I have seen a newspaper vendor from San Martín de Porres picking up, with his calloused bricklayer hands, the shattered remains of his 22 year-old, police officer son, while a reporter, maybe too excited by her spectacular scoop, described the indescribable to all of Peru.
I have seen that an avenue will bear the name of César Vilca Vega, the new martyr. I have seen banners calling him a hero along another avenue leading to Jockey Plaza. I have seen his father recognize the patches sewn onto the sacred uniform of the fatherland “because it was torn and I patched it myself.” I have seen him crying shyly, like a child, asking that same reporter: Why would I want a hero for a son, miss?
I have seen another martyr like him, Yenuri Chiguala Cruz, whose name now lives on as the National Youth Award of the Ministry of Education and a street in Miraflores and a golden plaster bust on Av. Túpac Amaru, where every day thousands of people pass by without remembering that Yenuri Chiguala Cruz was, in reality, the “child hero” who in 1995 was drafted and taken from his little house in Comas directly to the Cenepa war so that he could- wounded by the first explosion- die of tetanus at age 14 (and then serve as an example for all the youth).
I have seen 43 young people die asphyxiated and burned alive, trapped in those horrible rat cages called rehab centers. I have seen, for decades, kids drug themselves in the streets to cheat the hunger and cold. I have seen parents who condemn their children to these infamous human trash heaps because they have “become hooked on videogames.” I have seen too many patients leave these houses worse than when they entered: massacred, raped and dead. I have seen fortunes amass in this dirty and ruinous business.
I have seen that every time this disgrace happens again, the Ministry of Health automatically blames the mayors. I have seen that every time this disgrace happens again, the mayors automatically blame the Ministry of Health.
I have seen a studious, good and beautiful girl fall to her death from a moving coaster simply because she tried to avoid being robbed of the iPod she had bought with her salary.
I have seen a studious, good and handsome boy fall to his death from the grandstand simply because he was wearing a blue-and-white shirt.
I have seen a little girl named Romina turned into a quadriplegic by the bullets fired at her by some beasts on the Vía Expresa. I have seen hell reflected in the eyes of her poor parents, so young and defenseless that I can’t help but think that they could be my children.
I have seen the black-and-blue face of Nelson Máximo, a child of 10 years who today is at the point of going blind due to the brutal punches given to him by the miserable Luis Torres Oré, owner of the damned car that the child had scratched while playing.
I have seen the initials MSX? tattooed on the inside of the lip of Oscar Barrientos, a 19 year old from Callao, who killed his own father this summer for no other reason than to be admitted into the ranks of the international gang Mara Salvatrucha.
I have seen a chess grandmaster sleep in the parks of Brazil, be abandoned to the elements in Russia, resign himself to joining the Mexican team, and finally, move to Cuba, of all places, from where he hopes never to return.
I have seen, emerging from the sandy slums, a child golf prodigy who must beg to pay for transportation to the competitions and be accustomed to receiving dirty looks at the big tournaments held at the grand country clubs of Lima.
I have seen an unemployed kid from Jesús María save himself miraculously from the gallows in Kuala Lampur for having tried to earn S/.5 carrying a kilo of cocaine among his clothes.
I have seen a little kid from Trujillo called Gringasho, a hitman whose terrifying and well-publicized efficiency with a pistol is such that, every time they capture him, the gangs rescue him at gunpoint from all the simple detention centers where the authorities try to reeducate him, even though he is now a fugitive and no one knows how many people he has killed, even though he is just 16 years old.
I have seen a handsome and photogenic gigolo fall to his knees in front of an interviewer after having killed his best friend for money, destroying his head with blows and strangling him with a computer cord.
I have seen, doubled-over by their brutal work, the child gold miners at Huaypetue in Madre de Dios, the child laborers at the fruit market in El Agustino, the children of the brick kilns, the child stonecutters, the child recyclers, the child acrobats who beg at all the stoplights in San Isidro, premature old people who, sooner or later, will end up with their vertebrae crushed.
I have seen that the front pages still carry the same harrowing photo of Major Bazán, who is still missing, three years after the massacre at Bagua.
I have seen a bit of Vallejo’s Paco Yunque in the gentle goodness of Clinton Maylle, a 14 year old schoolboy who is paralyzed due to the spinal fracture he suffered when his little classmates gave him an atrocious stomping- for being a “cholo.”
I have seen that, despite their mothers trekking together to every channel, pleading before any journalist who will listen to their pleas, three friends from San Juan de Lurigancho, Gustavo Ferreri, Micky Díaz and José Carlos Matta, are about to complete one year in prison, accused in the death of a baby who died of natural causes several hours before they got involved in an absurd neighborhood brawl to which the death is unfairly attributed.
I have seen the solitary, stoic, glorious, almost mythological police official Luis Astuquillca survive the deadly hate of some and the deadly indifference of others and return, without food and with life hanging by a thread, just to be able to hug his parents, unable to hide the terrifying abyss of his sadness, of his inscrutable bitterness.
I have seen the jeered Minister of the Interior, Daniel Lozada, extend his televised blessing and make not one, but three, three signs of the cross on his forehead: by the sign of the holy cross, from our enemies, free us Lord, our God.
And I have seen a president pontificate with learned eloquence and enviable serenity, dictating the perfect headline for “El Peruano” in front of a forest of microphones and cameras, saying the phrase that perhaps should be engraved on the very door of the government palace:
“We have a clear conscience.”
We do not.
You can read the full editorial in Spanish here.