05 January 2013

What really happened in Ocongate?

On December 29 three U.S. tourists looking for a place to camp in their vehicle near Ocongate, Cusco, Peru drove into the village of Pallca where things went terribly wrong. You can read a detailed personal account of the horrific events here. In sum, Jennifer Wolfrom tells how people from the community gave her, her brother, and sister-in-law permission to camp and then asked them for their documents. Because the tourists perceived the local community officials as "unofficial," they refused to show their identification. (In fact, the Presidente and local officials in such communities are recognized, official authorities). At this point, a growing group of people was forming and agitation escalated to violence.  They started grabbing and throwing rocks, eventually ran the group's vehicle off the road, chased them while throwing rocks at them, detained and whipped them, and forced them to sign a false statement before turning them over to other authorities. As the blog entry indicates, the incident was certainly a "nightmare in Peru."


The story has since been reported locally and nationally in Peru as well as in the United States. The Wolfroms have certainly got their story out and raised nearly $20,000 for their cause (It seems there has been a money withdrawal since I posted) of stolen property, medical bills, and lodging in seemingly record time. (I wonder what this amount of money would mean to the people of Pallca).

In what follows, I do not mean, by any means, to belittle this horrifying experience or question its impact on the American travelers; however, I would like to consider that another violence is at play here as well, a subtler violence that favors Western perspectives and ways of knowing the world with the consequence of dismissing all other points of view. This unequal knowledge power will most likely keep us from ever hearing what really happened in Ocongate, that is, the other sides of the story. 

I am reminded, first, of this map of user-generated content in Google by country out of Oxford University. The countries that make up Latin America are so miniscule on the map compared to the foreboding red square that is the United States, you can probably barely see them on this screen shot. The imbalance of knowledge production indicated on the map parallels the knowledge we have of the Pallca-Wolfrom case. I imagine that there is scarce if any internet access in Pallca. Rural and isolated Andean villages often do not even have telephone land lines much less access to computers or internet service providers. The Wolfroms, however, know about these tools, feel confident using them, and immediately put their story out on the internet. The Wolfroms' story is the first story we have heard. It will probably be the only story, or at least the only credible one to Western readers. As we can see below, the U.S. is producing the majority of content out there in cyberspace. 

In Peru and in the United States, the story has provoked some embarrassingly racist reactions that, uncannily, recall responses to the 1983 murder of eight journalists on their way to Uchuraccay to investigate the village's purported murder of Shining Path terrorists only a couple of days earlier. At the time of the incident, Nobel Prize-winning author, Mario Vargas Llosa, and a team of investigators concluded that the savage backlanders were predetermined by their "ferocious and belligerent" nature to commit the atrocious crime (For more see Tracy Devine-Guzmán, "Rimanakuy '86 and Other Fictions of National Dialogue in Peru"). Instead of considering a more nuanced understanding of the events, the investigators pointed their fingers at the comuneros and silenced their points of view. Comments on the article about the Wolfroms' story in the conservative newspaper, El Comercio, have echoed these prejudices:

"Ignorant savages, what a shame the lack of education. This is why we have the leaders that we have because those people with their mentality are obligated to vote."

"Exactly because of their mentality, they were indoctrinated by the Shining Path."

"From so much coca chewing, they become brutes, the poor things."

"There is nothing weird here! What we need are sanctions! Jail for those wretched people, literate and illiterate both." (all translations mine)

To be fair, there are numerous comments in both Spanish and English expressing shock that such an incident could occur, insisting that there must have been a grave misunderstanding, criticizing the Americans' feelings of entitlement to simply drive up and camp on someone else's land, and defending the people of Pallca's right to defend their lands. The problematic comments, of course, are the demonizing ones. I find it completely reasonable to feel horrified by the violence that these Americans were subjected to. However, concluding that Andean Peruvians are irrational savages does not follow as a logical conclusion. (Please see non sequitur.)

Let's consider a few things to acknowledge the complexity of this situation. 

1. Tourists, especially American tourists, often behave abroad in ways that they would not in their home countries. It is certainly not customary in the U.S. to try to camp on a stranger's land without providing some form of identification. What would you do if a truck rolled up into your backyard with three foreigners in it who did not speak your language fluently asking if they could camp there? Would you want to know who these people were? Would you want proof of who they were before you let them stay overnight on your property where you have all of your family, possessions, and livelihood? Would you be suspicious and perhaps even scared if they refused to tell you or show you who they were? Would you then perhaps do everything you could to get those people off of your property? 

2. Language proficiency. It is unclear from Jennifer's report how much Spanish proficiency the group had. Regardless, in small Andean villages, Quechua is generally the dominant language. Although Jennifer's report seems to emphasize that the group clearly communicated their intentions, we cannot really know what messages were being transmitted across language boundaries.

Pallca residents, presumably the morning after the attack. Source.

3. Cattle rustling. The article written in Cusco on this incident suggests that the people in Pallca may have thought the gringos were cattle rustlers, who, in the Andes, often violently usurp cattle, which--especially in these times of climate change--are vital to a family or community's livelihood. While it seems unlikely that Andeans would mistake gringos for cattle rustlers, the presence of an outsider could have been associated with such a threat.

4. The history of white men rolling up in the Andes. This element of the incident is perhaps the most complex and the most difficult to summarize in a brief article, but let's just say there are 500 years of history of white dudes coming to town, taking over, and submitting people with violence and oppression to a slew of undesirable foreign conditions. Conquest, forced conversion, forced labor, expropriation of communal lands, education reform, the confusion of the internal war in which mostly Quechua-speaking Peruvians were caught between the Peruvian military and the Shining Path, forced sterilizations, multinational mining companies, and yes, even encroaching tourism... Suspicion, distrust, and even fear of outsiders are just some of the consequences of this long history. 

The Wolfroms don't seem to have been aware of any of these cultural dynamics; they were carefree American tourists living their dream of seeing the world--the couple had been travelling throughout Latin America for nine months--but that does not mean they deserved what ensued. What happend to them was horrific, violent, and inexcusable. But instead of letting this incident exacerbate cultural misunderstandings by dismissing the Andean villagers as ignorant murderers, let this be a lesson that cultural misunderstandings can have dire consequences. Let this remind us--and I mean us, fellow Americans--that the world does not belong to us and as we frolic about the globe crossing things off our bucket lists, we affect the spaces we enter. 

What really happened in Ocongate? We will probably never hear the other side of the story unless someone seeks it out, and I would urge the Peruvian media to do so. We can only speculate but will probably never know what drove an entire village to brutally attack three foreigners, but we can consider the violence that we are committing if we choose a side, if we favor the published story over the unpublished ones, if we conclude that there were two dichotomous sides: rational, law-abiding citizens (the good guys) and irrational savages (the bad guys). ***Update in response to many of the comments below: Conversely, vilifying the American tourists and suggesting that they somehow got what was coming to them is an equally unhelpful and erroneous perspective.***

My heart goes out to both parties: to the unassuming tourists who got themselves into one hell of a cultural misunderstanding and to the Andeans on the other side of that misunderstanding who felt the need to resort to violence to defend themselves.

49 comments:

  1. This is a very good article, and a very needed perspective about the incident. Please, make sure to correct one element, though, which is a mistake that --incidentally-- was also committed by the tourists:

    The authorities of a campesino community are legal, formal, official authorities, and their mandate is recognized by law. They are not "unofficial". Check Law 24656, of 1987.

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    1. Link to the law:
      http://faolex.fao.org/docs/pdf/per20093.pdf

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    2. Thank you, Alfredo, for sharing!

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  2. Thank you, Eduardo! I have edited my wording. I did not mean to apply that they were not but rather that the tourists did not recognize them as such.

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  3. Although I don't share some of your political views, I have to agree with most of your analysis and conclusions. This is a very well-conceived analysis of what appears to have happened. I'd only add the inclusion of alcohol in the villagers' already excitable psyches likely also played a role. That doesn't shade my views, but I think it does make it easier to understand the overreaction.

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  4. Thank you for publishing your comments and the view onto the situation from the other side. The other defending side.
    This expresses exactly but more precisely what I have thought and commented on the Wolfroms blog when reading their story a few days ago. Jessica

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  5. Perhaps, to echo Mark Kennet's suggestion, which I find reasonable, we should also consider that the Americans were consuming alcohol, as one of the victims has stated (she said they had a beer at least, if we want to believe her). I think that could have contributed also to make them a little less reasonable, which is also not unusual in plenty of American tourists' psyche (as anyone who has been in Cuzco during high tourist season can attest). After all, how many fights start because people have had a drink or two? It is a bad combination, certainly.

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  6. Yeah, cattle rustling that's it. Shallow analysis and quite frankly, disgusting.

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  7. What about the pepper spray?

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  8. Great article! I live in Cusco and have been travelling a lot to quechua speaking communities. The least thing you can do there are two things: first, come always invited or knowing someone of the community; and, second, always identify yourself inmediately when you are asked to. The communities are ver suspicious of foreign visitors, and not without good reasons.

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  9. In the write up the Americans said the villagers were taking pictures of them with cameras or cell phones. Somebody had the technology. Somebody was recording the events. Even if it was stolen property the villagers used to document the violence they obviously knew how to use the stolen technology.

    So there is documentation out there of what went down.

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    1. I am not questioning the existence of technology in Pallca, only the access to internet. Recording is not the same as uploading and sharing with the world.

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  10. What could the people of that town use the money for?

    They could use it to clean up the mess of blood, broken teeth, torn clothing, trampled property, and a wrecked truck.

    That would be a good start.

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    1. TIPYCAL NORTH AMERICAN ASHOLE

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  11. The fact of the matter is these folks were ignorant to the local peoples, their culture and how they operate. Had they not been ignorant and spent more time learning about the indigenous people of Peru rather then the next sick climbing route perhaps they would have been more inclined to cooperate with them. Spanish in not the common language in the village. They have a mayor, aka Presidente and their own police force. The three from Wyoming had been boondock camping for months which is not all that safe to begin with. You don't just enter somebodies land in another country, set up camp, crack the beers and then not cooperate with the locals. That is asking for trouble in any country.

    The fact of the matter is this occurred due to ignorance and a big misunderstanding. These three folks need to take a long hard look at what they did to cause this to happen to themselves rather than dismissing it as being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Car jacking in a large city is being in the wrong place at the wrong time. This incident is not that.

    The violence is not excusable and I do not condone it. However, this story is extremely one sided and if the three from Wyoming continue to claim they did nothing wrong, well, that just proves their ignorance even more. It is unfair to Peru and also to the village not to mention overlanders for the story to be so one sided.

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    1. "Se puede decir más fuerte pero no más claro". In spanish its a proverb that means: you can express yourself with louder words but not more clearly. Great comment!

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    2. Where they did something wrong or not does not justify mob violence, no matter how culturally insensitive they were.

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  12. We don't know what would have happened if they showed their documents. What if they also shared some beers with the villagers and become friendly with them? Would the community have stolen the Wolfroms' technology?

    In one hand we have the ignorance of globalization about communal processes and rural authorities. In the other hand we have communities forgotten by government, mainstream development models and with a mixture of fear, anger and envy among many other "feelings" related to what Amanda described in point 4 explaining complexity.

    As a Peruvian working with rural communities in the Amazon I experience the cultural differences with "globalized citizens" and am also aware of the low educational rural levels, about the "feelings" of communities and the need to find a way to address this issues. They should be prepared to explain how their authorities function and avoid stealing, cheating and overreacting.

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    1. I agree, Rodrigo, but then we go back to the issue of language. It seems like neither side was able to explain itself very well across language boundaries.

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  13. So we excuse this kind of brutality because of all these lame "excuses?" Unless they KNEW these three were doing something wrong, which they did not, this kind of violence is obnoxious and UNEXCUSABLE. I'm sorry, but whatever the language, culture, or color, beating people mercilessly is NOT OKAY. I'm sickened that people are even having this discussion.

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    1. At no point do I suggest that we should excuse the violence. This article is not about making excuses (for either side) or taking a side for that matter. It is about recognizing that there are complexities to this story and perspectives that we have not yet heard. It is about opening one's mind to the idea that the entire town of Pallca is not just one angry, irrational, ignorant mob. I don't see how polarity helps anyone here.

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  14. Once they realized these foreigners were just tourists and meant no harm - when they were pleading for their lives AND showed their documents - the locals should of released them with their belongings and told them to leave. Not continued to brutally beat and humiliate them. Maybe the initial violence can be excused due to these "miscommunications", but not the extended brutality after the tourists' intentions were known.

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    1. I'm not sure we can know if and when the people in Pallca "realized" that they were just tourists. As soon as distrust was sewn, it may have been hard to establish who these people were. Having a U.S. passport with a tourist stamp does not necessary equal "no trouble."

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  15. PHOTOS! SOMEONE MUST HAVE PHOTOGRAPHIC EVIDENCE.....
    I am not convinced by this story, I would A) like to see the photos of the people and B) photos of the vehicle.
    Has anyone asked the campesinos?
    I'm calling this one.

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  16. I agree with you Matt. But at the same time after the village realized what had taken place, they released these people. And yes it is highly likely they are covering their asses.

    It is very possible and highly likely the Wolfrom's were extremely confused and the same goes for the village. I am also fairly sure by being confused the order of events might have got mixed up. It was a long horrible ordeal for these folks. Both parties though I am also sure were angry, toss in some other emotions and anything can happen.

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  17. I'd agree that the educational level of these tourists leaves a little to be desired. A few things, however: (a) if I remember correctly, they did not say that the local people who presented themselves as authorities were "unofficial", but rather that they were not official *police*. Does a community official really have the right to ask you for your passport, or to hold your documents? [Note: I do agree that the sensible would have been to carry *photocopies* of documents around, and showed them when asked. Also, non-state ID would probably have done the job.] (b) I agree that it seems extremely unlikely that the locals mistook the tourists for cattle rustlers. It's been 50 years since police officials managed to convince the locals at Madre de Dios that Javier Heraud wanted to steal their chickens. People in Ocongate must have seen tourists before. (c) It is easy to idealize "ronderos" (were these such?). This is a fact that was exploited by the military in the nineties; they discovered they could get off some heat of themselves for human rights abuses by letting rondas campesinas - by definition, para-police forces that became para-military - commit such abuses themselves. Due process? Not killing prisoners? If the rondas had ever heard of these odd ideas, they became encouraged to forget them. This isn't a village cut off from civilization; its violence is shaped by it. (Quote-unquote "civilization"...)

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    1. Yes, valuevar, a community official does have the right to ask you for your passport. And you are correct to point out the history of ronderos in the Andes and their association with Shining Path brutalities. I don't think that means that the town is inherently violent. I appreciate everyone's comments here, and I realize that this is a very polarized issue, but my point here is to try to meet somewhere in the middle and realize that both parties probably contributed to things getting out of hand.

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    2. Actually, Amanda, I'm interested in this - can you point me to where it says that a community official has that right? (Note that I *would* show identification, regardless.) Also, can he or she *keep* the passport? Ditto for Peruvian state ID.

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    3. i don't know about holding or keeping the documents, but did you check the link above in the blog, the legal document regarding community officials?

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    4. valuevar, blogniykipi runasimi rimasqaykimanta qelqaranki. runasimita rimankichu. chayraqmi runasimi claseta qoyta qallarani. rimasun!

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  18. any company in Lima can ask for and 'keep' your passport while you are on their property, even at US companies like Nextel and IBM. As a foreigner in Lima you have to leave your passport at the security desk at many apartment complexes when visiting friends in their apartments. It is a common practice in Peru to have to surrender your docs to someone who is 'not official.'

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  19. Yes, but
    (a) is it really legal? There may be a general civil-liberties issue here. This was a practice that started around 1990, if memory serves me well, when Lima was an emergency zone. Of course, as I was very young back then, I may not be getting this right.
    (b) If you do not give your documents, you can't enter, and it would be natural that you be asked to leave. But does somebody who is not the police have the right to *demand* that you *surrender* your documents?

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  20. The bottom line - the villagers attempted to cover up what happened there. This implies that they knew that their reaction and behaviors were, at the very least, illegal, if not morally unsound. Why is this point neglected here?

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    1. I agree. I also keep thinking....If they were so concerned that these tourists might bring them harm, or weren't complying by their rules, or whatever the hell they thought...
      Why not detain them until they figure it out, or why not escort them out (or simply LET them leave when they tried)???

      These are human being beating the shit out of other humans. Am I missing something here?? It's sickening and wrong. I'm SURE there were miscommunications, and I'm sure that these villagers didn't trust the tourists and I get the history of the area, but that does NOT justify their behavior.

      This is what's wrong with our society - we make excuses for this instead of saying, what you did was wrong, and you will be punished.

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  21. THese families my be poor, ignorante, isolated, uneducated, iliterate..say what you want, they have no business beating these people the way they did. PEru´s largest economic treasure is tourism and these families know very well WHAT A GRINGO looks like, they sure as hell dont look like them, but also this is a HEAVY MINING AREA, where the government has a responsibility to protect these families and their land rights. Covering their ASSES or making LESS of the violence cant help them to develope as a society. What if AMERICAN punished illigales this way? No society what´s blood on their hands but these families need to be punished, SHAME ON THEM. This has to stop in Peru, but it wont because its part of their society! So we´re all screwed..

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  22. At least 500.000 civilians dead in irak , a president who lied about WMD and never found it and many american says "villagers are savages" if this incident would happens in a little town in texas this people would be dead (Stand Your Ground) by law , in South America Mass Murderers like James Holmes aka skinny Bane and Adam Lanza the child killer , or even Guantanamo prison , the people from Okinawa in japan , dont want anymore the US base this is the 10 case of Gang Rape Commited by CIVILIZED us folks , 1995 a 12 yo girl was raped by this CIVILIZED us folks

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  23. In your #1 statement above, you say, "Would you then perhaps do everything you could to get those people off of your property?"

    YES! You're absolutely right. If they were scared, nervous, apprehsive, or whatever about these people being on their property then they have every right to make them leave. But wait...these tourists TRIED to leave!! The villages blocked them in, barricaded the road, and held them against their wishes while they beat them mercilessly.

    I don't think that these tourists (or most other American tourists) feel that we have the "right" to carelessly "frolic" through other countries while "crossing things off our bucket lists." I don't think that most American tourists, or these three in particular feel that the world "belongs to us." Most of the Americans that I know who choose to travel the world have a great deal of respect for the places and people they visit. These three Americans had been to plenty of other places around this area with no problems.

    They had the right to travel, and maybe they shouldn't have been in the area they were. Maybe they shouldn't have tried to camp there. Maybe they should have shown their documents right away. But let's get real here. These savage villagers (men, women, and children) have NO RIGHT to physically attack anyone.

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    1. Taken from the Wolfrom's own Blog....

      "We spotted two men sitting out front on a porch, who had been sitting there watching us, and decided to go and ask them if they knew where the immigration building was. This is when they begrudgingly got up and told us to follow them in to one of the little shacks, and this is where we learned that they were both, in fact, the immigration and Aduana officers."

      Obviously, upon entering Peru not all legal officials wear a uniform.

      Also from their blog....

      "Once a day we would typically come across a small, dumpy fisherman’s village where it was hard to believe that one could live and survive."

      Which clear shows a lack of understanding as to how people could live like this.

      And to back this up even more, from their own mouths again....

      "Traveling through Colombia and Ecuador we had become used to seeing small towns with clean streets and people who obviously had pride in the place they called home. So it was definitely a noticeable difference to find the towns of Peru, who’s houses themselves were hardly distinguishable between those of nearby Inca ruins and people who just threw their trash to wind from their front door."

      Sure sounds like they looked down on the people of Peru, nearly from the minute they stepped foot in the country.

      last quote from their blog....

      "Plus the consumption of lot’s of beer and wine, a beautiful beach just out the doorstep and a crazy kitten to laugh at makes it hard not to have a good time."

      Living in their own little world while on the road in other countries? They obviously like to drink a lot whenever they can and enjoy the company of other American's more it seems then the company of the local people.

      I don't really have time to read through all their blog right now covering the nine months of travel leading up to the attack. But I am willing to bet this tone of "we are better than those around us" and "we live to have fun and party" is consistent in their writings. Some might say ignorance is bliss, I bet these three now would say ignorance equals a stone to the head!

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    2. And here is some quotes from the blog over at Homeonthehighway, http://homeonthehighway.com/ who the Wolfrom's know and have spent time traveling with.

      "That night we met up with our Canadian friends (freshly decked out in the latest Llama fashions) and we got to drinking. and drinking… and drinking some more. We ended up at a small locals bar later that night where we danced our face off till 3AM or so. Good times had by all."

      So young folks who like to travel on the road through other countries for months on end like to party. Just making sure everyone understands that.

      Another interesting quote from their blog....

      "Needing a break from the road and some downtime to figure out our dwindling financial situation we considered taking them up on the offer."

      So can we then assume it is common for folks on trips like this to run out of money while on the trip?

      Also from their blog...

      "At one point the crying kid walks in front of me and plops down directly in front of my feet as I am walking, not thinking much of it and not wanting to punt the kid, I just step over him and keep on strolling.

      Looking back... perhaps that wasn't the best move.

      A few seconds later I hear loud shouting behind me, I turn around and find a red-faced 5ft tall Peruvian man holding his kid in his arms screaming his *** off at me. His overweight equally red-faced wife behind him also yelling. Surprisingly, for the first time all day, the baby is silent...

      I glean from the screaming that he is mad that I walked over his kid, I apologize but the man won't let us alone. He starts cursing at me, screaming about how Americans come to their country and disrespect them. Lo Siento Senor, No queiro problemas. At this point his loud shouting had gathered quite a crowd all standing around to watch the show. I stand there a while more getting threatened by this little red-faced man until a security guard comes over and tells us our group of 4 gringos we should probably leave. As I eyeballed 20 Peruvian males all around us itching to let out some pent-up aggression, I agreed.

      We all hauled *** outta ChanChan laughing at the absurdity of the situation. Hey, at least we got some excitement out of the place!"

      So very obviously ignorant to the local peoples, their traditions and what they consider to be extremely rude. Not to mention this quote clearly shows not the best feeling towards white Americans by the Peruvian locals. For all they knew, stepping over a child is the same as stealing it's soul to a Peruvian!

      Another quote....

      "Sometime around 2:00AM I felt my brain start shutting down. Oh no you don't brain! I reached into the passenger seat and grabbed one of the questionable stimulants I picked up at a late-night Peruvian truckstop. I slammed the sickly sweet tincture into my gullet and felt an instant headrush and boost of energy. WOOOOOOWWEEE! TAKE THAT GAUNTLET!

      Who was I kidding? I was so cracked out on truckstop go-juice there would be no sleep for me. I rolled down the window and stared at the stars for a while, watching the black sky slowly turn purple as dawn approached. It was very beautiful, I couldn't recall the last time I had been up to see daybreak.

      Next morning we were up and packed the truck. Feeling a little groggy we stopped for some Peruvian pick-me-ups. A cup of Coca leave tea and some Coca hard candies and we were wired up ready to go."

      So they like to do the locals pickmeups? Aka coca products?

      Take it all into perspective folks and it all starts to make sense. Not all that hard to understand how this could happen to the Wolfrom's if you look around a bit and do some reading.

      I just hope that other travelers smarten up so we don't start hearing stories like the Wolfrom's more often. Driving to the tip of South America is the dream of a lifetime for any adventurer. However, as such it should not be taken lightly and should be undertaken with responsibility.

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  24. Bottom line, besides the misunderstanding, cultural clash, or anything alike, these Wolfroms should be grateful to the Osangate guys! Now they can tell their story in National Media and earn some bucks instead of drinking warm beer in other people property.

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  25. Another cultural element that has not been considered is the "Pishtaco" myth. It's a very common story among rural communities in the high Andes across Peru. The "Pishtaco" is a man, usually white and blonde or a foreigner, that kills woman in the Andes. Besides, as you point out in the article, don't forget the long history of violence in the rural areas of Peru, all the time against these persons. So, a group of strangers, foreigners! out of nowhere, in their land without permission, is very bad news.

    The punishment they received, in the most isolated quechua rural areas, is the traditional way to punish outlaws, specially cattle thieves.

    Wrong time, wrong place. And yes, the Pallca people's version is still needed and understood.

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  26. I heartily agree that all sides of the story should be heard. I'm not sure I would believe anything they said at this point, though, after the claim that the villagers concocted a false story they forced the Americans to sign in order to cover their asses. Apparently this document exists; we should see it. Amanda, you say several times in the comments that you are just trying to get to a balanced, non-polarized version of the story. Meanwhile you snidely imply that there is a questionable element to the money raised: "...nearly $20,000 for their cause"... "in seemingly record time. (I wonder what this amount of money would mean to the people of Pallca)." I wonder how much the cost of your education would mean to the people of Pallca? What does the quantity and quality of the help provided by others who care have to do with anything? Is it more reasonable for them to beat strangers because they themselves are poor? Are you implying the tourists planned and faked the whole thing in order to get some pity donations? That you mention it in such a way is petty, not balanced.
    To respond to your point #1 - This is how it works, all over the world: If someone who comes into one's sphere (backyard or otherwise) seems untrustworthy, and won't cooperate, one's response should be to tell them that a) they are not permitted to stay, and b) they must leave. Do you think you'd have enough information on a person, just by looking at their ID, to know whether they are safe to have in your backyard, near your family and possessions? You'd make the decision based on many other factors primarily, not name and nationality. To beat a dead horse, I'd like to point out that making them leave was not the course of action the people of Pallca chose. What they chose was something far more brutal, inhumane and is reminiscent of communal bloodlust to me.
    As regards the comments in El Comercio, that paper sorely needs a moderator, obviously. No one should take the ravings of stupid, angry racists as a proper point of view - there are assholes everywhere. Those comments are racist and should never have been published.
    I also find it hilarious that someone commented above that the level of the tourists' education could play a factor. And on the other hand, any accusation against the villagers of low education and ignorance as an ingredient of the clash is defended here. So the villagers can be ignorant, rash and lack wisdom, but the travellers can't? Sounds like reverse racism to me. I'm sure the history of the place demands some extra protectiveness and understanding towards the people who live there and have been burdened by imperialistic and capitalist encroachment into their place and livelihood, but come on.
    And that you would post your incredulousness (under the cover of wanting a balanced story) - or maybe it's just an exaggerated, and let me stress, damaging cultural over-sensitivity - on the Facebook page of the people involved is unforgiveable. What your actions say is "Just in case being brutally beaten, humiliated, and having everything you own stolen, confiscated or trashed, and being without funds or friends or anyone you can trust in a foreign country while you're scared, in pain, exhausted and missing your front teeth, I'd just like to point out in this very public (yet personal) place that your story is highly suspect. Because this is obviously the right place to share my blog post." That's class.

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    1. Sabrina, I appreciate you taking the time for such a lengthy response. Your comments are indeed helpful in clarifying the intentions of the blog entry. Please allow me to respond to some of your concerns:

      1. Yes, according the Americans, there was a falsified testimony that was signed, but I must insist, according to the Americans. Although I insist on another side of the story, I am not suggesting at all, nor do I ever insinuate that the Americans fabricated this story to raise money. First, I am well aware that the tilted was set up by friend, and not be the Wolfroms themselves. In pointing out the amount of money raised in such record time, I am simply pointing out the facts. The Wolfroms communicated their tragedy quickly, put it publicly on the internet, and quickly received $20.000. By asking the rhetorical question, "What would that mean to Pallca?", I hope to again emphasize the power dynamic at play in access to information and resources. That power dynamic is not the fault of anyone in this story, but it does exist. Second, to further respond to your question, "Are you implying the tourists planned and faked the whole thing in order to get some pity donations? " Absolutely not. Given the Wolfrom's lack of cultural knowledge, it is highly unlikely that they could have fabricated the story. The descriptions, particularly of whipping seem very accurate and in line with Andean punishments for cattle rustlers. To be clear, I do not think that the Wolfroms made this up at all. I believe it is a very real, horrific, violent experience that they have gone through.

      2. "To respond to your point #1 - This is how it works, all over the world: If someone who comes into one's sphere (backyard or otherwise) seems untrustworthy, and won't cooperate, one's response should be to tell them that a) they are not permitted to stay, and b) they must leave." Unfortunately, no, there is no "universal" way things work around the world. This part of the Wolfroms's story is probably the least reliable, and again, not because I think it is made up, but because all of these questions and answers regarding whether they could stay or not, whether they could have their documents or not, were most likely communicated in both parties second language!

      3."So the villagers can be ignorant, rash and lack wisdom, but the travellers can't? Sounds like reverse racism to me." I think BOTH parties can have significant cultural misunderstandings, lack of knowledge, etc., that can help explain what happened. However, there was quite a bit of information already on the internet about the "ignorance" of the people in Pallca. In emphasizing the lack of knowledge that the Americans could have had, I hope again, only to suggest a side of the story that was not getting press.

      4. To your last point, you are right. It was not the most sensitive thing to do to post it on the Wolfroms's FB page. However, again, I did it not to suggest incredulity but to respond to some of the comments on their page. As you say, there FB page is completely public. People who do not know them have been posting and saying horrific things. It is one thing to empathize with someone during an awful time, quite another to turn that empathy into an attack on a violent, ignorant other, in a very public space. One person commented something to the effect, "Let me know when you're feeling better and we'll go burn that village down." So, yes, not the classiest choice, you are correct. However, the intention remains the same: to try to suggest a less dichotomous view of good and evil at play here. The Wolfroms's story is not under suspect in this blog. I just insist that it is not the whole story, and that based on one story, we cannot simply draw conclusions about the silent or silenced party.

      Something horrible happened. Blaming it on ignorant savages does not help anyone, certainly does not help such a thing from happening again.

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  27. Amanda, it is inappropriate in most places in North America for even the police to ask for your "papers" unless you have been arrested for committing a crime. Camping on peoples yards isn't done but camping in a camper on a piece of ground near a bridge on unmarked land is very common and sometimes unwelcome. If it is unwelcome one of two things happen. Either the land owner will call the police who will come and they will ask the camper to move on politely and that is all ... or else the owner themselves will do the job. NEVER EVER UNDER ANY circumstances would the land owner ask to see ID or papers. This is something that would basically amount to an invasion of personal privacy and is not done. Ignorance is NEVER an excuse for violence. What happened is simply a case of a violent crime being committed by a mob. They themselves understood the shit they were in and tried to lie their way out of it. They do not require your defense. As far as internet is concerned, these criminals had smart phones and used them to snap pictures of the victims while they shouted in favor of killing them. I'm not interested in the other side of the story as there is NOTHING These three people could have done short of setting the village homes on fire that could have justified the actions of the village. Poverty is not an excuse for violence just as isolation is no excuse. These people knew that what they were doing was a crime. Their perspective is not needed. The legality of the Presidente is irrelevant to the violence that followed.

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    1. This is a typical N. American view and perspective on any violence towards other N. Americans. In fact it is often portrayed as being why we as a nation are "right" and the rest of the world should get on with our program.

      Do you not understand their is tribal law in the United States? Would you expect to see that tribal law consist of whipping? No you would not but again you seem to only know and understand what is acceptable in your country.

      You have no perspective on other countries or how they go about things. Talk about Peru for awhile since that is the perspective that is being reflected upon often in this discussion. I would like to see if you have a firm grasp on how things work outside your own country. By your post it seems you do not....

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  28. I appreciate your post but I feel compelled to share my story of a recent visit to Peru. I am an American and was traveling with three other women from the US. It was my dream to visit your country and I was thrilled to be given the opportunity to travel. It was my first day in the country and had just flown in to meet the other 3 travelers in Arequipa. We spent a wonderful day exploring the city and spent most of our day at the monestary. We had dinner and were headed back to our hotel around 8 pm to settle in before leaving on the Colca Cyn trek in the morning.
    On our walk back to the hotel I was grabbed by a passenger in a taxi. The taxi dragged me along the street for about 100 ft until I was able to unravel my body from their grip. In the process I lost everything. They stole my passport, wallet...everything essential. I sustained many injuries and will have scars on my hands, arm, and legs for the rest of my life. I feel lucky to have gotten away with my life, I was very close to being run over and have had nightmares every day for the last 8 months since I returned.
    Following the accident I was treated by some of the most caring Peruvians and medical professionals. Many people off the street would see me and ask about my injuries and were shocked to hear our story. I appreciated their compassion but I also learned that this type of violence is a common occurance.
    I can assure you that we were 4 quiet American women in our 30's...we were sober and did not provoke anyone.
    I also agree that violence is everywhere-it happens in my small rural community that I live in too. But that shouldn't be an excuse for tolerance.

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    1. getting robbed can happen anywhere. its not the same as being on someone's property and having a village mob attack. i'm not sure what article some of you have read but this one does not justify or excuse violence. you can share a million stories of unjust violence it doesn't change the fact that people have misjudged the villagers here

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    2. I was robbed in Minneapolis, MN in the US and the robber hit me on the ground at gun point. Please do not generalise from a single case or personal experience. That´s the most common mistake we all make.

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  29. Anonymous, how have they misjudged the villagers?

    Amanda, thanks for your thorough and thoughtful reply.

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