By Way of Peru
Liz Adams- Lima, Peru
Early this morning, at about 4:30 a.m., our plane touched down in Lima, Peru. After a rather sleepless ride, I made it through the airport and customs and was greeted by a very friendly taxi driver hired by Paz y Esperanza to take me to a hotel where I could rest a bit before the day got underway. Sleep, unfortunately, didn't come as easily as I hoped because the window to my room was open to allow fresh air, and the streets below became a mayhem of activity. Stray dogs barking and fighting turned into shouts of people opening their business. The traffic increased as people went to work, and many more greeted each other and talked on the sidewalks below. But, all in all, by the time I showered and ate breakfast, I was feeling ready for the day.
Fiorella, the director of interns and volunteers with Paz y Esperanza, came to get me around 10:30 a.m., graciously allowing me to rest those few hours in between. She took me to the office a short walk away, and I was introduced to the building and the staff that works there. Everyone is as friendly as can be, and I have received a dozen or so warm welcomes from them all. Soon I was introduced to a lady that has been with the organization from the beginning. Her name is Ruth and she went to law school with Alfonso, the founder and director of Paz y Esperanza. She explained to me the conflict that started in Peru in the 80's that lead to many deaths. A terrorist group exploding bombs and trying to take over the country. Innocent people being thrown into jail or murdered based on nothing more than a mere suspicion that they may be involved with the terrorists. Families torn apart, and people afraid to leave their homes once darkness crept in. Corruption from the top down meant that police and investigators needed a culprit whenever the terrorists pulled off a successful attack - and that culprit was more than likely to be an innocent passerby. As long as the government could put the blame on somebody, then they didn't look incompetent. Meanwhile, women were forced to have abortions as well as operations so that they could not have any more children. Children were killed because "they could grow up to become terrorists." The cries of their own people led a group of law students to stop merely talking about what was going on in their country, and do something about it. They had a strong faith in God, and in justice. They saw that the terrorists said what they believed, and acted on what they said. And the students thought, why shouldn't we? It was a dangerous undertaking. In fact, nobody else would do it. For their boldness, their lives were threatened. But they were still young, and for the most part did not realize the risk they were taking until they looked back on that time years later. They were not taking political sides, but the side of justice.
These young Peruvian law students could not take official action until they graduated with their degree. In Peru, this takes about 6-7 years. However, they COULD do all of the investigating and the work of a lawyer. And so they did. And then they handed their work over to actual lawyers in hopes that they would free the innocent, and seek justice for the families whose loved ones had been assassinated for being a "terrorist" when they were really another innocent citizen. However, many cases were lost due to the fear of the lawyers in litigating the case. And so, when these young students graduated with their law degrees, there was no question what they would do for work. They were not seeking a high paying job. Instead, they knew that they were the only ones willing to fight for justice. And therefore, in their minds, there was no other alternative.
Years later, this group of young students with a vision has transformed into a well-organized human rights organization that has offices throughout Peru, as well as other countries in Latin America, the U.K., and the U.S. Their work is still to seek justice for the poor and the oppressed. They have expanded their group which now includes not only lawyers, but also psychologists, pastors, communications directors, and social workers. They work with many different groups of people and many different themes of injustice. And it is with this prestigious group that I have the opportunity to spend the next 6 weeks. I fear the time will be too short, and I know that I will learn a lot along the way. I will be paired with one of their prominent lawyers in the office of San Juan de Lurigancho - the most populated province of anywhere in Latin America. At this moment, the lawyer I will be working with (Milton), is preparing a big case where he is a David going up against a Goliath. The firm hired to be the opposing counsel is one of the biggest and most expensive in all of Peru. But Milton has justice on his side. Will that be enough? Or will this case suffer at the hands of the corruption that so often entangles the judges and government officials involved? Only time will tell. However, Paz y Esperanza does not give up even when that happens. They are in the process of bringing a case to an international court in the United States, since it cannot be fairly resolved here in Peru.
There is much to admire about this organization and the people here. Their warmth, their passion for justice, their love for the poor and downtrodden. I hope to learn as much as possible, and take as much of that knowledge as I can and apply it to the future - wherever I may be.