ACCOMARCA, Peru – A scene of the worst genocide in Peru’s internal conflict in the last decade of the 20th century, the city of Acomarca is closing a chapter that has been open for more than 35 years.
Peru’s internal conflict saw the army fight the Shining Path rebel group from 1980 to 2000. In total, about 70,000 people died. Some survivors remember what people went through.
Justa Chuchun, 48, still has fresh memories of what she saw and remembers surviving four incidents where she could have been killed.
“Finally, our friends and neighbors will rest,” said Chuchun, who for the first time in 10 years thought he would be killed. In 1983, soldiers stormed his home in Acomarca and one of them thrust his rifle into his chest. He said the soldier kicked him and his brothers and ordered them to pick up the bodies of 11 people and bury them. Soldiers have accused their shining path of being rebellious.
According to subsequent investigations, a total of 80 caskets, including those killed in the late 2000s, were buried in a cemetery that was a military base where soldiers tortured locals who they thought were Shining Path rebels.
Of the caskets, only 37 will remain, the rest will contain clothing that was recovered and identified by families as belonging to their loved ones.
The Shining Path set up secret bases in rural towns like Acomerca, where the group killed local authorities and forced farmers to feed its members. In response, the army accused the farmers of being “terrorists” and killed some of them.
Chuchen says that in July 1985, a group of soldiers broke into a town fair and some of them raped her and her cousin. “I didn’t know if I should scream or cry,” he said. “I told him not to kill me.”
The worst incident for Acomara came on August 14, 1985, when soldiers opened fire on its home. They gathered 69 people, including the elderly, women and children. The soldiers raped the women, then put them in three rooms. They shot and destroyed the houses, setting them on fire, as people watched in horror, including Chuchun.
Chuchan escaped death that day because he was with his grandmother. Her parents moved to another town to play in a rural fair because her father was a harpist.
One week after the genocide, once her parents returned, the family fled Acomarca for Lima.
In the Peruvian capital, family members of the victims have condemned the genocide in front of Congress and demanded justice for years.
A law-making committee investigated the case, and in 1985 it interrogated Army Second Lieutenant Telmo Hurtado, who pleaded guilty to involvement in the genocide.
“No one can trust a woman, an adult or a boy,” he told the committee. The media called him a “butcher of the Andes,” but he was not initially convicted of genocide. He was sentenced to four years in prison for failing to report the murder to his superiors. He served in the army.
After Hurtado retired in 1999, he moved to Miami, but the families of the victims continued to ask for justice, and he was finally arrested and extradited in 2011 to face charges of genocide in Peru. He changed his testimony and said that he was obeying orders. He accused the army of extrajudicial killings.
Eventually, a Peruvian tribunal convicted Hurtado and nine other army officers of genocide. They were sentenced to 23 to 25 years in prison. But five of them are fugitives, including retired General Wilfredo Morio, who verbally ordered the killing of 69 people in Acomarca.
“What’s the point of convicting them if they’re free?” Chuchan asked ..
Brisno reports from Lima, Peru.