I have to admit I have never gotten too excited about visiting battlefields. Growing up in Maryland, I was surrounded by the battlefields and historic sites of Virginia, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania, but I only went if I had to for a school field trip. But, since I'm here in Ayacucho, so close to the historic battlefield in Quinua, I figured I should check it out. To my surprise, it turned out to be a very interesting and thought provoking visit.
By the early 1800's the newly relocated Spaniards were sick of being subordinate to their distant kingdom, sick of their high taxes and lack of freedom (sound like any other revolutionaries that you know?). The far away Europeans were also starting to exploit Peru's newly discovered, rich mineral deposits. One by one, neighboring countries to the North and South were claiming independence, and by 1822, Peru was ripe to join them. In 1822, Jose de San Martin, who had led the liberation of Argentina and Chile, met with Simon Bolivar, who master-minded the liberation of Venezuela, Columbia, and Ecuador, and it was decided that Bolivar would continue on to vie for Peru's independence. Two years later, on August 6, 1824, San Martin, Bolivar and Field Marshal Sucre lead a successful battle in Junin, Peru. The final and decisive battle for Peru's independence was fought on December 9, 1824, here in Quinua, a battle known today as the "Battle of Ayacucho."
The tall white obelisk memorial to the battle can be seen on its hilltop all the way from the village of Quinua. As I walked up the sparse hill, through the grassy barren fields of the battle, my attention was more drawn to the neighboring village with its small farms, earthen houses and colorful fences than to the fancy monument. I thought about the historic battle fought on this land, and how this very soil was once covered with the blood of many men who died in the name of freedom and independence. But who exactly was this freedom and independence for?
The "winners" of the "Battle of Ayacucho" were the European descendents whose families had left Spain to conquer new lands and who now no longer wanted to pay taxes to a distant motherland. These very same freedom fighters, which wanted an end to the Spanish hierarchical system, continued to rule according to the same hierarchy once they were on top.
Unfortunately, not much has changed today. The indigenous peoples of Peru comprise over 50% of the country's population, yet continue to make up the poor bottom class, with the white European descendants on top and the mixed blood mestizos in middle. As in the early 1800's, wealthy foreign nations are once again exploiting Peru's rich mineral deposits (read my article, "Corruption by Corporate Conquistadors"). However, here in the valleys around Quinua, indigenous peoples are still herding their sheep, growing their potatoes, and cooking by fire...only now, they have a big white monument to look up to!
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