The strange case of Máximo Laura

The following article was sent to me by my friend Sasha, who divides her time between Canada and Peru. It’s by Antonio Rengifo Balarezo, and it describes some disturbing tendencies afoot in Peru today:

The reason for accepting the charge of Ambassador of Brand Peru is “to serve the homeland” and be on display for the media backed by government and big business. Vargas Llosa would not have accepted such a charge, and neither did Máximo Laura need such repayment for his actions.

However, Máximo Laura, our greatest master in the art of tapestry weaving, accepted the nomination of Ambassador of Brand Peru plain and simple. The Peruvian state wanted to use, for publicity reasons, his great international prestige as an artist and his national flavor to promote sales of Peruvian merchandise abroad, and to attract foreign investment to our country. Laura did not realize that, upon accepting this charge, he would be accepting the official politics of the government, and was mercilessly thrown out the window.

PromPerú irrevocably withdrew his nomination as ambassador of Brand Peru, due to his statements in which he expressed “sympathies” to the Shining Path guerrillas in an interview given to the newspaper La República.

To explain the defenestration of Máximo Laura it is of greatest importance that the text of that same interview be placed in its social context. The interview in question took place in a moment in which the Executive Power had prepared a legal project, called “negationism”, and applied all its artillery of propagandistic supersaturation to bring about its approval in the Congress of the Republic.

According to said project, which would modify the Penal Code, those who denied the grave damage the Shining Path and MRTA had done to the country would be committing a crime. That is, anyone who publicly approved, justified, denied or minimized the crimes committed by terrorist groups in the country, in accordance with Article 2, Law 25475, would be sentenced to between four and eight years in prison.

The justification at the heart of the penal code is to protect the victims of terrorism, and to protect public peace. However, the law, as defined, only deals with violence and terrorism by non-state actors. Even though we know full well that the former members of the Colina group of the armed forces have committed violations of human rights, they were not included in said legal project. There is a direct correlation between this project and the recent sentence handed down by Judge Villa Stein against the Colina group.

The Colina group is the tip of the iceberg, since it officialized the counterinsurgency operations manual, M 41-7. Let’s appreciate what said manual serves up:

“In more than ten years of internal warfare, more than 12,000 officials passed through the different emergency zones, carrying that manual as though it were the Bible. There were human rights violations on both sides. In the case of the members of the forces of public order, the manual told them they had to physically eliminate not only the armed elements of Shining Path, but also their political directors and administrators, who didn’t necessarily have to bear weapons. […] They were given carte blanche to kill whomever they suspected of belonging to the organization, even if it wasn’t an armed combatant, but only a simple administrator. […] This manual undermined the morale of the soldiers and many of us refused to abide by it.”

Those are the words of then-lieutenant and today president of the republic, Ollanta Humala, in his book, From Locumba to Candidate for the Presidency of Peru, printed in Mexico in 2009, by Quebecort World S.A., Querétaro. (See pages 36-64.) Tell me, reader, if Ollanta Humala should have been thrown out of the presidency for saying “There were human rights violations on both sides”.

However, PromPerú wasn’t satisfied with the explanations given by Máximo Laura after the interview with La República. Let’s look at the “sensitive” bits taken as causes for his defenestration:

What did your father want you to become?

I think something different from him, nothing more. Because I am a huamanguino of the generation of the ’60s and ’70s, it was impossible to predict what one could be.

You studied at San Cristóbal de Huamanga when Abimael Guzmán was there. Did you know him?

Yes, because Huamanga is very small. There were these conferences, meetings, totally free public debates. Since we were just boys, nothing was alien to us.

Did you have sympathies for the Shining Path as an idea?

Oh yes, definitely…

Was Abimael a seducing kind of guy?

Not only that. One of the ideologues, Víctor Zorrilla, was an extraordinary theoretician. Luis Kawata, what a pedagogue he was! You received a class in materialism, and you never forgot it.

And when did you break with that line?

I didn’t break with it, exactly, because my work was not political but rather literary. That was what I studied. I never finished, because when I moved to Lima to carry on with my studies, I began to work in weavings.

That is, you went back to your roots.

To those that were known. I used my ability to draw since I was very small to get a grasp on Peruvian iconography and recreate it.

What is your outlook now on Abimael Guzmán and the whole Shining Path process?

I think it was one of the most important movements we have had, historically speaking, a political project to change Peru.

In spite of the violence?

When it comes to a change of systems, it effectively has to be that way. But now, I do this kind of work, I make what I make, and I’m in the middle of the system.

And the system hasn’t treated you badly.

Oh no, on the contrary, I’m a proud defender of the system and the reality of the country today. If you look at my career from 1985 onward, when I began to have my first exhibitions, I’ve been incredibly fortunate to this day.

Crystal-clear answers in the interview. But the Torquemada who took the decision to leave him without the title of publicity ambassador brought in the machinery of the times to reverse the actual experiences of Máximo Laura’s youth.

In sum, what happened to Máximo Laura is a warning signal in the field of the arts and culture of the law of “negationism” and the current tendency of the government. And it is written in the “purges” of the personnel of the State, the raid on the Vórtice publishing house, the sentence handed down by Judge Villa Stein, the bloody repression of the people of Cajamarca for their just acts of self-defence against the implementation of the Conga mining project, etc.

Our Peru is a land of surprises, but no one ever imagined that Máximo Laura would become a “socio-political subversive”. Still, he has antecedents, because I published Máximo Laura: Subverter of Traditional Weaving in the newspaper El Comercio on January 22, 1989. He has lived up to that title. He is one of our universal Peruvians.

Translation mine. Linkage added.

Strange that what’s fair in Ollanta Humala’s court is somehow foul in that of Máximo Laura, a master weaver who never hurt anyone, and whose early ideological sympathies for the Shining Path came into existence before the drug wars of the ’80s, with all their corrupting influences and horrific terrorism — a terrorism certainly not limited to Maoist insurgents, as Ollanta’s own army memoir makes clear. A most disturbing case of “do as I say, not as I do”. Is it because the one enjoys only symbolic power as “one of our universal Peruvians”, while the other’s power is more concrete?

Rhetorical question. We all know the answer to that one.

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One Response to The strange case of Máximo Laura

  1. Sasha says:

    Thank you so much, Sabina, for bringing this issue to the attention of your readers. As has always been the case with Maximo Laura, he is going about his studio work intently and quietly, not allowing this insult to his dignity and integrity to define him.

    At the same time, this new Law, which was presented to Congress today, is very worrisome.

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