Fujimori linked to cake-scarfing death squad

Testimony in the trial of Peru’s ex-strongman Alberto Fujimori charges that his administration negotiated amnesty for an army death squad in exchange for keeping secret the government’s involvement in two massacres in which 25 were killed. The claim comes from Pedro Supo, a former leader of the “Grupo Colina” death squad, run by the Army Intelligence Service (SIE).

Supo told the court that officers were to be paid $100,000 each and the non-commissioned officers $50,000 as part of the amnesty agreement in the November 1991 slaying of 15 at a barbecue in Lima’s Barrios Altos neighborhood and of 10 at La Cantuta University the following July. Supo said the death squad also worked closely with Fujimori’s National Anti-Terrorist Directorate (DINCOTE). The aim “was not to put the subversives at the disposal of DINCOTE, but to track them down and identify and eliminate them,” he said.

The operations also included the murders of six small farmers in the town of Pativilca in January 1992; of six more farmers in the town of Santa in May 1992; and of journalist Pedro Yauri and six members of the Ventocilla family in June 1992. “The objective was not to capture [the suspected guerrilla collaborators] but to eliminate them,” said Supo when questioned by prosecutor Avelino GuillĂ©n. “We all knew that the objective of the operations was to kill them.” (IPS, Jan. 29)

Supo, who drove the get-away car on the night of the Barrios Altos massacre, said members of the death squad threw a party later that night for their leader, Santiago MartĂ­n Rivas, at a beach-front military base where they ate cake and got drunk. “We sat around a table and saw a newsflash on TV about what happened. We saw that a child had died, then we had a toast for the birthday of MartĂ­n Rivas. We sang him happy birthday and had beer,” Supo said. When the beer ran dry, they drank liquor until dawn.

Supo did not say if Fujimori ordered the attack, in which an eight-year-old boy was among the slain. Fujimori has said rogue military officers were behind the massacre, but prosecutors say he gave the order.

Supo testified that some members of the death squad were wanted to leave the group after realizing a child was slain, but MartĂ­n said that was not an option. “Nobody leaves the group alive,” he quoted MartĂ­n as saying.

Prosecutors also say the death squad killed innocent people by mistake. In the case of Barrios Altos, intelligence officers reportedly received a bad tip and went to the wrong barbecue. Supo said they gained entry by pretending to be part of a band that had come to perform. Those gunned down were mostly street ice-cream vendors and their family members, with no link to the guerillas, according to the commission that investigated the crimes of Peru’s dirty war.

Supo also provided grim details of the massacre at La Cantuta, where nine students and a professor were killed. “You make a hole, you place the victim in it, then you dump quicklime on the body and cover it with rocks and dirt,” he said, describing how the Cantuta victims were secretly buried. (Reuters, Jan. 28)

Julio Chuqui Aguirre, another ex-Colina member, testified that Fujimori knew of the group’s activities—claims the ex-president denied. Chuqui said reports were filed to the Army Intelligence Directorate (DINTE), which answered to army commander Nicolás Hermoza RĂ­os, who answered directly to Fujimori’s spy chief Vladimiro Montesinos. (La Republica, Lima, Jan. 31) Yet another ex-Colina member, Marco Flores Albán, testified that the group had been told by one of their leaders, Capt. Carlos Pichilingue, that their amnesty was personally arranged by Fujimori. The Colina members served only a short time in prison before being freed under a new Amnesty Law. (EFE, Jan. 24; El Comericio, Lima, Dec. 25)

In December, Fujimori told state prosecutor JosĂ© Antonio Peláez that the two controversial laws on rights violations passed during his administration only inadvertently benefited members of the Colina group. Fujimori said the 1994 Cantuta Law and 1995 Amnesty Law were intended to stabilize Peru after years of unrest. “I considered it necessary to look for a peaceful solution after 14 or 15 years of internal war,” said Fujimori. “They were part of a general plan by the government to lead Peru to peace.”

The Cantuta law allowed members of the Colina group to be prosecuted for the Cantuta murders in a military court, where the head of the death squad, Major Santiago MartĂ­n, received a 20-year prison sentence. A year later, he and the rest of Colina group were pardoned under the sweeping Amnesty Law, which gave immunity for those accused of rights violations during Peru’s internal conflict.

Fujimori told prosecutors he first learned of the Colina group’s existence in 1993, when Montesinos, told him “there was the possibility that this group, of MartĂ­n Rivas and the others, had committed the crimes.” (Andean Air Mail, Lima, Dec. 19)

Earlier this month, Peru’s prime minister Jorge del Castillo testified that Fujimori ordered his kidnapping the night of President Fujimori’s military-supported “self-coup” in April 1992, when he was a leading legislator.

Del Castillo was mayor of Lima during part of current President Alan Garcia’s 1985-1990 administration. Soldiers who came to arrest Garcia at his home on the night of Fujimori’s coup instead found del Castillo—who was buying time for Garcia to escape over the rooftops. Garcia hid in an empty rooftop water tank before taking asylum in Colombia and later France.

In his testimony, del Castillo referred to a document signed by top military commander Gen. Nicolas Hermoza, stating that the arrests were carried out “on orders from above.” Said del Castillo: “It was a kidnapping. They never told me why I was being arrested over those five days I was held in military installations.”

Garcia later claimed in a book that he had been tipped off that Fujimori wanted him dead. In a brief reply, Fujimori denied the accusations: “I never issued orders to attempt against the life of president Alan Garcia and his family during the April 5, 1992 self-coup,” he said.

Fujimori also defended his “auto-golpe”: “In 1992 I had to take a decision,” Fujimori said. “Either we continued along the same path or we took a risk by taking an unknown turn … I took the political decision in favor of a self-coup, which I considered traumatic for Peruvians, but the safest measure.” (AFP, Jan. 18)

Journalist Ricardo Uceda, testifying that Colina group did not act on orders from above, also asserted that the death squad had actually been established in the first administration of Alan Garcia. (RPP Noticias, Peru, Jan. 21)

See our last posts on Peru and the trials of Fujimori.