A journalist goes back to her country to confront a story that has haunted her for years: the murders of eight of her colleagues and their guide in the Andes of Peru in 1983. The investigation becomes a painful journey as she delves into the past and the details of this bloody chapter in the region's history.
Uchuraccay is a film documentary that revisits the murder scene and investigates, through witnesses and relatives, an appalling truth the official story did not include. The previously-unheard narratives found in this film will shed new light on the mystery that still surrounds the killings.
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Help us to tell the whole story about the killings of Uchuraccay.
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 Central Andes of Peru, as they were investigating rumors of extrajudicial killings. The story unfolded in the midst of violent warfare between Maoist group, Shining Path, and the government.
The murders of eight journalists and their guide have become the center of our film as one of the bloodiest chapters in two decades of horror that took place in Peru at the end of the past century with a toll of nearly 70,000 people. It also includes cases of other journalists murdered or disappeared during the period 1980-2000.
"Uchuraccay" talks about the impunity that was seen in Peru in those years. Peruvians today seek to prevent this state of affairs from happening again by struggling to bring all human rights violators to justice.
The murders of Uchuraccay became a cautionary tale to other journalists who might attempt to venture into areas plagued with the violence that consumed the Andean region during those years. Journalists were not allowed to report directly, but had to rely on daily military statements for their coverage. It was a system as the one employed in the Iraq war (2003-2013) with “embedded journalists." Your risked your life, if you operated as an independent journalist.
Nevertheless, there were some journalists that ventured to denounce abuses against the population, and they were killed or disappeared. Those were the cases of Hugo Bustios who was killed, and Jaime Ayala, who disappeared, but their demise were met with indifference by most Peruvians in cities not yet affected by the violence of those first years.
Our documentary includes the voices of Peruvians that were not included in the official stories.
The eight journalists killed in Uchuraccay belonged to opposition newspapers. They were trying to report stories that did not always have the approval of the political-military commando that had mounted a strong campaign against Shining Path in Ayacucho and neighboring areas, and raided small towns in response to group attacks.
The story of the eight journalists might have been just remained another unfortunate event in the midst of a violent conflict in the Andean region in the 1980's. Yet their deaths were followed by several irregularities in the legal process that provoked deep suspicions among Peruvians. 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, a special investigator assigned to the case.
A government investigative commission concluded that the journalists were murdered by the villagers of Uchuraccay, who took them for terrorists, mistaking their cameras for rifles.
Most witnesses in Uchuraccay died in mysterious circumstances, and the remaining villagers escaped to nearby areas, leaving behind a ghost town.
This story is of great importance in the most recent contemporary history of Peru, and it must be told so that it never happens again. This film will tell the story about these eight courageous journalists as a document for generations to come about the history of impunity that once reigned in this Latin American nation.
In recent years, many human rights violators have been found guilty of abuses in Peru as well as in other countries in Latin America. The killers in the Uchuraccay case should not be the exception.
The eight journalists had the intention to go to Huaychao a remote hamlet in the highlands of Ayacucho, in southeastern Andes of Peru, but they were killed in Uchuraccay.
In the morning of January 26, 1983, the journalists departed Huamanga towards Huaychao, a remote hamlet in the highlands of Ayacucho, in the southeastern Andes of Peru. Their aim was to investigate a story reported by the government about the killing of seven Shining Path members at the hands of members of that community. And yet there were also rumors that the victims were school kids, no older than thirteen-years-old-victims in the extrajudicial executions, which were part of the Peruvian military's efforts to eradicate the control Shining Path had in the region.
Eduardo de la Piniella, Pedro Sánchez and Félix Gavilán of Diario de Marka, Jorge Luis Mendivil and Willy Retto of El Observador, Jorge Sedano of La República, Amador García of magazzine Oiga and Octavio Infante of Diario Noticias de Ayacucho, were accompanied by a guide, Juan Argumedo, when were intercepted in a hamlet called Uchuraccay before they reached their destination. Apparently the villagers had been apprised by the military that were not very happy with journalistic presence in the area as they would invariably discover something difficult to explain.
When the news broke about the murders of the eight journalists and their guide and became a major story in national and international media, the Peruvian government led by president, Fernando Belaúnde Terry, organized an investigative commission. The commission consisted of lawyer Abraham Guzmán Figueroa, famed writer Mario Vargas Llosa, and the president of the National Association, Mario Castro Arenas. The commission reached the conclusion that the journalists were murdered 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 local people who could not speak Spanish, challenged the official theory of mistaken identity. Despite this, the Peruvian government continues to uphold the conclusion reached by the Vargas Llosa commission.
This emblematic case was surrounded by a number of irregularities in the legal process which provoked deep suspicion. The government refused to reveal the identities of the military men who were in the area when the killings took place. Most witnesses in Uchuraccay died in mysterious circumstances, and the remaining villagers escaped to nearby areas, leaving behind a ghost town.
Three local men were sentenced to six and eight years in prison for their part in the murders of the journalists, in a two-stage trial that took place first in Ayacucho and later in Lima’s Eight Court in 1987.
Carmen Valdivieso Hulbert returned to Peru after 23 years with the intention to make a documentary about the Uchuraccay case. She contacted her friend and colleague, Oscar Retto, Willy’s father. He had worked for several years in the Ayacucho region trying to uncover what had happened the day his son and his colleagues were killed and who was responsible.
While working for La Republica, Oscar Retto helped in finding several mass graves in the Ayacucho area, where victims of extrajudicial killings had been buried. He also investigated a number of villagers and members of the police force and the military. All their stories were linked by one element: military participation in the murders of Uchuraccay.
Investigative Judge Juan Flores Rojas claimed: “The villagers (comuneros) were physical perpetrators and the police and military were intellectual and physical perpetrators.”