'Mamá Angélica,’ who searched for the dead and disappeared during Peruvian ‘dirty war, dies at 88


Angélica Mendoza de Ascarza was a 54-year-old indigenous Peruvian mother of eight when, in the pitch-black early hours of July 3, 1983, the door of her tiny concrete-block home in the city of Ayacucho was kicked in by a group of men pointing assault rifles and wearing black hoods.

As she tried to fight them off with her bare hands, they sought out her 19-year-old student son Arquimedes, dragged him from his bed and bundled him, in his underwear and barefoot, to a waiting vehicle she recognized as a military armored personnel carrier.

“I clung to my son but they dragged me with him onto the street, punching me, kicking me and twisting my arm until I let go,” she told the Associated Press later. “Arquimedes shouted back to me: ‘Mama, don’t cry. I’m a big man now. Don’t worry. I haven’t done anything wrong.’ ”

That was the last time she saw her son. He became one of Peru’s “desaparecidos” (the disappeared ones), just one victim of a 20-year “dirty war” that never got as much global media coverage as those during the military governments of Argentina and Chile. More than 69,000 Peruvians were known to have died between 1980 and 2000 and 7,000 disappeared, even though the three successive Peruvian governments of the era were not military-led like those in South America’s Southern Cone.

Mrs. Mendoza, who died Aug. 28 at 88, personally campaigned for an independent Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate the disappearances, and her demand was finally met in 2001 by a caretaker government. The commission — made up mainly of academics, priests and lawyers, and before which she testified in her native Quechua language — issued its damning report in August 2003.

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