Fantasy Island

Ricardo Uceda
19 September 2005

This extract is from one of seven books shortlisted for the 2005 Ulysses Award for the Art of Reportage. The winner will be announced on 15 October, and over the coming weeks openDemocracy will present extracts from each of the finalists:

  • “Baghdad burning: girl blog from Iraq”, Riverbend
  • “Of Wars: Letters to Friends”, Caroline Emcke
  • “Scribbling the Cat: Travels with an African Soldier”, Alexandra Fuller
  • “A season in Mecca: narrative of a pilgrimage”, Abdellah Hammoudi
  • “The Outlaw Sea: Chaos and Crime on the World’s Oceans”, William Langewiesche
  • “Maximum City: Bombay lost and found”, Suketu Mehta
  • “Death in the Little Pentagon: The Secret Killing Fields of the Peruvian Army”, Ricardo Uceda
  • The events in this extract take place between April–September 1983. Shining Path / Sendero Luminoso is an insurgent Maoist guerrilla organisation in Peru, founded in the late 1960s by a former philosophy professor at Ayacucho University, Abimael Guzmán. In the early 1980s, it began a bloody campaign to bring down the military government by targeting civilians, politicians and other guerrilla groups, winning significant support in some of Peru’s rural areas. The Peruvian armed forces retaliated with excessive force, resulting in the deaths of many innocent people. Guzmán was captured in September 1992 and sentenced to life imprisonment, but has since been involved in two further trials following judicial controversy. A Truth and Reconciliation Commission established by President Alejandro Toledo found in a 2003 report that the total number of deaths and/or disappearances of people caused by the revolt and its consequences was just under 70,000. The Sendero movement, after several setbacks and splits, remains active.

    * * *

    Extract from Chapter 4 of Death in the Little Pentagon: The Secret Killing Fields of the Peruvian Army / Muerte en el Pentagonito: Los cementerios secretos del Ejército Peruano, published by Editorial Planeta, 2004

    Fantasy Island (Or the place where your dream comes true: to die for the revolution)

    One morning, in the middle of April, Comandante Paz asked Jesús Sosa to follow him. He didn’t say anything else. Suddenly for Jesús Sosa, who by day trained at the military base and by night eked out a living on the streets, everything changed forever. Paz took him to the airport, where there was a Peruvian Air Force helicopter waiting for them and they set off. Paz said they were going to see some prisoners. Searching for clues in Huamanga was getting nowhere, and it was time to get some fresh information.

    They landed in Totos, a desolate village perched on a hillside, with just four streets and an average temperature of 10 Celsius. A feeble river ran at its feet, separating Totos from Veracruz, a village as unpopulated and cheerless as its neighbour. A wooden footbridge ran across the river, connecting the two villages. It was used only by the villagers and their animals, as in that place there was little else that moved. The nearest market was at Paras, four hours walk away.

    Here, deep in Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) country, where the guerrillas came and went at will, General Noel had established one of his first “counter-subversion” bases under the command of the infantry captain Santiago Picón Pesantes, known as “the Jackal”. A few weeks before Jesús Sosa arrived in Totos the Jackal and fifty of his soldiers took over the village’s only secondary school. The school had been long abandoned by its teacher and pupils, and the handful of children who remained in Totos crossed the bridge every morning to receive their classes in Veracruz.

    The Jackal was waiting for them to arrive. He was with Goytizolo, another captain from Paz’s brigade. Both captains were energetic and uncomplicated men, and they made a good team. Before setting up the base they used to go on patrol together in the hills surrounding Totos, making sure their presence was felt, and using violence if necessary. At present, only five of the prisoners on the base were still alive: these were the men that Paz had come to talk to.

    They had no doubt that their prisoners were members of the guerrilla. They kept them locked up in a classroom, which occasionally served as a prison cell. A prisoner sat in each corner of the room, hooded and hands bound behind their back. In the middle of the room, tied to a post, was the supposed political chief or military commander of the group. They were all local peasants, between 25 and 28 years old, except one, who was barely 20. Paz spoke to the man in the centre, kicking him in the leg first to alert him to his presence.

    “Comrade, what’s your name?”

    “Sir, sir, I don’t know anything, sir” he mumbled while he moved his head frantically inside the hood.

    Paz questioned each of the prisoners. They had still to suffer a full interrogation and they all continued to express their innocence. While Paz talked, the Jackal and Goytizolo watched. Jesús Sosa waited by the side.

    After a while, Paz stood aside to consult with his captains. Then all four went out into what used to be the school’s playground. Beneath a large canopy made of branches there was a make-shift dining area for the troops. A smaller canopy covered the kitchen.

    Paz took Goytizolo aside and they spoke for a moment. When they separated Paz called Jesús Sosa over and told him he was going to “relieve the captain” – he was to take over from Goytizolo.

    Jesús Sosa was surprised and unprepared.

    “My comandante, but you haven’t said anything. I haven’t brought anything with me. Look, I’ve only got my overcoat.”

    “Don’t worry. You won’t be needing much up here. I’ll have your things sent. It’ll only be a week, then someone else will come to relieve you.”

    Jesús Sosa assimilated the order, but was still confused. Why was Goytizolo going back?

    After Paz had left him alone, Goytizolo went up to Jesús Sosa. He put his hand on his shoulder and bent down to speak to him. Together they looked like a strange pair. Goytizolo was tall and strong, and Jesús Sosa was small and compact and still hadn’t developed the boxer’s build he would soon acquire.

    He said pleasantly to Jesús Sosa:

    “Kid, you’re relieving me. From now on you’ll be Captain Bazán. Except, of course, for the Jackal. He knows who you really are. But the rest think you’re a captain. It would really piss me off if they relieved me, a captain, with a non-commissioned officer.”

    Jesús Sosa nodded. On the base, apart from the Jackal, there was a lieutenant, two reserve second lieutenants and a medical officer. The rest were troops. It was normal in army intelligence to hide your real name and rank. In fact, on the base, everyone used a pseudonym.

    Jesús Sosa was still uneasy. He was completely in the dark about why Comandante Paz had chosen him for this duty. Perhaps he was too much of a handful back at the base and this was a way of getting rid of him? Or maybe it was just that he was the only one here this morning when Goytizolo decided it was time to get out of this shit hole.

    Months later, it was Jesús Sosa who wanted to get out of that shit hole. But the order to return to his base never came. The first week had come and gone without any relief, and then he waited week after week.

    In the second week of June, Sosa had told the comandante by radio that it was his birthday on the 15th, and that he’d like to spend it in Huamanga. Paz said he would relieve him, but when the day came, the helicopter arrived without his replacement. He got in it anyway and without consulting anyone, told them to take him back to the city.

    That day, Jesús Sosa turned 24. He got drunk with Nelson, Carbajal and Petete, and ended up sitting astride the equestrian statue of Marshal Antonio Joseì de Sucre in the plaza de Armas in Huamanga. He got away with this little escapade, but three days later, despite promises to the contrary, they sent him back to Totos. But, for how long? No one knew.

    On the way back he thought about what they were expecting from him on Totos or “Fantasy Island”, as the military called it, after the famous American TV programme. They said that Totos, like the show, was a magic place where all your wishes could come true. And that’s where the terrorists went to fulfil their greatest wish: to die for the revolution.

    And Totos, they joked, also had its own Tattoo, the diminutive host on Fantasy Island. It was Jesús Sosa. During those months on the base they stopped calling him Kid and began to call him Tattoo. Tattoo is going up. Tattoo is coming down.

    Two months earlier, when Paz had left Jesús Sosa in Totos, he gave him some instructions before getting back into the helicopter to go back to Huamanga.

    “While you’re here the prisoners belong to you. You will interrogate them. Anything that could be useful to us in Huamanga you can send by radio to the base. The rest you can write-up in a report. We’ll analyse the situation of each prisoner: if they are wanted, if their family are in on it, if no-one knows where they are, and so on. And then we’ll decide what to do with them. If I tell you to send me two sheep, it means I want number two dispatched. If I ask for seven, I want number seven out of the way. Is that clear?”

    “Yes, my comandante.”

    “So, I’ll send you the prisoners with their numbers already assigned. That number might have been used for a prisoner who already went on a trip. Suppose you’ve already turned two around, it might be that the next two arrive with the same number. Do you follow?”

    “Yes, my comandante.”

    ”Ok, your job here is separate from your duties at the base. You answer only to me. And, obviously, you’ll be helping the Jackal with his intelligence work.”

    Jesús Sosa understood that he was being given a big responsibility. He asked himself again: why me? Was it because they thought he was conscientious and responsible? But, up to that moment, after only two months in the emergency zone, he had learnt very little about Sendero Luminoso and about the idiosyncrasies of the people of Ayacucho.

    When the helicopter took Comandante Paz away, he felt very alone. He looked at the Jackal, who was regarding him inquisitively. The captain went up to him.

    “How are you doing?” he asked.

    “Fine, my captain.”

    “Put your badge on.”

    “Yes, my captain.”

    “Where are you from?”


    “So, you’re a northerner like me,” the Jackal was from Cajamarca. “That’s it: Compatriot. We’ll call you Compatriot.”

    The Jackal started to leave, but remembered something and turned back.

    “Another thing,” he added “I’ve got three patrols under the command of the lieutenant and the second lieutenant. Two of them are constantly on manoeuvres and the other stays in reserve. I can get another patrol together under your command. What do you reckon?”

    “No problem,” said Sosa.

    His first job was to get something out of the five prisoners. It was up to him to decide how, and up to his superiors to decide which ones went “on a journey” because, even though no one mentioned it, the prisoners at the base were already dead men. In the reports that the Jackal sent back to Los Cabitos, the captured were already marked down as enemy casualties, using their real names or assigned pseudonyms. For Sosa, then, the prisoners already had one foot in the other world, and before leaving for good, it was his job to make them tell everything they knew.

    It is possible that those five detainees were Nicolas Tueros Condori, Primitivo Tucno Medina, Julio Godoy Bellido, Roberto López León, and Marcelino Zamora, whose names now appear in the official register of the disappeared. This affirmation is based on the recollection of Jesús Sosa, who, despite being a protagonist in the events, is incapable of recalling all the prisoners who passed through his hands, and it is possible that he has forgotten or confused names and appearances. For a few years he kept his own list of the suspected Senderistas who passed through his hands, but he burnt it in 1996. After a while names and faces blended together, and it is impossible for him to remember his first prisoners.

    The material that Goytizolo had left him included names and some biographical details. He worked slowly, asking personal details first. That was the first thing he checked out with them. Later, he politely enquired who had recruited them for the party. Jesús Sosa soon realised that his lack of knowledge concerning the structure of Sendero Luminoso meant he soon ran out of questions, and could easily become unsure if what they said was true.

    “I promise that if you cooperate you’ll go,” he said. “If not, we’ll have to make you talk anyway. There are some wild people at this base, and I’m a bastard too. In the end, if you don’t cooperate you’ll have lost everything: you’ll confess anyway and you’ll end up here forever, or even worse. Think about what’s best for you and your family.”

    Two of the prisoners collaborated the next day. Sosa took note of their confessions and passed the information on to the Jackal: it was a list of names and the whereabouts of local people that they needed to round-up on the next patrol. These prisoners received food and were well treated. The rest were softened up with beatings. There was no other way of proceeding according to the common sense of the army and police in Ayacucho.

    He had never done this before. In training he had received a course on interrogation techniques, with basic notions and tactical elements. Before graduating as agents, they had to carry out a practical examination of spying, following, capture and interrogation using imaginary targets. The corporal Luis Llosa, a policeman who worked on the course, pretended to be a stubborn prisoner and a light was shone in his face to make him confess. It was only a simulation, but the heat from the lamp was so intense that Llosa’s hair was burnt. When the interrogation finished his head was smoking.

    However, in Huamanga Jesús Sosa had seen the interrogations of the members of the police Counter-Subversion Operations Group. He carefully observed their techniques: one consisted of hanging up prisoners with their arms tied behind their backs, and another involved submerging their heads in water. “The dangle” and “the dunk”, as they were commonly called. He decided to try out the dangle because he didn’t have a suitable recipient to try out the dunk.

    This was how, with the help of a soldier from the base, he first inflicted intense suffering on a suspected Senderista. While he was working on one, he made sure the two others were brought out of the cell to hear the screams of their tortured comrade.

    Each prisoner could only stand a short while hanging from the beams of the ceiling. Over time, Jesús Sosa learnt that the prisoners could resist the hanging to different degrees according to different factors, like the strength of their arms and joints, of their weight and their will. Also, of course, of their innocence or guilt. These first ones at Toto, for example, seemed to be innocent. The agent lifted them up and they screamed terribly, but did not admit to being part of the insurgency.

    After the first day’s work, the interrogator was confused. He couldn’t believe that a man could withstand so much pain without supplying a bit of information to mitigate it. He began to believe that they were innocent. Although it was true that all of the men weighed little and they seemed to have strong joints. This was especially the case of the man tied in the centre of the cell. When he was suspended in the air he seemed to resist for longer than the rest thanks to the powerful lifter’s shoulders he possessed. Once, while up in the air, Jesús Sosa grabbed his legs and hung from him. He gave out a terrible shriek, but didn’t speak.

    On the third day, the situation had not changed, despite the fact that, while hanging, the prisoners had been punched, kicked and beaten with sticks on the souls of their feet. When the orders came to liquidate them, Jesús Sosa had arrived at the conclusion that the men really were innocent.

    Jesús Sosa though, was still new to torture, and he would easily feel sorry for his prisoners. But after a few months, the feelings of mercy were buried in the bottom of his soul and only made an appearance from time to time in his dreams. By then, he’d learnt that the ones who resisted the most were the hardest militants, the most fanatic ones. For Jesús Sosa and his officers, torture had become a work method. He began to think of it as both a challenging and unpleasant side effect of his job.

    On the night chosen for the executions, the Jackal assigned him a patrol with which he went to dig the graves on the outskirts of Totos. They told the prisoners, who were still hooded, that they were going to be handed over to the police. When they arrived at the place of execution, the agent took out his pistol and shot each of them once in the head. While doing it his mind was blank. He didn’t feel anything special. On the way, he had convinced himself that this was the only possible solution, that it was his duty, and that he had to perform it bravely and without hesitation. He was a believer, but he didn’t bother with any of the religious rituals appropriate at that moment. He didn’t even suppose for a second that God would be unhappy with his actions.

    * * *

    No one suspected that a good number of “the missing” were with Jesús Sosa on Fantasy Island.

    Until May, Jesús Sosa had received only three deliveries of prisoners and he was able to operate efficiently. A sudden increase in arrivals meant he had to make an extraordinary effort of reorganisation and analysis. He managed, however, to maintain the system of numbering the prisoners and smoothly carry out the periodic cleaning up ordered by Comandante Paz over the radio.

    “I need some mutton for lunch,” Paz would tell him by radio. And he gave him a number. When more than one was to be eliminated, he added some more dialogue: “And, captain Coral is cooking tonight and he’ll need two as well.”

    Once Paz ordered him to get rid of all of the prisoners. There were three or four of them. He said it like this:

    “I’m fed-up of eating mutton. Don’t bring anymore.”

    Until the avalanche of prisoners, life at the base in Totos couldn’t have been simpler. As the interrogations were carried out at night, in the mornings Jesús Sosa, who slept in the communication room, got up between 7–9am. After breakfast, he’d go to Veracruz to speak with the teachers or wander around the village. At midday he would have lunch with officers in the playground and in the afternoon he’d kill time with diverse activities, including playing football with the soldiers. At night, if there were no interrogations in the cells, he would get relax with the soldiers with a bottle of anisette. This routine changed completely when new prisoners arrived or when the patrols went out to hunt Senderistas. The principle activity at the base was patrolling and the Jackal spent most of his time hunting terrorists in the hills.

    During May, the Jackal’s patrols swept implacably through the Cangallo sierra, and official reports mention dozens of unidentified victims. There were a number of confrontations, like the one at Iglesiahuasi, where the Senderistas were surprised during a meeting in the local church. The result of this meant that Jesús Sosa could count his victims by the dozen for the first time. The patrol waited for the terrorists outside the building and sprayed them with bullets as they came out firing, using terrified villagers as human shields. An hour later, the church door was piled high with bodies heaped in a pool of blood.

    While Jesús Sosa was counting the bodies in the square he didn’t notice a bloodied man raise his rifle to shoot him in the back. Nor did he see the soldier Orejas shoot him down. Later, Sosa went up to Orejas, a strong mountain man who looked at his victim with pride. Sosa took off his watch, a silver Seiko with a white face.

    “Orejas,” he said, “this gift isn’t worth much, but it is all I have of value to thank you. Keep it, and may it bring you luck.”

    The speech persuaded Orejas against his initial impulse to reject the watch. He took it and put it in his pocket. They called him Orejas (Ears) because he carried the radio during the patrols and was responsible for transmitting and receiving messages. They assumed he was from Cusco because of his dialect. Jesús Sosa never found out his real name.

    In Totos, Jesús Sosa underwent a profound transformation. When he finished his tour of duty there in September 1983, he had experienced all the daily events of a counter-subversion soldier: captures, interrogations, executions, patrols, combats, ambushes. His dealings with the prisoners soon gave him a ferocious intensity, a rush of blood to the head that made him capable of flattening anyone. But Jesús Sosa was resilient. Like the Jackal, he didn’t seem to be destined to end up in the pavilion of the psychiatric wing of the Military Hospital, which was the destination of many officers in the emergency zone.

    During this period, Jesús Sosa interrogated 200 suspected Senderistas. The majority of these came from patrols in the area covered by the base, though many never made it to the base. But once there, they were executed on the orders of Paz or the Jackal. No one left Fantasy Island alive. The only exceptions were two prisoners who, despite being tied up and hooded, had managed to escape through a hole they had dug in the brick wall of the cell. Their escape was quickly discovered, but the patrols where unable to find them in the darkness of the night.

    Jesús Sosa became an expert at executing prisoners. By the age of 24, after only two months of activity at the base, he had managed to acquire the indispensable skills to make these operations quick and discreet. It was important to dispatch the prisoner instantly with one shot to the back of the head, ideally without them even realising what was going on; without agitation, without fuss.

    The soldiers, or an inexpert officer, often made a dog’s dinner out of the process, firing indiscriminate rounds from their FAL and destroying the body and anything that might be in the way. As for the burials, they required planning, and preparation with the digging of a grave and an impeccable finish, with a thick layer of stones and earth.

    It was Sosa’s willingness to carry out these actions that was the hardest for me to understand. Sosa was open and sincere and willing to tell the truth, but the reasons for his actions seemed to buried in the bowels of the earth along with his victims. According to him, his ghastly role as an interrogator at Totos had been down to mere chance: he was selected in place of Goytizolo, perhaps for demonstrating common sense and enthusiasm during the few weeks that he had been in Huamanga, or perhaps it was because he was organised and responsible. But in no way, was it because of his experience.

    He had never previously had a Senderista in his charge, and it is possible that a more experienced agent in his position would have been able to undertake the task more successfully. But once he had become installed in Totos, his superiors quickly realised that he was good at his job. The Jackal had no complaints against him, nor did he against the Jackal. On the contrary: he learnt a lot watching the man at work, and it wasn’t long before Captain Santiago Picón Pesantes became Sosa’s inspiration.

    On the other hand, and always according to Sosa’s version, his role in the executions were due to a series of circumstances that had nothing to do with his capacity for cruelty. Mostly, it was due to his ability to withstand the tension that comes from the task of killing as well as his ability to endure the more horrible aspects. Was he then an exceptional man, or just a soldier with a greater talent for carrying out certain unsavoury tasks required during a situation of conflict?

    One thing was obvious: when carrying out his duty, Sosa had the inestimable psychological support of established military values, namely, absolute discipline to follow orders from above to destroy an enemy of his country. To refuse this order would have been a dereliction of duty. To carry it out implacably was something to be proud of.

    At the same time, he managed to square his actions with the Christian sentiments that he was devoted to. “I don’t believe that God cares about these shit heads” he said to himself with reflection. The fundamental question was: was it, or was it not necessary to kill Senderistas?

    He did not hide behind the argument that he was only following orders, although indeed that was the case. He felt he was carrying out a higher task. It was a great responsibility, a heavy and dangerous undertaking for which he felt the support of the army, but also from a higher power. God was helping him; He gave him strength and forgave him. Yet the question remained, once the necessity to eliminate the Senderistas had been established: who really were the terrorists and how could he avoid killing the innocent along with the guilty?

    This was a conundrum without a solution, a moral minefield that he would have to enter without weakening. It was impossible, because of the circumstances in which they were operating at the base, to be completely sure about the culpability of the detainees. But this couldn’t impede their ultimate fate. The freedom of an innocent suspect, who would later recount everything that they had seen at the base, and who could become a potential witness against the illegal activities of the military would put the whole process of counter-subversive activity in danger: that was a risk that the military could not afford to take.

    For that reason, whenever a crazy or drunken officer precipitated a useless death, this unfortunate act, in all its cruelty and severity, was really insignificant. The fate of the detained was already decided and the only variation in their fates was of timing or circumstance.

    One night, for example, Jesús Sosa and a group were playing dice in the playground, wrapped in their overcoats and sitting around a fire. They were drinking deeply from the abundant store of liquor that had been decommissioned in the last patrol – anisette, port, pisco – and at midnight, after having emptied various bottles, they felt like carrying on.

    At one moment during the conversation, Jesús Sosa told them that inside the cell they had a Senderista who was making a superhuman effort to avoid confessing. He had been part of a group that had ambushed and killed a policeman in Huamanga. Taken to Totos, he had seemed to be a potentially useful source of information, but had never spoken, despite the fact that Sosa had dangled him, dunked him and beaten him until almost breaking his bones. The prisoner closed his eyes, screamed inside and stayed mute. The worst thing, the agent told them, was that, every now and then, a defiant expression would come across his face.

    “He looked at me right in the eyes, the motherfucker,” Jesús Sosa said, and remained silent for a moment. “But now he’ll talk.”

    He called over soldier Orejas, who was on guard duty, and told him to bring out the prisoner. Soon, a broken man of peasant extraction was brought out. He was around 30 years old.

    “Tie him up over there, take off his shirt and throw a bucket of icy water in his face every thirty minutes. That’s all.”

    The prisoner was tied up and hung from the canopy were the soldiers ate. The men continued drinking and, every now and then, called over to Orejas to remind him to carry out his duty. By four o’clock most had passed out. At five Sosa, suddenly awoke and remembered the prisoner. He went over to look, but he was already dead.

    The questions kept coming back to him during those long, sleepless nights hard at work in Totos. Why was he doing this? Was it only because it was his duty? Of course not. From the beginning of his career he had sufficient character to find a way of rebelling, of getting out of it, even at the risk of receiving a bullet in the process, although he did not know anyone who had ever disobeyed orders like that in an emergency zone.

    Many years later, when Jesús Sosa began to feel remorse, he recognised that his behaviour had a lot to do with the atmosphere that ruled in the barracks at the time, with the tacit acceptance that the innocents should suffer the same fate as the guilty. But also with the belief that what the army was doing was the right thing. It was the only way.

    Actually, Jesús Sosa believed the same thing as three of his country’s presidents who, between 1983 and 1995, sent in the army to conduct their counter-offensive while looking the other way to avoid the unpleasant, bloody spectacle. Jesús Sosa, on the other hand, could not look the other way. His way of dealing with it was to go on a drinking binge every now and then, if not he probably would have cracked. To an extent, Sosa practiced a kind of fanaticism that allowed him to navigate between the horrors, which was similar to the way that the Senderistas used their own ideology to protect their consciences. This was what made them so strong: there was no other way to understand their capacity to withstand the amount of punishment inflicted upon them during interrogation.

    When he finally began to realise that what they had done was wrong, the memories of Ayacucho came back to haunt him and he developed a profound resentment towards the army and the politicians. Memories would come back to him, sometimes against his will, sometimes by chance.

    * * *

    In July, the Jackal left his position as commander of the base at Totos. His replacement was another captain, Hernán Galarreta, who made changes straight away.

    “What pseudonym did the last commander use?” he asked his subordinates, shortly after taking command.

    “Jackal, no? The jackal is a shitty animal. But which animal is even shittier?”

    He waited for the answer but none was forthcoming.

    “The hyena,” he said. “The jackal is a puppy compared to the hyena. I’ll call myself the Hyena.”

    That’s how he arrived, with an arrogant attitude. But his days were numbered, and not because of the causes of war. The new captain’s style irritated his subordinates so much that one night a sergeant started shooting at him on the streets of Totos. The sergeant had drunk too much, but his reasons for hating Galarreta were sober. The Hyena had changed the Jackal’s provisions system, cutting back on rations and provoking the troops who were used to the generous treatment of the previous captain.

    Even more revealing than the sergeant’s attack was the fact that no one tried to stop him. He had chased the captain from the entrance of the base to the outskirts of Totos, where Galarreta took refuge in a house. The lieutenant, the second lieutenants, a nurse and all the troops waited inside the base, hoping that one of the sergeant’s bullets would reach its target. But Jesús Sosa, went out to stop the sergeant who handed over his FAL and broke down.

    They made their way back and on the way they found a dead cow that had been hit by a couple of the sergeant’s bullets.

    The captain decided not to denounce the sergeant to military justice. The smallest investigation would have brought his problems with the troops to light. Two days previously, the soldiers had refused to touch the food, in protest at its miserable quality. Galarreta decided to be more generous and his behaviour began to improve relations.

    However, the relationship between Jesús Sosa and the captain got worse, to the extent that Sosa went to speak to Édgar Paz, who sent him to General Noel. After this meeting Noel replaced Galarreta at the end of August 1983 with Captain Willy Talavera. There was another reason that Sosa wanted to get rid of Galarreta, although he did not mention it to the General.

    What Jesús Sosa did not tell Noel was what had happened in Totos after the arrival of two female Senderistas that the marines had captured. They arrived already mistreated by the marines, where they had already been “fully processed.” So, after supplying information to the military they were ready to be despatched. They had been in Totos for two weeks when the captain became fond of one of them: 19 year old Elvira Munaylla Morales. The problem was that Sosa had to kill her.

    The captain asked Sosa to spare Munaylla. Because of his subordinate’s refusal, he imposed his authority and said it was up to him to decide the ultimate fate of the prisoners at the base. To an extent, he was right, but it was also true that Sosa was technically in charge of the prisoners. It was he who had to make sure they were all numbered and processed correctly and that things were carried out efficiently. What’s more, Paz had already decided that these prisoners needed to be despatched. In reality, the captain was powerless.

    “I’ll speak with Paz,” the Hyena said. But Sosa knew that the captain wouldn’t speak to the commander. The girls had confessed their complicity in murders. The only solution for Galarreta was to negotiate with Sosa.

    But Sosa had been thinking about the case and was beginning to have doubts. He liked the girls too and saw that Galarreta was suffering – he slept with the prisoner every night and had food brought into his office for both of them. It would be so easy to let them go and say that they had died on a certain date. Of course, that would mean that they would have to keep their mouths shut forever.

    But, on the other hand, it could all go wrong. Galarreta was a disaster and couldn’t be trusted. He was also unpopular and if someone saw what had happened they would probably report him and Sosa would be dragged into the whole mess. No, the best thing was to get rid of these girls. He would wait for Galarreta to leave the base on an assignment, then he would chat to them a bit and soften them up so that they were calm and then he’d shoot them when they were least expecting it. Then he could get back to business as usual.

    Translated from Spanish by Daniel Campi

    Had enough of ‘alternative facts’? openDemocracy is different Join the conversation: get our weekly email


    We encourage anyone to comment, please consult the oD commenting guidelines if you have any questions.
    Audio available Bookmark Check Language Close Comments Download Facebook Link Email Newsletter Newsletter Play Print Share Twitter Youtube Search Instagram WhatsApp yourData