Remembering Peru’s Internal Conflict: Yuyanapaq, at the Museo Nacional in Lima.

Celestino Ccente, a campesino from the region of Ayacucho, after being treated for machete wounds received during an attack by Sendero Luminoso, 1983. (Photo by Oscar Medrano.)

There are exhibits that hit you in the gut like a sucker punch. Yuyanapaq: Para Recordar, at the Museo de la Nación in Lima, is one of them. Located on the 6th floor of the museum, a Soviet-style concrete bunker that lords over Avenida Javier Prado Este in San Borja, the show was put together by the Peruvian Truth & Reconciliation Commission. It explores the 20 years of violence, beginning in 1980, suffered primarily by poor campesinos throughout the country during what is euphemistically described as Peru’s “internal conflict.” 

It’s difficult to sum up in a few sentences what exactly happened during that period. Like so much of Peruvian history, it is a fantasmagoria of violence and obfuscation. The conflict was a protracted struggle between two leftist insurgency groups — Sendero Luminoso and the Movimiento Revolucionario Túpac Amaru (MRTA) — against the Peruvian government, which had little idea how to manage a guerilla war. Caught in the middle were tens of thousands of poor campesinos, who suffered massacres, torture and disappearances at the hands of the heavy-handed national police, in addition to the regular bouts of terror inflicted by the insurgency groups. (Sendero Luminoso in its later days was particularly renowned for its bloody tactics, especially against union leaders and other activists.) An exact death toll will never be known. Some estimates are as high as 70,000.

The exhibit, which consists primarily of black and white photography from throughout the era, was first staged by the Truth & Reconciliation Commission beginning in 2003 and has been housed at the Museo de la Nación since last year. It is absolutely breathtakingly riveting. If you’re anywhere near Lima, this is an absolute must-see.

Museo de la Nación, Javier Prado Este 2466 in San Borja. Tuesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free.

Click on images to view large.

December 26, 1980. Sendero Luminoso leaves dogs hanging around streets of central Lima. This one was left with a note that read, “Teng Siao Ping, hijo de perra” (Deng Xiao Ping, son of a bitch). (Photo by Carlos Bendezú, Revista Caretas.)

At the funeral of 19-year-old Senderista Edith Lagos in the city of Ayacucho. One of the more charismatic members of the group, Lagos was killed by the national police in September of 1982. At least ten thousand people turned out for her funeral, reflecting a high degree of discontent with the police. (Photo by Carlos Dominguez.)

In 1983, eight journalists went to investigate skirmishes between campesinos and senderistas in the remote village of Uchuraccay in Ayacucho. All eight were massacred by indigenous campesinos, reportedly put up to the task by Peruvian military forces. The journalists, above, were: Jorge Sedano, Amador Garcia, Jorge Luis Mendivil, Felix Gavilan, Pedro Sanchez, Willy Retto y Eduardo de la Piniella. The photo was taken by Octavio Infante, of Revista Caretas, one of the victims. Read more about the case here.

The exhumed bodies of the journalists in Uchuraccay, 1983. (Photo by Diario Oficial el Peruano.)

In an attempt to track down senderistas, the military conducted raids against presumed “perpetrators” — in this case, indigenous campesino women. (Photo by Jorge Ochoa, La República.)

In another failed attempt to kill off senderistas, the military massacred 32 campesinos in the Ayacucho village of Soccos. Here, families witness the exhumation of the bodies. November 1983. (Photo by Vera Lentz.)

Police conduct a raid in Tocache, an area inhabited both by narcotraffickers and senderistas, in 1987. (Photo by Alejandro Balaguer.)

Various images document the result of a clash between members of the MRTA and the military in 1989. (Photos by Diario Correa.)

A social studies student killed during a protest lies in a morgue, 1988. (Photo by Vera Lentz.)

Objects found on June 1, 1990 in a house that had been occupied by Sendero Luminoso founder and mastermind Abimael Guzmán in the tony Lima neighborhood of Monterrico. Clues discovered here ultimately led to his capture in September of 1992. (Photo by Vera Lentz.)

Guzmán after his capture. He is currently sentenced to life in prison

The conflict left behind countless orphans. This photograph by Cecilia Laraburre, from the series Ciertos Vacíos, shows a row of beds at an orphanage in Puerto Ocopa in Junín, 1995.

A wall documents orphan life in the wake of the conflict.

Hundreds of people were disappeared by the military in its effort against Sendero. A final room in the exhibit pays tribute to them. A few simple photographs hang as various audio tracks from the Truth & Reconciliation hearings play in the background. It is incredibly moving.


  1. tina

    Your first sentence says it all “There are some exhibits that hit you …”. If you do not mind (which I hope!), I will post this exhibit on my blog as well, Best regards from Vienna/Austria, tina

  2. luis yamamura

    All the trouble in Peru was acordingly by the worst govern of the militaries betwin 1970 and 1980. They stole the youth and the future, and the money os the peruvian people.
    So, the peruvian society haven´t an human Education. All his instruction is direct only in profissionals terms.
    At worst, the catholic religion is over, and deficient in Humanism.finely, this is not efficaccious to construe a man honest and realy human.
    It¨s necessary to change the mind based in a humanist religion,
    like, by example, the Budhism.
    Thank a lot!
    Good luck for every body!

  3. Francesco

    I’ve been 2 weeks ago at the Museo Nacional and was literaly petriefied by the Exhibition…the photographes were technically stunning and unfortunately sounded as a set of punches in my stomach.
    This big b&w images are showing a very dark time not only in the modern Peru history but in the civilized countries World.
    What happened needs to be recalled to the youngest generations.
    I will as well avail this post to spread awareness.

  4. The Friend

    I was at Edith Funeral, It was very sad and very nice, Edith was a very nice person happy and very friendly, I was her age too we were good friends and i cant not belive there wasnt any justice about it.
    I was also in Ayacucho when the 8 journalist were killed. Many people still beliving in the nice story laborated by the gobernament that the indians did, the true was an undercover convoy organized by the Army and with help of very few indians they attacked the journalist and kill them without mercy. They never showed the pictures that was taken just before they were killed and one of the pictures shows a men that is (black) color man, indians aren’t that dark of skin. Also some had watch, indians dont use watch, they follow the sun.
    In Peru any thing is possible that is why i keep hiding my identity.

    The Friend

  5. Pingback: Yuyanapaq. Para recordar - alma matinal
  6. ECO

    Tienes toda la razon THE FRIEND. Yo tambien segui muy de cerca esas investigaciones. Es por eso que me largue del Peru, porque queria vomitar cada vez que leia tantas mentiras. Como dijiste: En el Peru cualquier cosa puede suceder.
    You are absolutely right THE FRIEND. I followed very close all those investigations. That is why i left Peru, because made me sick reading so many lies. As you said: In peru anything is possible.