30 Years Later, a Search for Answers in Peru on Journalist Killings
It was January 26 1983, four months after my arrival to the United States, when eight journalists were murdered under suspicious circumstances in the Andes of Peru. Five of them were friends of mine.
The group became an unwilling part of their own story. They were investigating rumors of extrajudicial killings by the military in the high Andes of Ayacucho, in the southeast of Peru, in the midst of a warfare against the Shining Path, a Maoist group.
In the mid '70s, and through the early '80s, I was a reporter for a National Television Network. The media was under the direct control of a military government, and I clearly remember how difficult it was then to work as a journalist. Our work was constantly censored. When I heard the news about their murder, I was shattered. The events that followed hit me even harder.
A government investigative commission into the killings concluded that the peasants of Uchuraccay supposedly confused them with terrorists. They thought their cameras were rifles, and killed the journalists. Nevertheless, a few months later, a camera with a roll of film was found in a bag hidden in a cave. It had some photos that Willy Retto, one of the journalists killed in Uchuraccay, had taken while they were talking to the villagers. These photos showed that there had been some kind of dialogue and not confusion as the investigative commission report claimed.
In the years that followed, three villagers were sentenced to prison for the crime. Most of the witnesses were killed and the survivors escaped to other cities in the valleys. None of them have been willing to talk publicly about that fateful day in Uchuraccay. After 30 years, this unresolved case is still a nightmare for relatives of the victims. They believe there was military involvement in the killings and there was a cover-up to entangle the case and avoid bringing to justice those responsible for the massacre.
This has become an obsession for journalists like myself. Yet it never crossed my mind that I would be chasing that hurtful story, the killings of my friends.
One night in 2005, I dreamt about attending a premiere of some film. I noticed that people were congratulating me for a documentary that I had made. Then, I noticed somebody next to me. There was Willy smiling at me, thanking me for the documentary I had made about the Uchuraccay case.
What impressed me the most was the fact that he was wearing the same clothes he had on when he was killed, and that his presence was in black and white while the rest of the dream was in color. Ever since that day, my life has been an emotional roller coaster. My feelings emerged and, every time I find new elements of the killings, I have to take a step back and struggle with the inescapable depression that hits me. Still a supernatural force drives me to continue with the investigation, regardless of the obstacles.
Thus far, it has been a wonderful experience to find out that every person I approached about the documentary has had a tremendously positive reaction and often provide me with material and loads of information. This story honors journalists killed all over the world in the line of duty.
In Memory of: Eduardo de la Piniella, Pedro Sánchez and Felix Gavilen, Diario de Marka; Jorge Luis Mendivil and Willy Retto, El Observador; Jorge Sedano, La República; Amador García, Magazine Oiga; Octavio Infante, Noticias de Ayacucho, and their guide, Juan Argumedo.