US Court OKs Extradition of ‘Butcher of the Andes’ to Peru
by Ángel Páez
Friday, 05 November 2010 18:47
(IPS) – A U.S. appeals court has given the green light to the extradition to Peru of retired Peruvian army officer Telmo Hurtado (pictured), who fled to Miami in 2002 to escape trial for the Aug. 14, 1985 massacre of 69 people in the southern Andean village of Accomarca.
Hurtado had filed a habeas corpus petition to avoid extradition, alleging that he has already been tried in Peru for the crimes charged, and that his life would be in danger if he were sent there because he participated in the counterinsurgency war against the left-wing guerrillas and would face reprisals.
When his first habeas corpus application was denied, Hurtado appealed the decision. But his appeal has now been rejected by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction in the southeastern state of Florida where he is living.
A three-judge panel handed down the verdict Oct. 27, a copy of which was seen by IPS Tuesday. The court ruled that Peru’s request for the arrest and extradition of Hurtado is valid under the extradition treaty between Peru and the United States, signed Jul. 25, 2001.
Confirmation of Hurtado’s extradition came just a few days before the start of a trial in Peru, this Thursday, of 29 former members of the armed forces for one of the worst massacres perpetrated in the 1980-2000 counterinsurgency war against the Maoist Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) guerrillas.
Hurtado was arrested in Miami in April 2007 by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents for lying on his visa application, claiming that he had no criminal record.
His luck ran out in March 2008, when a federal judge in Miami ordered him to pay 37 million dollars in reparations to two survivors of the attack on Accomarca, and recommended his extradition to face criminal charges in Lima.
“I want to look him in the eye and hear him tell the whole truth,” Emiliano Quispe, head of the Association of Relatives of the Victims of Political Violence in Accomarca, told IPS.
“He says murdering those people was his own initiative,” said Quispe, whose mother María Baldeón and 30 of his other relatives died at the hands of the military patrol unit commanded by Hurtado. “That’s a lie. Nobody did anything off their own bat in those days. Everyone was acting under orders from above. Hurtado is protecting his superior officers.
“At last, the time has come for justice. I am grateful to the U.S. court for sending Telmo Hurtado back so that he can be punished as he deserves,” Quispe said.
Karim Ninaquispe, the lawyer representing relatives of the Accomarca victims, said the last step is for U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to sign the extradition order. “As I understand it, no further appeals are possible, and Hurtado should be surrendered immediately to the Peruvian authorities to face trial,” she said. “The prosecution has asked for a mandatory 25-year prison sentence, without parole, for Hurtado and a score of other defendants,” she said.
According to the U.S. appeals court ruling, Hurtado argued that he should not be extradited because the Peruvian state has already tried him for his part in the Accomarca massacre.
In 1992, a military court in Peru sentenced him to six years in prison for abuse of authority, in connection with the massacre, which he described in detail at the time. But he was acquitted of murder charges.
However, Hurtado, who has been dubbed “the Butcher of the Andes”, was never jailed. And in 1995 he was pardoned under an amnesty issued by the government of Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000) for members of the military who had been sentenced or were facing prosecution for human rights violations.
In November 2000, when human rights trials were reopened, Hurtado fled to Miami, where he had relatives.
“The verdict is important, because one of the few reasons the court might have had for blocking Hurtado’s extradition was if it believed he really could be in danger in Peru, but it did not take this view,” Jo-Marie Burt, a political science professor at George Mason University who has researched trials for crimes against humanity in Peru, told IPS.
“Now Hurtado has 30 days to file an appeal, but my sources say he probably will not do so. After this period, the Department of Justice will apply for a certificate of extradition from Secretary of State Clinton. If she signs it, Hurtado can then be put on a plane to Lima straight away to stand trial,” Burt said.
Hurtado argued that the extradition treaty between Peru and the United States should not apply to him, because his case is not specifically defined as extraditable. However, the court ruled: “There is no need to look beyond the written words of the text (of the extradition treaty), as Hurtado suggests, because the language is not ambiguous. As a result, we conclude that the extradition treaty does not bar Hurtado’s extradition to Peru.”
Ten of the 29 members of the armed forces facing charges for the Accomarca massacre are still at large.
A former soldier, Francisco Marcañaupa, testified in 2008 that the Accomarca villagers were all rounded up in one small house. “They didn’t shoot or do anything to us, and all of a sudden I saw Lieutenant Telmo Hurtado opening fire on them, then he threw in a grenade, and smoke starting coming out of the house.”
Another former soldier, José Contreras, said the order was to leave no survivors or witnesses. “After Hurtado put all the people in one house, he tossed in a grenade. But since they didn’t all die, he started to finish them off with his gun, and ordered that the house be burnt down.”
“We will attend all the trial hearings to see that the law is strictly enforced,” said Quispe, of the Association of Relatives of the Victims. “Our people have been suffering since the massacre perpetrated by the ‘Butcher of the Andes’. Twenty-five years have gone by, and the trial is just beginning.
“Many of the people of Accomarca have had to move to Lima, because they cannot bear to live in the place where their parents, brothers, sisters, and cousins were killed. The victims were unarmed elderly men, women and children,” he said.
“Hurtado’s hour is at hand. Now it is time for justice. And the day he is finally sentenced, we will have peace in our hearts,” he concluded.