By the time Carmen Amaro Condór woke up on the morning of July 18, 1992, her brother Armando was already gone forever.
An electronics student at Lima, Peru’s Universidad Nacional de Educación Enrique Guzmán y Valle – better known as La Cantuta – Armando Richard Amaro Condór was one of 10 people who in the wee hours of that July morning were abducted from the school by members of a government-sponsored death squad called the Grupo Colina. The kidnapped victims’ charred remains were later discovered in a clandestine grave.
Since then Carmen Codór has sought tirelessly for some sort of legal resolution to the case. This week that search brought her to Santiago, together with seven other family members of people killed by Peruvian security forces during the tumultuous 1990s. The members of the so-called "Caravan Against Humanity" are hoping to influence – even in the smallest of ways – a pending extradition case involving the very man they deem responsible for the murders of their loved ones: former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori.
"Since first learning about Fujimori’s presence in Chile we didn’t hesitate to make our presence known and, in one form or another, to demand justice," said Condór. "We’re talking about a case (the La Cantuta massacre) that took place in ’92, approximately 15 years ago. Still, we’ve never stopped insisting on justice, that the people responsible be sanctioned. We have no doubts about the responsibility Fujimori had in this case."
Fujimori governed Peru from 1990 to 2000 until internal pressures forced him to seek refuge in Japan. From a Tokyo hotel room the beleaguered president famously tendered his resignation via fax. For the next five years he stayed in Japan, taking advantage of the Japanese citizenship he inherited from his immigrant parents to protect himself not only from requests that he be extradited to Peru but also from two separate international arrest warrants.
Then, on Nov. 6, 2005 – for reasons that are not entirely clear – Fujimori flew to Chile, where he was subsequently arrested and detained. The now 69-year-old ex president has been in legal limbo ever since.
Peruvian authorities originally asked that Fujimori, who’s been indicted on various charges in his native Peru, be surrendered to them. Chile, however, opted to place the decision in the hands of its Supreme Court, following protocol set by a 1932 extradition treaty between the two countries.
Now, a year and-a-half after the legal proceedings began, Fujimori’s extradition case appears to be finally nearing an end. Judge Orlando Álvarez is expected to receive the Court’s official recommendation on April 23 and is likely to issue a ruling soon thereafter.
As stipulated in the 1932 treaty, the Supreme Court must base its decision on whether there is amble evidence against Fujimori – not necessarily to convict, but enough to justify (from a Chilean legal perspective) the indictments against him. In other words, Peruvian prosecutors, in presenting their case, must show that the crimes for which Fujimori has been charged in Peru are equally serious crimes in Chile.
Those crimes, according to prosecutors, include 10 counts of corruption and two counts of human rights violations. Prosecutors have suggested, among other things, that Fujimori had direct knowledge of and may have even ordered anti-subversion operations carried out by the Grupo Colina. The infamous death squad is thought to be behind both the La Cantuta massacre – of which Armando Condór was a victim – and a 1991 attack in the Barrios Altos neighborhood of Lima. Twenty-five people, including a small child, were murdered in the two massacres.
"In July of ’92, a group that we now know was the paramilitary Grupo Colina entered (La Cantuta) at approximately 1:20 a.m.," said Carmen Condór. "They went into the men’s dormitory, the women’s dormitory and the teacher’s quarters, grabbing and abducting nine students and a professor. That same morning they were driven to a place along the highway that goes to Lima and they were killed."
"We didn’t find out about it until about a year later," she added. "Through information filtered to the press the whereabouts of a clandestine grave came to light. There they found the burned remains (of the victims) and some recognizable items. That’s how we really found out what happened with this case."
On Tuesday Condór and her colleagues took their cause literally to Fujimori’s doorstep, staging a protest in front of the former head-of-state’s current residence: a posh apartment building in the upscale Santiago neighborhood of Las Condes. The apartment happens to be located just a few blocks away from the Japanese Embassy, raising concerns that if the Supreme Court does rule in favor of extradition, Fujimori could – just as he did seven years ago – flee to Japan.
"We’re not going anyone until there’s justice," chanted the dozen or so protestors, many of them carrying images of their disappeared loved ones.
Among the demonstrators was Rual Paiba, president of a Santiago-based group called the Committee of Peruvian Refugees in Chile. Paiba, a university teacher at the time, came to Chile in July 1992, about a year after being arrested on what he claims were trumped-up terrorism charges. His flight to Chile also took place just two months after Fujimori orchestrated what’s since been dubbed a "self-coup." In April 1992, the then president shut down the Peruvian congress, suspended the constitution and removed many of the country’s judiciary personnel.
"We’re hoping (Fujimori) has to face the Peruvian justice system, that he’s judged and has to pay for the crimes he committed," said Paiba. "Recently even some military people have come at said he gave the orders."
Tuesday marked the start of a week-long series of activities organized to coincide with the pending resolution of the extradition case. Organized in large part by the Amnesty International (AI) offices in Lima and Santiago, upcoming events include film screenings, public testimonies and meetings with Chilean government officials.
The program began earlier in the day with a press conference held in AI’s Santiago headquarters. Speakers included Gisela Ortiz, who also lost a brother in the La Cantuta massacre, AI Chile head Sergio Laurenti and 2005 presidential candidate Tomas Hirsch of the Humanist Party.
"In Chile we know all about human rights violations," Hirsch told reporters. "Chile is maybe the country, or at least one of the countries that has most violently suffered human rights abuses. It’s exactly because of that painful experience that Chile cannot now become a refuge for criminals."
"We need to be very clear about this," he added. "If Fujimori is not extradited to Peru, the Chilean justice system will be doing a great disservice to the country, as it would once again be confirming that in this country, war criminals, killers, rapists and torturers enjoy impunity."
Benjamin Witte is a U.S.-Canadian writer based in Santiago, Chile