Interview with kidnapped Peruvian journalist Jaime Razuri

(by C.J. Schexnayder, www.kleph.com)

On New Years Day, a Peruvian photojournalist for Agency France-Presse, Jaime Razuri, was kidnapped at gunpoint in the Gaza Strip. For six days his whereabouts were unknown as journalists and diplomats from around the globe demanded his release. He was freed, unharmed, on Jan. 7, 2007.

The incident made him a minor international celebrity and a major one in his home country. But it also overshadows a more than 20-year career that has included covering some of the most turbulent conflicts in our times.

Jaime studied photography at the University of Lima and then journeyed to Spain to hone his skills further. By the end of the 1980s he was working as a photojournalist in Lima during the devastating conflict led by communist insurgents that included the infamous Shining Path.

A truth commission report estimated almost 70,000 Peruvians were killed in the two decades of conflict and the violence spread to the capital in the early 90s. The capture of the Shining Path leader Abimael Guzman in 1992 led to the end of the fighting.

Since that time, Jaime has covered the peace keeping efforts in Haiti and was attached with a US marine battalion in Haditha, Iraq. He also teaches photography at his alma mater.

A soft-spoken man, it can be hard to reconcile his demeanor with the work he has chosen. He is a staunch vegetarian but an avid surfer. He brings the same passion for documenting the world’s conflicts to his two-decade project documenting the plight of AIDS victims in Peru.

And he is very aware of the risks involved in doing his job. In a presentation for the truth commission in 2002 he wrote bluntly about the dangers of his profession;

“The camera is an imaginary weapon of protection,” he wrote. “The photojournalist is allowed access to situations that he would never be able to without a credential on his chest and the camera on his neck.”

Jaime was kind enough to sit down with me over the weekend and talk about his imprisonment, his sudden fame and his experiences as a photojournalist in the world’s hotspots…

Q: What was your reaction when you were abducted on Jan. 1?
A: I was told it could happen. My editor told me a few days before there had been kidnappings but that they had not lasted long and the people had been released unharmed. So when they grabbed me that was the first thing I thought, “Maybe this is not going to be so rough so let’s go.” But, obviously, I didn’t have an option. When you have a guy pointing a rifle at you, you don’t have the option of saying “No, let me think about this.”

Q: What was the most difficult part of your captivity?
A: Not knowing what was happening. They didn’t speak to me at all for almost all the five days. At the very beginning they interrogated me… where I was from, what were my political beliefs. Things like that. The day before (Saddam) Hussein was hanged so they asked me about him. I answered everything very cautiously. After I was questioned they took me to another house and put me in a little room and then they didn’t speak to me again until the fifth day. On that day a guy came and reassured me that it would be over soon and not to worry. And the next day they let me go.

Q: Were you frightened?
A: Over those five days, when no-one spoke to me, I was worried. One of the things that helped me was remembering all the movies I had seen about people taken captive and I tried to remember how they handled it. Making up stories in my head, exercising, staying busy and trying not to think too much about the situation I was in.

Q: What happened after you were let go?
A: It was crazy when I came back. I flew back with the vice-chancellor. I was driven in an official vehicle. I didn’t have to go though customs or anything like that. But when I got to my house there were at least 70 photographers in front waiting for me. I couldn’t see at all because of all the flashes. Pow! Pow! Pow! Everywhere. I was blinded.

Q: How did you handle being on the other end of a camera?
A: When I was let go I got to see how much the journalists did to get me released. So I felt I had a responsibility to share my story with my colleagues. And, since I am a journalist, I know what they need so I knew how to give it to them. But once you have done that, it is over.

Q: How have things changed for you following what happened?
A: The biggest change is that now more people know who I am as compared to when I was a simple photojournalist. Now I am a little bit famous as “that photographer who was kidnapped.”

Q: You started your career covering a dangerous conflict in Peru, yes?
A: I started working as a photojournalist is was about 1989 and that’s toward the end of the (the Shining Path insurrection) but, of course, we didn’t know it then. But that was when it was focused here in Lima. I was based here in Lima. It was much worse in the interior and I made a couple of trips into the countryside but other photojournalists did much more work in those areas.

Q: What was it like being a photojournalist in Peru during that period?
A: It was very hard. In those days, wherever you went you had to go with your camera. Car bombs, explosions and killings were happening all of the time. Anything could happen anywhere. If you went to the movies, to a party if you were going to the dentist, you always had your camera. You never knew when something was going to happen.

Q: How do you balance your regular life and your work as a photojournalist under those conditions?
A: There is no regular life. You had to be ready to go cover the events at any time. A call could come to go at any time at all. But in some ways it was nothing like what I have seen in other places. The situations I have been in when covering Haiti and the Middle East are far worse than what I saw here in Lima. I cannot compare the overall situations in these places but my own experiences were very different in these places.

Q: How was it different to cover a conflict in your own country in terms of your own feelings?
A: Many of us working in Lima felt distanced from the conflict since much of the violence happened in the countryside. It was only when it came here to Lima that people became worried about what was going on. That made things different because suddenly it wasn’t about covering a conflict somewhere else, suddenly you were covering your own story.

Q: It is more difficult covering a conflict that is in your own country versus things that are happening somewhere else?
A: I don’t think there is a difference. You are a photojournalist anywhere you are. It doesn’t matter where you are because you are seeing the human condition.

Q: What have these experiences taught you about the photojournalist’s responsibility covering such conflicts?
A: It taught me to try and be as honest as I possibly can. You have to be respectful about what you are shooting while balancing the need to include as much information about what is happening. That was much more difficult back then than now. There are times you are covering people who are suffering and you feel there is a need to record their situation but, over the years I have learned that sometimes that’s not what is the most important thing. There are times when it is just as important to not take the photograph.

Q: How have you changed given these experiences?
A: When I started a lot of my motivation came from the adrenaline. When I covered the violence here there was that rush from being in the middle of the thing. And that was the same in Iraq and Haiti. There is always that excitement that comes when you are covering these types of situations that is mixed with the fear. It makes gives you a much wider vision toward your profession. How in one moment to the next you can be much more in touch with those around you. It makes you more mature in your profession. I feel I can see things in a human way. It isn’t just about the adrenaline before.

Q: How did that change happen for you?
A: I had a dream several years ago when I was shooting something with my camera and suddenly my camera turned into a rifle. There is that feeling of adrenaline that is the same when you are shooting a camera or shooting a rifle. And that told me that what I was trying to look for in these situation was adrenaline. And I knew it was time to stop.

Q: Why?
A: Because now I know that part is only a game. If you approach too close to the story you can become the news and then you aren’t being a photojournalist anymore. And if you are not dead now, you can be very soon.

Q: What is the most important piece of advice you would give to a photojournalist just starting out?
A: If you want to be a photojournalist you have to find a delight in it. You can learn the language of images in your head and you have to enjoy it so you can better tell the stories you feel. And if you do that you can tell any story well. You don’t have to go to find a war or chase your adrenaline. You can tell the stories in your own city and they are just as important.

.
Add-on: It is now more than four weeks since the BBC correspondent in Gaza, Alan Johnston, disappeared on his way home from work. It is feared that he has been abducted, but there is still no clear picture of who might be holding him, where or why.

Jaime expressed he was very concerned about his colleague’s well-being, particularly since he has been held for so long. He is hoping that he will also be freed very soon so he can return home to his family unharmed.

Garcia struggles to build bridges between Peru and Chile

It’s still too soon to tell whether Peruvian president Alan Garcia can deliver on his election promise of “responsible change” to help reduce poverty and develop a more inclusive economy. But one area where he’s already broken with the recent past is in his promotion of closer links with Chile. If he can drag public opinion along with him, Peru’s and Chile’s increasing economic integration could eventually be joined by a long-overdue warming in their social and political relations.

When Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez openly endorsed nationalist candidate Ollanta Humala during last year’s elections, it gave Garcia an opportunity to argue for his own approach to foreign policy. He pointed to Chile and Brazil as examples of social democratic governments he admired, and was particularly effusive about the “Chilean model” of development.

Post-election, one of Garcia’s first international visits was to Chile. He proposed an “axis of economic integration” that has already led to Chile rejoining the Comunidad Andina trade bloc as an associate member and to a seminal free trade agreement between the two Pacific nations.

Peru – Chile relations have had a lingering bitterness ever since Chile annexed chunks of Peruvian and Bolivian territory during the War of the Pacific, 120 years ago. Touchy issues in recent times have included an ongoing dispute over the maritime border, intrigue over whose port would be the point of export for Bolivian gas from Tarija, and accusations that Chile sold arms to Ecuador during its border skirmishes with Peru in 1995.

In Peru, suspicion of Chile runs genuinely deep. But this has often been manipulated by politicians and the press as a useful distraction from the country’s internal difficulties.

Even when there’s no issue of substance, something always seems to crop up to heighten tensions. When disgraced former Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori chose Chile as his re-entry point to South America after years of exile in Japan, he must have known that the legal processes to extradite him would become politicized.

And the two Chilean youths who were arrested for painting graffiti on a section of original Incan stonework in Cusco in January 2005 could hardly have created a better opportunity for grandstanding on both sides, had this been their explicit intention.

Away from the rhetorical clashes, economic ties between the two countries have been inexorably strengthening over the last few years, as globalization does its work. Trade grew by 140 percent between 2001 and 2005, with much of the increased volume coming from Peruvian exports.

This is no surprise to anyone who has witnessed the bustling traffic across the border between Arica and Tacna. Yet some Peruvians see this increasing integration as economic imperialism, and are wary of Chilean investment, which is almost ten times more than Peruvian investment in Chile.

Perceptions are influenced by the high-profile presence of Chilean multinationals like LAN airlines and Saga Falabella in Peruvian markets. LAN in particular suffers from the perception that it was favored by governmental machinations which forced Peruvian carrier Aero Continente off both countries’ domestic routes.

It’s also received wisdom that the increasing numbers of Peruvians working in Chile face constant discrimination. However, a survey by Chilean newspaper La Nacion found that although around one-third of Peruvians living in Chile had on “at least one occasion” experienced discrimination, 93 percent would make the decision to move there again.

With this background, nationalist candidate Humala predictably took several opportunities during the elections to play the anti-Chilean card. The “etnocacerist” movement, started by Humala’s father Isaac, takes part of its name from Andres A. Caceres, a Peruvian hero of the Pacific War who led resistance to the Chilean occupation. During his campaign, Humala criticized Chilean arms purchases, promised to revise the Peru-Chile open skies agreement and warned Chile that a nationalist government would “not let anyone tread on its poncho”.

The neutral observer, who tends to see more similarities than differences between the nations of Latin America, is left bewildered by the depth of nationalistic feeling in the region. He also can’t help wondering why Peru nurtures historical grievances against Chile rather than copying some of the things its neighbor has done to reduce poverty and sustain economic growth over the last fifteen years.

Alan Garcia seems to agree, and Hugo Chavez effectively handed him an opportunity when he declared: “let’s hope [the next president of Peru] is Ollanta Humala”.

Most Peruvians were unimpressed by what they saw as Chavez’s bullying attempts to intervene in their domestic affairs, and had no desire to become a satellite of Venezuela. They also watched Evo Morales’ somewhat heavy-handed nationalization of Bolivia’s gas resources with a sense that, though this may be something Bolivia needed to do, it wasn’t the path Peru should go down.

For Garcia, these events were useful in crystallizing what was at stake in the elections. An avid scholar, it’s certain that he read former Mexican foreign minister Jorge Castañeda’s article in Foreign Policy magazine, which identified the emergence of “two lefts” in Latin America: the progressive social democracies of Chile, Brazil and Uruguay; and the authoritarian populism developing in Venezuela, Argentina and Bolivia.

The reality is a bit more complicated than that, but Garcia was quick to position himself on the side of “responsible change”, stating that he “preferred the governments of Lula in Brazil and President Bachelet in Chile”.

Following his win in the June 7, 2006 run-off against Humala, Garcia didn’t waste time before putting his foreign policy into action. A visit to Brazil just one week later was followed by a trip to Chile on June 22nd.

In a speech at the Council of the Americas meeting held in Lima on July 7, 2006, Garcia had warm words for Peru’s southern neighbor, promising a “very deep and solid relationship with Chile, whose economic, technological and commercial progress [offers]… a model of struggle against misery and poverty”. He spoke of “brotherly and transparent links which will allow us to look forward without fear, mistrust or resentment”.

He also proposed that Chile return to the Comunidad Andina economic alliance, which it left in 1976. Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia later formally invited Chile to become an associate member, and this status was confirmed in September 2006. Meanwhile, in August 2006 Peru and Chile became the first South American nations to sign a bilateral trade agreement – principally an extension of the two countries’ 1998 economic complementarity agreement.

Garcia’s Third Way reformism seeks to emphasize education and economic development, and move debate away from zero-sum arguments about territory. He has underlined what seems clear to the outsider – that Peru already has more land and resources than Chile, and that these are much less important to the wealth of a country than the capability of its people. In one campaign speech, he neatly turned the traditional rivalry around by saying that, if Peru can govern its own affairs better, in ten years time “our Chilean friends will look at us with envy”.

If anyone can convince Peruvians to change their views, it’s Garcia. A consummate rhetorician, he managed to persuade a majority of the electorate that he had matured and changed since his disastrous first term from 1985-1990. But a recent poll run by the Universidad de Lima demonstrated how far public opinion has to shift. Asked to nominate which of Peru’s five immediate neighbors was its closest regional friend, 55 percent of respondents chose one of Alan Garcia’s favored allies – Brazil. Chile came a distant last, selected by just 2.2 percent of respondents.

And even at government level, snags are already reappearing, as indicated by recent suggestions that Peru will take the maritime border dispute to the International Court of Justice in The Hague. This could be a sensible decision to let an objective third party clarify an intractable legal issue. Or it could be a sign that the recent political progress will once again be derailed by territorial squabbles.

In the long run, improved relations with Chile will probably only happen as fast as the rest of the “responsible change” agenda. As long as a majority of Peruvians need to find scapegoats for their economic difficulties, sentiments like those expressed in the accompanying photo (above) are unlikely to disappear. Not that the tensions are all created by one side. Chileans could also afford to be more generous in their attitudes towards Peru, and less dismissive about Peruvian insecurities than they sometimes have been.

Even with the best will in the world from Peru’s silver-tongued president, it may take a while before Peru and Chile consign the War of the Pacific to where it belongs – in the history books.

by Simon Bidwell

Number of foreigners entering Peru grew by 14.4 per cent in February

Peru’s National Institute for Statistics and Information (INEI) informed that the number of foreigners who entered Peru in the month of February 2007 increased by 14.4 per cent in comparison to 2006.

Foreigners came mainly from the United States (27.3 %), Chile (16.1 %), Bolivia (10.8 %), Spain (9 %), Ecuador (6.4 %), and Colombia (5 %), INEI announced in its report “Evolution of Peru’s Migratory Movement – February 2007”.

On the other hand, foreigners who left the country in February also grew by 8.8 percent in comparison to 2006 – or from 180,117 to 195,907 non-Peruvian citizens, according to information provided by the main directorate of Migrations and Naturalization (in short: Digemin).

Chile was the main destination for Peruvians representing 24.4 percent, followed by Bolivia (21.8 %), the United States (17.8 %), Spain (7.8 %), Argentina (5 %), and Colombia (4,5 %).

48,6 percent of Peruvian citizens leaving the country were between 20 and 39 years old, 19.7 % were between 40 – 49 years of age, and 11.4% between 50 – 59.

12.5 percent of Peruvians who crossed the borders to a foreign country were adolescents younger than 20 years of age.

194,401 Peruvians left and only 162,643 returned, generating a negative balance of 31,758, whereas 209,347 foreigners entered Peru and 195,907 left, which means that 13,440 foreigners liked what they saw of our country and stayed – at least longer than 4 weeks.

Wolfy Becker

New Peruvian ambassador presents credentials to Hugo Chavez

New Peruvian ambassador to Venezuela, Dr. Luis Santa Maria Calderón on Thursday presented his credentials to president Hugo Chavez in a ceremony at the Miraflores Palace in Caracas.

After the initial greeting and the handover of his diplomatic documents, Chavez engaged in a friendly conversation with historical references, the ties both countries unite since birth, and the brotherhood between both peoples created by historical figure, liberator Simón Bolivar.

President Chávez acknowledged the importance of Peru for the South American continent, not only for its geographic location, history and millennial culture, but also for its integrating vocation.

Santa Maria expressed the mission he will develop as Peruvian ambassador to Venezuela is based on the highest order of president Alan Garcia to resume diplomatic relations between both countries.

He said Peru’s interest is to extend the cooperation in energy, education, tourism and culture, as well as to increase bilateral commerce.

Ambassador Santa Maria attended the ceremony accompanied by his wife, as well as several embassy officials. Venezuelan foreign minister Nicolás Maduro, vice-minister for Latin America and the Caribbean Rodolfo Sanz, and other high Venezuelan government officials were also present.

Peruvian President Alan Garcia said during the inauguration ceremony for Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa in January he and Hugo Chavez had agreed to renew diplomatic ties between their countries, mending a rift that caused them to withdraw their ambassadors in May 2006 amid Peruvian claims that Chavez was interfering in Peru’s presidential race to favor nationalist candidate Ollanta Humala. Garcia also accused Chavez of financing Humala’s election campaign.

In the run-up to Peru’s presidential runoff, Garcia dubbed Chavez “shameless” and Chavez responded by calling him a “thief” and “lapdog of U.S. president Bush”. Both demanded apologies.

“I’ve spoken to Hugo Chavez. We’ll restore diplomatic ties within a month’s time sending our ambassadors, and will see what kind of energy cooperation we can gain,” Garcia said in January. Chavez respondedn: “The very fact that we are going to send ambassadors and are working on a common agenda shows that the moment is good, the moment is excellent in Latin America.”

Article by Wolfy Becker

Ex-President Alejandro Toledo back in Peru – Update –

Ex-president Alejandro Toledo returned to his home country of Peru today via Ecuador to visit his sister Margarita who is suffering from cancer.He arrived at Lima’s Jorge Chávez International airport at 2:50 p.m. local time and was greeted by leaders of his political party “Peru Posible” and many of his followers.

“I am glad and thankful for the warm reception and now I am going to see my ailing sister”, Toledo said, whose return to he county was made possible by lifting a judicial order which would have prevented him from leaving the country. Toledo is facing charges of falsifying signatures in order to have his political party admitted to participate in the general elections held in 2000. He is also accused of excessive spending while in office between 2001-2006.

After visiting his sister in Lima’s Surco district, the ex-president said he was very glad to see her and that doctors have told him her health was improving. Apparently she is receiving chemotherapy to which she has responded positively.

“Now that I saw my sister I am going to see my brothers from my party”, he said and took off to a reception his political friends had organized for him at Hotel Bolivar in downtown Lima. A press conference is currenly in session.

Toledo interrupted an academic world tour that began in the Philippines on March 27th and will conclude in the United States on April 19th. He currently lives in the Bay Area in California with his wife, Elaine Karp de Toledo. Both are lecturing at Stanford University.

Last Monday, a Peruvian court lifted Toledo’s ban of leaving the country if he should set foot on Peruvian soil again. The original court order was handed out in January by judge Carolina Lizárraga who has since been relieved of her duties over concerns of impartiality.

In addition to a judicial investigation, a congressional commission is also loking into the presumed irregularities committed during his government.

–> 7:00 p.m. – update <–

In a press conference – which actually turned into something similar to a campaign rally = Toledo said he would return Peru whenever it is necessary to respond to justice. In a clear reference to president Garcia and ex-president Fujimori he said that he will not take refuge in Europe or Asia and that his former government is not stained with blood.

Alan Garcia went into exile in France after his first mandate and Alberto Fujimori fled and took refuge in Japan after a corruption fiasco. He sent in his resignation via fax from a Tokyo hotel.

“This Peruvian president is prepared to respond to all accusations, whether they come from the courts or from Congress. I am not on the run and I am not going to hide in any country, not in Europe and not in Asia. I will come back whenever it’s necessary to collaborate with judicial authorities”, he said under the applause of his followers.

“Today they want to investigate the flowers, they want to investigate the water, they want to investigate the fruits. Let us investigate from the year 1985 until now”, he said in reference to controversial historic cases like Lima’s electric train system and Mirage airplanes, scandalous remnants from Garcia’s first time in office that were never fully investigated.

Later in his heated and emotional speech, the ex-president said he doesn’t mind being investigated for supposed acts of corruption during his administration and added that their hands are not stained with blood, another clear reference to Garcia and Fujimori who were and still are confronted by penal processes for human rights violations.

“Democracy means to respect freedom of expression, human rights, and the independence of powers. These hands are not stained with blood”, he affirmed under cheers of his political compatriots.

Interview with kidnapped Peruvian journalist Jaime Razuri

(by C.J. Schexnayder, www.kleph.com)

On New Years Day, a Peruvian photojournalist for Agency France-Presse, Jaime Razuri, was kidnapped at gunpoint in the Gaza Strip. For six days his whereabouts were unknown as journalists and diplomats from around the globe demanded his release. He was freed, unharmed, on Jan. 7, 2007.

The incident made him a minor international celebrity and a major one in his home country. But it also overshadows a more than 20-year career that has included covering some of the most turbulent conflicts in our times.

Jaime studied photography at the University of Lima and then journeyed to Spain to hone his skills further. By the end of the 1980s he was working as a photojournalist in Lima during the devastating conflict led by communist insurgents that included the infamous Shining Path.

A truth commission report estimated almost 70,000 Peruvians were killed in the two decades of conflict and the violence spread to the capital in the early 90s. The capture of the Shining Path leader Abimael Guzman in 1992 led to the end of the fighting.

Since that time, Jaime has covered the peace keeping efforts in Haiti and was attached with a US marine battalion in Haditha, Iraq. He also teaches photography at his alma mater.

A soft-spoken man, it can be hard to reconcile his demeanor with the work he has chosen. He is a staunch vegetarian but an avid surfer. He brings the same passion for documenting the world’s conflicts to his two-decade project documenting the plight of AIDS victims in Peru.

And he is very aware of the risks involved in doing his job. In a presentation for the truth commission in 2002 he wrote bluntly about the dangers of his profession;

“The camera is an imaginary weapon of protection,” he wrote. “The photojournalist is allowed access to situations that he would never be able to without a credential on his chest and the camera on his neck.”

Jaime was kind enough to sit down with me over the weekend and talk about his imprisonment, his sudden fame and his experiences as a photojournalist in the world’s hotspots…

Q: What was your reaction when you were abducted on Jan. 1?
A: I was told it could happen. My editor told me a few days before there had been kidnappings but that they had not lasted long and the people had been released unharmed. So when they grabbed me that was the first thing I thought, “Maybe this is not going to be so rough so let’s go.” But, obviously, I didn’t have an option. When you have a guy pointing a rifle at you, you don’t have the option of saying “No, let me think about this.”

Q: What was the most difficult part of your captivity?
A: Not knowing what was happening. They didn’t speak to me at all for almost all the five days. At the very beginning they interrogated me… where I was from, what were my political beliefs. Things like that. The day before (Saddam) Hussein was hanged so they asked me about him. I answered everything very cautiously. After I was questioned they took me to another house and put me in a little room and then they didn’t speak to me again until the fifth day. On that day a guy came and reassured me that it would be over soon and not to worry. And the next day they let me go.

Q: Were you frightened?
A: Over those five days, when no-one spoke to me, I was worried. One of the things that helped me was remembering all the movies I had seen about people taken captive and I tried to remember how they handled it. Making up stories in my head, exercising, staying busy and trying not to think too much about the situation I was in.

Q: What happened after you were let go?
A: It was crazy when I came back. I flew back with the vice-chancellor. I was driven in an official vehicle. I didn’t have to go though customs or anything like that. But when I got to my house there were at least 70 photographers in front waiting for me. I couldn’t see at all because of all the flashes. Pow! Pow! Pow! Everywhere. I was blinded.

Q: How did you handle being on the other end of a camera?
A: When I was let go I got to see how much the journalists did to get me released. So I felt I had a responsibility to share my story with my colleagues. And, since I am a journalist, I know what they need so I knew how to give it to them. But once you have done that, it is over.

Q: How have things changed for you following what happened?
A: The biggest change is that now more people know who I am as compared to when I was a simple photojournalist. Now I am a little bit famous as “that photographer who was kidnapped.”

Q: You started your career covering a dangerous conflict in Peru, yes?
A: I started working as a photojournalist is was about 1989 and that’s toward the end of the (the Shining Path insurrection) but, of course, we didn’t know it then. But that was when it was focused here in Lima. I was based here in Lima. It was much worse in the interior and I made a couple of trips into the countryside but other photojournalists did much more work in those areas.

Q: What was it like being a photojournalist in Peru during that period?
A: It was very hard. In those days, wherever you went you had to go with your camera. Car bombs, explosions and killings were happening all of the time. Anything could happen anywhere. If you went to the movies, to a party if you were going to the dentist, you always had your camera. You never knew when something was going to happen.

Q: How do you balance your regular life and your work as a photojournalist under those conditions?
A: There is no regular life. You had to be ready to go cover the events at any time. A call could come to go at any time at all. But in some ways it was nothing like what I have seen in other places. The situations I have been in when covering Haiti and the Middle East are far worse than what I saw here in Lima. I cannot compare the overall situations in these places but my own experiences were very different in these places.

Q: How was it different to cover a conflict in your own country in terms of your own feelings?
A: Many of us working in Lima felt distanced from the conflict since much of the violence happened in the countryside. It was only when it came here to Lima that people became worried about what was going on. That made things different because suddenly it wasn’t about covering a conflict somewhere else, suddenly you were covering your own story.

Q: It is more difficult covering a conflict that is in your own country versus things that are happening somewhere else?
A: I don’t think there is a difference. You are a photojournalist anywhere you are. It doesn’t matter where you are because you are seeing the human condition.

Q: What have these experiences taught you about the photojournalist’s responsibility covering such conflicts?
A: It taught me to try and be as honest as I possibly can. You have to be respectful about what you are shooting while balancing the need to include as much information about what is happening. That was much more difficult back then than now. There are times you are covering people who are suffering and you feel there is a need to record their situation but, over the years I have learned that sometimes that’s not what is the most important thing. There are times when it is just as important to not take the photograph.

Q: How have you changed given these experiences?
A: When I started a lot of my motivation came from the adrenaline. When I covered the violence here there was that rush from being in the middle of the thing. And that was the same in Iraq and Haiti. There is always that excitement that comes when you are covering these types of situations that is mixed with the fear. It makes gives you a much wider vision toward your profession. How in one moment to the next you can be much more in touch with those around you. It makes you more mature in your profession. I feel I can see things in a human way. It isn’t just about the adrenaline before.

Q: How did that change happen for you?
A: I had a dream several years ago when I was shooting something with my camera and suddenly my camera turned into a rifle. There is that feeling of adrenaline that is the same when you are shooting a camera or shooting a rifle. And that told me that what I was trying to look for in these situation was adrenaline. And I knew it was time to stop.

Q: Why?
A: Because now I know that part is only a game. If you approach too close to the story you can become the news and then you aren’t being a photojournalist anymore. And if you are not dead now, you can be very soon.

Q: What is the most important piece of advice you would give to a photojournalist just starting out?
A: If you want to be a photojournalist you have to find a delight in it. You can learn the language of images in your head and you have to enjoy it so you can better tell the stories you feel. And if you do that you can tell any story well. You don’t have to go to find a war or chase your adrenaline. You can tell the stories in your own city and they are just as important.

.
Add-on: It is now more than four weeks since the BBC correspondent in Gaza, Alan Johnston, disappeared on his way home from work. It is feared that he has been abducted, but there is still no clear picture of who might be holding him, where or why.

Jaime expressed he was very concerned about his colleague’s well-being, particularly since he has been held for so long. He is hoping that he will also be freed very soon so he can return home to his family unharmed.

Garcia struggles to build bridges between Peru and Chile

It’s still too soon to tell whether Peruvian president Alan Garcia can deliver on his election promise of “responsible change” to help reduce poverty and develop a more inclusive economy. But one area where he’s already broken with the recent past is in his promotion of closer links with Chile. If he can drag public opinion along with him, Peru’s and Chile’s increasing economic integration could eventually be joined by a long-overdue warming in their social and political relations.

When Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez openly endorsed nationalist candidate Ollanta Humala during last year’s elections, it gave Garcia an opportunity to argue for his own approach to foreign policy. He pointed to Chile and Brazil as examples of social democratic governments he admired, and was particularly effusive about the “Chilean model” of development.

Post-election, one of Garcia’s first international visits was to Chile. He proposed an “axis of economic integration” that has already led to Chile rejoining the Comunidad Andina trade bloc as an associate member and to a seminal free trade agreement between the two Pacific nations.

Peru – Chile relations have had a lingering bitterness ever since Chile annexed chunks of Peruvian and Bolivian territory during the War of the Pacific, 120 years ago. Touchy issues in recent times have included an ongoing dispute over the maritime border, intrigue over whose port would be the point of export for Bolivian gas from Tarija, and accusations that Chile sold arms to Ecuador during its border skirmishes with Peru in 1995.

In Peru, suspicion of Chile runs genuinely deep. But this has often been manipulated by politicians and the press as a useful distraction from the country’s internal difficulties.

Even when there’s no issue of substance, something always seems to crop up to heighten tensions. When disgraced former Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori chose Chile as his re-entry point to South America after years of exile in Japan, he must have known that the legal processes to extradite him would become politicized.

And the two Chilean youths who were arrested for painting graffiti on a section of original Incan stonework in Cusco in January 2005 could hardly have created a better opportunity for grandstanding on both sides, had this been their explicit intention.

Away from the rhetorical clashes, economic ties between the two countries have been inexorably strengthening over the last few years, as globalization does its work. Trade grew by 140 percent between 2001 and 2005, with much of the increased volume coming from Peruvian exports.

This is no surprise to anyone who has witnessed the bustling traffic across the border between Arica and Tacna. Yet some Peruvians see this increasing integration as economic imperialism, and are wary of Chilean investment, which is almost ten times more than Peruvian investment in Chile.

Perceptions are influenced by the high-profile presence of Chilean multinationals like LAN airlines and Saga Falabella in Peruvian markets. LAN in particular suffers from the perception that it was favored by governmental machinations which forced Peruvian carrier Aero Continente off both countries’ domestic routes.

It’s also received wisdom that the increasing numbers of Peruvians working in Chile face constant discrimination. However, a survey by Chilean newspaper La Nacion found that although around one-third of Peruvians living in Chile had on “at least one occasion” experienced discrimination, 93 percent would make the decision to move there again.

With this background, nationalist candidate Humala predictably took several opportunities during the elections to play the anti-Chilean card. The “etnocacerist” movement, started by Humala’s father Isaac, takes part of its name from Andres A. Caceres, a Peruvian hero of the Pacific War who led resistance to the Chilean occupation. During his campaign, Humala criticized Chilean arms purchases, promised to revise the Peru-Chile open skies agreement and warned Chile that a nationalist government would “not let anyone tread on its poncho”.

The neutral observer, who tends to see more similarities than differences between the nations of Latin America, is left bewildered by the depth of nationalistic feeling in the region. He also can’t help wondering why Peru nurtures historical grievances against Chile rather than copying some of the things its neighbor has done to reduce poverty and sustain economic growth over the last fifteen years.

Alan Garcia seems to agree, and Hugo Chavez effectively handed him an opportunity when he declared: “let’s hope [the next president of Peru] is Ollanta Humala”.

Most Peruvians were unimpressed by what they saw as Chavez’s bullying attempts to intervene in their domestic affairs, and had no desire to become a satellite of Venezuela. They also watched Evo Morales’ somewhat heavy-handed nationalization of Bolivia’s gas resources with a sense that, though this may be something Bolivia needed to do, it wasn’t the path Peru should go down.

For Garcia, these events were useful in crystallizing what was at stake in the elections. An avid scholar, it’s certain that he read former Mexican foreign minister Jorge Castañeda’s article in Foreign Policy magazine, which identified the emergence of “two lefts” in Latin America: the progressive social democracies of Chile, Brazil and Uruguay; and the authoritarian populism developing in Venezuela, Argentina and Bolivia.

The reality is a bit more complicated than that, but Garcia was quick to position himself on the side of “responsible change”, stating that he “preferred the governments of Lula in Brazil and President Bachelet in Chile”.

Following his win in the June 7, 2006 run-off against Humala, Garcia didn’t waste time before putting his foreign policy into action. A visit to Brazil just one week later was followed by a trip to Chile on June 22nd.

In a speech at the Council of the Americas meeting held in Lima on July 7, 2006, Garcia had warm words for Peru’s southern neighbor, promising a “very deep and solid relationship with Chile, whose economic, technological and commercial progress [offers]… a model of struggle against misery and poverty”. He spoke of “brotherly and transparent links which will allow us to look forward without fear, mistrust or resentment”.

He also proposed that Chile return to the Comunidad Andina economic alliance, which it left in 1976. Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia later formally invited Chile to become an associate member, and this status was confirmed in September 2006. Meanwhile, in August 2006 Peru and Chile became the first South American nations to sign a bilateral trade agreement – principally an extension of the two countries’ 1998 economic complementarity agreement.

Garcia’s Third Way reformism seeks to emphasize education and economic development, and move debate away from zero-sum arguments about territory. He has underlined what seems clear to the outsider – that Peru already has more land and resources than Chile, and that these are much less important to the wealth of a country than the capability of its people. In one campaign speech, he neatly turned the traditional rivalry around by saying that, if Peru can govern its own affairs better, in ten years time “our Chilean friends will look at us with envy”.

If anyone can convince Peruvians to change their views, it’s Garcia. A consummate rhetorician, he managed to persuade a majority of the electorate that he had matured and changed since his disastrous first term from 1985-1990. But a recent poll run by the Universidad de Lima demonstrated how far public opinion has to shift. Asked to nominate which of Peru’s five immediate neighbors was its closest regional friend, 55 percent of respondents chose one of Alan Garcia’s favored allies – Brazil. Chile came a distant last, selected by just 2.2 percent of respondents.

And even at government level, snags are already reappearing, as indicated by recent suggestions that Peru will take the maritime border dispute to the International Court of Justice in The Hague. This could be a sensible decision to let an objective third party clarify an intractable legal issue. Or it could be a sign that the recent political progress will once again be derailed by territorial squabbles.

In the long run, improved relations with Chile will probably only happen as fast as the rest of the “responsible change” agenda. As long as a majority of Peruvians need to find scapegoats for their economic difficulties, sentiments like those expressed in the accompanying photo (above) are unlikely to disappear. Not that the tensions are all created by one side. Chileans could also afford to be more generous in their attitudes towards Peru, and less dismissive about Peruvian insecurities than they sometimes have been.

Even with the best will in the world from Peru’s silver-tongued president, it may take a while before Peru and Chile consign the War of the Pacific to where it belongs – in the history books.

by Simon Bidwell

Number of foreigners entering Peru grew by 14.4 per cent in February

Peru’s National Institute for Statistics and Information (INEI) informed that the number of foreigners who entered Peru in the month of February 2007 increased by 14.4 per cent in comparison to 2006.

Foreigners came mainly from the United States (27.3 %), Chile (16.1 %), Bolivia (10.8 %), Spain (9 %), Ecuador (6.4 %), and Colombia (5 %), INEI announced in its report “Evolution of Peru’s Migratory Movement – February 2007”.

On the other hand, foreigners who left the country in February also grew by 8.8 percent in comparison to 2006 – or from 180,117 to 195,907 non-Peruvian citizens, according to information provided by the main directorate of Migrations and Naturalization (in short: Digemin).

Chile was the main destination for Peruvians representing 24.4 percent, followed by Bolivia (21.8 %), the United States (17.8 %), Spain (7.8 %), Argentina (5 %), and Colombia (4,5 %).

48,6 percent of Peruvian citizens leaving the country were between 20 and 39 years old, 19.7 % were between 40 – 49 years of age, and 11.4% between 50 – 59.

12.5 percent of Peruvians who crossed the borders to a foreign country were adolescents younger than 20 years of age.

194,401 Peruvians left and only 162,643 returned, generating a negative balance of 31,758, whereas 209,347 foreigners entered Peru and 195,907 left, which means that 13,440 foreigners liked what they saw of our country and stayed – at least longer than 4 weeks.

Wolfy Becker

New Peruvian ambassador presents credentials to Hugo Chavez

New Peruvian ambassador to Venezuela, Dr. Luis Santa Maria Calderón on Thursday presented his credentials to president Hugo Chavez in a ceremony at the Miraflores Palace in Caracas.

After the initial greeting and the handover of his diplomatic documents, Chavez engaged in a friendly conversation with historical references, the ties both countries unite since birth, and the brotherhood between both peoples created by historical figure, liberator Simón Bolivar.

President Chávez acknowledged the importance of Peru for the South American continent, not only for its geographic location, history and millennial culture, but also for its integrating vocation.

Santa Maria expressed the mission he will develop as Peruvian ambassador to Venezuela is based on the highest order of president Alan Garcia to resume diplomatic relations between both countries.

He said Peru’s interest is to extend the cooperation in energy, education, tourism and culture, as well as to increase bilateral commerce.

Ambassador Santa Maria attended the ceremony accompanied by his wife, as well as several embassy officials. Venezuelan foreign minister Nicolás Maduro, vice-minister for Latin America and the Caribbean Rodolfo Sanz, and other high Venezuelan government officials were also present.

Peruvian President Alan Garcia said during the inauguration ceremony for Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa in January he and Hugo Chavez had agreed to renew diplomatic ties between their countries, mending a rift that caused them to withdraw their ambassadors in May 2006 amid Peruvian claims that Chavez was interfering in Peru’s presidential race to favor nationalist candidate Ollanta Humala. Garcia also accused Chavez of financing Humala’s election campaign.

In the run-up to Peru’s presidential runoff, Garcia dubbed Chavez “shameless” and Chavez responded by calling him a “thief” and “lapdog of U.S. president Bush”. Both demanded apologies.

“I’ve spoken to Hugo Chavez. We’ll restore diplomatic ties within a month’s time sending our ambassadors, and will see what kind of energy cooperation we can gain,” Garcia said in January. Chavez respondedn: “The very fact that we are going to send ambassadors and are working on a common agenda shows that the moment is good, the moment is excellent in Latin America.”

Article by Wolfy Becker

Ex-President Alejandro Toledo back in Peru – Update –

Ex-president Alejandro Toledo returned to his home country of Peru today via Ecuador to visit his sister Margarita who is suffering from cancer.He arrived at Lima’s Jorge Chávez International airport at 2:50 p.m. local time and was greeted by leaders of his political party “Peru Posible” and many of his followers.

“I am glad and thankful for the warm reception and now I am going to see my ailing sister”, Toledo said, whose return to he county was made possible by lifting a judicial order which would have prevented him from leaving the country. Toledo is facing charges of falsifying signatures in order to have his political party admitted to participate in the general elections held in 2000. He is also accused of excessive spending while in office between 2001-2006.

After visiting his sister in Lima’s Surco district, the ex-president said he was very glad to see her and that doctors have told him her health was improving. Apparently she is receiving chemotherapy to which she has responded positively.

“Now that I saw my sister I am going to see my brothers from my party”, he said and took off to a reception his political friends had organized for him at Hotel Bolivar in downtown Lima. A press conference is currenly in session.

Toledo interrupted an academic world tour that began in the Philippines on March 27th and will conclude in the United States on April 19th. He currently lives in the Bay Area in California with his wife, Elaine Karp de Toledo. Both are lecturing at Stanford University.

Last Monday, a Peruvian court lifted Toledo’s ban of leaving the country if he should set foot on Peruvian soil again. The original court order was handed out in January by judge Carolina Lizárraga who has since been relieved of her duties over concerns of impartiality.

In addition to a judicial investigation, a congressional commission is also loking into the presumed irregularities committed during his government.

–> 7:00 p.m. – update <–

In a press conference – which actually turned into something similar to a campaign rally = Toledo said he would return Peru whenever it is necessary to respond to justice. In a clear reference to president Garcia and ex-president Fujimori he said that he will not take refuge in Europe or Asia and that his former government is not stained with blood.

Alan Garcia went into exile in France after his first mandate and Alberto Fujimori fled and took refuge in Japan after a corruption fiasco. He sent in his resignation via fax from a Tokyo hotel.

“This Peruvian president is prepared to respond to all accusations, whether they come from the courts or from Congress. I am not on the run and I am not going to hide in any country, not in Europe and not in Asia. I will come back whenever it’s necessary to collaborate with judicial authorities”, he said under the applause of his followers.

“Today they want to investigate the flowers, they want to investigate the water, they want to investigate the fruits. Let us investigate from the year 1985 until now”, he said in reference to controversial historic cases like Lima’s electric train system and Mirage airplanes, scandalous remnants from Garcia’s first time in office that were never fully investigated.

Later in his heated and emotional speech, the ex-president said he doesn’t mind being investigated for supposed acts of corruption during his administration and added that their hands are not stained with blood, another clear reference to Garcia and Fujimori who were and still are confronted by penal processes for human rights violations.

“Democracy means to respect freedom of expression, human rights, and the independence of powers. These hands are not stained with blood”, he affirmed under cheers of his political compatriots.

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