human rights abuses continue to dominate the politics of this country of 25 million.
Democratic institutions exist in Peru but have little or no power. Most power is in the hands of the executive, which runs the country like a dictatorship.
The government of President Alberto Fujimori is elected "but is not very democratic," said Peruvian psychologist Rosa Morón, currently visiting Edmonton.
Fujimori has managed to stay in power by keeping a climate of fear and mistrust, Morón said in a May 15 interview.
"He says if another government is elected, terrorism will be back in full force. Unfortunately, many people believe him and justify his repressive actions."
Almost a decade after the suppression of the guerilla movement, the country's jails continue to house thousands of political prisoners, about 250 of them proven to have been detained unjustly.
Many who raise their voices against the government are set up by the police and falsely accused of crimes ranging from tax evasion to robbery.
Morón, who works with the Peruvian bishops' social action commission, helps the families of political prisoners cope with the detention of their father or mother and helps rehabilitate released political prisoners.
Working with Peru's ombudsman's office, the social action commission has had more than 2,000 cases reopened.
Morón is the 2000 Alberta solidarity visitor of the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace.
Poverty is rampant in Peru with 70 per cent of the working population making less than US$100 a month. A college professor has to live on US$150 a month.
Political violence significantly declined in Peru during the 1990s. Earlier violence left 30,000 dead and 5,000 disappeared.
Under the guise of fighting terrorism, the military arrested thousands of people on terrorism charges during the '90s. Most detainees were tortured.
In 1996, a commission was set up to revisit the cases of 650 people who had been unjustly detained. So far 400 have been freed. The rest have seen their hopes greatly diminished as the commission closed in December.
"These people were unjustly detained and have already spent between six to 10 years in jail," Morón noted. "They were accused of terrorism but their crimes have never been proven."
Morón deals with the psychological consequences of detention and torture. "Children find it very hard to understand why their dad is in prison," she explained. "They figure their dad must have done something bad to be in jail."
Her role is to explain the causes and to try to erase the psychological scars that the experience has left on the children.
Morón also works with released prisoners, trying to reintegrate them into society. These people have been so damaged by years of isolation that don't want to know anything about public life.
People accused of terrorism spend their first year in solitary confinement and after that are allowed family visits only once a month and have no access to television, periodicals or work.
"Prison conditions are deplorable," explained Morón. "The aim of the government is to punish, not to rehabilitate."
When prisoners are released, they are unable to find work and find it difficult to even reintegrate into their own families.
"We try to rehabilitate them, to help them re-establish their ties with their families and the community," Morón said. "We provide them with business skills and loans so they can set up their own small business."
The Alberta-Mackenzie region of CCODP has been focusing on Peru since 1997. In 1998 D&P presented the Peruvian government with more than 35,000 postcards signed by Canadians demanding a general amnesty for political prisoners.
Morón said Canadians can help by writing to the Peruvian government and other international institutions demanding the release of the political prisoners.