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The Unsolved Massacre at Uchuraccay

Posted by Marco Antonio Mendoza Sunday, June 20, 2010

While walking along Jiron de la Union (in downtown Lima) with Zdenka, we passed the famous Casa de Higgins (house of Higgins).  The main wooden doors were open and a sign stating "free entrance" hung above, inside was the magnificent house was an exhibit dedicated to the famous journalist Doris Gibson (28 April 1910–23 August 2008).  She was also the founder and editor of the popular weekly news magazine Caretas.

During the tour of the house and the exhibit I came across a historical timeline of Caretas which had one date that caught my attention.  The date was 1983 and next to it read "Death of Journalists at Uchuraccay", having never heard of this incident I quickly wrote down the date and info for further investigation.

The 90's and 80's were two terrible decades for the Peruvian nation which was left traumatized by the violence and bloodshed caused by the constant fighting between the military and guerrilla forces (MRTA and Sendero Luminoso).  It was during this period of violence that a group of seven photographers/journalists and their guide were killed near the emblematic department of Ayacucho, in the small town of Uchuraccay.  Upon researching the net I managed to find many articles and videos which covered the controversy of the massacre at Uchuraccay among others.  One particular website that I discovered was by an independent film company called Quinoa Films, which has been in the process of producing a documentary based on the tragic events and the controversy surrounding Uchuraccay.  According to their website the journalists were killed while in the pursuit of information regarding allegations and rumors of supposed extrajudicial killings by the military, a dangerous topic to investigate in the first place.  The film centers around Oscar Retto, the father of the murdered journalist and photographer Willy Retto, who travels with a documentary crew to the original crime scene in search of the truth about his sons death.  The film is spearheaded by the director Carmen Valdivieso, who claims to have known a few of the journalists killed in the event.  Unfortunately due to insufficient funds the production of the film has been temporarily halted while the independent company receives more funding.  They are currently accepting any amount of donation that would help to support their efforts to finish the film.

Below is a excerpt from Quinoa Films website that gives more information about the incident, also they have managed to complete a subtitled trailer of the film which can be found below.

This is an independent documentary about a group of journalists, who became part of their own story when they were murdered in 1983 in Uchuraccay, a remote hamlet in the Andes of Peru, as they were investigating rumors of extrajudicial killing by the military. It took place in the midst of violent warfare between the Shining Path, a Maoist guerrilla organization, and government forces.
The killings of eight journalists, all of them from opposition newspapers, might have been just another unfortunate event caused by the violence that consumed the Andean region during those years. Yet their deaths were followed by significant irregularities in the legal process. Most of the suspects were never arrested, and according to legal records, the military authorities in the area, led by Army General Clemente Noel, did not cooperate with Judge Juan Flores, the investigator assigned to the case.
Most witnesses in Uchuraccay died in mysterious circumstances, and the remaining villagers escaped to nearby areas, leaving behind a ghost town.
A government investigative commission concluded that the journalists were killed by the villagers of Uchuraccay, who took them for terrorists, mistaking their cameras for rifles.
The story took a different turn three months later, with the discovery of a bag belonging to Willy Retto, which contained a camera with some revealing pictures of the moment when the journalists arrived in the town and spoke with the local villagers. The fact that three of the journalists spoke Quechua, and therefore could communicate with the locals who could not speak Spanish, challenged the official theory of mistaken identity.
Some witnesses stated that the journalists were incarcerated in the communal house, and killed after midnight. Yet those witnesses also died in suspicious circumstances.
Three local men were convicted to six years in prison. Although the case was never closed, it has been kept for the last twenty years as confidential.
The purpose of this documentary is to tell the story and help the families to request the reopening of the case. This story honors journalists killed all over the world in the line of duty with contemporary relevance, as the Iraq war and other conflicts worldwide have left scores of journalists killed in recent years.
Bringing the killers to justice will contribute to put an end to years of impunity in Peru. Many other cases of killings in neighboring areas have been reopened and those responsible have been convicted. The killings of Uchuraccay should not be the exception."

Here is the video trailer from their website, and for those who can read Spanish it might interest you to read this pdf document that was put together by the NPO Truth and Reconciliation about the murders at Uchuraccay :

I have also include some other documentaries that talke about the incident but they are in Spanish:


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