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A Polite Encounter

August 26, 1993|LAURIE OCHOA

Terrorist attacks by Peru's Shining Path, headed by the now-jailed Abimael Guzman, makes searching for Andean root and tuber crops dangerous work. The International Potato Center was forced to evacuate its agricultural research station in Huancayo after the 1989 bombing of a storage building there, and the killing of a guard the year before. Peru's most famous potato explorer, Dr. Carlos Ochoa (no relation), had a narrow escape a few years back when guerrillas armed with machine guns stopped him near Ayacucho, but released him in honor of his scientific work. Other researchers have been killed, injured or scared off. Dr. Carlos Arbizu also encountered the group, as he describes below.

*

I used to work at the university in Ayacucho, where the Shining Path started its work. That guy, Guzman, used to be my colleague. And he used to be very friendly, polite. Very, very polite. Extremely polite.

He knew that I didn't like his politics. He hated Western society, and of course, I was preparing to study in England--the hub of Western society. But he never treated me as his enemy. He tried to persuade me, to be friendly with me.

Of course, that was before he started his campaign, before he disappeared.

One day, back when I used to collect plants, I was in a field, taking photos of ulluco and oca and mashua , taking notes in my notebook, when suddenly somebody shouted, "Hey! What are you doing there? Lift your arms!"

I lifted my arms. It was the Shining Path.

"Walk over there!"

I had to walk.

"Now, down on the ground!"

At that moment one of them came with a gun, pointing at my head. I thought, "My goodness, my God."

But they didn't shoot. They inspected my pockets, my socks. Once they saw I had no gun, they said, "You can sit now and we can talk."

"Well," I said, "I'm just taking photographs and taking notes about my plants."

They went through all my notes, looking at what I was writing. Nothing dangerous for them.

"Now, I'd like to see your camera."

He found nothing wrong.

"Now, your identification card."

"Here it is."

"What do you do for a living?"

'Well, I am a lecturer at the university, at the University of Ayacucho."

"Why do you have to come here to work? This is a liberated land. That means you are not allowed to come here alone. You have to ask us first if you want to come here, because this is the land of the free."

He told me that! Amazing!

"OK, I am not going to come here anymore unless you give me special permission. But could you possibly tell me where could I see you in order to ask permission?"

"We know who you are; we know where you live. We will come see you."

Well, they never came, and since that time, I haven't gone back to that place. I never got permission.

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