Fujimori on Trial :: Fujimori procesado

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-CONTEXT- Remembering La Cantuta

August 5th, 2008 · No Comments

(Relatives of the La Cantuta Victims. Photo: Praxis, 2008) 

On the 16th anniversary of their murder, nine students and a professor from La Cantuta University, just outside of Lima, were finally put to rest. The wake and funeral were held on July 18-19, 2008 in the El Ángel Cemetery, in Lima.

The victims were first buried in 1994 after the police presented family members with milk cartons containing their love ones’ remains, “mixed with trash that was found in the clandestine graves.” These remains were later exhumed in 2002 and sent to France for forensic studies. Only four of the 10 victims were successfully identified.  After these studies, Peruvian Judge Inés Villa Bonilla ruled on June 27 this year for the victims’ remains to be handed over to their families.

The La Cantuta Massacre is one of the cases that former President Alberto Fujimori is currently being tried for, based on accusations that he had command responsibility over the military death squad known as “Colina.” (see formal accusation)

But this is not the first time this case has been brought to court. Since the time of the massacre, there have been various investigations and efforts to bring about justice.

Military court trial and amnesty law

In December 1992, five months after the murders, Peruvian magazine published an article claiming that members of the National Intelligence Service (SIN) had committed the Barrios Altos and La Cantuta massacres, based on information revealed by sources. In April 1993, Congressman Henry Pease announced that he had received a letter confirming similar information.

The following month, Peruvian Army Gen. Rodolfo Robles “accused high military authorities and intelligence advisor Vladimiro Montesinos Torres of maintaining an operative command responsible for crimes against humanity, including ‘Barrios Altos’ and ‘La Cantuta’” (CVR, p. 238). Gen. Robles was consequently put on trial for treason against the country and the Armed Forces.

Later, a map was leaked to journalist Ricardo Uceda, of magazine, indicating where the bodies of the 10 Cantuta victims had been buried. The New York Times reported on Aug. 13, 1993:

“When Mr. Uceda brought a formal request for the government to investigate the bones found in Cieneguilla, he found officials less than eager to uncover what had happened. The national prosecutor, Blanca Nélida Colán, rejected any help by foreign experts in genetic mapping, saying the law prohibited intervention by foreigners in murder cases.”

Pro-Fujimori Congresswoman Martha Chávez, who had previously claimed that the disappeared persons must have kidnapped themselves since no bodies were found, now accused Uceda of illegally interfering with the administration of justice (CVR p. 239). On excavating, human remains were found as well as mangled cloth and various sets of keys, each proven to belong to the victims.

A formal accusation was promptly made, but a norm that came to be known as the “Cantuta Law,” issued on Feb. 10, 1994, redirected the case to a military court, as opposed to a civilian court. On Feb. 21, the military court sentenced Colina’s leaders, Majors Santiago Martín Rivas and Carlos Pichilingüe, Gen. Juan Rivero Lazo (director of Army Intelligence Office, or DINTE), Col. Federico Navarro Pérez (head of the Internal Front at the DINTE) and four others, including: Juan Supo Sanchez, Julio Chuqui Aguirre, Jesús Antonio Sosa Saavedra, Nelson Carbajal García. All of these Colina members have testified in Fujimori’s current human rights trial.

That same month, New York Times reported that “with the sentence, which had been expected, President Fujimori is hoping to clean up the government’s human rights record, particularly in an effort to persuade Washington to release millions of dollars in aid that had been held up because of the Cantuta case.” (Feb. 22, 1994).

The military court was also going to try Montesinos, along with then Army Commander General Nicolás de Bari Hermoza Ríos and Luis Pérez Documet, but the accusation was dissolved a few months later, in August 1994.

Then, in 1995, those condemned for the Cantuta case were given amnesty. A US Department of State Country Report for Human Rights Practices in Peru realeased in 1996 described the turn of events in the following way:

“A 1995 law granted amnesty from prosecution to those who committed human rights abuses during the war on terrorism from May 1980 to June 1995. When lower court judge Antonia Sacquicuray declared the Amnesty Law unconstitutional, Congress immediately passed a second law blocking any judicial review of the law’s constitutionality. Subsequently, a split decision by a superior court overturned the Sacquicuray decision.”

Those who had been charged with the Cantuta murders were subsequently released.

Another year later, in March 1996, 10 days after confessing that she had leaked the map to Uceda, Mariela Barreto, an agent in the Army Intelligence Service (SIE) and a member of the Colina Detachment, was found murdered, her body having been cut up and decapitated after apparent torture. Gen. Juan Rivero Lazo testified in March 2001 that Montesinos had ordered her murder. Barreto and Maj. Santiago Martin Rivas — the suspected leader of the Colina military detachment — had a child together in 1994, but separated shortly after. 

According to Martín Rivas, the La Cantuta crime was originally carried out by Colina to retaliate for the Tarata street bombing. However, despite exhaustive press and military investigations, no connections have been found between the Cantuta victims and Tarata or suggesting their participation in the bombing.

Subsequent trials by other courts

Due to the controversy surrounding the 1994 trial, the case passed to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, who ruled in November 2006 that it was “acknowledged and proven” that the planning and extrajudicial execution of the La Cantuta victims by the Colina Group “could not have passed unnoticed to or have occurred without the orders of the superior ranks of the Executive Power and the then military forces and intelligence bodies, especially the chiefs of intelligence and the same President of the Republic himself.” (paragraph 96)

Furthermore, the Peruvian State submitted admitted acts to the case regarding the Colina Group’s existence, the violation of the victims’ right to a fair trial and legal protection, military courts’ intervention and the passing of amnesty laws by the executive power, among others. (paragraph 40)

Another trial for the La Cantuta case, presided by the Special Criminal Court of Peru’s Superior Court, sentenced nine former Colina members in April 2008, ruling that the group was a detachment that functioned within the military and that Fujimori was aware of the crimes.

Continued significance

In light of the La Cantuta victims’ final burial, several analysts talked of the importance of remembering events like this. In particular, editor-in-chief of Peruvian newspaper Perú21, Augusto Álvarez Rodrich, asserted that La Cantuta’s significance is:

“Essentially, for an elemental justice that additionally helps to understand that human rights are a fundamental part of a decent and dignified society where one is proud to live […] This is not an ideological issue of right or left, but rather an elemental respect for human beings.”

Why is it important to remember events like Tarata or La Cantuta? Is it a form of justice?


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