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Victim of a mass execution

In rural Peru, justice is applied popularly by a mixture of ancestral tradition and an reaction to corruption

Olga Apaza’s husband was killed by an infuriated group of traders during a night of 2009 in Juliaca, Peru. © Albert Gonzalez Farran
Olga Apaza’s husband was killed by an infuriated group of traders during a night of 2009 in Juliaca, Peru. © Albert Gonzalez Farran

Juliaca is a city at the Peruvian Andes, very close to the border with Bolivia. There, the Inca and Aymara culture survives in spite of the of centuries and the colonization. Many ancestral traditions of Indians who have lived from primitive times remain active, both good and skinny. One of them is the mass justice, a practice that is mostly applied to ordinary criminals when they have been caught on the spot.

In 2009, I met Olga Apaza, a 48-year-old woman who lost her husband Hugo, executed by the crowd one morning in July. I did not find out if Hugo was or not a criminal, but I did know that he was the driver of the popular taxi-tricycles and he used to earn just over six US dollars per day by carrying people up and down the streets of Juliaca. One night, he disappeared. The next day, they found him dead in the street with a disfigured face and dozens of fractures throughout the body. According to witnesses, dozens of people who accused him of attempting to steal in the market, nudged him, tied him to a pole and punched him until he stopped breathing. He was “lucky” not to be burned alive, as it had happened in many other cases.

As they said, police could not do anything to stop the angry mass. There were few agents and dozens of violent traders “impossible to stop,” they said. And Olga became a widow with a broken tricycle and a family to mantain. “My husband was innocent, I know for sure,” she said crying while I took a picture in her house, right next to the tricycle and holding a portrait of her husband. Her home was very basic, as much as her clothing and the way she expressed her grief. A contained, serene and sober pain, without avoiding tears.

Maybe her husband stole something from the market, or maybe he tried to take the money from a shop. Maybe he did it for the family or who knows if he did it to buy alcohol. But it was clear, when I was photographing that unhappy woman, that this kind of Andean justice is cruel and ruthless.

The ancient Inca principles first preaches Amu Sua (do not be a thief), in the second, Ama Llulla (do not be liar), and finally, Ama Quella (do not be weak). I do not know if it is preached by this order of importance, but it is a millennial cultural legacy that is still practiced in a stron way. The punishments are bloody. As much, as in 2007, a man whom people forced to take his own son and hang him, accused of being part of a band of thieves. Often, days after the execution, it is known that the condemned was innocent, confused by someone else.

In Peru, the level of corruption is very high and it also reached the judicial institutions. People have stopped trusting judges and the prisons system, so have decided to take a move.

Last month, former Peruvian President Alan Garcia committed suicide shooting his head at home, few hours before being arrested for a case of corruption. It is tragicomic to think, obviously out of context, that the politician did not want to end up like that mayor of a lost town in the Andes that in 2006 was also beaten up to death by his neighbors for alleged corruptions.

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