Friday, January 29, 2010

Peru: Generals face the music in human rights trial

By Ángel Páez - IPS

Republished permission Inter Press Service (IPS ) copyright Inter Press Service (IPS) and

A trial against 41 Peruvian soldiers and officers accused of murdering six men and two women in the highlands village of Pucará in 1989, during the first term of current President Alan García (photo), has reopened.

The defendants include two retired generals, Juan Briones and Carlos Bergamino, who not only enjoyed total impunity under the administration of Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000) but were promoted in the military and appointed as cabinet ministers.

The trial got underway again after the lawyers representing the victims' families successfully lobbied the court to order the return to Peru of a key defendant, noncommissioned officer Clodomiro Silva.

Silva and the rest of the members of the army accused in the Pucará murders are not allowed to leave the country without permission from the court, and must attend all court sessions when summonsed.

Nevertheless, President García named Silva as an assistant to Peru's military attaché in Washington.

As a result, the trial was held up when Silva did not show at the Dec. 12, 21 and 28 hearings. The defence counsel subsequently demanded that the court order the army to provide information on his whereabouts.

The army command informed the court that Silva had been appointed to the office of the military attaché until Jan. 31, 2011.

García governed Peru from 1985 to 1990, in the midst of the 1980-2000 armed conflict between government forces and the Maoist Shining Path and smaller Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA). In July 2006 he was sworn in for a second five-year term.

Silva's appointment "was a way to put him out of reach of the justice system, and his failure to show up at the hearings hampered the trial," Antonio Salazar, a lawyer with the non-governmental Legal Defence Institute (IDL) who represents the victims' families, told IPS.

Sources at the courthouse where the trial is being held told IPS that the judiciary had notified the army command that Silva's appointment to a diplomatic mission abroad was a violation of due process.

Silva finally returned to Lima on Jan. 10, and reported in to the courts.

At a new hearing on Monday, the attorneys representing the victims' families put Carlos Tapia, an expert on the military's counterinsurgency strategy, on the stand.

According to the political analyst, the armed forces modified their strategy in 1989. The changes included a stronger emphasis on military intelligence and selective killings of suspected Shining Path members and supporters.

Tapia said the Pucará massacre, in November of that year, was not an isolated case but part of the military's aim to deal a blow to supposed Shining Path members in the days leading up to the municipal elections, which the Maoist rebel group was urging voters to boycott.

The murders in Pucará, a village in the central Andean province of Junín, formed part of the army's newly modified anti-guerrilla strategy, argued Tapia, one of Peru's foremost experts on the Shining Path.

In its final report, released in 2003, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission said the Pucará killings were an extremely serious case of extrajudicial executions committed by members of the army who were never punished.

The sources at the courthouse told IPS that the Pucará case stands out from other civil war human rights abuses that have come to trial because one of the accused - whose identity has not been revealed - has confessed to the murders and provided detailed information.

The defendant told the authorities that the head of the army's special forces division, General Juan Briones, set up the Inclán Countersubversive Battalion to carry out "special operations," including selective killings, in the province of Junín, where Shining Path was active.

The witness belonged to the special battalion and took part in clandestine counterinsurgency missions that targeted suspected Shining Path members or sympathisers.

The operation in Pucará was commanded by the intelligence chief of the 31st infantry division, then lieutenant colonel César Rodríguez Delgado, who was put in charge of two counterinsurgency units.

When they reached Pucará, the soldiers burst into the victims' houses and killed them, according to the testimony and reconstruction of events offered in the trial.

The first unit, led by Captain Marco Antonio Llontop, reportedly killed four men: 52-year-old farmer Paulino Cabezas, 42-year-old municipal worker Leoncio Orihuela, and two students: Raúl Cabezas, 24, and Máximo Pérez, 20, as well as two sisters, Madeleine and Gladys Poma, ages 16 and 17, who were also students.

The second unit, headed by Captain Miguel Puente Millán, killed two men: 63-year-old Isauro Valdez and 20-year-old student Nilo Castillón.

The timing of the murders was not arbitrary: on Nov. 4, the MRTA celebrated the anniversary of the 1780 uprising by Tupac Amaru II - the great-grandson of the last Inca leader - which was the first major Incan uprising against the Spanish colonialists in two centuries.

After the killings, the soldiers painted MRTA slogans on the walls to make it look like members of that guerrilla group had committed the murders.

"One of the most important testimonies was offered by retired general Marco Antonio Ramos, head of the Inclán Countersubversive Battalion, who confirmed a large part of what the witness declared," said Salazar.

"Ramos said the 31st infantry division's intelligence chief, César Rodríguez Delgado, asked him for men for the Nov. 4 operation," said the Legal Defence Institute lawyer.

General Rodríguez Delgado is still at large.

"General Ramos also said the operation was carried out in coordination with the head of the 31st infantry division commander, then Colonel Carlos Bergamino," said Salazar.

Bergamino was defence minister under Fujimori (who is in prison on a number of corruption and human rights charges).

"That means there is a chain of command all the way up to the highest echelons of the army," said the lawyer.

Generals Briones and Bergamino, however, deny that they authorised or even knew about the Pucará operation.

Briones is currently serving a 10-year sentence for his role in the Apr. 5, 1992 "self-coup" staged by Fujimori and his security adviser Vladimiro Montesinos (who is also in prison in connection with multiple corruption and human rights cases).

Bergamino, meanwhile, was sentenced to four years in prison for involvement in Fujimori's embezzlement of 15 million dollars from the state coffers to pay off Montesinos. The general is also facing prosecution in other corruption trials.

"The evidence is concrete and Generals Briones and Bergamino could be sentenced to 20 years in prison," said Salazar.

Published by i On Global Trends - Mike Hitchen Online - news, opinion, analysis
See also Sydney Irresistible and for personal comment, Mike Hitchen Unleashed
Putting principles before profits