Butcher of the Andes

A Peruvian soldier slaughters dozens, gets away with it, and heads for the subtropics

Soldiers pushed the women and children into a kitchen and the men into another room in the small home near the field. Gunshots followed. Then the sound of a grenade. A fire ignited.

Teófila and Gerardo finally fled their hiding spots, choosing opposite paths. Soldiers pursued them like hunters following prized quarry.

She trudged uphill, dodging bullets that whizzed overhead. He scampered down and disappeared.

Teófila Ochoa, age 35, stands with clothes found that might have belonged to her brother, Gerardo, one of her five siblings gunned down by Peruvian army soldiers
Asociación Para El Desarrollo Humano “Runamasinchiqpaq” (ADEHR)
Teófila Ochoa, age 35, stands with clothes found that might have belonged to her brother, Gerardo, one of her five siblings gunned down by Peruvian army soldiers
Massacre survivors demand that the United States ship Telmo Hurtado and others responsible back to Peru
Asociación Para El Desarrollo Humano “Runamasinchiqpaq” (ADEHR)
Massacre survivors demand that the United States ship Telmo Hurtado and others responsible back to Peru

Her bare feet scraped rock as she ducked between boulders. Walking until the moon rose, around 4:00 a.m., she found a pepper tree and sat below its bright green leaves. What will happen to me?

Soon after, a cousin found her sobbing there, and they sought refuge in the home of a woman about 12 miles away. Her worried grandfather discovered her there three days later.

The pair trudged back to the massacre site. They entered the tiny home where Teófila's family had died. The fire still smoldered. Stepping carefully between the corpses, they saw neighbors and relatives, now just a mishmash of blackened body parts: portions of heads, disembodied hands.

Then Teófila saw them — two scorched figures clinging together. She recognized her mother by the ankle-length wool skirt she had worn that morning. A brother had died in Silvestra's arms. Teófila couldn't tell which one.

The 13-year-old girl would never again see Gerardo — or any other member of her family that disappeared that day.

"How was my mother guilty? My little brothers and sister, what did they do wrong?" she asks. "This is the pain I carry inside."

Seventy-four people died in the operation that came to be known as the "Accomarca massacre" — named for the town a two-hour hike up the hill from the valley. Among the corpses were 28 children and 21 women, including an 80-year-old and several pregnant mothers.

The 24-year-old leader of those killers would eventually flee to Miami. He easily blended in here: His five-foot-seven-inch stature, drooping mustache, deep brown eyes, and close-cut, neatly-combed dark hair parted to the right made him look like thousands of others. Even his trouble with English failed to set him apart. But Telmo Hurtado would eventually be discovered as the butcher of the Andes.


The history of Ayacucho, the province where the massacre took place, is smeared with blood. Its name, which translates to "Corner of the Dead," stems from battles beginning in the 15th Century.

For centuries families hiked from Accomarca to the valley of Quebrada de Huancayoc during the winter months because it was warmer down below. There they raised livestock and harvested corn.

The close-knit community of Quechua-speakers was either family or felt like it. Few adults knew how to read or write. The site was a "garden," lush with pacay, a large pod fruit; peaches; oranges; and the heart-shaped chirimoya. "We were poor, but we had everything," says Teófila.

It was into this pastoral setting that followers of Sendero Luminoso, or the Shining Path, arrived — likely in the early 1980s. The rebel group, which had declared war on the Peruvian state in 1980, often killed teachers and town leaders to establish escuelas populares — people's schools — and indoctrinate children with an ideology created by Abimael Guzmán, the group's leader, a bearded former philosophy professor who believed he was the next link in the chain of Marx, Lenin, and Mao. It's difficult to exaggerate the fear this unconventional war would inspire in the Spanish-speaking soldiers.

In October 1981 the army declared most of Ayacucho, the region that included Accomarca, an emergency zone. Two years later the army stormed the village, killing 11 people. Hungry for revenge, some campesinos joined Sendero, which built a refuge of a few rickety cabins in the Quebrada de Huancayoc.

Telmo Hurtado entered this charged atmosphere around 1983. He was born into a military family July 12, 1961, in Bellavista, a middle-class industrial city of about 85,000 people on Peru's Pacific coast.

Not much is known about his youth, but on his later U.S. visa request, Hurtado said he entered the Peruvian army in March 1979, four months shy of his 18th birthday. He must have been a good soldier and reasonably well connected, because in October 1982, he was chosen to attend a month-long cadet training course at U.S.-backed School of the Americas in Panama.

The facility dubbed "School of the Assassins" by its critics is known for training war villains, notably a pair of dictators during Argentina's Dirty War and Panama's Manuel Noriega.

Three years later, on April 25, 1985, Hurtado led a mission called "Pan de Azúcar," in which he freed 40 captives, making a decision "diametrically opposite" to the one he would make in Accomarca, according to a 2006 report, "The Truth About Accomarca," written by a Peruvian army general. The report claims Hurtado acted independently, leaving his superiors unaware.

Hurtado would later recall he and officers hatched plans for what would become the Accomarca massacre in a meeting shortly before the August 14 operation. The stated mission: "Capture and/or destroy existing terrorist elements in Quebrada de Huancayoc." At the officers' gathering, a participant asked the operation leader, Army Infantry Capt. Helber Gálvez Fernández: "Should we assume anyone we see in the Quebrada de Huancayoc is a terrorist communist?"

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