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Puerto Ocopa – Puerto Ocopa is a town in the district of Río Tambo, province of Satipo . It is one of the areas most affected by the violence of the Sendero Luminoso terrorist group , which in the late eighties and early nineties besieged this and other ashaninka communities of the river basins Ene, Tambo and Perene in the Central Forest of Peru. Whole communities were seized and thousands of natives were assassinated . In the midst of this scenario of terror, the Franciscan mission Santa Teresita resisted and settled there to help the victims.
Nowadays, after the grave earthquake that struck the country on August 13, the main area of the Franciscan reception home is uninhabitable. The 50-year-old brick walls of the building were severely damaged, and the 54 orphaned ashaninka children or in a state of poverty, were forced to abandon the home.
“The home, today devastated by the earthquake, was a shelter for families and orphaned children”, said Sr. Nélida Vicente, mother superior of Hermanas de la Caridad, in a note sent to Fides.
“In 1987, terrorists arrived”, says Mother Benita, who has lived in the mission since 1982. “Initially they tried to indoctrinate the community and integrate it with their guests. Many believed in the promises of social justice and joined the Sendero Luminoso. Many however refused. Towards the beginning of the nineties, the Sendero Luminoso initiatives began to be more aggressive and full of prohibitions on everything. They told us not to go out, get airplanes, and have no contact with anyone”, says the nun. “When the terrorists arrived during Mass, everyone threw themselves on the floor. Other times they came during the night with dynamite and the children ran away”.
According to the Comisión de la Verdad y la Reconciliación , Sendero Luminoso seized about 10 thousand ashaninka.
“In the mountains, terrorists subjugated people under slavery. The so-called ‘Comités de Base’ were, in practice, concentration camps. The natives were forced into forced labor, women were raped, and if someone tried to escape or did not subjucate to the thought of former leader Sendero Luminoso, Abimael Guzmán Reynoso, they were killed”, says Sister Benita.
According to the Commission, approximately 40 communities disappeared during the so-called “ashaninka holocaust” and 6,000 natives died, just over 10% of the population, which in 1993 was estimated to be 55,000 people.
According to the Centro Amazónico de Antropología y Aplicación Práctica , thanks to joint initiatives, about 2.800 ashaninka were released. “The Santa Teresita reception home hosted up to 800 women, men and children. However, their release did not alleviate the tragedy. Children and adults were malnourished and many died, especially the younger ones. Those who survived had to live with the nightmare of their dead parents or the horror of concentration camps. After over 20 years of barbarism, with its 915 inhabitants, the small community of Puerto Ocopa seems empty and silent”, concludes Sister Benita.