Documentary unveils staggering journalistic investigation

When he received a bag of human bones and a map showing the location of a clandestine grave, Edmundo Cruz knew that his investigation was on the right track.

But the prominent Peruvian journalist also knew that if he revealed that it was forces under Alberto Fujimori’s administration that had perpetrated the crime against a missing university professor and nine students, he could likewise end up in a secret grave.

Cruz had good reason to be concerned.

Kidnappings, disappearances, murders and extra-judicial killings were widespread during the Fujimori dictatorship, and journalists were often targeted.

Nonetheless, Cruz managed to expose the truth about the killings.

On July 18, 1992, members of a paramilitary death squad burst into La Cantuta University dormitory and abducted nine students and one professor, on suspicion of being linked to Maoist Shining Path guerrillas.

As a result of their alleged association, they were tortured, executed and buried in a secret grave. Their bodies were subsequently exhumed, dismembered, incinerated and reburied near a garbage dump on the outskirts of Lima.

How did Cruz manage to break the story without getting himself killed?

In the full-length documentary La Cantuta en la Boca del Diablo, Amanda Gonzales, a former journalism student of Cruz, tells the story behind that investigation and its disclosure. Cruz and two other journalists devised a plan that would take the Fujimori government by surprise. They, along with human rights groups and a congressman, unveiled the grisly find at a carefully timed press conference that was held in full view of the victims’ families and local and foreign media.

Not only did the investigation afford relatives the opportunity to give their loved ones a proper burial, it also led to the discovery of a paramilitary death squad within Peru’s National Intelligence Service. It was this revelation that ultimately facilitated the prosecution of former president Alberto Fujimori. Fujimori is currently serving a 25-year sentence for human rights violations, kidnapping, corruption and embezzlement. At the end of the trial, it was established that none of the victims had ties to the Shining Path.

The film has been released on the eve of the highly contested presidential election between leftist Ollanta Humala and rightist Keiko Fujimori – the daughter of the disgraced autocrat. But the documentary feature has opened old wounds. This time, it is the director who, along with several of the film’s protagonists, has been forced to move three times as a result of death threats.