WHAT’S IN A PHOTO?
A little girl with her small brother strapped on her back gives us a glimpse of life in the mountains of Peru, especially for children.
For me it stirred lots of memories, mostly good, but also some sad ones. The little girl stands on a rise in the village of Huacuas overlooking Cotosh in the Andes Mountains.
It’s a half-hour drive just to get down to the Cotosh school, but the locals go down the hill on foot in 15 minutes. Cotosh was as far as we could travel in a jeep from the parish centre in Huasahuasi.
At 5:00am we ferried some catechists to Cotosh and from there they had to walk, scaling the hills in the background. Their destinations were ten or twelve smaller villages. They had a twelve-hour walk ahead of them, hence the early start.
The catechists were accustomed to go first to the most distant village, San Antonio. They would then walk back to the others. The advantage was the other villages would be expecting their return visit.
It was from that school in Cotosh on 9 November 1993 that Sendero Luminoso, ‘Shining Path’ terrorists took away a young teacher, Lucia Ricaldi, mother of two infant daughters.
They brought her up to Huacuas, near where the little girl in the photo stands, and there assassinated her along with eleven other people from Huacuas.
At that moment, the parish catechists were lunching in Huasahuasi having finished our monthly meeting. Three of the catechists lost their parents in this massacre.
The Yachaychin brothers lost both their mother and father and their cousin lost his father. It was said afterwards their mother was killed only when she went to the defense of her husband.
It seems she pelted a stone at one of the terrorists and scoring a direct hit knocked him unconscious. In retaliation they murdered her. Another, witnessing the slaughter, ran to Huasahuasi to warn the townspeople.
Shining Path, coming out of their jungle retreat, from those hills in the background had commandeered three local potato trucks and their drivers to transport them to Huasahuasi. One of the three vehicles was a small pickup.
Tearing across country and down precipitous tracks the witness reached Huasahuasi ahead of the trucks maneuvering the switch-back tracks.
This warning meant we were out on the streets watching their steady progress down the side of the mountain. Our feelings you can imagine. Then, unnoticed, but to our apprehensive relief, an army convoy was seen coming along the river road from Tarma.
Someone from a hillside house in Huasahuasi had signaled the military presence to the approaching terrorists. The Shining Path trucks stopped high up but the pickup came on down to double check on the military presence.
On learning it was so, they cynically told the townspeople they had best withdraw as they were not carrying their identity cards.
All of this happened while the military were busy setting up their base and field radio. On 21 October 1993 the Bishop had warned us of an imminent attack.
The message was that Shining Path intended to victimize some five parishes. Huasahuasi was third on the list. In San Pedro de Cajas, famous for its tapestries, and second on that list, 48 people had just recently been murdered.
Our Bishop couldn’t pinpoint the day, but with the military arriving co-incidentally with Shining Path it became obvious military intelligence was better informed than they had disclosed to the Bishop.
The photo of the little girl and her brother stirred all of these memories.
Some twelve years later, the widower of Lucia visited me with his now grown two daughters. I had baptized them at their mother’s ‘month’s mind’ Mass.
In our Columban years in Huasahuasi between Frs Michael Donnelly, Bob O’Rourke and myself, we buried 32 people who were killed by Shining Path, including Australian Sister of St Joseph, Irene McCormack.
Fr Leo Donnelly, an Australian Columban, was in Huasahuasi from 1990-1999. He was ordained in 1957 and is still working in Peru. You may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org