On 25 January 1983, a group of journalists met in the city of Ayacucho, situated in the Andes in Peru. They wanted to travel to Huaychao, a village in the mountains of the Huanta Province, 12,000 feet high, and had booked a taxi for the following morning. The driver, Salvador Luna Ramos, had agreed to take them to Yanorco an hour from Ayacucho on the Tambo highway – for 30,000 soles.
The group consisted of reporters from Lima as well as a number from Ayacucho itself: Félix Gavilán, the local correspondent for Diario de Marka, and Octavio Infante, the managing editor of Ayacucho’s daily newspaper Noticias. Infante’s mother lived in Chacabamba – a small village down the mountain from Huaychao and a short distance from the place at which their taxi would leave them. Infante suggested that they should stop first at his mother’s house, where they could ask his half-brother to be their guide. Nevertheless, the way to Huaychao would be dangerous: the mountain slopes were steep and the paths were narrow, and there was always the possibility of meeting either members of the guerrillas who dominated the region or the sinchis, the anti-subversive police force who sought to protect it. But among the group of journalists – the first journalists to have ventured into the region since the troubles had begun – only Félix Gavilán appeared to appreciate the extent of the danger they faced: while the others bought shoes, pullovers and plastic ponchos for the rain, Gavilán packed a white sheet to be used as a flag in case of difficulties.
What was the attraction of a village so small that it does not even appear on any map? And how had the name Huaychao become so important that everyone in Peru appeared to be talking about it? Because of an unprecedented announcement made in Ayacucho three days before by General Clemente Noel, Chief of the Political Military Command in the Emergency Zone: that the Huaychao comuneros, peasants from the Indian community, had captured seven guerrillas of the Sendero Luminoso, the ‘Shining Path’, and, after taking their weapons, their ammunition, their red flags, and their propaganda, had killed them.