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Peruvian prison massacres

The Peruvian prison massacres occurred on June 18–19, 1986, after a series of riots in the San Juan de Lurigancho, Santa Monica, and El Fronton prisons in Lima and Callao. The military repression of these riots resulted in the loss of at least 224 lives.


During the internal conflict in Peru, the bloody campaign by the Peruvian Maoist group Shining Path was responsible for the deaths of thousands of inhabitants of the rural regions of Peru. The Military of Peru, which had been dispatched to put down the insurgency, was also responsible for the deaths of thousands of Peruvians, as it treated campesinos as potential terrorists or terrorist sympathizers.

At the beginning of his 1985–1990 term, President Alan Garcia demonstrated an interest in changing the counter-subversive strategy of his predecessor, Fernando Belaunde Terry, with the purpose of reducing human rights violations against the civilian population, by calling on the civil society to propose solutions to the problem of political violence in Peru. Nevertheless, his government authorized a swift and violent takeover of the prisons to regain control, placing Peru's human rights violations back into the national and international spotlight.


June 18, 1986 6:00 AM Lima - Peru, prisoners rioted within multiple prison facilities in Lima and Callao. The riots took place while a congress of the Socialist International, of which Alan Garcia's APRA political party was a member, was being conducted in Lima. The prisoners in San Juan de Lurigancho, El Fronton, and the women's prison in Santa Monica, who had tacit control of the prison interiors, rose up and took prison guards and three journalists as hostages. They demanded the immediate release of 500 people imprisoned for terrorism. Garcia and his government were caught off-guard by the uprising. At 10:00 AM an emergency cabinet session began with the participation of Garcia and military commanders. Three hours later, the Minister of the Interior, Abel Salinas, announced that if the prisoners did not surrender, the prisons would be retaken by force. That day, Shining Path terrorist members began a wave of murders and attacks in Lima that left several dead.


The government of Peru sent a negotiating commission formed by Caesar Samame, Augusto Rodriguez Rabanal and Fernando Cabieses, arriving at El Fronton Prison at 4:30 PM. However, negotiations did not bring about results.


6:00 PM, as the negotiations failed, the order to assault the prisons was given. The first attack began in the women's prison at Santa Monica, where the Republican Guard, which at the time was responsible for protecting Peru's borders and prisons, regained control relatively quickly. They demolished a wall and sent tear and paralyzing gases into the prison. In two hours the hostages were released, and two people had died.

At midnight, June 19, the assault on the prison on the island of El Fronton commenced. The assault was carried out under the command of the Peruvian Navy. The director of the prison, a judge, and the public prosecutor had protested against the Navy's intervention, and declared that they were no longer responsible for what occurred inside the prison as a result of the assault. Meanwhile, from the island of El Fronton the vice-minister of the Interior, Agustin Mantilla, announced that the island was under the control of the Joint Command of the Armed Forces as it had been declared a restricted military zone.

Later, the Navy, with Naval Infantry support, attacked the "Blue Ward" of El Fronton, which was where Shining Path terrorist members were imprisoned. The walls of the prison were then destroyed with the aid of helicopters. During the assault three members of the Peruvian Armed Forces, one of the hostages, and 135 prisoners were killed. Simultanously, Republican Guard SWAT team arrived at Lurigancho prison, and placed explosives around the outer wall of the Industrial Pavilion. Part prison where the Shining Path terrorist held a hostages. A joint offensive by troops of the Republican Guard and the Peruvian Army followed. At 3:00 am, after heavy fighting with guns and grenades, the terrorist surrendered. Hours later, 124 prisoners that occupied the building lay dead: they had been executed, one by one, by a shot to the nape of the neck.

According to a cable from the United States Department of State, "at least 100 prisoners were summarily executed." The Peruvian government itself concluded that all 124 rebellious prisoners in Lurigancho prison died in the assault, and that no fewer than 90 were victims of extrajudicial executions.

The national and international scandal that resulted from this multiple crime was enormous. During President Garcia's delayed visit to the scene of the events, he declared that there were two possibilities: "either they [the terrorist] go or I go." Nevertheless nothing was ever done to punish the guilty. In fact, Luis Giampietri, the orchestrator of the massacre at El Fronton, would later become Alan Garcia's vice president


Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Las ejecuciones extrajudiciales en el penal de El Fronton y Lurigancho (1986).

The National Security Archive. Peru in "The Eye of the Storm". Declassified U.S. Documentation on Human Rights Abuses and Political Violence. National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 64. Edited by Tamara Feinstein, Director, Peru Documentation Project. January 22, 2002.

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