Peru: A half pardon after 37 years of waiting: the burial of the victims of Accomarca | International

Relatives of the 1985 victims carry the coffins to the Accomarca pantheon, in Ayacucho.
Relatives of the 1985 victims carry the coffins to the Accomarca pantheon, in Ayacucho.ERNESTO BENAVIDES (AFP)

“Agustín Chávez, present! Agustín Chávez, present!” Shouts a 12-year-old boy remembering his homonymous grandfather during the funeral procession of more than 70 victims of the Accomarca massacre, in the Andean region of Ayacucho, committed by the Army in August 1985. At that time, the Peruvian military applied the scorched earth strategy against the Shining Path terrorist group: they killed suspects and innocents in indigenous communities. The relatives, peasants who were displaced to the cities due to the violence, have dealt with the State for almost 37 years to obtain justice and have obtained it “halfway”, they lament.

The highest-ranking magistrate in the tasks of restitution of the remains of the massacred to the relatives was honest about the disappointment of the accomarquinos. “We cannot identify everyone, we say it with total transparency: that makes us uneasy and sad; but we hope that this ceremony can make up for what they suffered from that fateful day,” said the superior prosecutor Daniel Jara in the district’s main square last Friday, before the funeral.

The Prosecutor’s Office has identified remains of some 50 murdered, but in dozens of other cases it was not possible because over time they were biologically degraded or almost burned. This is due to the fact that the military locked up more than 70 people in a shack – assuming they were subversives – machine-gunned them, and set the place on fire.

The delivery in Accomarca was scheduled for March 2020, but the pandemic paralyzed the tax proceedings to this day. The district is located an hour’s flight from Lima and an additional three and a half hours by paved highway and a trail. Transportation to the site is scarce, and expensive for those who fell a step below poverty when they left their land and migrated to the cities to escape the violence of law enforcement and terrorists.

Years ago, the families of the victims built a memorial site to bury their dead together, in the place where the Army base was installed in Accomarca after the 1985 massacre. The victims and the district authorities will create a space there museographic so that visitors and new generations know what happened.

On Friday, hundreds of relatives and members of the Association of Victims of Accomarca arrived in the district for the funeral: they traveled from Lima and from other cities where they settled to preserve their lives during the period of violence 1980-2000, when the Maoist subversives tried to capture the State, while the forces of order unleashed an uncontrolled repression in the Andes, where the Maoist organization Sendero Luminoso emerged and expanded.

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The internal armed conflict left some 70,000 dead -of which 70% spoke Quechua, according to the Truth Commission- and 21,000 disappeared, according to the Directorate for the Search for Disappeared Persons, a dependency of the Ministry of Justice. In Accomarca, there are 116 people whose whereabouts are unknown. The Prosecutor’s Office delivered the mortal remains and certificates on Friday, but previously carried out procedures with the families to verify that the remains exhumed since 2006 by the Specialized Forensic Team were placed in ossuaries labeled with the names of the victims.

Professionals from the Directorate for the Search for Disappeared Persons and seven psychologists from the Los Morochucos community mental health center, a district located two hours from Accomarca, collaborated in this task. In the acts prior to a dignified burial – such as adding a clean skirt kept for 36 years or telling the dead person a phrase of affection that was left pending – the tears and grief of the relatives burst out. For this reason, the accompaniment of specialists was necessary, with water, a word, or a hug, or helping to carry the wooden crates to the church for the wake.

”Since the forensic team of the Public Ministry began its work (in 2003), the dead had to be treated with human dignity and the relatives of the victims, with great respect. I saw that in the exhumations of 2006 and 2007, “anthropologist Isaías Rojas-Pérez, author of the book, told EL PAÍS in Accomarca. Mourning remains: State Atrocity, Exhumations, and Governing the Disappeared in Peru’s Postwar Andes In Mourning the Remains: State Atrocity, Exhumations, and the Management of the Disappeared in the Postwar Peruvian Andes.

Rojas-Pérez highlights in his work that forensic experts “treat bones like a human being: they say his knee, his rib, for example.” On Wednesday and Thursday, when the coroners transferred the remains – from paper bags to the ossuaries – they used gauze and other tissues to carefully arrange them in the wooden crates.

A historical fact

For the anthropologist, last Friday’s burial is of historical importance because it shows the constitution of an actor, the Association of Victims of Accomarca, who fights for their rights and is not satisfied with what little comes from the State. “Every cry that needed to be uttered has been uttered; each office that had to be written, they wrote it. This element is historic because these healthy forces of the country that fight for justice try to build a better society, more equitable, more respectful of others”, adds the professor, referring to the group and its president, Celestino Baldeón, who was unable to travel from Lima due to health problems.

Senior prosecutor Jara and other public servants who worked for years to make the decent burial possible, also praised the firmness and perseverance of the survivors and relatives. “This is a momentous event in its communal history; Let’s hope they continue to demand us as they have done so far, “said the magistrate who coordinates the National Superior Criminal Prosecutor’s Office.

“It is the result of the strength that the relatives have had to carry out the first sentence against the military (in 2016), and now this chain of institutions that have acted as a gear to focus on their needs,” said Katherine Valenzuela during the funeral. , executive secretary of the unit of the Ministry of Justice that coordinates reparations for victims of violence from the period 1980-2000.

Part of the “half justice” perceived by the Accomarquinos and their descendants is that the 2016 sentence against the military has hardly been carried out: of ten convicted, only five are in prison, and neither the State nor the perpetrators have paid the reparation.

Witnesses at the site of the massacre

On August 15, 1985, four Army patrols carried out a plan that consisted of assassinating peasants in the Llocllapampa ravine – a valley at the foot of the mountain where Accomarca is located – because they believed that the Shining Path was indoctrinating the community there. . The soldiers took people out of their huts, beat and tortured the men, raped the women, and then locked them in a house to shoot them. Second Lieutenant Telmo Hurtado, who was leading the operation, threw a grenade and set everything on fire.

“In this place there were no people with weapons or sticks,” explained survivor Teófila Ochoa Lizarbe, who was 11 years old when the massacre occurred, on Thursday at the scene. She rejected the version that the Army soldiers gave in the trial, that there was a “popular school” of the terrorists in that ravine. ”They dragged pregnant women by the feet, they raped the women. They looted the houses until they reached Accomarca”, recalls Ochoa crying, because she lost her mother and five of her brothers.

She was able to escape from the soldiers’ shots and hid behind a stone, she told the press at the foot of the walls of the house that the Army set on fire. The girl found her father hours later and they slept outdoors: “Without shoes, without hat, crying,” she adds.

When the Army left, they returned to the ravine to bury their relatives in a hurry. “Before that everything was happiness, it was beautiful. Our uncles and grandparents denounced, and in our poverty, we had to spend money for the trade. Some of us found our relatives, but the DNA of 20 people has not come out. That pain is never going to close, ”she assures. Ochoa believes that if they had been rich people, justice would not have taken long, nor would they have been mistreated in court, when the military branded them terrorists and liars.

Another survivor who was 12 years old at the time, Cirila Pulido Baldeón, recounted that every year, when harvest time was over, families from Accomarca would come down to that valley with herds of cattle and stay in their ranches and huts. The day the military attacked, she did not understand what was happening. “I didn’t know what a bomb was, there was no television for us. The bullet has passed here, there, but it has not reached me, ”she described, recalling her fear.

According to the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (2003), the Army had received information in August 1985 that community members from Accomarca would attack self-defense groups from neighboring towns, causing casualties to Sendero Luminoso.

violence and poverty

Pulido said that after the massacre, the Army stayed in Accomarca and they had to live under their control, without being able to report that they stole their animals and belongings. “Since they put the military base in our town there was no food, there were not a door or a window left in the houses. They have impoverished us more and Accomarca does not improve”, he denounces.

The district mayor, Fernando Ochoa, also calls on the Government to provide the district with health and education services to prevent young people from continuing to migrate due to lack of opportunities. He notes that life for rural migrants in the cities has been tough, and they have had to put their dreams on hold in order to dedicate themselves to survival.

Despite the scarcity of resources, the organization that the victims of Accomarca have achieved in three decades of walking for justice is reactivated in the face of every need. The Municipality does not have funds to build a fence at the site of the massacre and protect it from invaders. For this reason, last Thursday, during a pilgrimage, relatives of victims -such as Guillermo Palacios, Eliodor Teccsi and César Quispichahuis- donated cash for the fence and to open a path to the space of memory called, since 2017, the Ecological Sanctuary of Llocllapampa .

For the vice president of the Victims Association, Florián Palacios, the violence prevented his district from developing normally. During the pilgrimage, he noted that most of the inhabitants have not accessed higher education and in the cities they were discriminated against for their way of speaking Spanish. “In two decades they have stolen our children’s education, we don’t even have a road that connects us with the neighboring province, they have truncated our life project,” he notes.

Prime Minister Aníbal Torres arrived at the end of Friday’s event in the district: his seat was empty while the main speakers took the floor. “We apologize for the damage suffered, for the irreparable losses and for the neglect and postponement in which they found themselves for many years,” he said.

Of the more than 70 ossuaries buried, 38 correspond to identified people, six contain garments belonging to the victims, and 26 were “symbolic” restitutions organized by the Directorate for the Search for Disappeared Persons: in these cases, they asked the relatives to place related objects with the murdered -such as clothes, letters or drawings- to bury them.

Agustín, the 12-year-old schoolboy from Lima who traveled to Accomarca to be at the funeral of his grandfather of the same name, spent several hours in the district’s soup kitchen helping to serve three free meals a day for coroners, prosecutors, psychologists, lawyers, relatives and journalists. “I did not know my daddy or my uncle Marcial Chávez Castillo. I have been to cemeteries in Lima several times, but the burial seemed to me the most important thing these days, ”he answers for this report.

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