Sosa Saavedra: top military chiefs ordered murder of alleged terrorists and President Garcia that of an Ecuadorian spy

Top chiefs of Peru’s Armed Forces ordered the assassination of several Maoist Shining Path insurgents and sympathizers in the 1990s and President Alan Garcia in his first administration ordered the elimination of an Ecuadorian spy, according to testimony given by Jesús Sosa Saavedra, a member of the Colina Group paramilitary death squad.

Sosa said he was ordered in 1987 to lead the operation that ended in 1988 with the execution of the Ecuadorian spy, military officer Eduardo Duchicela, and that his commanding officer, Colonel Hanke, indicated it was an express order from President Garcia.

Sosa testified at the Fujimori trial this past week on the activities of the Colina Group. Since his arrest in April this year, after hiding successfully since 2001, Sosa has consistently stated that Fujimori knew nothing of the death squad and its objectives.

Sosa himself is also on trial, in a criminal case in the Superior Court, with other Colina squad members on charges of assassinating at least 37 people. He carries the chilling nickname of “Kerosene” for his alleged habit of burning his victims’ corpses to destroy all traceable evidence. Much of his story is recorded in investigative reporter Ricardo Uceda’s book Muerte en el Pentagonito, published in 2004.

According to Sosa’s testimony at the Fujimori trial, the Colina group was set up under orders of the Intelligence Division of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Armed Forces and not by the National Intelligence Service, SIN. He also said that part of the special intelligence unit had existed prior to the Fujimori government and that this squad was put back in action during the Fujimori administration.

Sosa also testified that General Pedro Villanueva Valdivia, commander general of the army in 1991, gave a direct order for the La Cantuta massacres, and that Villanueva’s successor, General Nicolás Hermoza Ríos, ordered the Barrios Altos massacre in November the following year. Although Sosa claims that Fujimori knew nothing about the group, the former President has admitted to signing letters of “exceptional recognition” congratulating military officers for “efficient services” or “special tasks in matters of national security”, but that they were among many papers and letters he was given to sign and that he did not know of the death squad.

“Hermoza ordered La Cantuta via Colonel Federico Navarro Pérez, and in Barrios Altos, the order came from General Pedro Villanueva,” said Saavedra. “The Commander General can’t say that he didn’t know… In the army, nothing is done without the Commander General knowing about it.”

“Both Commander Generals came (to Fujimori’s trial) to lie. One preferred to say that he is a thief and not our commander,” he said in reference to Hermoza Ríos, who admitted to stealing $10 million from the army and is serving an eight-year sentence on charges of corruption.

The Colina group machine gunned 15 people, including an 8-year-old boy, in a the courtyard of a tenement building in Lima’s Barrios Altos district in 1991 and kidnapped and murdered nine students and one professor at La Cantuta University in 1992.

Sosa also said that he received direct orders from army major Santiago Martin Rivas – who is in custody and accused of leading the Colina Group – and that the major told him, in 1991, that the Army set up the paramilitary death squad.

Though Defence Minister Antero Flores-Aráoz qualified Saavedra’s accusations as “absolute lies”, some members of Garcia’s ruling party, the American Popular Revolutionary Alliance, or APRA, are soon to be prosecuted for establishing the Rodrigo Franco Commandos, a paramilitary death squad alleged to have killed five people during Garcia’s first administration from 1985 to 1990.

Arrested on April 3, 2008 at an ATM machine after hiding for seven years, Sosa is accused of being directly involved with the assassination of 15 people in Barrios Altos in 1991 and the disappearance of nine local workers from Santa, Chimbote in 1992. The latter was undertaken as a “special favor” for a businessman in the Chimbote cotton trade, in order to teach a lesson to his workers who were demanding respect for their rights.

He is also accused of the 1997 murder of Mariella Barreto, a former intelligence agent and member of the Colina Group. Sosa is believed to have assassinated Barreto, whose decapitated body was found shortly afterwards in the district of Carabayllo, for allegedly leaking information about the death squad.

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