By Fernando Gimeno
Lima, Nov 3 (EFE).- It was 10.30 pm on Nov. 3, 1991, when armed men wearing balaclava masks burst into a neighborhood barbecue in the Peruvian capital’s Barrios Altos district and began firing submachine gun rounds at a group of people wrongly believed to be Shining Path leftist guerrillas.
The gunmen killed 15 people, including an eight-year-old boy, and wounded four others who had gathered at 840 Jiron Huanta to raise funds for neighborhood repairs.
The massacre was the first of several carried out by an army death squad that operated during the controversial 1990-2000 presidency of now-imprisoned Alberto Fujimori, who was convicted of crimes against humanity for his role in killings and kidnappings by that anti-communist paramilitary group and sentenced to 25 years in prison in 2009.
“They asked for nobody and started firing,” one Peruvian daily reported the following day, referring to the six Grupo Colina gunmen.
Nearly three decades later, photos of the young child killed that fateful night, Javier Rios, were prominently displayed in late 2017 and 2018 protests against a medical pardon granted by then-President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski to Fujimori, who was ordered back to prison in October 2018 after Peru’s Supreme Court overruled the decision.
The Barrios Altos massacre produced shock waves in Lima and brought home to capital residents the brutal reality of human rights violations committed by both the Shining Path and Peru’s armed forces, crimes against the civilian population that were already a fact of life for people in the country’s interior.
“At that time, no one was fully aware of what was happening,” attorney Carlos Rivera of the Legal Defense Institute, one of the organizations that assisted victims’ families in their long and winding pursuit of justice through the court system, told Efe.
“The criminal investigation was deliberately impeded through legislative and legal mechanisms” that covered up rights violations and sought to ensure impunity, according to a 2003 report by Peru’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which blamed Shining Path for the largest share of the roughly 69,000 deaths during the 1980-2000 conflict between security forces and insurgents.
Fujimori’s administration and the armed forces initially attributed the Barrios Altos massacre to an attack by the Shining Path or another leftist guerrilla group, the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement.
But journalistic investigations showed that military officers who were part of the Army Intelligence Service perpetrated the mass killing.
A legislative probe was brought to a halt when Fujimori dissolved Congress in 1992, and when the criminal justice system took up the case in 1995 the military courts filed a petition with the Supreme Court for jurisdiction.
But before that high court could rule, an amnesty law passed by the Fujimori-controlled legislature shielded the security forces from prosecution for those types of crimes.
It was not until 2009 and 2010, nearly a decade after the Costa Rica-based Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled that Peru’s 1995 amnesty law was devoid of legal effect, that Fujimori; his intelligence advisor, Vladimiro Montesinos; three former army generals; and members of the Grupo Colina death squad were convicted and sentenced for the Barrios Altos massacre.
Grupo Colina later abducted and killed a university professor and nine students at Lima’s La Cantuta University in 1992 and tortured and executed six peasant farmers in the western town of Pativilca that same year.
Yet despite revelations of those crimes against humanity and long prison sentences for their masterminds and perpetrators, loyal supporters of the 83-year-old Fujimori to this day defend his government’s brutal crackdown on suspected Shining Path members or sympathizers as necessary to ward off a bloodthirsty Maoist insurgency. EFE