Stories of the largest case of forced sterilizations
in Latin America
Cover art: Alejandra Ballón. Photographs: Liz Tasa, Tadeo Bourbon
Ikumi Times is an editorial product of the series Times by OjoPúblico and it has been developed as part of the multidisciplinary research project ( La Madre ). This newspaper is part of the project El Tercer Ojo [http://eltercerojo.ojo-publico.com/] The total or partial reproduction of the design and / or content without the permission of the editor is forbidden. Webs: ojo-publico.com / lamadre.pe
–Portada por Alejandra Ballón–
THE LAND OF STERILIZED WOMEN
The woman who watched her own mutilation
–By Alejandra Ballón–
In the mid-nineties, horror wore surgical scrubs in the Peruvian Andes. Zobeida Camizán confirmed this upon her arrival to the Health Center One Ramón Castilla, a health center located in the northern region known as Piura. Camizán, who was 29 years old at the time and had five children, first arrived that day out of curiosity about the unusual activity occurring. When she got there, the doctors at the center intercepted her to subject her to the operation. She attempted to sneak out of the building, but the nurses caught her and forcibly took her back. She insisted and told the doctors she did not want the surgery, but they decided for her. They took blood samples and ran a medical examination. No one bothered to explain what the operation would consist of and Camizán, who was illiterate, never signed a consent form. All she would remember from the operation is looking over at a mirror and being able to see as they removed pieces of her womb. They had mutilated her. In time, she began to feel pains she hadn’t before and now she is unable to carry lumber, harvest wheat, till the soil for potatoes, or weed the corn fields. She is one of more than 12 million victims of forced sterilizations committed by the State as a part of a policy of demographic control. She was a victim of a so-called higher good. Now we know that it was a crime against humanity.
The longest preliminary investigation in the world
–Por Fabiola Torres–
There are many records held with the judicial system of Peru. One of them has lay still for 14 years and involves a President: the preliminary investigation of the massive program of forced sterilization promoted by Alberto Fujimori between 1996 and 2000. In those years, the investigation had been rejected four times. The last one was in December 2016. According to Prosecutor Marcelita del Pilar Gutiérrez Vallejos, the head of a case, only seven out of 2,166 victims’ cases could be established as human rights violations. However, time has not wiped away all the evidence. In plain light, in April of 2018, Senior Prosecutor Luis Landa ordered Gutiérrez to include Fujimori and three of his ex-ministers of Health in her criminal complaint as co-authors of a public policy which caused severe injuries to thousands of women in Peru. Prosecutor Gutiérrez, who is remembered for having minimized a trans-woman’s torture by police to simple injuries, spent more than six months without complying the order. She finally made it official 20 years later.
A tooth is proof of a crime.
–Por Melissa Goytizolo–
In the cultures of certain Amazonian communities, women continue to follow the tradition of grinding food in their mouths to be fed to their grandchildren when they reach nine months of age. The procedure makes their molars key instruments of survival. Teolinda Rojas, a resident of Shipibo, lost this possibility the day a group of doctors arrived in the community of Paoyhan, in the region of Loreto. They had come from the Contamana Hospital, a five hours away via the river. Rojas was deceived into going to the health post: the nurses told her that if she didn’t submit to the sterilization, they would take her seven kids away from her. As soon as she arrived, they tied her up and sterilized her. Soon after she was forced to go into another room where they removed on of her teeth without any explanation. The statistics of the human rights violations which occurred at this time don’t include the lists of the molars that were removed, though they should include these cases. Afterall, they didn’t only sterilize Rojas, they also removed her soul from her body.
Nobody forgets their hangmen
–Por Ana Muñoz–
Berta Mouri cannot forget a name: Flor de María, the nurse who took her in a inghy from the native community of Santa Rosa de Tamañatipishka to the hospital in Masisea, where she was sterilized in 1995. At the time, she was 19 years old and the mother of four. They told Berta that if she had another child she would suffer from cancer, and that her husband would abandon her. Memory is malleable: Berta Mouri does not remember other names, but does not forget that doctors urged to dance the same women who cried because they could not leave the hospital. She did not birth any more children, but she did have cancer after the ligation. Three other women from her community, sterilized the same day, died for this reason. No one forgets the author of a prophecy that resemble a curse.
Women were so fertile as land
–Por Liz Tasa–
In the early 90s, Peruvian government launched a Population Plan that targeted poor women in the Andes and the Amazon, claiming that their fertility was twice the rate compared to Lima. The document aimed to reduce the fertility rate annually down to 2%. This implied lowering the average of births to 3.3 per woman by the middle of the decade. In 2002, the Congress Subcommittee investigating the case stated that between 1990 and 1999 the Government practiced sterilizations to 314,605 women and 24,563 men.
The victim’s name was Confesora
–Por Alejandra Ballón–
The greatest paradox in a case of abuse is that the victim’s name is Confesora [which translates to “confessor”]. One morning in 1996 in a homestead in Piura, a woman with that name was submitted to forced sterilization. Confesora didn’t want to have children. She rejected the health technicians who sought her out to propose that she undergo the tubal ligation procedure that was being promoted by the State. After her rejection, they looked for her husband, a man named Flavio. They found him drunk at a bar and under these conditions they convinced him to sign the informed consent form. When he awoke the following morning, Flavio regretted his decision but it was too late: Confesora had been sterilized. She was so affected that she couldn’t even continue to practice the callwa, a pre-Colombian weaving technique that should have been passed on to her children. Her husband has another lover, but all she was left with was a scar and her memory of a unsolicited trauma.
Crimen alert at the Capitol
–Por David Hidalgo–
In the second half of the nineties, Peruvian physician Héctor Chávez Chuchón presented himself before the United States Congress to report the mass crime that had occurred in Peru. At the time, Chávez was president of a federation of 200 physicians in three Andean regions and had received word from his colleagues in Huancavelica, the most impoverished area of the country, that they were being compelled to forcibly sterilize men and women. According to the accusing doctors, the government had imposed monthly quotas for operations: physicians, who revealed in job stability, had to perform tubal ligation on at least two women; those who were temporarily contracted, had to perform at least three. Chavez made this case public to the press and soon after the U.S. Congress asked him to lead an investigation in Lima about the actions taken and their possible association with the United States. The physician was invited to share the details in Washington. The session received by the subcommittee was tense, the discussion surrounding whether public funds had been used to finance the violation of human rights. It’s known that science doesn’t always have the desired effect on politics. Upon his return, Chávez was fired along with his wife, an odontologist at the same hospital. Even when he later on became a congressperson he was unable to pass a sanction on those responsible. Twenty years would pass before a fiscal complaint would point a finger towards the primary suspects of the crime. Sometimes justice seems to be a failed clinical trial: The later the effects occur, there will be less relief.
Surgeons premiered the video library of cruelty
–By Fabiola Torres y Mayté Ciriaco–
One October morning in 1996, the nurses and doctor from the health center in Huaytará, a town in the highlands of the region of Huancavelica, operated on a 36 year old patient named Juana Rosa Ochoa Chira. In the rush to complete the tubal ligation, they punctured her large intestines. Afterwards, they left to celebrate meeting their sterilization quota, and the patient was alone all night with an insufferable pain in her womb and constant vomiting. No one noticed because all of the health staff were out in celebration. The next morning, physician Percy Inga San Bartolomé simply ordered a suppository and left without further instructions. Thirty-eight hours later, Ochoa died of peritonitis. The proof of the crime came from the perpetrators themselves who had video-recorded the whole surgery before leaving to celebrate.
The last corner of fear looks like a quiet cabin
Forced sterilizations were practiced in health centers like the one in Pampaconga, Cusco (see picture above). Allegedly, women received orientation in festivals towards accepting the so-called “Voluntary Surgical Contraception” (AQV, in its Spanish acronym).
Between 1996 and 1998 over 18 people died after the forced surgeries practiced as part of the National Family Planning Program promoted by Alberto Fujimori’s regime.
According to a Congress report, deaths occurred in the following regions: Ancash (1), Huancavelica (2), La Libertad (2), Piura (3), San Martín (2), Ayacucho (1), Cajamarca (1), Ica (1), Loreto (1), Lima (3), Lambayeque (1).
Friendship is the corpus delicti
–By Melissa Goytizolo y Fabiola Torres–
One morning of September 1996, the teacher Arturo Imuna left the shipibo community called Nueva Betania, nestled along the river Alto Ucayali. He went with a friend, a male nurse who asked him to join him to the city of Pucallpa. The journey by boat ended at the regional hospital. Once there, his friend disappeared and a doctor approached Imuna to tell him that he would perform a vasectomy on him: “I wasn’t sick. I didn’t understand what it meant and I refused”, recalls. Five people grabbed him to anesthetize him. He was sterilized right away. He was also forced to sign a blank piece of paper, which later was transformed, behind his back, to an informed consent form. The form lies: it states that Imuna consents the surgery for him or for “his youngest son”. The indigenous teacher was only 27 and his sex life was ruined after that episode. The mother of his three children left him. Even now, with his new wife, Arturo Imuna feels incomplete: “For many years, I was ashamed, but it wasn’t my fault. I want justice”, he says. The nurse who gained Imuna’s trust was, in fact, a recruiter used to target people for forced sterilization. He never came back to Nueva Betania again.
The scars of barbarism can not be erased
Tubal ligation scar in a Cusco peasant woman. The physical consequences of forced sterilizations have caused suffering to the victims for decades. Many still feel acute abdominal pain, weakness, headaches or general malaise, as well as psychological consequences like depression.