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This is Peru
By Louis De Benedette
In 1984, Guadalupe placed her hand over the photo of her husband, Eladio, who was a Desapariciones Forzadas (forced disappeared) a year earlier in 1983 by the Peruvian Military. Her smallest children Liz and Nora were next to her. Guadalupe told me that her children had thought their father was still working in the mountains. Eladio was a union organizer at the Ayacucho Hospital.
Louis' goddaughters holding a picture of
their mother Guadalupe and their father Eladio.
There was a war going on between Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) and the Army. It became a 20-year war. Guadalupe was a Human Rights monitor and she felt that both the Army and Sendero were wrong.
I first met Guadalupe in 1984 when I had gone to Peru with fellow VVAW member Fr. Joseph Ryan. Guadalupe was a member of SERPAJ (Service for Peace and Justice), which was a radical group composed of priests and nuns, all of who were indigenous Native Guechua.
Guadalupe and I wrote to each other when I was not in Peru. She had been imprisoned in 1987 on a false charge. She had to flee to Chile for her safety. She asked me to be the godfather to her four children. Among the Native Catholics, the godfather is greatly honored and respected. Even to this day I am humbled by the love and respect of my godchildren.
In 1988, Guadalupe returned to Peru and went home to Ayacucho to be with her children. She told me in a letter she was very ill with tuberculosis.
Shortly after I attended an event at Kent State. Barry Romo had invited two paralyzed Nicaraguan veterans I had invited to the States and me to attend. I received notice from my sister that Guadalupe was a Desapariciones Forzadas (forced disappeared) on June 10, 1990. I had to go to Peru. When I arrived, I found out that 17 hooded military broke into their home and took Guadalupe while she was in bed with her young daughter. Needless to say, the children were terrorized as they tried to stop the intruders. In Peru after eighteen hours if one does not return they are considered dead. When I spoke to the Ambassador, Anthony Quainton in the end he said, she was a dead Desapariciones Forzadas and they considered her a member of a communist group. I guess in a corrupt government like the one in Peru, radical Catholics are considered terrorists.
In 1990, before going back to Peru, I solicited many members of Congress and received letters from many on behalf of Guadalupe. There was a meeting over the children, who were now orphans. Aunt Maria, Guadalupe's sister was to take the children with her. I was to be their sole support financially. During the next ten years, I visited the children each year. We vacationed at the Missionaries Retreat. I spent those years protesting at the SOA (School of the Americas) since they train Latin American soldiers in torture and forced disappearances.
During those years, my 18-year-old god daughter Liz visited me and we attended the VVAW 30th Anniversary in Chicago. She befriended Barry's daughter and they got along quite well. Her brother Alvaro also came here and attended my trial for my activities against the SOA in Georgia.
In 1999, I needed to take Gonzalo to Nicaragua, seeing that the Peruvian military intended to draft him into the Army. My other god daughter Nora is hoping to come visit me in January.
In 2001, the war ended between Sendero and the army. I obtained letters of introduction from VVAW members Dave Cline and Ben Chitty. These letters proved to be very important since a Truth and Reconciliation commission had begun. Identity was a must and VVAW was trusted and well-respected. The war had 70,000 dead or disappeared. All were indigenous Native people. There were also 11,000 Sendero dead.
My godchildren wanted justice not reconciliation. The Truth Commission made no demands for court appearances and did not recommend any prison time. Until this day, the relatives of the disappeared including my godchildren want justice.
My godchildren have become young adults. They are married and have seven children between them. I am also the godfather of these children. Nora is in law school, Liz is a teacher, Gonzalo is an architect and Alvaro has a photo copy office. They continue to struggle for justice and are members of the Relatives of the Desapariciones Forzadas. I have always been there for them even when I could not return to Peru.
On August 18, 2017, an important event took place in the Court in Lima, the capital of Peru. After twelve years of trial, a seven-hour reading of an extensive sentencing and several short recesses, the National Criminal Chambers of the Judiciary handed down sentences against torture and forced disappearances. There were also extra judicial executions of 53 indigenous Native people in 1983 at the Los Cabitos Interrogation Military Base in Ayacucho. One of those victims was Eladio, the father of my godchildren. According to a witness, he was water boarded and died.
The measures taken by the Judges in charge of the Cabitos case included a 23-year prison sentence for Pedro Paz, Chief of Intelligence, and a 30-year prison sentence to Humberto Bari, Chief of Los Cabitos. Neither Paz nor Bari reported for sentencing. The Judges issued orders of capture. As of writing this, they are both on the run.
Roy Bourgeois, a Vietnam veteran and founder of the SOA Watch, discovered that four of those sentenced were SOA grads at Ft. Benning, Ga. Two were considered mentally ill, two were dead and another was a fugitive. Roy also said there are about 4,583 Peru graduates at the SOA from 1944-2004. No names were allowed after that. It's no wonder why Peru was notorious for killing Native people, which make up 62% of the population.
My godchildren were at the sentencing and they were content that justice was done for their father. They were sad for the others that did not get justice. Bodies had been cremated and it was impossible to prove they were Desapariciones Forzadas. In all, it was a victory to stop military violence on the native population.
The struggle goes on and my godchildren are in that struggle for their mother and all the Desapariciones Forzadas. I am proud of them and I respect the relatives of all the Desapariciones Forzadas in Peru.
I am extremely grateful to VVAW and especially to Marty Webster who understands my pain and the pain of the Native peoples of Peru.
Louis De Benedette is a long-time member of VVAW. On October 6, 2017, he hosted a "Veterans Speakout" in commemoration of 16 years of the Afghanistan war in Greenwood Park in downtown Ithaca, NY.