La Cantuta paramilitary death squad victims to be finally buried after 16 years

Exactly 16 years after nine agrarian university students and a professor were brutally murdered and their burnt remains buried in shallow graves by a paramilitary death squad, loved ones and students held a wake for the victims of the La Cantuta massacre Friday. The memorial service is to be held on Saturday.

“It’s important to us that 16 years later we can bury our family members,” Gisela Ortiz, whose brother was one of those murdered in 1992, told CNR radio. “But we also have the conviction that with them we are burying the impunity that not only has destroyed our families, but the trust we had for a state that has treated these crimes with indifference.”

Former President Alberto Fujimori is on trial for crimes against humanity for allegedly sanctioning the Colina group death squad during the early years of his 1990-2000, authoritarian regime.

The wake and Saturday’s memorial service were made possible after Judge Inés Villa Bonilla, who is presiding over a separate trial of members of the death squad, ruled June 27 that the remains could be released from police custody, given that all the necessary forensic tests had been completed.

But because some bone fragments were so small and degraded, only six of the ten victims were formally identified.

The six coffins, adorned with flowers and signs that read “Listen Fujimori, Cantuta is here,” were brought to the university’s student residence, where the victims were abducted 16 years ago. Family members and over 200 students were in attendance, Radioprogramas radio reported.

“It brings me much satisfaction, as a family member, to known that most of the assassins are in jail. I know it’s absurd to speak of justice after so many years, but I have peace of mind knowing that my brother can rest because his assassins are in jail, as they should be,” Ortiz told reporters. “But there is no forgetting and there is no forgiving.”

The La Cantuta massacre occurred on July, 18 1992, two days after a car bomb ignited by Maoist Shining Path rebels killed more than 40 people in Lima.

Armed and masked members of the Colina Group death squad, headed by Major Santiago Rivas and allegedly under the direct command of Fujimori’s former spy chief Vladmiro Montesinos, burst into the university’s student residences in the pre-dawn hours.

The paramilitary death squad abducted the nine students and a professor they suspected to be linked to the Shining Path Lima bombing.

But a year later, Gen. Rodolfo Robles Espinoza, the Peruvian army’s third highest-ranking officer, went public with the existence of the Colina group and its role in the La Cantuta massacre.

Robles was forced into exile and lived under political asylum in Argentina after he said that ex-President Alberto Fujimori “did everything possible to cover-up the criminals and the authors of the assassinations at La Cantuta and Barrios Altos.”

Two months after Robles’ declarations, intelligence agent Mariella Barreto Riofano leaked a marked map to Si news magazine.

An investigation led authorities to four clandestine graves and forensic testing determined that the bones belonged to the students and that at least some had been tortured before being shot in the back of the neck.

Barreto was later murdered and her decapitated and dismembered corpse was found in March 1997.

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