In a move to finalize the search for the remains of university students and a professor killed in 1992 by a military intelligence “death squad”, state attorney Juan de la Cruz is to carry out an inspection this week of two gravesites, in Huachipa and in Cieneguilla.
The state attorney’s office is finally taking action year after it was assigned the task, and in response to a request filed by the relatives to protect the evidence.
Although the state attorney’s decision is significant, it has been long in coming and finding anything important 22 years after the crime was committed is expected to be difficult.
According to Carlos Rivera, lawyer at the Legal Defense Institute, IDL, neither of the areas where the bodies were buried has been adequately protected. Rivera blames the Public Prosecutor’s Office, and state attorney De la Cruz’s office for the lack of protection of the sites.
“It is in fact a complex problem, serious, because unfortunately the inaction and lack of care by the Prosecutor’s Office and specifically state attorney De la Cruz’s office, has allowed people unrelated to the investigation to visit the sites and even to turn over the soil where the remains were buried,” Rivera said on Ideeleradio.
The complex problem is Cieneguilla, where relatives found early last week that whole mounds of earth have been moved since last year, covering the remaining graves and blocking the gulley, ostensibly to make way for the building of a condominium.
According to Rivera, the lack of protection of the sites, where some remains were found in 1993, will probably be a determining factor in the inability now of being able to find anything relevant to the case.
In July 1992, the nine students and the professor were taken out at 3am from the dorms at the teacher’s university in La Cantuta, Chosica, in east Lima, by a squad known as the Grupo Colina. Suspected of being terrorists (later proved to be unfounded), they were killed in Huachipa and buried there, and later some were exhumed to be burned in the barren hillsides on the road to Cieneguilla southeast of Lima. Tip-offs to investigative journalists led to a search at both sites, to one grave in Huachipa and the finding in Cieneguilla of some bones and of a few personal belongings. Besides DNA tests, a set of keys among the remains proved to belong to one of the students, Armando Condor.
However, the remains of five of the 10 victims have never been found and frequent appeals by the relatives have been turned down by the Judiciary for different reasons. Of five graves in Cieneguilla, only three had been excavated. Now, access to the remaining graves will be difficult.
In 1994, two years after the murder, five members of the death squad, including its leader, Martin Rivas, were convicted of the crime and also of the massacre a year earlier of 15 people in a Barrios Altos tenement in downtown Lima. But they were released a year later by a retroactive amnesty law, on the grounds that they were combating terrorism. Three members of the squad were again tried and convicted in 2013, and sentenced to 22 years in prison.
Both La Cantuta and Barrios Altos were the main cases in the 2009 trial of former President Alberto Fujimori, who was convicted to 25 years on charges of crimes against humanity, for aiding and abetting both operations. Also charged with these crimes, in a different trial, were Fujimori’s spy chief, Vladimiro Montesinos, and two army generals.