By Monica Martinez
HUANTA, Peru – The population of this southern Peruvian town took part in a large ceremony Friday in honor of dozens of people massacred a quarter-century ago by army soldiers.
The coffins of 92 victims were transported by truck from Ayacucho, capital of the same-named regional capital, to Huanta, capital of the province where the massacre occurred.
The caravan also included 10 vans carrying the victims’ relatives, members of humanitarian organizations such as the International Red Cross, forensic experts, personnel with the federal Ombudsman’s Office and at least 30 journalists.
Once the caravan arrived in downtown Huanta, the coffins were taken down from the truck one by one and then carried by family members in a funeral march to the town’s main square.
Schoolchildren carried the coffins that contained the skeletal remains of minors and which accounted for about half of the total.
In December 1984, a peasant community fleeing from the Shining Path guerrilla group sought refuge at a military base in the rural hamlet of Putis, which had been set up as a safe haven for people escaping the violence in the Ayacucho region.
The soldiers, who apparently suspected the displaced peasants of being Shining Path sympathizers, assembled them in a school and separated out the men, women and children.
The men were ordered to dig a huge ditch for a fish farm, but once they were finished they were gunned down and the ditch became a mass grave. Meanwhile, the women were raped and they and their young children were killed inside the village’s church and schoolhouse.
The remains of a total of 105 victims are to be buried Saturday in Putis, 92 of which are complete skeletons and the rest fragments. After painstaking laboratory work, forensic experts were able to fully identify 28 victims, eight of them children under 12.
The director of the Gonzalez Vigil school in Huanta, Carlos Untiveros, called on federal Attorney General Gladys Echaiz to “show the political will to ensure justice is done for a tenacious people” such as the population of Putis.
“We expect justice, as do all the people of Huanta,” Untiveros said as the funeral procession passed his school.
Those taking part in the ceremony in the town square were united in expressing their desire that those responsible for massacres in Huanta province in the mid-1980s – in which 400 people were allegedly disappeared – be brought to justice.
The coffins were later taken to the town of Santillana, three hours away by car, and early Saturday morning will be transported to Putis, where the remains of all 105 victims will be buried.
The Shining Path launched its uprising on May 17, 1980, with an attack on Chuschi, a small town in the Ayacucho region, and went on to wreak havoc across much of Peru until 1992, when founder and leader Abimael Guzman was captured.
A truth commission appointed by former President Alejandro Toledo blamed Shining Path for most of the nearly 70,000 politically motivated killings that took place in Peru between 1980 and 2000.
Though terrible, the toll was far short of the 1 million Peruvians some Shining Path ideologues said would have to die to make way for a utopian peasant-based regime adhering to the tenets of Marx as interpreted by Mao Zedong.
The group was considered practically defeated by the time of Guzman’s arrest, though “remnant” isolated bands have continued with sporadic activity in recent years.
The man credited with defeating Shining Path during his 1990-2000 tenure as Peru’s president, Alberto Fujimori, was sentenced this year to 25 years in prison for death squad killings during his time in office.
Fujimori was found to have authorized the creation of a unit that carried out two massacres of suspected Shining Path sympathizers.
In one of them, 15 party-goers – including an 8-year-old boy – were killed inside a building in Lima. A subsequent investigation determined that the intended victims – alleged Shining Path rebels – were holding a meeting on a different floor. EFE