Peru’s Constitutional Court again postpones decision on El Fronton deaths

Members of Peru’s Constitutional Court, unable to come to an agreement on the 1986 El Fronton prison massacre, have postponed their decision until December 20. According to sources close to the Court, only two of the seven magistrates on the Court are in favor of a motion to declare the criminal charges as expired, opposition daily La Primera reported.

The motion to declare the 22-year-old case closed based a statute of limitations was filed with the Court by former naval officer Teodorico Bernabé Montoya on the grounds that the killings by navy personnel occurred during a mutiny and qualify as manslaughter rather than crimes against humanity, which have no criminal expiration limit under Peruvian law.

If the Court decides that the crimes do not expire, both President Alan García and Vice-President Luis Giampetri will face questioning on the events.

On June 18 and 19, 1986, a year into García’s first presidency, Sendero Luminoso insurgents imprisoned in the El Fronton island and Lurigancho prisons and the Santa Barbara women’s prison declared an uprising. Many of the prisoners had not yet been sentenced or tried. The prisoners took hostages and in some cases were armed.

The uprising was timed to embarrass President García, who that same week was scheduled to host the 172nd Socialist International Congress. García felt pressure to solve the prison situation as quickly as possible before international leaders arrived in Lima. He authorized the Republican Guard to quell the riot at Santa Barbara, the Army and Republican Guard to Lurigancho, and the Navy to El Fronton. The final result was close to 300 prisoners dead  — two women at Santa Barbara prison, 124 inmates at Lurigancho, of which more than 90 were executed, and about 138 at El Fronton, including three marine infantrymen and one prison ward held hostage.

The standoff between prisoners and the Navy at the maximum security prison on El Fronton island, led to an attack by the Navy from helicopters and landing craft with hand grenades, tear gas and weapons to tear down the prison buildings. The attack began at midnight and ended shortly after dawn. A handful of prisoners survived, and graphic descriptions were given by one of the prisoners who was not a Sendero Luminoso insurgent. The naval officer in command of the operation was García’s current vice president, Luis Giampetri.

A year after the events, a Naval court declared that the naval personnel were not guilty of human rights violations, and the Navy’s Permanent War Council confirmed the verdict. Two years later, the navy closed the case. Almost 16 years after the events, in 2002, marine infantry involved in the attack told Peru’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission that their orders were to kill all the prisoners.

Peru’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, CVR, considers García politically — not criminally — responsible for the prison deaths, and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights has urged the Peruvian government to hear the case of human rights violations at El Fronton. But the case has been marked for years by constant delays.

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