Five U.S.-trained Peruvian military officers have been convicted and sentenced to prison for the 1985 massacre of 69 unarmed Quechua villagers in Accomarca, one of the worst crimes committed by the Peruvian military during its 20-year war with the country's guerrilla factions.
A dozen men, 27 women and 30 children, many under the age of four, were rounded up, forced into houses and then machine-gunned and set ablaze. Several men had earlier been tortured with cactus needles and the women were all raped, at least three of whom were pregnant.
The five former officers were sentenced Sept. 1 for the massacre by Peru's National Criminal Court, culminating a trial that's been dragging on for six years.
All five were trained by the U.S. Army's School of the Americas, and two of them had fled to the United States where they lived for years before human rights groups shined a light on them.
The five, who received sentences ranging from 23 to 25 years, are: Maj. Telmo Hurtado, Capt. Juan Manuel Rivera Rondón, Gen. Wilfredo Mori Orzo, Lt. Col. Nelson Gonzalez Feria and Lt. Col. Carlos Pastor Delgado Medina.
Five low-ranking soldiers were also given 10-year sentences while six others were acquitted for lack of evidence, including Brig. Gen. Jose Williams Zapata. He and Mori Orzo, the convicted general, had both graduated from the Internal Security Operations course at the School of the Americas, now known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation.
The massacre was part of a wider military operation during the government's war with two rebel groups, Shining Path and Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, a war that claimed the lives of 70,000 before ending in 2000.
Hurtado and Rivera Rondón managed to enter the United States despite the fact the Peruvian Truth and Reconciliation Commission had cited them for the Accomarca Massacre.
Hurtado and Rivera Rondón had commanded the patrol units that executed the massacre; Rivera Rondón's troops blocked an escape route, while Hurtado's soldiers went house to house dragging villagers from their homes.
A month after the massacre, Hurtado, known as the Butcher of the Andes, led a patrol back to the village to kill seven witnesses. For years, he avoided prosecution for the massacre through a general amnesty granted to military personnel by the right-wing government of Alberto Fujimori.
Fujimori had U.S.-support despite the fact he suspended the constitution, shutting down Congress and the judiciary. But after he fled Peru in 2000 to escape charges of corruption and human rights abuses, the amnesty law was repealed, and Hurtado fled to Miami and Rivera Rondón to Montgomery County, Md.
Rivera Rondón lived in an upscale community, and according to a 2007 Baltimore Sun story, he "prospered in the home mortgage business, acquiring two expensive houses outside Washington, taking trips with his girlfriend to the Cayman Islands."
It's not clear how Hurtado and Rivera Rondón managed to join the ranks of other SOA graduates that have been allowed to enter the United States after being linked to major atrocities.
However, like former Salvadoran defense ministers Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova and Jose Guillermo Garcia who both lived for 25 years in Florida before being deported for their roles in the murders of four U.S. churchwomen, Hurtado and Rivera Rondón were both eventually sent back to their native country after a human rights group filed suits against them under the Torture Victims Protection Act.
The Center for Justice and Accountability, the international human rights organization based in San Francisco, filed two civil suits in federal court, one against Rivera Rondón in Maryland and the other against Hurtado in Florida.
The Center for Justice and Accountability filed suit on behalf of Teófila Ochoa Lizarbe and Cirila Pulido Baldeón, who were 12 and 13 years old when they witnessed the massacre from a hidden spot. Their mothers and siblings were among the 69 murdered.
Both gave testimony in Hurtado's 2007 civil trial about the rapes, the machine-gunning of the villagers and the tossing of grenades into the houses where the villagers were locked. A federal court entered a default judgment against Hurtado for torture, extrajudicial killing, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, awarding $37 million to the plaintiffs. U.S. officials later extradited Hurtado and had deported Rivera Rondón before his U.S. civil trial began.
Almudena Bernabeu, justice director for The Center for Justice and Accountability, praised the Peruvian Criminal Court's convictions of ten of those responsible for the massacre, saying, it "brings hope to all of those seeking to hold perpetrators of war crimes accountable."
[Linda Cooper and James Hodge are the authors of Disturbing the Peace: The Story of Father Roy Bourgeois and the Movement to Close the School of the Americas.]