by Steve Fainaru, Boston Globe
When Luz Dina Villoslada was born, her complexion was so light her parents nicknamed her "La Gringa."
Blond hair billowed from her head "like cotton," her mother recalled. She seemed to glow as she flitted about the village, a 4-year-old girl selling ice cream to Sunday soccer players.
Luz Dina was the only person in her family to graduate high school. For years, she believed a career in nursing would help her lift her family out fo the poverty and violence that had ravaged their village in the Peruvian highlands.
But her plan changed dramatically four years ago, according to her brother. One evening, the son of a wealthy coffee plantation owner abducted and raped her 14-year-old sister, then paid off the local police and judge to avoid charges.
"She told me, 'My family is never going to be trampled by the upper classes again,'" Luciano, her older brother, recounted this week. "And then she disappeared."
Luz Dina, then 16, joined the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement. Last Tuesday, at age 20, she was one of the 14 rebels killed when Peruvian commandos made a surprise attack on teh Japanese embassy compound, liberating 71 hostages and ending a 126-day seige.
Amid worldwide acclaim for President Fujimori and an outpouring of grief for a Supreme Court justice and two soldiers who died in the assault, the fallen rebels have remained largely anonymous. Except for the two guerrilla leaders, the government has refused to release their names to the public or their bodies to their families.
Luz Dina, who used "La Gringa" as a nom de guerre, was one of two female rebels inside the compound. Reports from several sources said the two women were executed after shouting "We Surrender! We Surrender!"
President Alberto Fujimori has denied reports that most of the rebels were executed on the spot, but he admitted in an Associated Press interview that he gave an order to "neutralize" them.
Luz Dina's life, as described by her family, provides one portrait of the rebels, many of whom were recruited as teenagers, lured by promises of steady cash and payback for injustices committed by an oppressive government.
As much as anything, her story demonstrates how the vastly different worlds of a polarized society collided within the compound. The siege brought together extremes represented by the walled mansions of San Isidro, where the privileged and elite of Peru gathered for a party December to honor the Japanese emporer's birthday, and the remote villages that contributed to the guerrilla ranks.
"How many people are dying of hunger?" said Enrique Villoslada, a 46-year-old fruit vendor and Luz Dina's father. "How many of us have been mistreated by the authorities? How many people have begged for justice and haven't gotten it? Justice is for those who have money. Not for us."
"Look how they treat us," said Elijia Rodriguez, Luz Dina's mother, seething as she watched television coverage of the funeral of Supreme Court Justice Carlos Giusti Acuna. "They treat them like heroes, while our daughter is treated like a dog."
Luz Dina was born in a village called Puerto Victoria in Chanchamayo, a municipality about eight hours by road east of Lima. The third of nine children, she grew up in a hut with a packed dirt floor and a thatched roof. The family earned barely enough to live, and the children were required to work almost as soon as they could walk.
All through grammar school and high school, Luz Dina attended classes in the morning and sold fruit and sandwiches on the streets in the afternoon. According to her family, she avoided the rebels until finishing high school, spending most of her time working and studying and believing that nursing eventually would be her ticket out.
But most of her life was spent surrounded by the violence that altered the ambitions of a whole generation of Peruvians. Since 1980, when the Maoist Shining Path rebels began a war against the state, about 30,000 people have died and hundreds of thousands have been displaced. As the government fought back with a brutal counterinsurgency campaign, several thousand people eventually joind the Shining Path and the Tupac Amaru, which was founded as an alternative guerrilla organization in 1984.
After she finished high school, her relatives said, Luz worked in Lima as a maid, but soon returned to Chanchamayo because she missed her family. Family members said she had become increasingly frustrated by the violence that surrounded her. Relatives said they often were harassed by Peruvian security forces. Soldiers and local police officers sometimes extorted money and were involved in beatings of local farmers.
The final straw, said her brother Luciano, came in April 1993. The son of a local coffee grower, he said, abducted one of Luz Dina's sisters and raped her. The girl became pregnant and gave birth to a daughter, now 3 years old, who is deaf and mute.
Luz Dina's father went to the police after the incident, but no charges were filed. Family members said the rapist bribed authorities to drop the investigation, a transaction made easier by the fact that the victim's family were subsistence farmers.