Survivors of Peruvian massacre bring officer to Miami court Print
Monday, 11 February 2008 00:00
Teofila Ochoa Lizarbe has waited more than 20 years to confront the Peruvian army officer she blames for the slaughter of her mother and five siblings in Peru's infamous Accomarca Massacre.

Ochoa and her cousin will have that chance today, when they face Telmo Ricardo Hurtado Hurtado at a hearing in Miami federal court to determine how much the retired military commander should pay for their losses and suffering.

Their 2007 lawsuit accuses Hurtado of leading a group of soldiers who gunned down and incinerated 69 unarmed civilians living near the village of Accomarca in the Andean highlands of Peru on Aug. 13, 1985. The suit invokes a little-known law that allows foreign nationals to sue human rights abusers in U.S. courts.

Often the accused do not participate in the hearings, but U.S. District Judge Adalberto Jordan ordered Hurtado, who is in the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, to attend.

Ochoa and Cirila Pulido Baldeon, both 12 at the time of the massacre, survived by running away and hiding. They watched from their hiding places as soldiers forced their relatives and neighbors into two buildings and opened fire on the structures, the complaint states. Pulido lost her mother and brother.

Today both women work as housekeepers in Lima.

"They saw loved ones brutally raped and killed and they must continue to live their lives with these memories seared into their being," lawyers for the women state in a court brief.

The legal effort is led by the Center for Justice & Accountability, a San Francisco-based human rights group, with help from Miami attorney Robert Brochin.

While the suit seeks unspecified financial compensation, it is not about the money, said Moira Feeney, the group's spokeswoman.

"It's about the experience of telling their story, setting the historical record straight, exposing the impunity that these individuals have been able to enjoy," Feeney said. "It's quite a historical moment for these women to be able to tell their story on the record in a court of law."

Similar court cases have resulted in awards exceeding $10 million. A Miami federal judge entered a $41 million judgment in a 1994 case against former Haitian dictator Prosper Avril. Last year, the victim of an attack in the Israeli-occupied West Bank was awarded $48 million after a jury trial.

Feeney said it is unclear whether Hurtado, who moved to Miami Beach in 2002, has assets in the United States that could be used to pay damages.

"It's something we will definitely pursue," she said. "Not only are our clients deserving of reparations for what they went through, [but] it's important to send a message of deterrence for other abusers."

Hurtado, 46, was born outside Lima. He joined the army in 1979 and received military training at the School of Americas, a U.S. training facility for Latin American military personnel.

With Peru embroiled in a long-running civil war against Maoist rebels, Hurtado allegedly led his men to a rural area near Accomarca believed to be harboring members of the rebel group known as Sendero Luminoso, or Shining Path.

According to the lawsuit, the soldiers forced villagers out of their huts, taking the women to a trench and raping them. Then Hurtado's men pushed the villagers into two adjacent buildings, where they were machine-gunned down, the suit states. Hurtado allegedly threw hand grenades into the buildings and set them on fire, burning those inside.

The claims in the lawsuit echo the findings of investigations by Peru's Senate and a Commission for Truth and Reconciliation formed in 2002. The commission concluded more than 26,000 civilians died or disappeared in the area surrounding Accomarca during the civil war.

Hurtado was charged with homicide, negligence and disobedience in 1986 but later absolved of all charges and granted amnesty in 1995, along with other military officers accused of human rights abuses. Hurtado continued to serve in the military and receive promotions until his retirement as a major in 1999.

After the repeal of the amnesty law in 2002, Hurtado left Peru and sought sanctuary in Miami Beach. Last March, immigration authorities arrested Hurtado for lying on his visa application. After he completed a six-month sentence, the Department of Homeland Security initiated his deportation to Peru, where he faces charges of murder and crimes against humanity.

The case against Hurtado relies on the Alien Torts Statute, a favorite tool of human rights groups because it allows noncitizens to seek justice in U.S. courts for violations of international law.

The women have a similar suit pending in Maryland against another Peruvian military officer alleged to have taken part in the massacre.

Hurtado, who was served legal papers in prison, did not contest the suit, leading to an automatic judgment against him.

Ochoa and Pulido, scheduled to take the stand today, are expected to give poignant testimony about the trauma they experienced as children and how the events 22 years ago changed their lives.

After the massacre, the pair returned to their village to bury their relatives. Both relocated to Lima in their teens and found work as domestic help, leaving behind their culture as members of Peru's indigenous Quechua-speaking population, according to court records.

Their lawyers contend the women have been tormented by nightmares and depression because of their experiences.

Vanessa Blum can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or 954-356-4605.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 12 February 2008 13:35