Who is Carmen Valdivieso Hulbert?

Carmen_Valdivieso_Hulbert_Directora_del_Documental_Uchuraccay  Carmen Valdivieso Hulbert is an investigative journalist who is writing, producing, and co-directing the feature documentary Uchuraccay, now in its final production stage.  Valdivieso Hulbert was born in Lima, Peru in 1950 to a political activist family, during the military dictatorship of Manuel A. Odria. She remembers the first few years of her life as a time of great pressure for her family. A party they supported was proscribed and its members were repressed and persecuted. “We could see the Presidential Palace directly from our balcony, one block away. It was a dark presence during my early childhood, until 1956 when we had democratic elections.” Her education, first in an English school and later with Franciscan nuns, created a yearning for life abroad, mixed with the need to help people of lesser means. She spent her senior year in the United States in 1968. It was during the Vietnam-era that she acquired political awareness, which was further shaped by her college years in Peru’s Catholic University’s School of Journalism. In 1975 she became a news reporter for the national network, Telecentro, and later for Panamericana Television in Peru. In 1985, Valdivieso Hulbert joined the Spanish News Services at The Associated Press in New York, as an editor and translator. In the last decade, she began to train in documentary and filmmaking in New York University in order to achieve a longtime goal to document the contemporary history of her native Peru. “I started investigating the killings of eight journalists in Uchuraccay because I worked with five of them. It was only until I had a dream about the premiere of this film and Willy Retto thanked me for the making it, that I realized I had to make this documentary my life’s work.”


UCHURACCAY Documentary / Crowdfunding campaign 2015


This is 90-minute independent documentary about a journalist who goes back to her country to investigate the mysterious murders of eight of her colleagues and their guide in the hamlet of  Uchuraccay in the Andes of Peru in 1983.


I am Carmen Valdivieso Hulbert, a Peruvian journalist-filmmaker. I returned to Peru in 2005 after more than 20 years to start this project: the making of the Uchuraccay documentary (www.uchuraccay.com).


Carmen Valdivieso Hulbert during the scouting in the Ayacucho region 2010.

The journalists murdered were (left to right):  Octavio Infante of Noticias de Ayacucho; Jorge Sedano of La República; Amador García of Magazine Oiga; Jorge Luis Mendívil of El Observador; Félix Gavilán and Pedro Sánchez of Diario de Marka; Willy Retto of El Observador and Eduardo de la Piniella of Diario de Marka. And their guide Juan Argumedo (not in the photo)


This project has become a mission since I had worked with five of them, covering stories in the late 1970’s and early ’80’s. My inspiration came from a dream in which I was attending this documentary premiere in New York, and Willy Retto, one of the murdered journalists, appeared smiling and thanked me for completing the film.

A few weeks later, I began gathering information and evidence on the case through witnesses, relatives of the deceased journalists and former colleagues in Peru. At the same time, I developed the structure of the documentary based on the trail these journalists followed, while they investigated possible extrajudicial killings in the highlands of Ayacucho  unaware they were marching into their own demise. At the center of the film lies that very trail: first, they started by  car from Huamanga, until they reached a place called Toccto, located at 12,000 feet above sea level.  They were dropped off there and continued on foot for five hours, until they reached the point where they were killed: the hamlet of Uchuraccay. During these past years I have traveled to Uchuraccay several times and have talked to people in the area, as well as to people in Ayacucho and in Lima, Peru’s capital.


Directors Carmen Valdivieso Hulbert and Michele Cinque shooting in Lima in 2010.

I have gotten in contact with journalists who were working on the same story as the deceased journalists. The group of journalists with whom I’ve been working have shown an extraordinary level of commitment. In 2005, we scouted the area and conducted the first interviews. For the 25th anniversary of the murders, in 2008, I presented a first 30-minute rough cut using material gathered during the preproduction stage.

In 2010, while in New York, looking for funding and possible partners for the project, I met Michele Cinque, an Italian filmmaker from a Rome-based production company, Lazy Film. Since then, we have been working together as co-directors.


Michele Cinque preparing to film during the scouting trip.

In February 2010, our crew spent several weeks shooting around Uchuraccay and some parts of the trail the journalists took. We traveled there with some colleagues and close relatives of the deceased journalists.


Michele Cinque and Assistant Director Fiorella Lavado during the film shooting in  Toccto in 2010.

Our crew is composed of Michele Cinque, co-director and Director of Photography; Assistant Director Fiorella Lavado; Line Producer Flavia D’Alessandro; Editors Roberta Canepa and Imre Balanli; Field Producers Carlos Valdez and Pedro Vega; Still-photographer Silvana Ximena; Writer Paola Hulbert; Researchers Francesca Garcia and Oscar Retto; and Historian Carlos G. Valer.

Lazy Film and Quinoa Films Inc. have pooled financial resources to fund the film. Thus far, we have produced about 80% of the imagery.  For completion, we need three more interviews and to cover at least another 20% of the trail.

We have started our final round to collect funds, in order to pay for the last production stage, editing, archival video, music and postproduction. We are planning to complete the Project in 2015.

One percent of the profits of this documentary will go to each of the nine victims’ families.


Carmen with the Argumedo family in Chacabamba before shooting their walk returning to their land.


The purpose of this documentary is to tell the full story about these journalists and the elements that surrounded their deaths during a bloody period in Peruvian history. During those times it was dangerous to be an investigative journalist, particularly in the Andean region.


Exhumation of the journalists’ bodies, January 30 1983.

After the murders in Uchuraccay, many local journalists were killed and some disappeared when they ventured into a region where, as we have learned in the decades that followed, almost 70,000 people were murdered.

This story honors journalists killed all over the world in the line of duty.  It has contemporary relevance, as the Iraq war and other conflicts worldwide have left scores of journalists dead in recent years.

We have been talking with members of the military who have promised to talk about the Uchuraccay story.

Uncovering the truth about the murders will hopefully contribute to putting an end to years of impunity in Peru.

Many other cases of human rights abuses in neighboring areas have been reopened and those responsible have been convicted. The killings of Uchuraccay should not be the exception.



Since there have been forces interested in stopping the production of this documentary from its inception, we have taken precautions to protect our film material. We have made copies of the original and have placed them in various parts of the world, just in case our hard drives disappear from our current editing locations.

We are currently doing more investigations in an effort to corroborate a lead we got from a witness. His version creates a twist in the story we were following initially. And that might takes us to resolve some of the unanswered questions pending to this day.

Many people have asked me if I am scared or if my life could be at risk. I can only respond: The work is so advanced at this point, that if something were to happen to me before its completion, my team will finish Uchuraccay and will release it to the world.


WILLY RETTO Parallel Universes?

By Fiorella Lavado  / Translated to English by Paola Hulbert

There, where time and space meet, appear parallel universes.

Suddenly something happens. It can be an idea, a feeling, a response to an action that overwhelms the soul, a moment of passion, a blow; the feeling of powerlessness in the quest for truth and the inability to utter it, to know what to do and not be able to move, to find oneself at a crossroads and to want to follow all possible roads.

One propels atoms in all directions – an explosion that sends information through time to the present and to the future.

What is it that compelled a group of men to follow a desolate road? Was it perhaps the search for truth, the pursuit of ego, the passion for work?

What continues to motivate another group of men and women to do the same? To throw themselves into the abyss of creativity, to explore the roads that have knit themselves, like veins, upon the mountains through oblivion and the passage of time?

We find ourselves facing a situation we can no longer ignore. We live in different countries, belong to different generations, lives, experiences. Nonetheless, we too have suffered repression, have beheld how invisible walls of ignorance about the lives of others divide us, have seen injustice and are silently complicit with it.

I see a close-up within Willy Retto’s eyes; in them his attacker is reflected. The scene is overwhelming, voices intertwined in the confusion of knowing that the end is near. There is a blow, blood, silence –

In a dream, Willy appears before Carmen on that final road. He remembers her, tells her that it is she who can be a catalyst, a voice. But since in the world of dreams there is neither time nor space, only the moment, she dreams up years later, that moment.  And he gifts her the passion to open the doors of the parallel universes so that she may become silent narrator, the one who listens. The timelines intertwine; the non-linear story, the time machine enters one’s body.

Willy, before departing, speaks with his girlfriend, tells her how he feels, looks at people, people look at him. He goes off recording, looking intently into the architecture of minds, walls, the silhouette of the mountains.

He knows he is pursued by ghosts, that they are already aware of his intentions, of his daring in exploring the future.

The masks of the enemy are reflected on the windows; they are shadows upon the greenery; they abruptly disrupt the view.

He constantly whispers in his father’s ear; to us, farther away, he shouts to continue forging ahead, like him, to the end.


Letter written by Willy Retto, published by “El Observador” Lima, Peru, on 4-2-83

A revealing letter sent by Willy Retto on January 25 (the day before he supposedly died)

Below is the content of a letter written by Willy Retto:

“I hope you can understand the reason for the way I talked to you on the telephone. Please understand, I don’t want you to worry about anything. I am taking care of myself as much as I can… I am sorry darling for my handwriting. 

I am writing in a taxi on my way to the airport. My buddy… is departing very early and the access to the airport is restricted, because it is located in a military area. A lot of things are happening here that  I never thought I would see and experience so closely in my lifetime. I see the poverty of the people, the fear of the peasants, the stress that reigns, it is similar for the Peruvian Investigative Police (PIP), tension in which they live is similar to the PIP (the investigative police and the GC (Guardia Civil) and the Army, as well as the Shining Path and innocent people.

I will do what I have to do as quickly as possible… but good luck is not on my side. I have had problems with a few rolls of film and that is why our conversation didn’t go as smooth as I would have liked. I know you understand me; today I am traveling to a town that can be reached, in about 4 hours by car, 3 hours on horses and another three, walking, according to what they have told me.

If I don’t call you it is because on Wednesday I will be going again to another town, located, about 4 hours by car and 8 eight hours on foot (round trip). They say it is a “liberated area”, meaning under the Shining Path control, “terrucos” (terrorists), as they called them.

Money is getting short, I only have enough to eat. I am hoping to be with you on Thursday.

Do not worry. If you call me, please, I am always surrounded by people  who are spying either for the Shining Path or for the government, according to what everyone says, and we can not differentiate them. This is the reason why I don’t want to involve you in case the wrong information gets to Lima, due to misinterpretation. That is why I really can’t talk to you in detail. Take care of yourself as much as I do. I love you, Willy.”


WILLY RETTO / ¿Universos paralelos?

Por Fiorella Lavado

En un momento algo pasa, puede ser una idea, una emoción, una reacción ante algún acto que estremece el alma. Un momento de pasión, un golpe,  el sentirse impotente por saber la verdad y no poder decirla, por saber qué hacer y no poder moverse por encontrarse en una intersección y querer seguir todas las rutas  posibles.

Se disparan los átomos hacia todas las direcciones una explosión que envía información a través del tiempo hacia el pasado y futuro.

Qué fue lo que motivo a un grupo de hombres a seguir un camino desolado fue acaso la búsqueda de la verdad la persecución del ego la pasión por el trabajo.

Qué sigue motivando a otro grupo de hombres y mujeres a hacer lo mismo a lanzarse al vacío de la creación a explorar las rutas que se han tejido como venas en las montañas por el olvido y el paso del tiempo.

Nos encontramos frente a una situación que no podemos relegar más vivimos en distintos países pertenecemos a distintas generaciones, vidas, experiencias sin embargo somos los mismos los que hemos vivido la represión los que hemos visto cómo nos dividen las paredes invisibles de nuestra ignorancia por la vida del otro los que hemos visto la injusticia y participado silenciosamente de ella.

Veo un plano cerrado dentro de los ojos de Willy Retto en ellos, se refleja su atacante la escena es intensa la voces enredadas de la confusión de saber que se acerca el final hay un golpe, sangre silencio-

En un sueño Willy se presenta a Carmen en el camino hacia el final se acuerda de ella, que es ella quien puede actuar de catalizador, de voz…  pero como en el mundo de los sueños no hay tiempo ni espacio sino momento preciso, ella sueña años después, en el momento preciso y él le regala esa pasión que le abren las puertas a los universos paralelos para poder convertirse en la narradora silenciosa, la que lo escucha.   Los tiempos se entrelazan; la historia no lineal; la máquina del tiempo está dentro de uno mismo.

Willy y el grupo antes de partir por las callecitas, habla con su novia le expresa sus emociones mira a la gente la gente lo mira a él, y  se va grabando, tallando en la arquitectura de las mentes, en las paredes, en los perfiles de las montañas.

Él sabe que lo persiguen los fantasmas, que ya están al tanto de sus intenciones, de su atrevimiento a explorar el futuro.

Las máscaras de los enemigos se reflejan en las ventanas,  son sombras en el verde, cortan abruptamente el plano largo.

En todo momento le susurra a su padre en el oído, nos grita a nosotros más lejanos, que sigamos adelante como él, hasta el final.



Publicada por el diario “El Observador”    4-2-83


El siguiente es el texto de la carta de Willy Retto:

“Espero sepas comprender el por qué de mi actitud por teléfono. Por favor comprende, no quiero que te preocupes por nada, me estoy cuidando lo más que puedo… disculpa cielo mi letra.

Te escribo desde un taxi, rumbo al aeropuerto, mi pata… viaja muy temprano y la entrada al aeropuerto es restringida, ya que es zona militar. Ocurren aquí muchas cosas que jamás en mi vida pensé pasar y vivirlas tan de cerca. Veo la pobreza de la gente, el temor de los campesinos y la tensión que se vive es pareja para la PIP, GC y Ejército como para Sendero y gente inocente.

Procuro hacer las cosas lo más rápido posible y estar lo más pronto posible… pero la buena suerte me acompañó muy poco,  ya que tuve problemas con unos rollos, motivo por el cual la conversación no fue del todo agradable. Sé que me entiendes; hoy viajo a un pueblo que queda a, según dicen, no sé, 4 horas en carro, 3 a caballo y 3 a pie.

Si no te llamo es porque el miércoles salgo nuevamente a otro pueblo, donde son 4 horas en carro y 8 horas (ida y vuelta) a pie. Dicen que es zona liberada, o sea zona de Sendero, “Terrucos” como aquí les dicen.

La plata se acorta y ya casi no tengo dinero más que para comer, espero estar a tu lado el jueves.

No te preocupes. Si me llamas, por favor, siempre tengo gente a mi alrededor y dicen, es gente de Inteligencia, tanto de Sendero que no sabes quienes son, como del Estado, motivo por el cual no quiero comprometerte, por posibles malas informaciones en Lima quizás cambien. Por eso no te puedo hablar bien. Cuídate mucho como yo lo hago. Te ama Willy”.

A massacre shrouded in fog

My participation in this film, the emotional ties to this project, and my first encounters with Peru were all a byproduct of serendipity.

In January 2010 I was in New York City for a few days and, thanks to a friend of mine, met the protagonist of this incredible story, Carmen Valdivieso Hulbert. Almost immediately, Carmen told me about Uchuraccay, a documentary she was working on. It all began as a dream, the unconscious mind’s favorite place to reflect and reveal.


In 2005 Carmen was sleeping and dreamed that she was attending her documentary exhibit in a festival. After talking to an audience about the film she meets Willy Retto, one of the eight journalists killed in Uchuraccay in 1983. In the dream Willy thanked her for the film and for restoring a sense of justice to the murdered journalists and their families.

Carmen knew five out of the eight journalists killed in Uchuraccay—she worked with them regularly and had left Peru only three months before the brutal murder of her friends and colleagues. She was haunted by this story, had carried for decades the memory of Uchuraccay in her heart. It flowed through her blood for thirty years, until she finally decided that the story needed to be told.

Maybe it was this necessity—a kind of liberation from the past; a story that could somehow heal the wounds of this horrible event—maybe it was this very urgency that struck me and convinced me to take up Carmen’s offer.

Only 15 days after our chance encounter, I found myself catapulted into Peru. My perception of the country was immediately shaped by this bloody story that stood out from the country’s more recent past. In the ’80s and ’90s Peru was consumed by civil war between a Maoist revolutionary insurgency—called Sendero Luminoso—and the state government. As I walked through the streets of Lima and scouted the hills of Ayacucho, I began to get a sense of the details and background of the deaths of these eight journalists.

Soon I realized just how risky making this film would be. Our crew was repeatedly stopped by the military, who interrogated us about the motivations behind our trip. Our pickup drivers who accompanied us to Uchuraccay were frightened when it began to turn dark—they nervously asked us to turn back to a safer part of the country. Fear was etched on the faces of those who lived in the mountains as they recounted their stories in front of the camera.

During our interviews, we listened to the tales of oppression and tyranny that the Sendero Luminoso and various factions of the Peruvian army perpetuated for more than ten years. Bit by bit I gathered more and more details about the journalists’ murder, and I myself began to build an idea of what led to their disappearance. The story is very complicated, the sources debatable, and the information sometimes uncertain, given the remote location of the event. Everything is obscured.

ImageThis story is shrouded in fog, and so is the land where it took place: when you peer out from the tip of the Andes toward Uchuraccay, everything is covered in a thick whiteness. It seems like the land is its own special place in space and time, in a kind of paradise (for those who believe in it).

To understand this story you have to understand its context: in 1982 the area of Ayacucho was declared “an area of emergency” under the political-military command of General Clemente Noel. A few months beforehand, the revolutionary group Sendero Luminoso had effectively declared war against the Peruvian state. The country was at the dawn of a brutal civil war: a war without rules, a war where the state was fighting an enemy with no foreign face or flag. The Sendero Luminoso brought on terrorist attacks within the region through brutal tactics. The bodies of dead dogs stuffed with TNT were hung from lampposts; when they were taken down they exploded. On the one hand, the population was in the stinging grip of these terrorists—when they came, they took everything from the peasants, killing whoever wasn’t in favor of the revolution. On other hand, the terror of being repressed by state-backed force of arms was just as strong.


In the middle of all this was the massacre of Uchuraccay. Some days before, news broke out that in Huaychao—not far from Uchuraccay—villagers had killed a group of terrorists belonging to the Sendero Luminoso. But when the official photos of this killing came out, they showed the bodies of young boys and girls. Eight journalists decided to find out more.

Denied a request to use a government helicopter, the reporters decided to make their way to Huaichao by foot. A driver accompanied them as far as Tambo, and from there they followed a trail in the mountains 4000 meters above the sea level. The eight decided to hire Juan Argumedo—the cousin of one of the journalists, Octavio Infante—as a guide. The nine were killed upon their arrival in Uchuraccay.

The news of their deaths reached the city after two days, and other top journalists were able to reach Uchuraccay only three days after the disappearance of their colleagues. Among them was Lucio Morales, a correspondent for Diario de Marka, who was able to interview the farmers of Uchuraccay in Quechua, the native language of that people. The photos and testimonies sent to Diario de Marka after the massacre were immediately published. They would give anyone the chills.

With thirty years past, there is much evidence and many testimonies to counter the “official” version of the story that the government commissioned months after the massacre. Presided over by future Nobel Prize winner Mario Vargas Llosa, the commission declared that the journalists were killed by farmers in the area due to confusion and miscommunication. Among the explanations given for this “confusion” was the language barrier between Quechua, the language of the natives, and Spanish, the journalists’ language. Ignorance of the indigenous people, who didn’t know a camera from a weapon, led them to believe the journalists were really terrorists. But these tenuous explanations by the commission of Vargas Llosa didn’t truly convince anyone—two of the eight journalists regularly translated Quechua into Spanish. Too much evidence was overlooked.

Even today this incident is immersed in dense fog; many people who were aware of the true details have mysteriously disappeared. There are many questions left unanswered: who killed these journalists? Why? What did they discover that someone didn’t want them to know?


After nine years of research and three years of production, we’ve come to the final stage in the Uchuraccay documentary. We have produced 80% of the film thus far with our personal resources. In order to raise the funds necessary for its completion we have decided to launch a new crowdfunding campaign on the popular website indiegogo.com. Anyone can contribute from $5 to $5,000, and receive different thank you gifts.

We have less than two months days to reach our goal of $40,000, allowing us to finish the production of the film and pay for the post-production, as well as the rights for archival material. If we don’t reach $40,000 by April 2 at 11.59 pm. (EST). Contrary to a previous campaign in 2013, in this platform we can keep the money you donate even if we do not meet our goal. Crowdfunding is risky but is a direct form of democracy which protects film independence: Through pledging, anyone can become a producer of any story and contribute to its diffusion.


Nine percent of the film’s profits will go to the families of the victims: Eduardo de la Piniella, Pedro Sánchez and Félix Galiván of Diario de Marka; Jorge Luis Mendivil and Willy Retto of El Observador; Jorge Sedano of La Repùblica; Amador García of Oiga magazine; Octavio Infante of the journal Noticias de Ayacucho, and their guide, Juan Argumedo.

Michele Cinque