High Altitude Election Monitoring
Remi Gosselin and I, Derrick Martens, were assigned to Pampas in the Tayacaja area. Our team included Claudia, a Bolivian-American, and Janin, a young Swiss diplomat. We traveled via a nice little mini-bus with Emina Cingel and her fellow team mates.
As a B.C. native, I was very pleased to be traveling the steep winding roads that took us into the Andes directly from Lima. We traveled from near sea level to a literally heart pounding 4818 metres (almost 5 kilometres straight up) in about 4 hours. The environment transited from near desert conditions, to wet and rainy green cliffs and finally to snow and cloud so thick we could only see about 20 metres in front of the vehicle. The clouds and the many mining trucks on the narrow, but well-made, windy highway often slowed us down to 20 km/h.
That night in Huancayo, where Emina would do her election monitoring, the group of us began to experience signs that something wasn’t right with our bodies. Intestinal problems (understatement), dizziness, stomach aches, lightheadedness, shortness of breath. I know I’m not in tip-top shape, but running up a flight of stairs doesn’t normally leave me gasping for breath.
I like climbing mountains, so I was curious to hear about how high I was compared to mountains I’d climbed in BC and Alberta. Those mountains were about 2500 m at their peaks, and here in Peru the highway summit alone was almost twice as high! So we were likely experiencing the effects of a supersized combo of contaminated lettuce (washed with non-purified water) that was part of a meal, and altitude sickness. It really took the wind out of my sails for a few days. Claudia even brought an oxygen tank for emergencies. (We all gave it a shot.)
After a night in Huancayo, Remi and I headed to this little town/village called Pampas. We left the very smooth and modern highway for a steep gravel road that took us along steep cliffs and Indian woman working farms on incredibly steep land. Every so often there was a little brightly painted tiny cement block with a roof beside the road. Some of them had flowers. Even though Peruvians are very good drivers, evidently there were still plenty of accidents – and victims of gravel highway robberies.
Pampas is beautifully situated in a green valley at about 3500 metres. All the mountains are covered in such steep farms that it puts the Swiss to shame. Of course, picturesque steep mountain farms take an incredible amount of back-breaking human energy to harvest and till by hand tools. Pampas is in the middle of area which gave birth to Sendero Luminoso, a Maoist terrorist group that led assassinations and massacres against the government and villages that didn’t support their violent cause. Sendero Luminoso was most active in the 80s and early 90s in the conflict that led to between 40 000 and 60 000 deaths and disappearances. They aren’t too active right now, as their main leaders have been either killed or jailed. However in December Sendero Luminoso members attacked police in a local town and killed eight officers.
Our driver, Wilfredo, was from Pampas and did a great job of taking us to visit Oficina Nacional de Procesos Electorales (or ONPE; similar to Elections Canada) and Transparencia officials. We also checked in with the local police and the Pampas military base, who have a manned machine gun pointing at the base of the nearby mountain.
More details on Election Day coming up.
- Derrick Martens