In Peru's Inca capital, indigenous leaders struggle for recognition of their heritage

The World
A group of indigenous mayors, historians and activists gather for a candlelight vigil in Cuzco's main square to commemorate the 235th anniversary of freedom fighter Tupac Amaru{s death, who was dismembered by Spanish colonists on the square.

A group of indigenous mayors, historians and activists gather for a candlelight vigil in Cuzco's main square to commemorate the 235th anniversary of freedom fighter Tupac Amaru{s death, who was dismembered by Spanish colonists on the square.

Maria Murriel

Abigaíl Cárdenas Izquierdo thinks Cuzco is one of Peru's most revolutionary cities. 

"It's not for nothing," the 18-year-old says, "we have Inca blood. I think Cuzco is one of the strongest cities, with the most conviction. ... We know what it is to fight."

Th city of Cuzco, once capital of the Inca empire that spanned most of western South America, has seen many fights. And the state of Cuzco is considered by some locals to be the birthplace of freedom from colonial rule, thanks to a man whose death was commemorated on the city's main square last week.

Tupac Amaru II, considered the last of royal Inca blood, led a rebellion against the Spanish and was drawn and quartered on the square in 1781. Amaru, his wife and children were dismembered, their limbs scattered through the region.

The people holding a vigil on the 235th anniversary of Amaru's death consider themselves his ethnic and ideological descendants. 

Antonio Aráoz Enriquez, the mayor of a district in the state of Cuzco named after Tupac Amaru, wants the Peruvian government to declare Amaru's home "of natural interest." That status, colloquially referred to as "patrimony," would ensure the building gets mandatory maintenance and doesn't fall further into disrepair.

"Just like Simón Bolivar's house is one of Venezuela's most important museums, Tupac Amaru's home, which is important on a global level, should have that much importance," Aráoz says.

Attendees of Tupac Amaru´s vigil place their candels at his grave in Cuzco´s main square.

Attendees of Tupac Amaru´s vigil place their candels at his grave in Cuzco´s main square.

Credit:

Maria Murriel

He and the other speakers at the vigil last week maintain Amaru was the catalyst for independence in the Americas, having called for freedom and started his rebellion in the late 18th century. Aráoz calls Amaru the "icon of freedom."

Peru touts its Inca heritage heavily. Throughout the country, schoolchildren learn about Amaru's dismemberment and he's presented as a hero. But in Cuzco the sentiment is far stronger: The regional museum has a room devoted to him, complete with a short documentary on his rebellion, and at the vigil a student performed a poem in tribute to him that was more like a battle cry.

Cuzqueños live his heritage. 

But, Aráoz says, "There's a silence, an indifference, from the Ministry of Culture."

"Tupac Amaru's house [is in disrepair]. The last restoration was in the '70s. Parts of the house are falling apart and others are in danger of crumbling — this home that's so important to Peru and the Americas. And all the documents we've sent are collecting dust at the ministry."

Last week a congressman got unanimous support to get the house protected status, though the bill needs executive approval. But the delay has likely been due to a reputation problem.

In the 1990s, when leftist terrorist groups surged from Peru's remote Andes highlands, the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement picked up steam and eventually became known for taking hostages at the Japanese Embassy in Lima.  

The president at the time was Alberto Fujimori, of Peruvian Japanese descent. Fujimori's presidency ended with him fleeing to Japan after two terms, accused of corruption and human rights violations, including the sterilization of thousands of indigenous people.

In the Andes, there's a strong anti-Fujimori current. In Lima, there's a strong anti-left current. 

Since that era, some Peruvians equate indigenous rights groups and communal or left-leaning thinking with terrorism. 

And now that Fujimori's daughter, Keiko, is the frontrunner in this year's presidential runoff election, Cuzqueños like Cárdenas are speaking out.

She's part of the group "No A Keiko." Days after the Tupac Amaru vigil, they plastered a wall near the main square with anti-Keiko Fujimori propaganda: "No al Fujimorismo," the cost of the Fujimori siblings' United States education, and headlines blasting Fujimori Sr. for human rights violations covered the centuries-old bricks.

¨No A Keiko¨ Cuzco chapter posing in front of their poster accusing Keiko Fujimori of living off public money from the time of her father´s presidency.

¨No A Keiko¨ Cuzco chapter posing in front of their poster accusing Keiko Fujimori of living off public money from the time of her father´s presidency.

Credit:

Maria Murriel

Cárdenas says she's voting for economist Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, who trails Keiko Fujimori, but she says he's only the lesser of two evils.

"Anything but Fujimori," she says. 

Days before locals and tourists gawked at Cárdenas' wall, the Tupac Amaru activists turned their vigil into a public forum.

A man took the mic and said, "Tupac Amaru did not die in vain, because we have democracy in Peru now. But us indigenous people have to keep fighting for justice within that system."