The Private War of Lieutenant Colonel Rodrigo Huamán

The Private War of Lieutenant Colonel Rodrigo Huamán

In Issue 73 by Sandro F. Piedrahita

“Rules are for children.
This is war, and in war
the only crime is to lose.”

Joe Abercrombie

“Thou shall not kill! No
soldier is obliged to obey
an order against the law of
God. No one has to fulfill an
immoral law.”

Archbishop Oscar Romero

Lieutenant Colonel Rodrigo Huamán’s first encounter with the Shining Path guerrillas was a lot more complicated than he had ever anticipated when he was being trained to become a soldier for Perú. A policeman had made a desperate call to the military headquarters at Huanta. More than seventy rebels had attacked the police station in the town of Guindas, crying out, “Viva Mao! Viva Presidente Gonzalo! Viva Comrade Carlos!” They came armed with grenades and bayonets, pistols and huaracas, even several machine guns, and they vastly outnumbered the few policemen whom they attacked. The policeman who survived pretended to be dead. After the rebels left the station, he immediately called Lieutenant Colonel Rodrigo Huamán, for he knew the lieutenant colonel was in charge of the whole region. The policeman reported that the rebels had “occupied” the town of Guindas and had taken control of the central plaza. The lieutenant colonel prepared to attack the guerrillas using everything he had been taught in the military training academy in Lima, everything he had learned while fighting the one-week war between Ecuador and Perú during the previous year.

The Shining Path had already occupied myriad towns in the department of Ayacucho and there wasn’t much the military could do about it. There were thousands of hamlets in the department, many in remote mountainous regions, which the army simply didn’t have the manpower to protect. The lieutenant colonel thought the Shining Path was made up of vicious Communist guerrillas bent on controlling all Perú and imposing a ruthless Maoist dictatorship upon the people. Surely, they couldn’t be allowed to “occupy” town after town, lest they accomplish hegemony in the sierra. So the lieutenant colonel soon decided that he would not allow the occupation of Guindas. Instead, he enlisted eighty men to join him in the battle for the village, and they all arrived on helicopters to achieve their mission. What they found shocked them to the core.

The senderistas had congregated all the peasants of the town in the central plaza, more than five hundred men, women and children, and were using them as human shields. There was no way of knowing which of the men in the plaza were ordinary peasants and which ones were Shining Path guerrillas. The rebels were not wearing hoods or uniforms – they were indistinguishable from the peasantry – and there was no way of ousting the guerrillas from Guindas without killing many innocent comuneros. Many of the peasants were crying out, “Long live the armed struggle, long live Mao,” but Lieutenant Rodrigo Huamán suspected many of them were being forced to do so. He made a sign of the Cross and asked the Lord for guidance,  for he had not been trained for this kind of war.

At first, the lieutenant colonel gave his men the order to wait in order to think through what he would do. So his eighty men encircled the plaza with arms drawn, doing nothing until they received further instructions from their leader. When one of his impatient soldiers asked him if it was time to begin shooting, Lieutenant Colonel Rodrigo Huamán told the man to wait. The lieutenant colonel then got on his knees and prayed to Saint Martín de Porres, Perú’s most famous saint. Lieutenant Colonel Rodrigo Huamán in vain tried to remember if the Peruvian Military Code gave any guidance as to how to respond in such situations. But neither those who drafted the Military Code nor those who had trained the soldiers in the barracks of Lima had ever thought of asymmetrical war.

The standoff lasted for three days. Soon Lieutenant Colonel Rodrigo Huamán realized that the decision to wait the rebels out did not make any sense. The Shining Path guerrillas began to use the stalemate to adjust accounts with those peasants known to reject the senderistas and were opening fire in the town square, killing the mayor, the postmaster, anyone suspected of being a traitorous revisionist. And then the lieutenant colonel witnessed something far worse. A group of peasants, fatigued by three days of waiting, were trying to flee the plaza with their children, and as they did so the guerrillas shot them in the back. Suddenly senderista snipers began to shoot at the lieutenant colonel’s troops from a distance. It became clear to Lieutenant Colonel Rodrigo Huamán that the Shining Path rebels were on a suicide mission, that the encounter between his men and the senderistas would necessarily end in massive bloodshed. It was all a matter of when the carnage happened. The captive peasants were doomed no matter what.

Lieutenant Colonel Rodrigo Huamán had never been in such a situation before. To shoot into the plaza would mean a swift victory. The army was much better armed than the guerrillas, and the lieutenant colonel could even order his helicopters to rain bombs on the town plaza. But that would also mean that dozens of guiltless peasants, if not more, would die in the confusion that would ensue. How would his father, General Faustino Huamán, have dealt with such a situation? What would Father Joaquín Melendez, the Army chaplain, tell him was the right course? But there was no one to consult, only his conscience. So Lieutenant Colonel Rodrigo Huamán decided that it was necessary for his men to shoot into the populace. They had to retake the town of Guindas at all costs. And there was no doubt that at least some peasants supported Sendero and were willing to sacrifice their lives for the cause, using their huaracas to attack his soldiers from a distance.

Lieutenant Colonel Rodrigo Huamán gave his men the order.

Soon there was a fierce battle as the senderistas fought with all their might. Peasants died in the crossfire by the dozens and yet the Shining Path guerrillas refused to accept defeat. Lieutenant Colonel Rodrigo Huamán then made the hardest decision of his life: to use his helicopters to decimate the rebels from above. Only a few survived the bombing. From a military viewpoint, the military mission had been a resounding success. A few terrorists had managed to flee into the night, including their leaders Comrade Carlos and Comrade Bárbara, but the vast majority had been killed.

Lieutenant Colonel Rodrigo Huamán saw the corpses strewn everywhere in the plaza, men, women and children, and thought to himself: this is not the reason I have become a soldier for Perú.

***

The brief war with Ecuador in 1981 over Falso Paquisha had been simpler – much simpler, thought Lieutenant Colonel Rodrigo Huamán – than this insane mission against the Shining Path. At least then, the foe wore a uniform and there were military bases to be attacked, not this disguised monster dressed like a quechua peasant appearing in the middle of the night and hiding in the huts of the campesinos, indistinguishable from the innocent Indians peacefully tending to their crops. In the war with Ecuador, there had been a clear objective and the plan of war was well-defined – to oust the Ecuadorians after their illegal incursion into Peruvian territory. Lieutenant Colonel Rodrigo Huamán had done what he had been trained to do. He had felt a deep satisfaction once the Ecuadorian usurper had been forced to abandon Falso Paquisha after it had been pummeled by his troops. But now there was no way to be certain who the enemy was, nor was an endgame clearly in sight. One could err by setting a Shining Path guerrilla free, or by murdering a faultless peasant in his place.

That was the first thing Lieutenant Colonel Rodrigo Huamán learned when he arrived at the department of Ayacucho, launching pad for the senderista insurrection, that one could never know if a smiling Indian matron might be a hidden Shining Path guerrilla. He had only been at the military base in Huanta for about two weeks when he heard that a small group of rebels had attacked a military jeep, killed the soldiers and absconded into the mountains with the soldiers’ weapons. The nearest village to the place where his men had been killed was the town of Calicanto. Lieutenant Colonel Rodrigo Huamán’s subordinate, Major Bonifacio Gomez, suggested that the guerrillas might have sought refuge there.

It was after nightfall when the two men arrived at the village and started knocking on the doors of peasant huts. Nobody claimed to have seen any guerrillas in town and many swore that if the rebels arrived, they would promptly inform the military authorities in Huanta. That was the night when Lieutenant Colonel Rodrigo Huamán learned that some of the quechua peasants lied, either because they supported the guerrillas or because they were terrified of the Shining Path.

Lieutenant Colonel Rodrigo Huamán was surprised that when the peasants opened their doors and saw him, there was panic on their faces. He understood the reasons for their fears, however, having heard rumors of “disappearances” and extrajudicial executions at the hands of the Peruvian military. He had also heard accusations that torture routinely happened at La Casa Rosada and La Isla de la Fantasía, nicknames for certain military prisons in the Andean region. But he tended to doubt all such accounts. After all, he thought, the Armed Forces were an honorable institution. The Communists just wanted to besmirch the Army by spreading lies that would work to the detriment of the Army’s noble mission – to rid Perú of a violent scourge that knew nothing of morality or the principles of a “just war.”

Lieutenant Colonel Rodrigo Huamán had memorized the Peruvian Military Code in its entirety and followed it to the letter. Military Code section 128(b) clearly proscribed extrajudicial killings of captured opponents. Section 245(a) forbade the use of torture except in cases of absolute necessity – when it was necessary to save the life of a fellow soldier, for example. Section 300(i) explicitly stated that the rape or sexual abuse of prisoners was absolutely verboten. So the critics of the Peruvian military were basically saying that the soldiers were throwing out their rule book, with explicit approval from the Army’s higher echelons. And the lieutenant colonel refused to believe it.

Lieutenant Colonel Rodrigo Huamán and his subordinate were about to leave Calicanto when it was close to midnight since they had searched most of the peasant dwellings and no one seemed to have any knowledge of the whereabouts of the senderistas. Finally, they approached a hut, indistinguishable from the others, built of adobe with a sloped thatched roof. They knocked at the door before they entered and a young ñusta appeared, no older than fourteen. Behind her was a heavyset quechua woman in her forties, sitting on the ground surrounded by guinea pigs and dressed with the multilayered pollerones typical of women in the highlands. Apparently, the woman had been waiting for them – someone must have alerted her that soldiers were in town – and suddenly she extracted a weapon from beneath her ample skirts. It was not a simple pistol – it was a Winchester – and she promptly shot Major Bonifacio Gomez in the face. Suddenly a group of men appeared, all dressed in ponchos and chuyos, all of them brandishing knives. Somehow Lieutenant Colonel Rodrigo Huamán managed to escape after shooting one of them in the chest and firing indiscriminately at the others. They did not pursue him, perhaps thinking he would lead them to where other soldiers were waiting.

***

When Lieutenant Colonel Rodrigo Huamán had announced to his father that he had volunteered to wage war against the Shining Path in the department of Ayacucho, the old man told him to be careful and to keep his nose clean.

“You’ll be tempted to take shortcuts,” the general had warned him in his gravelly voice. “Don’t take them. Never obey an illegal order. Your duty is not to any particular superior, but to your conscience and to all Perú. Remember the Geneva Convention, even if your enemies do not abide by it.”

General Faustino Huamán was one of the few generals in the Peruvian army of pure Amerindian blood, a man who had gradually risen through the ranks since he started as a simple private. He had begun his distinguished military career during the war with Colombia which began in 1932, and even at a young age had demonstrated uncommon valor. Then he had participated in the 1941 war with Ecuador, already reaching the rank of colonel, and had received the highest military honors after saving a platoon almost single-handedly. As a reward, he had been sent as a military attaché to Holland, where he met his wife Anika and where his three sons were born. Anika was deeply Catholic and made sure all her children went to Mass on Sunday and that her sons attended Jesuit schools.

When her son Rodrigo told her he planned to enlist as a soldier, she had made the sign of the cross on his forehead and told him it was an honorable profession.

Even twenty years later, Lieutenant Colonel Rodrigo Huamán still remembered the advice given to him by his Dutch mother when he had first joined the military.

“You’ll have the right and obligation to kill under certain circumstances. Never let it happen because of hatred or anger at your opponent. Make sure your only purpose in fighting is to represent and defend Perú.”

The truth is that Rodrigo took to the military life as a fish takes to the water. He enjoyed the discipline, the hierarchy, the self-abnegation and obedience required daily of the young recruits. He liked being awakened at six by the bugle call, exercise from ten in the morning till three in the afternoon, the entire day regimented by a superior officer. He especially loved those nights when it was his turn to work as a sentry, occasionally smoking a cigarette with his partner as they sat quietly in the night with their carbines under their underarms. That was his only vice – an occasional cigarette – and he laughed condescendingly at the other young soldiers when they invited him to join them to a brothel on the weekend. Had he not wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps, he probably would have liked the life of a monk. He wanted to be a perfect soldier – to be trained as well as he could to serve his country – and he felt that petty vices were a distraction from that purpose. On Sundays, he never failed to attend Mass nor to take the Eucharist. He had inherited his mother’s robust faith just like he had inherited his father’s self-discipline and silent fierceness.

Lieutenant Rodrigo Huamán could still remember the first man that he had killed during the war with Ecuador – bronze skin like that of his father, black hair clipped short, a face which betrayed fear and a childlike innocence, a man no older than nineteen. In the last moment, just before Rodrigo discharged his rifle, the Ecuadorian man had locked his eyes with those of Rodrigo as if he were pleading for mercy. But that had not been a moment for mercy. The Ecuadorian man was also armed and would have readily shot Rodrigo if he had not shot first. Rodrigo made a sign of the cross and uttered a silent prayer for the repose of his enemy’s soul.

Fortunately, the little war did not last long and most of the killing was done by the pilots of the Peruvian Air Force who relentlessly pummeled the Ecuadorian military camp at Falso Paquisha. Rodrigo killed four other men during those three weeks of terror and promptly sought out the counsel of the Army chaplain, Padre Joaquín Melendez, who would become a lifelong friend. The priest, as patriotic as any Peruvian, had simply asked Rodrigo if he had felt any dark satisfaction while killing the Ecuadorians.

The question first startled the young Rodrigo, but after he probed his conscience, he told the priest that he had not felt any satisfaction, nor remorse for that matter, for he was simply doing his sacred duty. And the priest told him that under such circumstances it had not been a sin to kill the Ecuadorians, for the Catholic Church recognizes the just war doctrine. It was a lesson which Lieutenant Colonel Rodrigo Huamán would keep close to his heart for years, especially after he began his battle with the Shining Path, not a foreign country but a foe born of his own mother, Perú.

***

At some point, it became an obsession for Lieutenant Colonel Rodrigo Huamán to capture the elusive Comrade Carlos and Comrade Bárbara. They were very efficient revolutionaries and had ambushed dozens of police stations in the southern sierra and taken over many towns which they then declared to be part of a zona roja. They demanded absolute loyalty from the peasants in the hamlets which they controlled, under pain of death if there was even a suspicion that a peasant collaborated with the military.

During those first months of the insurrection, before the Shining Path turned on the peasant masses, Lieutenant Colonel Rodrigo Huamán faced the problem that some of the campesinos were allied with Sendero and willfully gave refuge and protection to Comrade Carlos and Comrade Bárbara. In the mix-up that ensued, Lieutenant Colonel Rodrigo Huamán often remembered an old Peruvian saying. The righteous pay for the faults of sinners.

At some point, Lieutenant Colonel Rodrigo Huamán and a dozen of his men arrived at Patasucro, a community not too far from Huanta. The comuneros eyed them warily, for they were in an impossible situation. If they gave assistance or information to the military, the Shining Path would come after them. And if they aided the Shining Path, it was the army that would punish them. By then, Lieutenant Colonel Rodrigo Huamán no longer doubted all the stories about the military’s torture of peasants suspected of being collaborators with the Shining Path. He had heard too many peasants complain about it and knew that they could not all be lying. But he had not seen it happen at the military barracks of Huanta where he had been posted. He wasn’t sure what he would do if he actually saw the torture of peasants at the hands of soldiers since he found such behavior abhorrent and contrary to the Peruvian Military Code. He knew his father would tell him to disobey any order to participate in such abuse.

 Lieutenant Colonel Rodrigo Huamán knew that Comrade Carlos and his squad had recently been spotted in the vicinity of Patasucro. The guerrilla leader seemed to be ubiquitous, assaulting police stations and remote army outposts not only throughout Ayacucho, but also in the neighboring departments of Apurimac and Huancavelica. But this time he had reportedly been seen very close to Lieutenant Colonel Rodrigo Huamán’s base at Huanta and that gave the lieutenant colonel the opportunity for which he had been waiting. Sure enough, while he and his men were scouting the highlands near Patasucro, they had seen a campfire in the distance and suspected it was Comrade Carlos’ base. Who else would be spending the night in the frigid Andean mountains? So Lieutenant Colonel Rodrigo Huamán and his men began to approach the rebel camp with caution. One of the lieutenant colonel’s men had a machine gun, just in case Comrade Carlos’ men and women outnumbered the soldiers.

   When Lieutenant Colonel Rodrigo Huamán’s men saw a lone Shining Path guerrilla guard protecting the rebel campsite, private Arnulfo Martinez – the army group’s best sniper – shot him from a distance and the rebel fell. Within minutes, the lieutenant colonel’s men were invading the tents of the guerrillas and yanking them out by the hair.

“Yes, sir!” cried out the lieutenant colonel’s men. “Here we are, make way, the little soldiers salute you. Terruco, little terrorist, since I’ve found you, I shall eat your head!”

It all happened so quickly that the senderistas barely offered any resistance. It was a small group – no larger than twelve men – and only three of them were killed trying to protect their leader, Comrade Carlos, for they valued his life more than their own. Once all the rebels were disarmed by Lieutenant Colonel Rodrigo Huamán’s soldiers, he ordered them to stand in a straight line with their hands behind their heads.

One of the lieutenant colonel’s men immediately shot two of the senderistas in the back of the head and prepared to kill another. Lieutenant Colonel Rodrigo Huamán protested fiercely.

“To kill captured enemy combatants is a war crime,” he told him. “Military Code section 128(b) forbids extrajudicial killings of captured opponents.”

 Comrade Carlos looked at the lieutenant colonel’s face with curiosity and addressed him in a stern voice.

“I know what you military men do with captured guerrillas,” the rebel leader said. “I don’t want to be tortured in La Casa Rosada or any of your other prisons. I don’t want to be burnt with cigarettes or to be subjected to the submarino. Treat me like a soldier – respect me as an equal – and just shoot me with a bullet to the head.”

Lieutenant Colonel Rodrigo Huamán was surprised by the words of Comrade Carlos.

“I have no intention of killing you now that you are disarmed,” he said. “That is against the Peruvian Code of Military Justice as well as the Geneva Convention. Nor do I plan to torture you. I would never engage in such a deed. You shall be handed over to the appropriate authorities so that you can be tried for the crimes of terrorism and aggravated murder. Perú does not allow the death penalty for men like you, so you shall rot in prison.”

“If things were different,” Comrade Carlos responded coolly, “if it was my men who had prevailed, I wouldn’t hesitate to kill you.”

And then he spat in the lieutenant colonel’s face.

Lieutenant Colonel Rodrigo Huamán calmly wiped his cheek with his left hand and addressed the guerrilla leader in an even voice.

“You want to force me to kill you here and now, but you won’t be so lucky. You’ll be judged by a competent tribunal and then incarcerated for your crimes. Now start walking. It shall take us six hours to reach the military base at Huanta.”

As the lieutenant colonel’s men walked in the dark through the craggy slopes, they were suddenly ambushed by Comrade Bárbara’s squad, made up mostly of women armed with Winchester rifles and pineapple grenades. The first grenade instantaneously killed six of Lieutenant Colonel Rodrigo Huamán’s soldiers. After a brief firefight, the remainder of the soldiers were captured by the guerrillas, who promptly shot the soldiers in the head. When Comrade Bárbara approached Lieutenant Colonel Rodrigo Huamán lying on the ground with an injured shoulder, she prepared to give him the coup de grace. But Comrade Carlos stopped her in her tracks.

“Since this man has spared my life, now we’ll spare his own. But be forewarned, soldier, that next time I won’t be so kind. What is the expression you soldiers use? The next time I’ll eat your head.”

Comrade Bárbara looked at Comrade Carlos with a quizzical expression on her face but said nothing. The senderistas happily disappeared into the night.

***

General Augusto Hinojosa arrived in Huanta amid great fanfare. He had been personally selected by President Fernando Belaunde Terry as a response to those who accused the President of not acting with a mano dura – a hard hand – against the Shining Path insurrection in the department of Ayacucho. General Hinojosa was a stout, white man with a red beard and a brusque demeanor. When he first addressed the soldiers at the Huanta military barracks –  Lieutenant Colonel Rodrigo Huamán included – he told them that the war against the Shining Path had entered a new phase. He emphasized that the Army would not only seek out Shining Path leaders like Comrade Carlos and Comrade Bárbara with renewed vigor, but that peasant collaborators would be relentlessly pursued. After he spoke with all the soldiers, he pulled aside Lieutenant Colonel Rodrigo Huamán for a private discussion.

“I’ve heard of the great work you’ve been doing. The defeat of the terrucos at Guindas will go down in history as one of the great feats in this massive war that we’ve been fighting against the Communist cholos of Perú. I want you to keep searching for Comrade Carlos and Comrade Bárbara – they’re the most stalwart of all the rebel leaders – but I also want you to be tougher with peasant collaborators. We must make sure those Indians are more afraid of the Peruvian military than the Shining Path. And if a little nicety is ignored here and there – you understand me, don’t you? – no one will make a great fuss about it. You should also know that we’ve managed to infiltrate Comrade Carlos’ squad. From now on, we’ll know exactly what his next target is.”

“Yes, my General,” the lieutenant colonel replied reflexively. In truth, he was somewhat troubled by the words of the General. What “niceties” did the General want him to ignore?  Was he referring to the rule of law or to the Peruvian Military Code? At all events, Lieutenant Colonel Rodrigo Huamán continued with his search for Comrade Carlos and Comrade Bárbara and for the most part ignored the General’s recommendations about how he should treat the so-called cholos. He continued to treat the quechua people with dignity and respect, even when he had to search their homes for weapons or hidden guerrillas.

And then it happened, the tipping point in the life of Lieutenant Colonel Rodrigo Huamán. Someone called the military quarters at Huanta and reported that a group of Shining Path guerrillas had just left the town of Putis after killing the mayor. General Hinojosa immediately ordered the lieutenant colonel to go to Putis and investigate what had happened. But it had been a set-up, a plot to ambush the military. The mayor had in fact been murdered, but the soldiers were welcomed with machine gun fire and only Lieutenant Colonel Rodrigo Huamán and two of his men had managed to survive. All of the perpetrators had been runa people wearing ponchos and chuyos. And a number of peasants had cheered them on from the sidelines.

When General Hinojosa heard about the ambush, he immediately ordered the lieutenant colonel and a full regiment of soldiers to meet with him at the town of Putis. There the general forced all the Indians of Putis to congregate in the plaza, where he gave his men the order to shoot all of the peasants at will.

 Lieutenant Colonel Rodrigo Huamán wasn’t sure if he had heard the order correctly.

“Shoot at will?” he asked the General. “What do you mean?”

“Now that I’m in town, these Communist cholos won’t be able to continue killing our brave men with impunity. Let it be known throughout Ayacucho, Apurímac and Huancavelica that murder will be met with murder, horror with horror. I want your men to start digging a trench for all the Indians we shall bring to justice today. All of them have participated in a heinous war crime.”

“You mean you intend to kill all of them?” the lieutenant colonel inquired.

“You heard the order,” the General replied.

“With all due respect, my General, that is an illegal order. None of these men and women appear to be armed. And there’s no evidence that any of them have participated in any crime. We can arrest them, take them to Huanta, and let the investigation proceed.”

“Follow the order, Rodrigo. You’re not in a position to tell a general what to do.”

“It is against the Military Code, my general, against the Geneva Convention, against every law of man and God. It’s a manifest sin.”

“They’re all a bunch of Communist cholos,” the General answered, raising his voice. “If you ask me, all these Indian women should have been sterilized long ago. They’re the only reason Perú is not a modern country.”

“With all due respect, sir, my father General Faustino Huamán is also a cholo. And he has six medals on his chest. My father is an indigenous man just like these Indian peasants you mean to kill. I refuse to execute the order.”

“All these peasants support Sendero and if they want war, we’ll give them war. At a minimum, they all have relatives who are active guerrillas, whom they support, lodge and feed. The cholos are enamored with the Shining Path and are systematically killing anyone who is not. They started with the cattle thieves, then the mayors, then the merchants, and the remaining peasants are all committed senderistas. They think that Presidente Gonzalo is a god. The Shining Path already controls Tambo, Paras, Totos, San José de Sucre, Vilcas Huamán, Chuschi and Quispillaqta. I don’t want them to control Putis too. Shoot them. All those cholos are enemies of Perú.”

“Sorry to have to disagree, my general, but that is simply not true.”

“Go back to the barracks immediately. After this mission is accomplished, I’ll decide what to do with you. And if you say anything about this, I’ll say that you participated, that you were the instigator. You don’t want to cross me, Rodrigo. After all, the whole country knows what you did with your helicopters at Guindas.”

***

Lieutenant Colonel Rodrigo Huamán returned to his base at Huanta. It would not take long for him to learn what had happened – a hundred and twenty pueblerinos had been executed in a matter of minutes, men, women and children – and they had been promptly buried in a mass grave. The lieutenant pondered what he should do next.

He was inclined to report the massacre to the Department of the Army in Lima and let the chips fall where they may. After all, it had been sheer brutality, a grave stain on the honor of what the lieutenant colonel had always considered a noble institution – the Peruvian military. At the same time, he knew that if he gave an inkling of his intentions to General Hinojosa, he would promptly be killed, his death blamed on the Shining Path.

He thought of calling his father to describe the situation but decided that he would sleep on it. It wasn’t a simple matter, after all. Once the people of Lima learned about the massacre, heads were certain to roll and many of his fellow soldiers would be incarcerated. Worse yet, the atheist Communist guerrillas would be given a propaganda boost and the reputation of the Peruvian military would forever be tarnished by a single deviant act.

When General Hinojosa appeared at the barracks of Huanta some hours later, he immediately knocked on the lieutenant colonel’s door. He spoke in a slow, respectful manner and never raised his voice.

“I know,” he said, “that you are greatly troubled by what happened today. But you have to realize that all of the peasants are supporting the Shining Path and that the Shining Path intends to destroy all Perú. The terrorists hide in their ponchos and chuyos, but I’m sure a man of your intelligence recognizes that doesn’t make them any less lethal. In fact, it makes them more dangerous. All of the Shining Path cadres are cholo peasants – full-blooded Indians – even if their supreme leader is not. We can’t allow them to kill Peruvian soldiers with impunity, lest they win the war. Sometimes you have to engage in regrettable acts for the greater good.”

Lieutenant Colonel Rodrigo Huamán wasn’t sure how to respond. He didn’t want to tip his hand and let the general know he was thinking of reporting the massacre to the military authorities in Lima.

“I’ll have to think about it,” he finally responded.

“What is there to think about? What I did was no different from what you did at Guindas. You don’t want to destroy a brilliant military career by attacking the institution from within.”

“I shall have to probe my conscience,” responded Lieutenant Colonel Rodrigo Huamán.

“Very well,” replied the general. “While you’re dealing with your conscience, as you say, I think it best for you to leave Huanta. There is a small army station near mount Razuhuillca where I want you to continue with your work. It’ll be a sleepy job, but I hope it gives you time to reconsider any thoughts you might have of denouncing our heroic actions to your father or to anybody else. Or you can stay in Huanta if you want, but you’d have to swear allegiance to me. I see great things in your future, Rodrigo, if you just stay mum. I myself can do a lot to make you rise in the ranks. You can become a general like your father, but you must be scrupulously loyal.”

“I think it’s best for now for me to go to the military station near mount Razuhuillca. I don’t want to be in the company of the soldiers who participated in the massacre until I clear my thoughts.”

“Massacre?” retorted the general. “I wish you wouldn’t use that word. It was a cleansing operation. That was all.”

“We don’t need to argue about words.”

“Leave tonight. You should be at the army station by seven o’clock in the morning.”

“Yes, my general.”

“Is there anything else you wish to say? Any other way I can convince you to continue to support the army to which you so proudly belong?”

“I have nothing else to add, my general.”

“If you change your mind before you leave, let me know.’

“Yes, my general.”

***

Lieutenant Colonel Rodrigo Huamán well understood why General Hinojosa was banishing him to the town of Papallacta, at the foot of mount Razuhuillca. The purpose was to humiliate him. Papallacta was a deserted army outpost, where three soldiers spent their days mostly playing rocambor or dominoes. They were there mostly as lookouts, to see if any Shining Path guerrillas were traveling through the local mountains to attack small hamlets in a nearby valley.

But the lieutenant colonel did not understand why General Hinojosa had demanded he part for Papallacta during the night when it would have been so much easier to make the journey during the day. At any event, the general had assigned an Indian named Genaro to the lieutenant colonel in order to guide him through the mountains during the night and the two men had arrived, safe and sound, to Papallacta before dawn. The three soldiers welcomed Lieutenant Colonel Rodrigo Huamán warmly and quickly engaged him in conversation. They wanted to know the latest news about how the war against Sendero was going. The lieutenant colonel, for the most part, spoke in general terms about his ongoing mission to capture Comrade Carlos and Comrade Bárbara. He said nothing about what he had witnessed the day before and which was uppermost in his mind.

Lieutenant Colonel Rodrigo Huamán could not understand how the general intended to hide the disappearance of an entire Indian village. And yet he recollected that he had heard news of such massive events happening in other Andean hamlets and had never believed them. General Hinojosa would say the traitorous Indians had escaped into the mountains to avoid imprisonment by the military and nobody would question him. All the other soldiers were either complicit in the act or did not want to arouse the wrath of the general in charge of the whole department of Ayacucho.

At six o’clock in the afternoon, Lieutenant Colonel Rodrigo Huamán suddenly realized why the general had sent him to Papallacta. Comrade Carlos, Comrade Bárbara and at least twenty other senderistas arrived at the police station without warning and immediately began firing at the soldiers. The lieutenant colonel did not die in the initial skirmish but was disarmed by the rebels. Comrade Carlos told his men to stop firing, that he intended to kill the lieutenant colonel himself.

Comrade Carlos considered Lieutenant Colonel Rodrigo Huamán to be his personal nemesis – and his equal – and wanted to speak to him before he was killed. He had a simple question to ask him. Who was the informant? Then Comrade Bárbara intervened. If the lieutenant colonel answered truthfully, she said, he would be shot once in the forehead. If he refused to do so, he would have to be tortured to extract the information. It was the lieutenant colonel’s choice either way.

“What informant?” asked the lieutenant colonel. “I have never heard anything about him. I swear to you by the Christ.”

“We’ve noticed,” said Comrade Carlos, “that several times in the last few weeks the military seemed to be one step ahead of us. Every time we attacked a police station or an army outpost, the army was prepared. As a result, we lost several of our bravest men and women. It is now clear that you have an informant within our ranks who is giving information to you. I want you to tell me who he is.”

“Or she,” added Comrade Bárbara.

Now Lieutenant Colonel Rodrigo Huamán was certain. The reason General Hinojosa had sent him to Papallacta was because he knew of Sendero’s imminent attack. He had preferred to lose the other three soldiers at the army outpost in his plan to rid himself of the troublesome lieutenant colonel.

“If I had known you were going to attack the army outpost of Papallacta, do you think I would have come here without any other soldiers?”

Then Comrade Carlos pulled at one of his men by the hair and put his gun at the man’s temple.

“Is it this one?” Comrade Carlos asked. “His name is Germán del Castillo. He’s known as Comrade Pablo.”

For an instant the lieutenant colonel thought of saying that Comrade Pablo was the informant. That way he would avoid near certain torture. But his conscience wouldn’t let him.

“I have never heard of Comrade Pablo,” he responded.

The terrified man collapsed at Comrade Carlos’ feet.

“He truly doesn’t know,” said Comrade Carlos to Comrade Bárbara. “If he knew, he wouldn’t be here. Or he would have singled out Comrade Pablo to save his skin.”

Then Comrade Carlos pointed his gun at Lieutenant Colonel Rodrigo Huamán’s head.

“Say a last prayer if you wish,” said Comrade Carlos.

The lieutenant colonel said a quick Hail Mary before being gunned down by the guerrilla.

Lieutenant Colonel Rodrigo Huamán was buried with full military honors. The informant was soon discovered by the Shining Path and tortured to death by Comrade Bárbara. It would take twenty years for anyone to be prosecuted for the massacre at Putis.

About the Author

Sandro F. Piedrahita

Sandro Francisco Piedrahita is an American Catholic author of Peruvian and Ecuadorian descent, with a degree in Comparative Literature from Yale College. Most of his stories revolve around Latin American mythical or historic themes, told with a modern twist. Mr. Piedrahita's short stories have been accepted for publication in The Write Launch, The Acentos Review, Hive Avenue Literary Journal, Carmina Magazine, Synchronized Chaos, The Ganga Review, Limit Experience Journal and Foreshadow Magazine.

Read more work by Sandro F. Piedrahita .