Human Rights Violations Climb in Peru’s Anti-Guerrilla Fight
AYACUCHO, Peru (AP) _ Martha Crisostomo was sleeping when eight men in army uniforms, faces hidden by black ski masks, broke down her front door.
Her parents and neighbors, helpless, watched the men drag her into the street and fire three bullets into her head and chest.
Miss Crisostomo, a 22-year-old public health nurse, was slain in September. She was the last witness to an army massacre of 29 peasants at Cayara village in May 1988.
Eight other people who implicated the army in the massacre were killed by soldiers earlier or detained and never seen again, according to human rights organizations. Miss Crisostomo’s parents and friends told reporters of her murder.
Human rights violatons by security forces have increased dramatically in the campaign against the Sendero Luminoso, or Shining Path, a Maoist group that began an insurgency 10 years ago in the Andes region around this colonial town.
More than 18,000 people have died in political violence since 1980. Most have been Indian peasants in the Andes, killed either by rebels who accused them of betraying the struggle or by members of the security forces who suspected them of sympathizing with guerrillas.
″The death of Martha Crisostomo is concrete proof of the outrageous way in which protection has been given to those responsible for killing 29 peasants in Cayara,″ said Carlos Escobar, a former civilian prosecutor whose assignment was to investigate human rights violations in the Ayacucho region.
He was fired by the Attorney General’s Office when he recommended the Ayacucho military commander and other officers be prosecuted for murder in the Cayara massacre. Escobar also received anonymous death threats.
Shining Path guerrillas have extended their operations beyond the Andes, even into Lima, and human rights monitors say the government has begun to tolerate brutal military tactics in a desperate effort to check the insurgency.
They say torture, rape, disappearance of suspects and murder of unarmed civilians have become trademarks of army tactics.
Sen. Javier Valle Riestra, a member of the governing Aprista Party who is a leading defender of human rights, said the military establishment feels the death of innocent people is a price Peru must pay to eradicate leftist terrorism.
″If 60 people are killed and 40 of them turn out to be Senderistas, the military considers it a successful operation,″ he said.
In two detailed reports late last year, the human rights organization Amnesty International said a ″pall of terror″ had settled over much of Peru because of rebel atrocities and brutal actions by government forces.
President Alan Garcia and his civilian aides ignored the Amnesty reports.
The army routinely refuses comment on accusations of human rights violations, such as the murders of Cayara witnesses. After the Amnesty International reports, however, the Defense Ministry denied any similarity between army conduct and the Shining Path’s ″demented acts and criminal methods.″
For three years, the United Nations has listed Peru as leading the world in numbers of disappeared people, ahead even of military-ruled countries.
In the seven years since civilian governments began putting the military in charge of insurgency zones in the Andes and the eastern jungles, more than 3,000 people have disappeared after detention.
Most human rights violations occur in military-controlled regions, which have expanded to cover one-third of the country.
Spanish-speaking soldiers from the coast, wearing black ski masks, patrol the cold Andean heights and sweep into remote hamlets of Quechua-speaking Indian peasants in search of rebels and sympathizers.
Community leaders say villagers dread the soldiers’ arrival even more than the nocturnal visits of rebel columns.
Witnesses to the Cayara massacre told civilian investigators the soldiers first stomped cactus on the bare backs of villagers, demanding they identify rebel supporters, then killed them by bashing their heads in with hammers or slashing their throats with machetes.
An army patrol slaughtered 69 peasants in Accomarca village in 1985, including 21 children under age 5. The second lieutenant in command told congressional investigators ″children by the age 3 were potential Senderistas and it was his job to exterminate them,″ said Sen. Valle Riestra, head of the commission.
The army said the officer would be given a private military trial. Reporters discovered later he was promoted to first lieutenant and transferred to an army base in Lima, on the coast 235 miles to the northwest.
Human rights officials say brutal repression by security forces plays into the hands of the Shining Path.
″The torture, the disappearances, the illegal executions all reinforce the Shining Path’s argument that this is an abusive, fascist, genocidal state,″ Diego Garcia-Sayan, director of the independent Andean Commission of Jurists, said in an interview.
Lima newspapers now devote less space to abuses by government forces. Social scientists and political analysts say the lack of public interest reflects a violent degeneration of Peruvian society.
″Two years ago, the assassination of the last Cayara witness would have provoked public outrage,″ Enrique Bernales, head of a Senate commission on violence, said of Martha Crisostomo’s murder.
″Are we no longer shocked by death?″ he said. ″Peru is definitely a sick country.″