Map Critique: Mapping the victims.

Francisco Miranda. 10.19.2016


From 1980 up to 2000, Peru struggled with a very tough and violent internal armed conflict between Peru’s military, rondas campesinas[1], and two terrorist groups called Shining Path and the MRTA. As a result, this internal conflict left around 70,000 people dead[2]. Once the conflict was over, an Independent ‘Truth Commission’ was set up to start investigating what really happened. There was a lot of noise about human rights violations all around the country, and there were even strong allegations about crimes perpetrated by the military against civilians who were not part of the conflict. As a result, the Final Report was released on August 2003, and it showcased the terrible horrors that a huge part of the population in the highlands had endured at the hands of not only the terrorist groups but also the military.

This Report turned into a pop-up museum of sorts that traveled through different colleges in the country. Likewise, the Final Report was central to the creation of the Memory Museum[3] in Lima. The report included a few maps that have also been showcased different times, and I have always wondered about one specific map that shows a choropleth map of the country, divided by regions, showcasing where most of the fatal victims were; the darker the region, the most victims it had. What the map fails to showcase is who was responsible for those deaths on each of those areas and regions. It would have been important to showcase this, especially considering the shock it was to learn that the military were responsible for a lot of those deaths. In addressing that issue, there is a little text box within the Report that showcases it fairly clearly: why wasn’t this included on the map?

screen-shot-2016-10-18-at-9-48-11-pmWhen reviewing the political moment of 2003, right after a ten-year-long right-winged dictatorship and right after the 20-year-long terrible armed conflict, some reasons start to arise as to why there weren’t a lot of detailed maps presenting the ‘Truth Commission’s’ stark conclusions. For one, a majority of people did not want to recognize that the military were also involved in human rights violations; there was a country-wide discussion around “means to an end” and whether the crimes perpetrated by the military were an expectable outcome of the internal armed conflict. In my opinion, as well as the opinion of most members of the Commission, the excess of violence perpetrated by the military on innocent civilians was certainly not justified. Some of those military were indeed held accountable but overall, it was a complicated and very dark moment for politics and the judicial system. I believe this is why most people weren’t keen on going deeper — or, in the Commission’s case, why they didn’t produce maps that would showcase this information in a more meaningful way.a96f977c-0fb0-42a6-9ec9-dfd1114958eaBuilding on Foucault’s quote on Jeremy Crampton’s ‘What is Critique?’; I believe the map is effective when making evident the fact that cities in the highlands were much more affected by the conflict, and that that region was the one that lost the most lives. This was particularly important since, during the first few years of the conflict, politicians and the press were not bothered by the terrible news that was coming from the highlands. The capital city (that already holds about 1/3 of the population) did not think that those ‘alleged’ terrorist groups were a real thing, and that it was nothing to worry about. Two decades, tens of bombings and over 70,000 deaths later, the end result showed that if Government had started to worry about it sooner, maybe the outcome wouldn’t have been so terrible. In that sense, the difference in the amount of victims in the coastline vs. the highlands is made incredibly strong on the map.


Tarata Bombing, Lima 1992.

Even though the statement the map makes is a strong one; there are some things that could be improved or added (or even made differently) so it could be easier to read:

  1. The department (or state) lines are not accurate. The Commission tried to regroup regions and areas according to how they were affected by the conflict (in number of victims), and the end result is confusing for people who are accustomed to viewing Peru’s map in only one way. I myself had to re-read the map, and reconsider how its spatial divisions were decided, a few times before understanding it.

mapa-departamentos-peru annex-i-map-of-fatalities-peru-80-00

  1. Considering the audience for that map, the map could be both more colorful and include some explanation within the map itself, rather than through a larger, detached text. The Final Report includes different graphics and maps in color; I do not understand why this one is only considering a monochromatic scale.
  2. This map would make sense to people from the areas where there are fewer victims. The westernized view of Peru is not necessarily the same one that people from the highlands have. The mappers should’ve considered different ways to work around the map that would resonate with people from the areas that were most affected.

Considering my critique and specifically tackling the audience issue, I would consider combining this map with other forms of media and text that would be important in order to inform the audience while they navigate the map.picture1quipu_latamBesides pictures and text blurbs, I have also considered the use of Quipus. Quipus are ancient artifacts used since before the Incas to archive information. This type of archive remains very relevant in a lot of communities in the highlands of Peru; it is a respected tradition that is taught from generation to generation. Considering lots of the victims were part of these communities and indigenous groups, it only seems fitting to consider showcasing the same information on the map through a Quipu. Click here for a small video describing the ancient use of the Quipu.

A use of this kind of artifact can also be considered a sort of ‘indigenous mapping project’, something that can be developed with the communities. While working on different media and connecting the Quipus with the western-type maps, we are avoiding the dehumanization Sébastien Caquard mentions on the interview he gives on The politics of making maps. If we can have western maps and indigenous artifacts live together, we can start building connections between very different communities within the same geographical region.

While researching on Quipus I came across an installation done last year relating to the years of violence Peru had experienced; the installation referred exclusively to victims that had not been identified, but the end result is very similar to what I was envisioning[4]. Click for video.screen-shot-2016-10-19-at-12-57-56-amThe audience is absolutely relevant in this scenario. It is up to us to reconfigure maps in a way that they will appeal not only to the ‘westernized’ world but also to the indigenous communities (especially when they were, in fact, the most affected by the 20-year-long internal armed conflict). Through my prototype I intend to further develop the original map with text, statements and open questions…as well as appeal to a broader audience.


Click on image for a better look.


[1] Small, local resistance groups against terrorism made mainly by farmers.

[2] Truth Commission Report of 2003.

[3] Lugar de la Memoria –

[4] Gran Quipu de la memoria.