A key witness in the human rights trial against ex-President Alberto Fujimori has testified that former anti-corruption prosecutor Ronald Gamarra pressured him to implicate the former leader as the mastermind behind the Barrios Altos and La Cantuta massacres in exhange for prison benefits.
“Gamarra can testify to this and he knows it,” said ex-army Maj. Jesús Sosa Saavedra on the stand Wednesday. Sosa is accused of assassinating at least 37 people during the 1990s when he was part of the Colina group paramilitary death squad. He carries the chilling nickname “Kerosene” for his alleged practice of incinerating his victims’ corpses to destroy all traceable evidence.
Sosa added that when he refused, prosecutors asked him to accuse Vladimiro Montesinos.
Montesinos, Fujimori’s once-feared intelligence chief and eminence gris, is currently serving a 20-year prison sentence on multiple convictions for everything from bribing media barons judges and legislators to selling assault rifles to Colombian FARC guerrillas, and also faces a separate trial accusing him of directing the Colina group.
“I’m not going to play this game, and I won’t respond to an assassin in Court,” said Gamarra, who no longer works for the government and is now a lawyer for the families of the victims targeted by the Colina group. “I’ve always been very careful to keep at least a few meters away from assassins, and since he’s an assassin, I always make sure I’m at least a few meters away from him.”
Arrested last April at an ATM machine following seven years in hiding, 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.
Since his arrest, Sosa has consistently stated that Fujimori knew nothing of the death squad and its objectives.
But, in a clandestine TV interview videotaped before his arrest, Sosa said that he did not know whether Fujimori knew about the Colina group.
“I was led on by (Gamarra),” Sosa said, after he was shown the video in Court.
Maj. Santiago Martin Rivas, former head of the Colina group death squad, also testified Thursday to Fujimori’s innocence. Rivas has maintained that the existence of the paramilitary group is a fabrication in order to discredit Peru’s Armed Forces.
“To all those absent, and to Mr. President, I want to ask forgiveness for the verbal excesses I could have committed at that time, because I was lead into error,” said Rivas.
But, seven years ago, he was interviewed by journalist Umberto Jara and confessed to leading the Colina group. He also told Jara that Fujimori and his advisor, Monstesinos, were aware of the group’s killings.
“I never gave an order” of that nature, my only objective was to end terrorism, said Fujimori. “Neither General Nicolas Hermoza Rios nor Montesinos told me about the existence of the Colina group or agents that assassinated people. I applied a clear, clean and transparent war, respecting human rights.”
“I repeat, I did not make a mistake (in designing my anti-terrorist policy), with the exception of these regrettable crimes (Barrios Altos and La Cantuta),” said Fujimori.
When the “new strategy” was carefully laid out in army manuals and guidelines, Fujimori added, “it read: eliminate (the terrorists) and their venom. It didn’t allude to the act of killing, but only to making terrorism disappear from the face of Peru.”
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.
Fujimori has been on trial for more than a year for allegedly sanctioning the Grupo Colina death squad, believed to be responsible for atrocities committed during his 1990-2000 rule. If convicted, he could face 30 years in prison and a fine of $3 million.