Butcher of the Andes

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

Yes, Gálvez responded.

So soldiers like Hurtado stitched together a cockeyed worldview in which Sendero flashed in every indigenous person's face: A pretty girl, a bumbling toddler, or an illiterate grandmother could be loaded with explosives. "One cannot trust in a woman, an old person, or a child in these times in which we are living, especially in what we are living out there.... They start to indoctrinate them at two or three years old...," Hurtado would say later. (Rebels did in fact recruit children they called peoneros — foot soldiers — and use them to shuttle bombs.)

On August 13, around noon, a helicopter landed far outside Accomarca, carrying Hurtado and his troops to catch villagers by surprise. They hiked several miles and, around 5:30 p.m., stealthily entered Accomarca, where they settled in for the night. The next day troops headed out early and, around 6:30, descended upon Quebrada de Huancayoc and rounded up about 50 campesinos. The soldiers soon herded their prey into two rooms in a house where, survivors would later testify, Telmo Hurtado ordered them to "open fire." Then he tossed a grenade and ordered his command to collect the used ammo so it would seem like a terrorist attack.

Telmo Ricardo Hurtado, who lived in Miami Beach for nearly five years, was a patrol leader during the 1985 massacre of dozens
Asociación Para El Desarrollo Humano “Runamasinchiqpaq” (ADEHR)
Telmo Ricardo Hurtado, who lived in Miami Beach for nearly five years, was a patrol leader during the 1985 massacre of dozens
The massacre took place in the lush, isolated valley of Quebrada de Huancayoc
Asociación Para El Desarrollo Humano “Runamasinchiqpaq” (ADEHR)
The massacre took place in the lush, isolated valley of Quebrada de Huancayoc

Around 3:00 p.m., as the sun weakened and smoke billowed from fires stoked by lives extinguished, Hurtado and other soldiers gathered in a home in the valley to celebrate killing the "terrorists," eyewitnesses would later testify. The bash got so rowdy that one frolicking soldier slipped on a skirt and danced. The troops slaughtered a villager's pig, sizzled up some chicharrones, and swilled Cartavio rum. They stole money, clothes, and blankets before ditching their smoky fatigues for civilian duds and heading back to Accomarca.

Two days later, patrol leaders Hurtado and Juan Rivera Rondón, whose troops were charged with blocking escape routes from the Quebrada de Huancayoc, sent a written report back to army command. It stated, "mission completed ... without incident" and omitted mention of the killings or any interaction with the villagers. (Hurtado would later say Maj. José Daniel Williams Zapata, the company's commander, ordered them to leave out the killings in order to escape complaints from victims' families.)

Quebrada de Huancayoc became a ghost town. Then, in early September 1985, two Quechua-speaking eyewitnesses told a government human rights panel their stories, and Peruvian President Alan García (whom voters recently returned to office) ordered an investigation.

Despite the scrutiny — or more likely because of it — troops returned to Accomarca September 8 and 13 and slaughtered seven witnesses who might have implicated Hurtado and the others.

By the next month, the Peruvian senate human rights commission declared Hurtado and his troops responsible for murdering as many as 69 people. In 1987 military courts found him guilty of abuse of authority and sentenced him to four years in military jail, and later increased it to six. But it's unclear whether Hurtado spent any time behind bars.

Several years later, Guzmán would be captured, and the new president, Alberto Fujimori, would declare an amnesty for soldiers like Hurtado. Indeed he was promoted three times until he retired as a major in 1999, soon after an irate human rights group discovered he was still in the army.

Hurtado, who admitted to killing 25, would later testify he was obeying orders. A military diagnosis said he had "psychopathic" tendencies. He said he was even offered hush money to be the scapegoat, "the crazy one" to protect those above him. "It is true that out of loyalty to the army, I was ordered not to provide information on what really happened, to prevent the case from taking on a greater dimension," Hurtado testified in documents obtained by Inter Press Service.

By the war's end in 2000, an estimated 70,000 people had died or disappeared; three-fourths were peasants who spoke Quechua. In 2001 a mostly civilian group created by the Peruvian government, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, began investigating atrocities. Two years and 17,000 testimonies later, the commission's 8000-page report blamed the Peruvian military for almost one-third of the deaths — more than 20,000. It called the shielding of Hurtado and others "perverse ... a situation of unacceptable and offensive impunity."

A knock on 7340 Harding Ave., apartment 14, sets off the snapping miniature schnauzer inside. Samuel Hurtado partially cracks the door to the second-floor, one-bedroom apartment on a Wednesday afternoon in late July. His gray dog bounds out into the shabby hall. Inside, white cloth curtains facing Harding Avenue are pulled snug, a flat-screen TV set blares, and an AC wall unit churns. There's no sign of his mother, Esperanza, who was likely sent back to Peru, or his brother, Telmo, who's now in federal detention.

Thinning brown hair combed over, Samuel sports a gray Champion T-shirt, blue surf shorts, and a diamond stud in his left ear. It seems a quiet rebellion against his past as a Peruvian army captain. He resembles Telmo, with his slightly protruding ears and deep brown eyes. Shuffling out in black flip-flops to fetch his dog, the 38-year-old says his family pays about $600 a month for the place.

He politely offers a visitor an iced tea and then says he and his brother were fighting an unconventional war against unlikely terrorists in the country they love so Peruvians could sleep peacefully. He likened the action to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, which he says he would gladly fight if asked. He refuses to comment about or defend his brother. "It's a closed case. There's nothing more to say."

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