News Monitor for Guatemala, 2001 to 2004
Guatemala ratified the Genocide Convention (Español) on January 13, 1950, the sixth nation to ratify.
Guatemala ratified the Geneva Conventions of 1949 on May 14, 1950 and ratified the Additional Geneva Protocols of 1977 on October 19, 1987.
Guatemala has not yet become a party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (CPI Español).
Reuters 26 Feb 2004 President apologises for wartime deaths February 26 2004 at 06:00AM Guatemala City - Guatemala's new president asked forgiveness on Wednesday for the state's role in the country's long civil war, but stopped short of calling the widespread wartime killings of Mayan Indians genocide. Oscar Berger, who took office last month, said he was asking forgiveness from "every one of the victims' relatives for the suffering that came from that fratricidal conflict." About 200 000 people were killed in Guatemala's 36-year civil war, which pitted Marxist guerrillas against a series of right-wing governments and ended with peace accords in 1996. Most of the victims were Mayan Indian peasants, many killed in massacres during army or paramilitary sweeps through rural areas.Berger, a conservative businessman, pledged $9-million to compensate civilians who lost relatives and property in the conflict. He said the amount was "important but insufficient" and promised more funds when state finances were more stable. Berger made his comments at a ceremony in the national palace on the fifth anniversary of a UN-backed "truth commission" report that concluded the army targeted Maya Indians in "scorched-earth" tactics to isolate rebel groups. Hundreds of civil war survivors demonstrated in the streets outside the palace on Wednesday to demand the government accept the truth commission's conclusion the civilian deaths amounted to genocide. "It is impossible to relaunch the peace agreements without taking into account the truth commission recommendations, including justice for genocide," said Christina Laur, deputy director of the rights group Caldh. The Caldh group is leading efforts to build criminal cases against senior military officers, including former dictator Efrain Rios Montt, for crimes against humanity. The new government's head of security and defence, Otto Perez Molina, himself a retired general, denied genocide had taken place in Guatemala. "There was no genocide because there was no attempt to exterminate a race. This was a battleground for the United States and Russia, and communism against capitalism. We provided the dead and they provided the ideology," he said. [ www.berger.com.gt guatemala.gob.gt ]
BBC 9 Jan 2001 Guatemalan defence minister replaced The Guatemalan president, Alfonso Portillo, has dismissed the controversial defence minister, Juan de Dios Estrada, whose appointment led to widespread discontent within the armed forces. The new minister is General Eduardo Arevalo Lacs, who's been linked by human rights groups to a number of massacres during Guatemala's civil war, when he led counter-insurgency operations. General Arevalo will take office on Monday. Correspondents say the appointment is a further signal that Mr Portillo has lost ground to Guatemala's powerful military, a year after taking office with a promise to strengthen civilian control over affairs of state.
BBC 30 Apr 2001, A Guatemalan human rights group says it believes it has found bones belonging to sixty four victims of a massacre dating back to May 1982. The organisation, the Mutual Support Group, said on Sunday that remains had been found in nineteen communal graves near the village of San Antonio Sinache north of the capital, Guatemala City. The group said the victims are believed to have been murdered by the army together with local villagers who had been formed into so-called "civil self-defence patrols". It said that they appeared to have been tortured, attacked with both machetes and gun fire and in some cases raped before being killed and then burnt.
Boston Globe 13 May 2001, By Christine MacDonald, Globe Correspondent, Five years after a peace accord ended more than three decades of civil war, Guatemala is finding it difficult to shed its legacy of violence. In the 17 months since the hard-line Guatemalan Republican Front took power, assassinations, death threats, and attacks have escalated against opposition politicians, indigenous and campesino activists, human rights workers, and members of the country's judiciary, say human rights advocates. Last weekend was particularly violent. Saturday afternoon, an American nun was shot dead as she drove down a street in the capital. One day earlier, two armed men kidnapped a Guatemalan activist and threatened her before dropping her off in outskirts of the city several hours later. Observers say the situation has deteriorated as court cases over the 1998 killing of Roman Catholic Bishop Juan Jose Gerardi and other attacks make their way through the judicial system. The cases have thrown an unwelcome spotlight on a number of former military officers, many of whom continue to wield power in the Central American country. Since last year, a half-dozen attacks have targeted members of the legal team that built a case against three men with military backgrounds and two church workers who were charged in the Catholic prelate's murder. Witnesses and judges have also been attacked, including a judge hearing the Gerardi case. About a week before the trial started in March, her home was damaged by live grenades thrown into her backyard as police officers guarded the front door, according to a report she filed with the Association of Judges and Magistrates. Yolanda Perez Ruiz, the association president, said eight judges have been killed since last fall. ''This is an intolerable attack on the independence of the judiciary,'' Perez said. ''It is a strategy to tie the hands of judges. What worries me the most is that the government hasn't concerned itself to make a clear statement. Not once has it expressed its repudiation of the violence.'' Gerardi presided over a commission investigating massacres of civilians and other war crimes. He was killed in April 1998, three days after releasing a report that blamed the Guatemalan government for 93 percent of the wartime human rights violations. Oscar Chavarria, a lawyer with the Myra Mack Foundation, said his group is seeing ''a reactivation of human rights violations by the state'' since President Alfonso Portillo took power in January 2000. ''We are returning to the past when the heads of state considered us their enemies,'' said Chavarria. The foundation and several groups have published scathing human rights reports in recent months that have attracted the attention of a UN Human Rights ombudsman. He arrived last week for three days of meetings with activists and government officials but has yet to issue recommendations. The government has played down the problem. Ricardo Gatica Trejo, spokesman for Interior Minister Byron Barrientos, a former military intelligence officer, said organized crime is a bigger problem facing law enforcement. ''The violation of human rights in Guatemala is not a serious problem. There are isolated cases carried out by individuals. Nevertheless, the government is making a constant effort to monitor the situation,'' said Gatica. Since the peace accord, the government has downsized the army and made some legal reforms stipulated in the agreement. But it has postponed programs to improve police training and hire more civilian police officers. According to a report released May 3 by the United Nations' Verification Mission, the human rights monitoring body in Guatemala, much remains to be done to reform the national police force. The mission concluded that since the start of 2000, police have become the ''principle responsible parties for the gravest human rights violations.'' Portillo came to power with a mandate to be tough on crime. But less than halfway through a four-year term, he is being widely criticized for being ineffectual in fighting corruption and crime that provide cover for political violence. In Guatemala, as with nearby Nicaragua and El Salvador, the end of civil war has given way to a wave of violent crime by organized bands and street gangs. ''In the war years, one would know where an attack came from. It was either one or the other,'' said Perez, referring to the military and leftist guerrilla forces. ''Today, it is difficult to identify'' attackers. Such is the case of Sister Barbara Ford, a Roman Catholic nun originally from New York who was gunned down May 5 when she left a small town in the Quiche region to buy a water heater. Investigators say it is not clear if she was killed in an attempt to steal her pickup truck, which the killers abandoned two blocks away, or for her work with war victims in a region devastated by the war. Her colleagues say it was a political killing. A memorial service last week in Guatemala City drew hundreds of human rights workers and friends and declarations of outrage from 1992 Nobel Prize recipient Rigoberta Menchu. Exacerbating Portillo's political troubles, observers say, is a power struggle within his Guatemalan Republican Front. Portillo has seen his political stock fall dramatically in opinion polls. A chief rival is retired General Efrain Rios Montt, who ruled the country in the early 1980s during the worst period of arbitrary executions, forced disappearances, and torture, according to the Gerardi report. He is the Front's founder and today serves as president of the country's legislature. ''Nobody knows who has the power,'' said Jorge Lavarreda, an analyst with the National Center for Economic Research, an independent think tank. This story ran on page A19 of the Boston Globe on 5/13/2001.
AP 24 May 2001 By RICARDO MIRANDA, SAN MARTIN JILOTEPEQUE, Guatemala (AP) - Maria Julia Elias quietly stared at the bones and wondered if this was the end of her 19-year search for her husband, who was taken by soldiers during Guatemala's civil war. The 46-year-old Mayan woman watched along with several others Wednesday as anthropologists concluded a two-month excavation of 21 mass graves, where they recovered the remains of 66 bodies. Elias lost hope long ago of finding Salomon Nutzus alive. She hopes that by finding his remains, she can close a painful chapter in her life. ``I just want to give him a Christian burial,'' said Elias, who plans to travel to Guatemala City to help forensic experts identify the remains. Anthropologists said the victims were killed as part of the army's effort to keep rebel forces from invading the country's capital. ``They arrived to our town in the night and took everyone,'' Elias said. ``I escaped with my seven children, but Salomon was captured.'' The United Nations has described Guatemala's 36-year war between leftist guerrillas and hardline state forces as a genocide against the country's Mayan population. An estimated 200,000 people were killed before peace accords were signed in 1996. Soldiers swept through towns, massacring people to curb support of the largely Indian guerrilla fighters, said Fredy Peccerelli, president of the Forensic Anthropologic Foundation of Guatemala. San Martin Jilotepeque, about 50 miles outside Guatemala City, saw heavy combat. ``The army feared the uniting of a weak urban guerrilla force with fighters from the countryside, that is why San Martin Jilotepeque was so important,'' said Peccerelli, whose group co-sponsored the excavation. The Coordination of Widows and Orphans of Guatemala, which also sponsored the excavations, followed tips from family members and poked through dirt to find the graves. The group is preparing a lawsuit against the army and local commanders who ordered the killings. No one has been charged. The forensic foundation has recovered the remains of 238 bodies from six excavations since January. In 1994, foundation scientists uncovered 111 bodies buried after a 1982 massacre in the highlands city of Rabinal, where 172 people were killed. A year later, 85 bodies were uncovered in a mass grave from another 1982 massacre, in northern Baja Verapaz, where 268 people were killed.
Tico Times (Costa Rica) 1 June 2001 Massacred Guatemalan Village Seeks Justice By David Boddiger Special to The Tico Times CUARTO PUEBLO – Mario Cruz, about to be married, stood sweating before 400 people in a tiny church in this community, located in the sweltering jungle 350 kilometers north of Guatemala City. This was no ordinary wedding. Cruz, 26, and his young bride were wed on the 19th anniversary of the largest massacre in Guatemalan history. On March 14, 1982, the army entered Cuarto Pueblo and for four days tortured, raped, shot and burned 362 civilians. The counterinsurgency operation was part of a new "scorched earth" policy to eradicate guerrillas operating in the area by eliminating their support base, mainly civilians. ... Residents are attempting to rebuild the cooperative system established in the 1960s and 1970s by Maryknoll missionaries. The land given Cuarto Pueblo residents, mainly indigenous Mayas, was purchased by Father Guillermo Woods, who was killed along with four other U.S. citizens in a 1976 plane crash. Witnesses say Woods’ small plane was shot down by the army. Although the Peace Accords call for land distribution to peasants, Cruz said the government has shown little interest in implementing them. "The accords have lost momentum," he explained. "In previous years they were the most important national issue – today they have been forgotten and the army is still in our community." Each year more than 400 people make the difficult journey to Cuarto Pueblo from all corners of Guatemala to commemorate the massacre’s anniversary. This year survivors are particularly anxious, as many have already testified in a case being built against the former military high command on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity. The case was filed by the Center for Human Rights Legal Action in May 2000, against former military president, Gen. Romeo Lucas García, currently in exile in Venezuela; his brother, former General Chief of Staff Benedicto Lucas García; and former Defense Minster René Mendoza Paloma. The three men are accused of 916 civilian deaths between October 1981 and March 1982, when Lucas García was ousted by a military coup. The center began collecting victims’ testimony four years ago, and its legal advisor to the case, Carlos Loarca, said that although 19 years have passed, many victims are still too scared to talk. "They’re too scared to testify because the counterinsurgency model still exists in their communities. Former members of the Civil Patrol Units (vigilante groups armed by the military) continue to threaten witnesses." If brought to trial, the case will become the first attempt to try former Guatemalan military leaders on charges of genocide in Guatemalan courts. However, according to Loarca, the case is proceeding slowly. "I expect this case to drag out five years," he said. Guatemala’s second genocide case is slated to open next week, when the center files charges against retired general and current Congressional President Efraín Ríos Montt for alleged crimes committed while he was head of a military coup regime from March 1982 to August 1983. In 1999, a similar case was filed in Spain by indigenous leader and Nobel Prize laureate Rigoberta Menchú. Last year, Judge Guillermo Ruíz said the case should first be tried in Guatemala. The center’s cases will determine the outcome of the Spanish case. "We are basing our case on the experience of war crimes tribunals in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, as well as trials against former Argentine military leaders, and of course, the Pinochet case in Chile," Loarca said. Meanwhile, in Cuarto Pueblo, painful memories are still fresh and returned refugees like Cruz are finding it hard to adjust. "Life here is harder than it was in Mexico,’’ he said. "But we have to struggle to keep the land that was owned by those who were killed. We have to continue with the case against Lucas García, so the past will not be repeated."
Los Angeles Times 6 June 2001 By T. CHRISTIAN MILLER Eleven communities nearly wiped out two decades ago today will file the first lawsuit in Central America accusing a sitting political figure of genocide. The lawsuit, by ethnic Maya in Guatemala's northern and central mountains, charges that the current head of Congress, Efrain Rios Montt, presided over a brutal policy of racial extermination as the nation's dictator in the early 1980s. The suit is the first step that community members hope will bring justice to those who orchestrated the deaths of more than 200,000 people, most of them Maya, during this country's 36-year civil war. It also marks a historic turning point in the effort to close old wounds in a country struggling to come to terms with a legacy of repression and brutality unmatched in Central America during the 1980s. For the first time, massacre survivors intend to publicly step forward en masse to identify those responsible for the killings. "It is good to know what happened, to clear up the past," said Juan Manuel Jeronimo, 56, who survived a massacre of 267 people in 1982 in this remote hamlet in the Guatemalan highlands. "That is why we lived: to testify and tell the truth." Rios Montt turned down a request for an interview with the Los Angeles Times, and his representatives did not return phone calls Tuesday. But military officials have denied accusations of massacres, frequently insisting that those killed were leftist guerrillas who died in battle. Many in the military discount the charge of genocide by rightly pointing out that the Maya fought both for guerrillas and for the army and paramilitary self-defense groups. The Guatemalan justice system allows civil parties such as the 11 communities to file a suit to force a criminal investigation. They become a party to any eventual prosecution of the accused. If convicted, Rios Montt could face up to 30 years in prison. Few political analysts, however, believe the suit will bring down Rios Montt, who controls not only the Guatemalan Congress but also the political party of current President Alfonso Portilla. The Guatemalan justice system is famously corrupt, often unable to resolve even the simplest crimes.
BBC 8 June 2001 A Guatemalan court has sentenced three army officers and a priest to between 20 and 30 years in prison for the murder of Roman Catholic Bishop Juan Gerardi in 1998. Among those sentenced was a former military intelligence chief, Colonel Disrael Lima Estrada, who prosecutors accused of masterminding the killing. They said Bishop Gerardi, head of the church's human rights office, was bludgeoned to death to keep him from testifying in possible trials over atrocities committed during Guatemala's 36-year civil war. The trial has been seen as a test of Guatemala's justice system by human rights activists, who believe the murder was carried out on the highest orders. Damaging report Catholic church lawyers believe former President Alvaro Arzu was involved in planning the killing, and requested the judges to order an investigation. Gerardi released a damaging report into wartime atrocities Mr Arzu used parliamentary immunity to avoid testifying. Gerardi was killed two days after releasing a report which blamed the military for 95% of the atrocities committed during the civil war which ended in 1996. Some 150,000 people are believed to have been killed in the conflict, and more than 50,000 disappeared, but so far most of the crimes have gone unpunished. Key testimony Colonel Lima was sentenced along with his son, Captain Byron Lima Oliva and Jose Obdulio Villanueva, both members of the presidential guard. All three were sentenced to 30 years in jail. Gerardi's assistant, Reverend Mario Orantes, found guilty of acting as an accomplice, was given a 20-year prison term. The bishop's cook, Margarita Lopez, was found innocent of the same charges. The court said it based its ruling largely on the testimony of the key prosecution witness, Ruben Chanax, a homeless man who claimed he had been hired by the army officers. Mr Chanax said he had been told to spy on Bishop Gerardi, and to alter the scene of the crime before the police arrived. He told the court he had been warned that someone would die. Death threats Human rights groups and church organisations held a vigil outside the court as the verdict was read amid tight security. Two investigating judges, three key witnesses and at least one prosecutor fled Guatemala in fear of their lives. Flor de Maria Garcia, the final investigating magistrate, said she had received death threats at every step of the process. On the eve of the trial, which began in March, a bomb exploded outside the house of one of the three judges hearing the case.
BBC 14 June 2001, Two former presidents of Guatemala are to face investigation on charges of genocide following a landmark judicial ruling. Romeo Lucas Garcia and Efrain Rios Montt - who ruled the country during its bloody 36-year civil war - are accused of ordering massacres of Mayan Indians between 1978 and 1983. Prosecutors will conduct a careful investigation that I will personally oversee Judge Marco Antonio Posada Human rights groups say the decision - the first time a Guatemalan court has agreed to investigate the allegations - reflects a welcome change of attitude among the country's judiciary. Although there is no guarantee either man will be formally charged, campaigners see the move as a major victory in their fight to bring the perpetrators of the killings to justice. Genocide policy The court passed separate rulings on Mr Lucas Garcia, who won a rigged election in 1978, and his successor Mr Rios Montt, who seized power in a coup four years later. Rios Montt: "Nothing to hide" Both men have been accused of conducting a policy of genocide against the Mayans, who were believed to be supporting left-wing rebels. Two years ago, a United Nations truth commission report found that Mr Rios Montt in particular oversaw a scorched earth policy, reducing hundreds of Indian villages to ashes. About 200,000 Guatemalans died in the civil war, in which the left-wing guerrillas fought state forces. Fighting ended following in peace accords in December 1996 'Nothing to hide' Mr Rios Montt is currently serving as the leader of Guatemala's Congress and as such he enjoys immunity from prosecution. A party spokesman said he would not comment on the ruling, but in the past he has insisted that he has nothing to hide. Mr Lucas Garcia, who lives in Venezuela, is reportedly suffering from Alzheimer's disease and has not made any public statement for several years.
Miami Herald 18 July 2001 GUATEMALA CITY -- A mob killed eight people in a remote town in northern Guatemala after accusing the victims of local highway robberies, police said Tuesday. The killings took place Sunday in Secoyala, 250 miles north of the capital, Guatemala City, said police spokesman Faustino Sánchez. Local residents first captured a 17-year-old boy, interrogating him and beating him until he named other suspects. The residents then searched for the others and captured eight people, torturing them and burning them alive, Rivera said. When the police arrived, they discovered the bodies.
Reuters 7 Dec 2001 Guatemala Move Defended By REUTERS GUATEMALA CITY, Dec. 6 (Reuters) — President Alfonso Portillo today defended his decision to put a former general in charge of national security. Rights groups fear the move could lead to greater militarization. Mr. Portillo removed Interior Minister Byron Barrientos last week after he became embroiled in accusations of corruption, replacing him with a former defense minister, Eduardo Arevalo Lacs. Rights groups say naming someone with close ties to the military violates the 1996 accords that ended a 36-year civil war between the government and leftist guerrillas. They also hold Arevalo Lacs partly responsible for the 1982 massacre of as many as 300 Maya Indians, although the allegations have not been proved.
Reuters 11 Dec 2001 Kin get apology, cash after massacre By Greg Brosnan, GUATEMALA CITY - President Alfonso Portillo paid Guatemala's first ever compensation to survivors of an army massacre, publicly apologizing yesterday for ''shameful acts'' committed by security forces in a war against leftist rebels. In a symbolic ceremony, Portillo handed a check for $1.8 million to the families of 226 men, women, and children killed by soldiers and paramilitaries in the village of Las Dos Erres in 1982 at the height of Guatemala's 36-year civil war. The massacre, in which rights groups say more than 300 people were killed, was one of hundreds during the conflict between leftist guerrillas and a string of right-wing governments, which ended with peace talks in 1996. Portillo called the payout ''the beginning of a new step forward for human rights in Guatemala,'' and said it would pave the way for future payments relating to other massacres. ''Today it's down to me to humbly ask all the victims of Las Dos Erres for forgiveness,'' he said in a somber speech. ''I know that life has no price,'' he said. ''But this is a historical message that the state recognizes its responsibility for these acts that so shame us.'' Thelma Aldama, a 36-year-old woman from Las Dos Erres who fled to Guatemala City after her father was killed in the massacre, said that she would use her share of the cash to buy some land, but that no amount of money would make up for her loss. ''The wounds are too deep,'' she said, on the verge of tears. Portillo's close links to former dictator Efrain Rios Montt, who governed the country at the time of the Las Dos Erres massacre and who now presides over Congress, have led critics to question his human rights credentials. But soon after taking power in January 2000, he acknowledged that security forces were to blame for the events of December 1982 in Las Dos Erres, thus becoming the first Guatemalan president to admit the government's responsibility for a massacre. Yesterday's ceremony was marred by rights groups' claims that a former general, recently appointed to the senior Cabinet post of interior minister, may be linked to the 1982 bloodbath. In accusations that have never been proved, critics say former general Eduardo Arevalo Lacs trained soldiers who led the killing. They have asked for his role in the massacre and those of other military men similarly accused to be fully investigated.
Reuters 20 Apr 2002 GUATEMALA Guatemalan human rights worker shot dead REUTERS in Guatemala City Gunmen on Monday shot and killed a member of a Guatemalan human rights organisation founded by Nobel laureate Rigoberta Menchu, sparking alarm at a time of mounting death threats against activists in the Central American nation. Witnesses said Guillermo Ovalle, 28, an administrative worker for the Menchu organisation, was shot with an automatic rifle by unidentified gunmen while he was ordering a takeout lunch in a Guatemala City restaurant. At least one bystander was struck by bullets in the attack, witnesses said. Officials with the rights organisation said it was not immediately clear if Ovalle was targeted or if he was killed in a robbery attempt at the restaurant. Police indicated they were treating it as a robbery. ''This looks like a robbery but at the same time we got four calls to the office playing terror music down the phone,'' the group's executive director Eduardo de Leon said. He described the music played over the phone as sounding like a soundtrack from a horror film. The group, founded by 1992 Nobel Peace Prize winner and Maya Indian activist Menchu, is campaigning to have former Guatemalan civil-war era dictators tried for genocide. Monday's incident comes as Guatemalan human rights activists investigating abuses during a 1960-96 civil war have said they and their families have been threatened at gunpoint and have received menacing phone calls and letters.
WP 28 Jul 2002 Intimidation in Guatemala Papal Visit Comes as Catholics Raise Fears of New Violence By Kevin Sullivan Washington Post Foreign Service Sunday, July 28, 2002; Page A22 ANTIGUA, Guatemala, July 27 -- Pope John Paul II is scheduled to arrive in Guatemala on Monday as human rights activists, particularly those associated with the Catholic Church, face increasing death threats and other forms of intimidation aimed at preventing exposure of atrocities committed during the country's 36-year civil war. The church here has played a central role in investigating massacres and other crimes committed during the war, which ended with peace accords in 1996. The fighting, the bloodiest of Central America's civil wars in recent decades, resulted in more than 200,000 deaths and disappearances, most at the hands of the military or paramilitary groups working for the government. The war is no longer raging, as it was when the pope first visited in 1983. But the campaign of violence against the church and rights activists has revived fears that the political and military leaders who ordered or committed the wartime violence -- some of whom are still in power -- will drive the country back to levels of brutality not seen in years. In recent weeks a Catholic bishop, at least six priests and officials in the church's human rights office have received death threats. A Catholic church used to store equipment and records for anthropologists exhuming massacre victims was burned to the ground in February. Other church offices have been broken into. Nery Rodenas, executive director of the Archbishop's Human Rights Office, said he and others in his office have received death threats in faxes to their office and telephone calls to their homes. "It's had a very high cost for us," he said. "The pope's visit is important for us because it's an opportunity to show the world what is happening in Guatemala." A leading Catholic bishop, Juan Gerardi Conedera, was bludgeoned to death in 1998, as a report from an investigation he headed was being released. It blamed the Guatemalan military or its paramilitary forces for more than 90 percent of the country's war crimes. Although the government initially insisted that Gerardi's wounds were inflicted by a dog, three military officers were convicted in the case last year and sentenced to 30 years in prison. A priest was sentenced to 20 years as an accessory to the killing. Last week shots were fired at the courthouses where the officers were convicted and where their appeals are being heard. Frank LaRue, of Guatemala's Center for Human Rights Legal Action, said he believes that the shootings were "linked directly to the pope's visit," because in the government's view, "the visit of the pope is a threat." "Bishop Gerardi and the Catholic Church are symbols of the human rights movement here, and the pope has spoken out against poverty and he has challenged the structures of power here," LaRue said. "This is clearly an act of provocation to the Catholic Church." The government dismisses the violence and death threats as the work of common criminals. "Many of these acts are blown out of proportion and are aimed at discrediting the state, especially in light of the pope's visit," said Byron Barrera, spokesman for Guatemala's president, Alfonso Portillo. The 82-year-old pontiff, on his third visit to Guatemala, officially is coming to canonize Guatemala's first saint, Pedro de San Jose Betancourt, a 17th-century Franciscan friar known as the "St. Francis of the Americas" for establishing a hospital and ministering to poor Mayan Indians. In Guatemala City and here in Antigua, a colonial city just west of the capital, posters of "Hermano Pedro," or Brother Pedro, are pasted everywhere and many cars fly small flags bearing his image. As he has in the past, the pope is also expected to call for improved social justice in a country where the majority of wealth is held by a handful of families and business leaders. The U.N. Development Program says at least 83 percent of the country's 11.5 million people live in poverty. The pope's visit is also seen as another attempt to stem the church's losses to the fast-growing ranks of evangelical Protestant groups, which, according to many estimates, now account for 30 to 35 percent of a population that was once nearly exclusively Catholic. But, more than anything, the pope will bring his message of peace to a country with a violent past that seems to be haunting its present. "Guatemala is continuing down the path of lawlessness and terror," Amnesty International said in a recent report. Last Sunday, the offices of a Guatemala City human rights organization that had been investigating the military's involvement in war crimes was ransacked; six computers were stolen, along with files on the military investigation. In April, an accountant working in the organization of Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchu, who is pursuing genocide cases against former and current national leaders, was shot dead. Shortly before he was killed, his office received four calls in which anonymous callers played taped funeral music. Human rights workers and journalists received faxes last month threatening the lives of 11 human rights activists labeled "enemies of the state." Four forensic anthropologists examining skeletons and other evidence of atrocities were forced to leave the country in May because of death threats to them and their families. Several lawyers and judges have also been killed under suspicious circumstances. In June, members of the Civil Defense Patrols, which worked with the military during the war and are accused of countless crimes, took over much of Peten province, blocking access to the famous Mayan ruins at Tikal and stranding 62 tourists. The paramilitary forces were demanding back pay for their bloody service to the government during the war. Facing threats of further violence, the government has agreed to explore a new tax to pay them. "Genocide will not return, nor torture nor disappearances, but the situation is grave," Menchu said recently. "True peace has become a myth." The Catholic Church has had an uncomfortable relationship with Guatemala's political leaders since civil war broke out in 1960. Catholic bishops and priests were leading voices against the growing abuses of the military junta, and simply being a Catholic was dangerous during the war. At the same time, the evangelical Protestant movement was growing rapidly. It was personified by Gen. Efrain Rios Montt, who seized power in a March 1982 military coup, then ruled with a mixture of bloody ruthlessness and Scripture quotations. Many of the war's most brutal killings took place during his 18-month tenure. At 76, he still serves as president of Congress and leader of Portillo's Guatemalan Republican Front party. Rios Montt was antagonistic to John Paul II on the pope's 1983 visit. Three days before his arrival, Rios Montt ordered the execution of six suspected leftist rebels despite pleas from the Vatican to spare them. The pope said he felt insulted by the executions, which he called a "very grave offense against God." The pope has spoken out repeatedly against the efforts of evangelical Protestants to convert Catholics. Evangelicals in Guatemala responded by scrawling "The Beast" across promotional posters for the pope's 1983 visit. During his second trip, in 1996, Protestant leaders roamed the countryside with bullhorns calling him "the Antichrist." Some evangelical leaders say they welcome the pope's visit. But others grumble that the government should not have spent nearly $1 million in preparations for a visit by the leader of a single religion. Some said the church, and the pope, have brought the recent violence on themselves. "The truth is that the Catholic people are very political, and it is lamentable that in the name of God they use religion to manipulate people," said David Munguia, a leader of the Evangelical Alliance of Guatemala. "The pope isn't necessarily the Antichrist, but the general feeling is that he is a candidate."
AP 9 Sept 2002 Remains of 47 found in Guatemala Sergio de Leon, GUATEMALA CITY - Anthropologists digging under a school in Guatemala's northern highlands have unearthed the remains of 47 people killed during the country's 36-year civil war, local media reported Sunday. Human rights activists came to Rabinal, 120 miles north of Guatemala City, after years of testimony from residents who said the bodies of men, woman and children were secretly buried under schools, government buildings and a soccer stadium. In five days of searching, scientists digging up patios and a playground area around Rabinal's grammar school found 12 cemeteries containing skeletons and bones believed to have belonged to 47 people, Juan Carlos Gatica of the Forensic Anthropologic Foundation of Guatemala told the Prensa Libre newspaper. Gatica, who could not be reached for comment, told the newspaper that forensic scientists plan to continue searching under and around the school and other Rabinal buildings for at least the rest of the month. The United Nations has described Guatemala's 1960-1996 war between leftist guerrillas and hardline state forces as a genocide against the country's Mayan population. An estimated 200,000 people were killed before peace accords finally ended the bloodshed. Human rights groups say Rabinal, and other mostly Kekchie and Quiche Mayan communities in mountainous Baja Verapaz province, were the sites of some of the army's most brutal campaigns. The army has denied charges it carried out massacres in the region. This week's excavation marks the largest unearthing of civil war victims since May, when scientists working in San Martin Jilotepeque found the remains of 66 bodies.
Observer UK 22 Sept 2002 Brave sister scents victory in death plot trial Duncan Campbell Twelve years ago, an internationally known anthropologist who trained in England was stabbed to death in a Guatemala City street. Now three senior members of the military alleged to have ordered her killing are finally on trial in what is being greeted by human rights groups as a major test for the country's justice system. On 11 September 1990 Myrna Mack, who had studied at Manchester and Durham universities, was killed, aged 40, on the pavement outside the offices of the Guatemalan Association for the Advancement of the Social Sciences (Avancso), an organisation she had helped to start. The murder came in the wake of work she had been doing with villagers who had been displaced by the military during the long civil war that claimed 200,000 lives and ended in 1996. As part of her work with Avancso, Mack documented the massacres in the rural areas of the country and shared her research results with church and human rights groups. In early September 1990, a group of some of those displaced villagers published a statement in the Guatemalan media criticising the army. Four days later, Mack was stabbed more than 20 times in the street. Her murder was seen as a warning to civil rights groups and anyone involved with them. The detective initially in charge of the case, José Mérida Escobar, was shot and killed shortly after completing a report which had implicated the military and attempts were made to insinuate that Mack had been the victim of a crime of passion. Academics and human rights groups put pressure on the Guatemalan government and Noel de Beteta Alverez, a sergeant major working for a secret military intelligence unit, was charged, convicted and jailed for 25 years for the murder in 1993. But Mack's relatives and friends have always believed that his orders came from senior figures in the military and continued to press for a full investigation. Many potential witnesses fled the country and a total of 12 different judges had examined the case before the trial finally started last week of retired General Edgar Augusto Godoy Gaitán, Colonel Juan Valencia Osorio and Colonel Juan Guillermo Oliva Carrera. The case has been of such international concern that the Inter-American Human Rights Court in Costa Rica has agreed to hear a case against the Guatemalan government for its failure to ensure justice for the Mack family. That case will open in November. The person most responsible for bringing the case to trial is Mack's sister, Helen, who has become a familiar figure in Guatemala over the past decade. Helen Mack, aged 50, is a business administrator and has employed a Guatemalan law that allows private citizens to prosecute cases. Her efforts, despite death threats, to have the case investigated won her Sweden's Right Livelihood Award, sometimes known as the Alternative Nobel Peace Prize. The award helped her to establish the Myrna Mack Foundation, which campaigns for reform of Guatemala's judicial system. 'I have been waiting for so many years for this,' Helen Mack told The Observer. 'I was very sceptical of the judicial system so it was a surprise that it has happened.' She believes that the trial, in front of a tribunal of three judges, is going well: 'I think every day we have been proving all of the elements.' Those who have pressed for the trial are still the subject of threats. In June, Avancso director Clara Arenas was included on a death threat naming 11 human rights activists and journalists. In the first week of the trial a Guatemalan human rights worker in Quiche was murdered and his tongue and eyes cut out.
BBC 11 Oct 2002 Americas 'failing native peoples' Governments have failed to implement agreements Governments throughout the Americas are failing to fulfil their commitments to the region's indigenous peoples, according to a new report. The human rights group Amnesty International says America's native peoples are still one of the most marginalised and poorest communities in the world, discriminated against and often exposed to grave abuses of their fundamental human rights. Many people are forced to sleep on the streets Amnesty published the report to coincide with Columbus or Native American Day, when several countries celebrate the continent's multicultural heritage and mark the arrival in the Americas of Christopher Columbus in 1492. "Basic rights of indigenous communities, including the right to land and to cultural identity in the use of language, education and the administration of justice are systematically violated," the report says. "Racism and discrimination entrenched in most societies make indigenous people more vulnerable to human rights violations including torture and ill-treatment, 'disappearance' and unlawful killings," Amnesty argues. Countries singled out for criticism include: Canada where the killing in 1995 of an Indian man remains unresolved Mexico which Amnesty accuses of weakening guarantees on indigenous constitutional rights Guatemala where Amnesty says almost nothing has been done for Mayans who suffered during more than 30 years of civil war Brazil where a leader of the Xavante people fled his home after receiving death threats Amnesty says governments often fail to implement agreements reached with indigenous communities, which can lead to further mistrust and resentment. Communities downtrodden "I think Amnesty International reaffirms what many of us have been saying for years," said Rosalina Tuyuc of the National Co-ordination of Guatemalan Widows. "In all of Latin America, and especially in Guatemala, there have been no advances in recognising or respecting Indian communities." The report says that in countries such as Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada and Nicaragua, indigenous people trying to reclaim the lands of their ancestors are facing violent opposition from landowners and companies exploiting natural resources. Brazilians face violent opposition from land owners The study found that in Colombia indigenous people often find themselves trapped in the crossfire between the army and their paramilitary allies and left-wing rebels. In Honduras, several native leaders have been killed and no-one has been held responsible for their deaths. It says that in Saskatoon City in Canada police have been accused of routinely leaving what they consider troublesome members of the indigenous community in isolated areas. And in Argentina, more than 100 policemen raided the Toba community in the north of the country, beating and racially abusing the residents. Amnesty is calling on governments to take immediate and concrete action to turn their rhetoric on multiculturalism and indigenous rights into reality.
AP 13 Oct 2002 Indians protest Columbus holiday By Juan Carlos Llorca, COLOTENANGO, Guatemala -- Thousands of Indians blocked highways across Central America and Mexico on Saturday, protesting Columbus Day and celebrating the region's Indian heritage. Organizers of marches in Guatemala had originally predicted that participants would close Guatemala's borders with Mexico, Honduras and El Salvador, but only a few crossings were blocked. Police and soldiers were sent out across the region to prevent violence, but no major disturbances were reported. In Guatemala, 1,000 protesters blocked a highway near Colotenango, 170 miles northeast of Guatemala City near the border with Mexico. Indian farmers also put up barricades on four other northern highways in the nearby Peten region to protest the construction of a Mexican hydroelectric dam farther up the Usumacinta River. Opponents say it will flood Mayan archaeological sites. Saturday's protests coincided with the anniversary of Christopher Columbus' discovery of America in 1492. Many Indian groups oppose Columbus Day celebrations, arguing that the Europeans' arrival marked the start of the Indians' fight to maintain their traditions and land. Across the border in Mexico, President Vicente Fox praised the Indian marches, saying they were a "recovery of (the Indian groups') dignity, identity, culture, history." In Mexico's southern Chiapas state, supporters of the Zapatista rebels closed off roads to a military base and blocked highways with ropes and dirty shirts. They urged the government to cancel its Plan Puebla-Panama, which calls for greater development in Central America and impoverished southern Mexico. And they called on the Mexican government to comply with the Zapatista rebels' demands, including pulling all troops out of the tense region, freeing Zapatista sympathizers from jail, arresting paramilitary members and canceling plans to create a free-trade region of the Americas. Fox's efforts at reaching a peace agreement with the rebels dissolved in early 2001 when Congress watered down an Indian rights bill and the Zapatistas broke off contact with the government. Thousands also marched through the streets of Mexico City, calling on the government to end widespread discrimination against the country's millions of Indians and provide them with better education, jobs and living standards. In Managua, Nicaragua, Indians protested free-trade agreements and the privatization of government utilities in front of the Inter-American Development Bank's offices.
Amnesty International 4 Oct 2002 Guatemala Myrna Mack Verdict -- A Tribute to Courage and Persistence AI Index: AMR 34/062/2002 Publish date: 4 October 2002 The sentencing of Guatemalan army colonel Juan Valencia Osorio to thirty years in prison for having ordered the 1990 killing of anthropologist Myrna Mack is an overdue but welcome step towards justice, Amnesty International said today. More on this Web site: Guatemala Two other officers, General Edgar Augusto Godoy Gaytán and Colonel Juan Guillermo Oliva Carrera, who had faced the same charges, were acquitted. They were Colonel Valencia's superior officers in the notorious Estado Mayor Presidencial(EMP), Presidential High Command. Amnesty International will study the court's judgement closely to determine whether it finds convincing the court's decision that they were indeed not involved in ordering Ms. Mack's death. "Never before had a high-ranking military official been convicted for a crime committed during Guatemala's 36 year internal conflict, and only once before had other officers been convicted for a political crime," Amnesty International noted. In welcoming the conviction, Amnesty International paid tribute to the victim's sister, Helen Mack, and the Guatemalan human rights community. "It was their courageous determination to see the killers punished and their effectiveness in mobilising international and local support which finally moved the case through the courts," the organization said. However, the organization expressed its dissatisfaction that it had taken 12 years for the case against those who ordered the killing to finally come to court. "The wheels of justice have ground slowly, far too slowly," said Amnesty International. "Twelve years is far too long to wait to see justice -- possibly only partial justice -- done." "Justice should be the rule, not the exception in Guatemala," Amnesty International insisted. "Despite a Constitutional guarantee that it is the duty of the State to guarantee justice to all of its inhabitants, only a handful of high profile cases have seen convictions for conflict-related abuses, while nobody has been held accountable for the killing and 'disappearance' of over 200,000 people, the majority of them indigenous," the organization added. "A genocide -- and that is what the Guatemala's UN-sponsored Historical Clarification Commission (CEH) determined had occurred -- cannot be swept under the historical carpet. Each and every victim and each and every survivor deserves justice," Amnesty International said. The organization also noted that the three officers were tried in an atmosphere of death threats, intimidation and violence against individuals and organisations associated with the case, including the lawyers for the prosecution. "These attacks against the human rights and legal communities in Guatemala, are symptomatic of an escalating wave of violence against those involved in seeking justice for human rights violations committed both during and following Guatemala's long civil conflict," Amnesty International said. Background Myrna Mack, founder member of the social science research institute, AVANCSO, was brutally stabbed to death in September 1990 as she left the AVANCSO office in Guatemala City. In 1989, she had published a ground-breaking study which concluded that the massive internal displacement of Guatemala's indigenous people, and the suffering it had caused, had been a direct result of the army's counter-insurgency policy. Her findings were published just as peace talks began, and were highly damaging to the government. From the beginning, efforts to convict those who carried out Myrna Mack's brutal murder encountered irregularities, incompetence and every imaginable legal manoeuvre to paralyse the judicial process. Finally, however, in 1993 Sergeant Noel de Jesús Beteta Alvarez, a member of the EMP, was found guilty of the killing and jailed for 25 years. Source: Amnesty International, International Secretariat, 1 Easton Street, WC1X 8DJ, London, United Kingdom Reuters
Reuters 8 Oct 2002 Guatemala Court Annuls Rights Convictions By Greg Brosnan GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) - A Guatemalan appeals court on Tuesday annulled the landmark convictions of three military men and a priest in the 1998 murder of prominent bishop and human rights defender Juan Jose Gerardi. Reuters Photo The three-judge panel ordered a retrial and said it annulled the convictions because of irregularities in the testimony of a witness who claimed he saw the accused on the night of the murder. Gerardi was bludgeoned to death in April 1998, two days after publishing a four-volume report blaming Guatemala's military for hundreds of massacres and other abuses during a 1960-1996 civil war, in which some 200,000 people were killed. Retired Col. Byron Lima Estrada, his son Capt. Byron Lima Oliva, and former presidential bodyguard Obdulio Villanueva were sentenced to 30 years each for the murder at a trial in June 2001. Roman Catholic priest Mario Orantes was sentenced to 20 years as an accomplice. The convictions were initially lauded by human rights groups as a landmark victory in a country where the military traditionally enjoyed impunity for rights abuses. ELATION AND DISBELIEF Lima Estrada, Lima Oliva, Villanueva, and their relatives and supporters in the court, including active and retired military men, cheered the decision and hugged each other while rights activists and Gerardi's former colleagues looked at each other in disbelief. "There is justice in Guatemala," Lima Oliva told reporters, standing up and making a military salute upon hearing of the annulment. "We soldiers defended the country." Orantes' lawyers say he suffers from severe migraines. He is interned in a hospital and did not attend the hearing. All four will remain in prison until the retrial. TESTIMONY IN DOUBT One of the main witnesses in the case, an indigent named Ruben Chanax Sontay, told judges in the trial he was hired by Lima Estrada to spy on Gerardi, and that on the night of the crime he helped Lima Oliva and Villanueva move the bishop's corpse. Judges accepted an argument by Villanueva's lawyer that Chanax Sontay had not mentioned those details in earlier statements to investigators. "A GRAVE SETBACK" "The court is convinced that the sentencing court did not weigh up this proof," the court said on Tuesday. "The sentence is annulled. ... We order a new trial." There was no mention of when that new trial, which will be overseen by a new panel of judges, will be held. Nery Rodenas, a lawyer for the Roman Catholic church human rights office Gerardi formerly headed, and who worked alongside prosecutors in the original trial, called the verdict "a grave setback." The sentence came after a court last week sentenced a former colonel to 30 years in prison for ordering the 1990 civil-war era stabbing murder of an anthropologist who had conducted extensive research of the effects of the war on Maya Indian refugees fleeing the conflict. "My feeling is that the military is reacting to all this," said rights activist Frank La Rue. "The judges are under a lot of pressure." Gerardi's cook, Margarita Lopez, who was accused of participating in the crime but freed by judges in the trial, will not have to participate in the retrial.
AP 8 Oct 2002 New Trial in Killing of Guatemala Cleric GUATEMALA CITY, Oct. 8 (AP) — An appeals court granted a new trial today to three military officials and a priest convicted of killing a Roman Catholic bishop, ruling that a witness's testimony was flawed. In June 2001 a three-judge panel convicted retired Col. Byron Lima Estrada; his son, Capt. Byron Lima Oliva; and Sgt. Obdulio Villanueva of killing Bishop Juan Gerardi, who was bludgeoned with a concrete block in his garage in April 1998. The three were sentenced to 30 years in prison each. The Rev. Mario Orantes, Bishop Gerardi's assistant, was sentenced to 20 years as an accomplice in the killing, which occurred days after the prelate had presented a report blaming the military for 80 percent of the deaths during the 36-year civil war that ended in 1996. Today the appeals tribunal said the lower court did not adequately verify the testimony of Ruben Chanax, a homeless man. Activists had considered the convictions a human rights victory for a country plagued by thousands of atrocities. But the defendants appealed last month, claiming that the police never found the person responsible for the killing and accusing the trial judges of basing their ruling on speculation and hearsay. Mr. Chanax, who lived in a park across the street from the seminary where Bishop Gerardi was killed, testified that the Limas and Sergeant Villanueva hired him to spy on the bishop, told him someone would die on the night of the killing and enlisted his help in altering the crime scene before the police could arrive.
UNWire 12 Nov 2002 GUATEMALA: UNDP Supports Plan For Reparations To War Victims - UN Wire's Scott Hartmann traveled to Guatemala last week to observe the U.N. Development Program's post-conflict activities in the country. GUATEMALA CITY -- Exactly one week ago, the high-level multi-institutional body charged with drafting a National Reparations Program to address the needs of hundreds of thousands of Guatemalans affected by the country's 36-year civil war presented their proposal to President Alfonso Portillo in hopes that he will soon push through Congress legislation creating a commission responsible for translating the plan's goals into action. The body, the Instancia Multiinstitucional por la Paz y la Concordia, which is a U.N. Development Program-supported project, was established in 1999 on the recommendation of Guatemala's Commission for Historical Clarification, which called for the country to "urgently" set up a program to provide reparations to the victims of human rights violations and the violence associated with the country's armed conflict and their family members. The proposed $396 million, 11-year program foresees a variety of forms of reparations to the populations most affected by the conflict, including economic compensation, support for the nearly 1 million Guatemalans who were displaced by the conflict and support for efforts to locate and exhume the bodies of those killed in massacres. It also includes support for community development and the establishment of medical and mental health facilities, land restitution and the formalization of land titles, support for efforts to promote tolerance and mutual respect, the creation of an alternative to military service, the dedication of Feb. 25 as a national day to remember the victims of the conflict and other measures to honor and remember the victims. The proposal also suggests the creation of a commission to oversee the reparations program, comprised of representatives of the Congress, the Supreme Court, the Human Rights Ombudsman's office and victims' organizations, as well as representatives of human rights, women's and ethnic Mayan organizations. The Commission for Historical Clarification suggested the program's funds come from reductions in military spending and aid from countries that supported the Guatemalan government economically and militarily during the country's conflict, such as the United States. According to the proposal, those eligible for reparations include those who were affected either "directly or indirectly, individually or collectively, by human rights violations" such as forced disappearance, extrajudicial executions, physical and psychological torture, forced displacement, forced recruitment as a minor, sexual violence, child rights violations and massacres. Human Rights Activists Skeptical Despite the cooperation the current government has been giving to the work of the body responsible for the proposal, some human rights activists UN Wire interviewed expressed skepticism that Portillo's deeply unpopular government will push the plan through Congress, even though the party Portillo represents, the Guatemalan Republican Front (FRG), dominates the legislative body. Instead, the activists said, the FRG-dominated Congress may respond to pressure from the ex-paramilitary Civil Defense Patrols (PAC) and approve measures to "compensate" the hundreds of thousands of former members of the PAC for their services rendered during the armed conflict. The right-wing FRG is led by populist Efrain Rios Montt, an ex-military leader who is charged by human rights organizations with overseeing the most brutal period in Guatemala's modern history but is revered by a large segment of the country's population. The FRG is reportedly closely linked to the military and ex-PAC members, whom human rights groups have accused of being the perpetrators of the vast majority of human rights violations during the government's conflict with left-wing rebels. Despite the political maneuvering ahead of next year's November presidential and legislative election, Orlando Blanco, the head of the National Coordinator for Human Rights, an umbrella group for Guatemalan human rights organizations, said he hoped that some kind of compromise could be reached. According to Blanco, the definition of "victim" under the plan is broad enough to allow for the inclusion of many of ex-PAC members, whom he said in many cases were victims of the conflict as well. Their inclusion would provide an opportunity to reunite the country and heal the wounds the prolonged conflict left, he said. Many Guatemalans who UN Wire spoke to across the country in areas affected by the conflict, including ex-PAC members and commanders, gave their full backing to a plan that would provide reparations to a wide variety of persons affected by the conflict, including the family members of those killed in massacres, provided that they themselves, as populations heavily affected by the conflict, receive reparations as well. Despite such sentiments, many ex-PAC members refuse to see themselves as "victims" of the conflict, insisting that they provided the state and their communities with a valuable service that helped turn the tide of the conflict in the 1980s in favor of the military. In this light, some human rights activists charge, large groups of ex-PAC members, which were composed of some of the most marginalized segments of Guatemala's population, are being politically manipulated by the FRG to retain its grip on power. "In reality ... two Guatemalas still exist, two [different] visions," said Blanco, noting that the process of reconciliation will be very difficult if the deeply divided country cannot recognize and reconcile with its past. One major obstacle is ignorance, Blanco added. "There are people who have never left their community, they don't know what is beyond the river nearby," he said, which leaves them open to being used politically. During Guatemala's prolonged conflict, one of the longest and most violent in Latin America, nearly 280,000 people died or disappeared. According to the landmark 1998 report by Guatemala's Commission for Historical Clarification, the armed forces and other agents of the state were responsible for 93 percent of such acts of violence and human rights violations, which overwhelmingly targeted the ethnic Mayan community. http://unfoundation.org/
WP 15 Mar 2003 Guatemala Strife to Be Probed MEXICO CITY -- The Guatemalan government, conceding that armed groups have been killing and intimidating judges and human rights activists, has established an international commission to investigate political violence. The three-member commission, with representatives from the United Nations, the Organization of American States and the Guatemalan government, aims to identify the faceless groups that have suspected links to organized crime and corrupt elements of the military and police. "This is a big deal," said Joy Olson, a consultant to the Washington Office on Latin America. "It's one of the most significant things that has happened in a long time regarding justice in Guatemala." Nearly seven years after Guatemala signed peace accords to end a 36-year civil war that killed 200,000 people, paramilitary groups continue their attacks and intimidation. Supreme Court Chief Justice Carlos Larios has reported that 19 judges received death threats during December alone. Judicial groups told a U.N. representative investigating the violence that during 2001, 147 judges had been threatened and three killed. Amnesty International recently described Guatemala as being in a "human rights meltdown." In January, Washington "decertified" Guatemala as a partner in anti-drug efforts. Mary Jordan
NYT 10 Apr 2003 Government in Guatemala Is Accused of Backing Crimes By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS GUATEMALA CITY, April 9 — An alliance of social groups has accused the Guatemalan government of being behind a string of burglaries and attacks intended to intimidate human rights groups in the country. In a written statement on Tuesday, the alliance said the attacks left many in the groups terrified that they would be the targets of violence. One alliance leader said he believed the crimes were related to creation of a state commission to investigate civil rights abuses. On Monday, thieves raided the Guatemala City home of Mario Polanco, a director of the Mutual Support Group, which is for relatives of people who died or disappeared during the country's civil war, from 1960 t0 1996. That attack came hours after assailants broke into the offices of the country's human rights ombudsman in Puerto Barrios, 150 miles northeast of Guatemala City. On Friday, kidnappers abducted Diego Xon, a Mayan priest who was active in the Mutual Support Group in the largely Indian province of Quiche, in central Guatemala. Mr. Xon was well known for his condemnation of a plan to pay Guatemalan peasants who joined paramilitary forces and helped the government carry out anti-insurgency campaigns at the height of the war. About 200,000 people, mostly Mayan peasants, were killed before peace agreements ended the fighting. The statement said government officials indirectly organized these and other recent attacks and demanded that the authorities "investigate, identify and prosecute those responsible for these crimes, which together provide evidence of continuous pressure and systematic policies" against human rights groups. Alejandro Pérez, a spokesman for President Alfonso Portillo, could not be reached to comment. Gustavo Meono, director of a group founded by Rigoberta Menchú, the winner of the 1992 Nobel Peace Prize, said tge violence demonstrated "that these types of attacks are not isolated incidents, nor are they the product of common crime." Mr. Meono said the homes and offices of human rights activists are often raided by thieves who "come for information and take files and computer hard drives." He added, "These kinds of attacks happen over and over again." Mr. Meono said criminals associated with the government launched new attacks because a state commission had been created to investigate illegal groups and clandestine networks that violate human rights.
Tico Times /AFP 16 May 2003 Acquittals Called 'Step Backwards' for Guatemala By Edin Hernández AFP GUATEMALA CITY - Last week's acquittals of three former Guatemalan military officers accused of murdering a human-rights investigator are proof of an ebbing tide of justice and the persistence of militarism, the victim's family, diplomats and humanitarian organizations said. Last Wednesday, an appeals court absolved retired colonel Juan Valencia, who had been convicted last year and sentenced to 30 years in prison, of having ordered the 1990 murder of anthropologist Myrna Mack, who was investigating massacres of indigenous people during the country's protracted civil war (1960-96). The court also reaffirmed the acquittals of retired general Edgar Godoy and retired colonel Juan Oliva, also members of an elite Army unit who had been charged with playing a role in the crime (TT, May 9). "This ruling is a blow not only for Myrna and my family, but also for Guatemala, because this pushes aside the hope for a rule of law," the victim's sister, Hellen Mack, said. "I had the hope that judges courageous enough to convict military officials still existed, but from the looks of things, there are not. Guatemala is a long way away from being a state of law." NO JUSTICE: Esperanza Mack (left) is consoled by her daughter Hellen after acquittals. Orlando Sierra, AFP Mack was particularly critical of the appeals court, which she said is well-known for supporting military officials accused of crimes. She noted the same appeals court had thrown out the convictions of three military officers and a priest in the 1998 bludgeoning death of Church human-rights advocate Bishop Juan Gerardi. "This court was not impartial," she said, adding, "I did not expect this ruling that only shows that Guatemala is far from having justice free of fear and coercion." Over the last year, a growing number of judges and judicial prosecutors have complained about receiving death threats and actually being attacked. "This is a setback in the construction of a state of law in Guatemala and a shame of the administration of justice, as well as a demonstration of the authoritarianism and militarism that persist in Guatemalan society," humanitarian support group Mutual Aid Group (GAM) director Mario Polanco told AFP. "As GAM and the organization of families of the (civil war) disappeared, we reject this ruling and hope that Guatemalans and the international community react adequately to halt this series of abuses of justice." "This is an act that shows that in Guatemala there is no justice," U.S. Ambassador to Guatemala John Hamilton said. The envoy was in the courtroom along with Swedish Ambassador Maria Lessner and the head of the United Nations Verification Mission for Guatemala (MINUGUA) Tom Koenigs when the ruling was announced. "Although we respect the court's decision, it is disappointing that 13 years after such a barbarous murder, the intellectual authors have not been convicted," Hamilton added. The ruling has added to speculation that the U.S. may seek to limit Guatemala's role in the proposed free-trade agreement with Central America. "It is regrettable that the intellectual authors of this crime have not yet been established," Koenigs warned. "Obviously the investigations were not sufficient to establish the responsibilities of these authors, and thus, there is no conviction of them, whoever they may be." The U.N. representative admitted he was "a little surprised" by the acquittals and added that "It casts a cloud not just the system of justice but also the system of investigation because the intellectual authors remain at large." Lesser said it was "very regrettable" that "Guatemala has not been able to serve justice for Myrna and the other victims of the harsh repression the country suffered" during the civil war. No fewer than 200,000 Guatemalans are believed to have been killed or disappeared during the civil war. A report issued by Gerardi just days before his murder blamed the U.S.-backed Guatemalan Military for the majority of the human-rights abuses during the war.
rightsaction.org 16 May 2003 KILLING MAYAN PRIESTS Rights Action is extremely concerned by a series of killings of Mayan priests who have supported efforts to end impunity and promote indigenous rights and identity. This information was prepared by Annie Bird in Guatemala. Over the past eight months many Mayan spiritual guides, or Mayan priests, have been killed. In this request for urgent action we describe five of them. Some were involved in the exhumation of mass graves resulting from massacres carried out by the Guatemalan army and paramilitary groups under their command during the genocide campaign between 1981 and 1983. All were dedicated to promoting respect for human rights and Mayan identity. All were also key figures in re-building and maintaining community unity and values. In these cases (between September 2002 and May 2003), the victims were not robbed. In those cases where witnesses are coming forward, police officers and former military personnel linked to crime gangs have been implicated. If thoroughly investigated, these killings could prove illustrative of the clandestine networks of crime, repression and social control. Unsurprisingly, all of the killings remain in impunity. Rights Action joins Guatemalan human rights organizations, that we support and work with (including CONAVIGUA, ADIVIMA, GAM and others), in condemning the killing of Mayan priests and calling for the immediate investigation and prosecution of those responsible, while taking measures to protect the life and safety of witnesses and family members pursuing justice, and other Mayan priests and human rights activists receiving death threats. Rights Action also believes these killings can only be understood in a broader and historical context. GERARDO CAMÓ MANUEL During the evening of May 3, 2003, Mayan priest Gerardo Camó celebrated a ceremony on a hill beside the village of Chiac, Rabinal, Baja Verapaz. At approximately 2 am, while he was delivering the prayer of thanks to the heart of the sky and the earth, a man appeared on the ridge three meters from the group, which included the priest and three others. He shot Camó six times, killing him, and fled from the astonished group. The assassin was recognized as a native of Chiac, Gerardo’s home village, who joined the National Civil Police - PNC. Ever since then he has brought numerous guns into the village, which neighbors believe to be stolen, and fires them off at night with others. Sixty-two year old Gerardo Camó was a respected community leader. In coordination with ADIVIMA (Association for the Integral Development of the Maya Achi Victims of the Violence/ Asociacion de Desarrollo Integral para las Victimas de la Violencia Maya Achi), he formally denounced to the District Attorneys office the existence and location of two mass graves in Las Tres Cruzes, Rabinal, which were exhumed beginning December 3, 2002. He and another Mayan priest performed ceremonies during the exhumation. He left a widow and two adult children. On May 14, 2003, members of ADIVIMA were verifying the location of another mass grave in Chiac when an unidentified person began shooting, forcing the group to flee. DIEGO XON SALAZAR At approximately noon on Wednesday, April 3, 2003 in Canton Camanchaj, Chichicastenango, Quiche, Diego Xon Salazar was harvesting apples in his garden when two heavily armed men kidnapped him. Xon’s children, in the house at the time, heard strange noises and looked outside in time to see at a distance their father being forcibly taken by the men. Later that day they heard gunshots that they believed originated on the outskirts of town, and concluded that their father had been shot. On Thursday, April 4 Xon’s children initiated a search for their father with agents of the National Civil Police - PNC, but the PNC quickly suspended the search saying they needed a judge’s order to proceed. The family went to the office of the Justice of the Peace, who did not authorize the search telling family they would have to go to the District Attorneys office on Monday. However, on Saturday, April 4, 2003 Xon’s body was found in a field outside of the town. Diego Xon was a Mayan priest and also an activist with the Mutual Support Group – Grupo de Apoyo Mutuo - GAM, an organization of victims of Guatemalan state sponsored repression. He collaborated in the creation of 17 human rights committees in Quiche, in exhumations and in the work of GAM. In addition, he was a member of the Academia de Lenguas Maya, a national Guatemalan organization that champions Mayan languages, and of Ucux Mayab Tinamit, a local organization in Quiche that promotes Quiche culture. According to GAM, in March 2002 Xon began denouncing the re-organization of the PAC (Civil Defense Patrols/ Patrullas de Auto Defensa Civil), paramilitary organizations created by the army in the early 1980s, several months before their June 2002 public actions demanding indemnification for “services” provided to the army during the years of repression and of genocide. After making these denouncements, Xon began receiving death threats from former PAC members and members of evangelical churches which in addition to threatening his safety warned him to stop his religious activities as a Mayan Priest. These threats were duly reported to the National Civil Police, but GAM expresses concern regarding the inadequate measures taken by the police to protect Xon given the complaints of threats. Further, GAM is concerned by the lack of investigation into the murder by the District Attorney’s office. MARCOS SICAL PÉREZ At 8:20 pm on December 16, 2002 seventy-two year old Mayan priest Marcos Sical Perez and his seventy-one year old wife, Marcela Cortez Sarpec had just returned from a Christmas celebration (posada) and were de-graining corn on the patio of their home when two men entered the patio, ordered them to put their arms in the air. They shot Marcos Sical 12 times in the face and chest and shot Marcela 5 times in the left leg. The assailants then proceeded to hit both of the victims in the head with the guns and a stick, presumably testing to see if they were alive, and then fled the crime scene. Marco’s and Marcela’s daughter witnessed the incident from approximately twelve meters. Marcela survived the attack. The attackers were recognized by both Marcela Cortez and her daughter, as well as by neighbors who witnessed the attackers flee the home. One is the resident of a neighboring town, works for a private security company, is known to have been trained as a Kaibil (an elite commando unit of the Guatemalan army known to have been responsible for a large number of massacres) and to be the leader of a crime band that violently robs people in the area. His accomplice was also a resident of Pichec, a distant relative of the victim, who is known to belong to the crime band. The witnesses and victim of the crime could not place a formal complaint until the third week of January since the District Attorney’s office was closed for Christmas. The men identified by the witnesses as the attackers were arrested a few days after the complaint was filed. The District Attorney in charge of investigating the case elected not to formally press charges against the accused attackers. On March 13, 2003, the men that witnesses identified as the assassins were released. The surviving family which pursued justice for the murder now fear for their safety. Marcos Sical, a highly regarded resident of the village of Pichec, Rabinal, Baja Verapaz, was a well known Mayan priest in the region. In coordination with ADIVIMA, he performed ceremonies for the commemoration of massacres in Rabinal, including the anniversary of the Panacal and Rio Negro massacres, and during the exhumation of mass graves, including the exhumation of the mass graves from the Rancho Bejuco and Pichec massacres. Given her age, Marcela Cortez has had difficulty recovering from the multiple fractures to her leg and may be permanently crippled. In addition to the widow, Marcos Sical left seven grown children. ALVARO POP CAAL On October 9, 2002 Antonio Pop, sixty-two year old Mayan priest, lawyer, renowned champion of indigenous rights and identity, and a founder of the Academia de Lenguas Mayas, was kidnapped. After a small effort to demand ransom, communication with the kidnappers ended just three days after the kidnapping. On December 16, 2002 three men were arrested for extortion in a neighboring town. One of the detainees admitted to participating in Pops kidnapping and having witnessed his murder by one of the other detainees. On December 17, 2003 he led police to a well where Pops body was found. Forensics determined he had killed by a gunshot several days after the kidnapping. Though the killing has the appearance of common crime, given how little interest the kidnappers demonstrated in negotiating a ransom, Pop’s family and human rights organizations fear the motive was political rather than economic. MANUEL GARCIA DE LA CRUZ Manuel Garcia de la Cruz worked tirelessly to facilitate the exhumation of mass graves in the municipalities of Joyabaj and Sacapulas, Quiche. In collaboration with CONAVIGUA (National Coordination of Widows of Guatemalan - Coordinadora Nacional de Viudas de Guatemala), he coordinated the exhumation of mass graves in Estansuela in Joyabaj and Trapichito, Chuchuca, Arequin, and San Jose Sinache in Zacualpa, among others. Like other Mayan leaders killed, he was committed to helping the surviving victims of the genocide give their loved ones a proper burial. A deeply spiritual man, he believed the spirits of the victims must rest properly, and he coordinated ceremonies for the exhumations. Garcia worked closely with the Mayan spiritual guides in the region. He was willing to respond to any request of the guides. He facilitated communications and coordinated with the spiritual guides. During the evening of September 6, 2002, Manuel Garcia de la Cruz was brutally tortured and killed. His body was found in the town of Cruzchich, Joyabaj where he had traveled the previous day from his home in Chuchuca, Sacualpa with the intention of buying corn. He was decapitated, disemboweled and his ears and nose cut off. Manuel Garcia will be remembered for his total commitment to his community. His widowed wife was pregnant when he was killed and they were already raising five young children. No one has been prosecuted for this crime, and there has been little investigation.
Article's Date: Tuesday, May 20, 2003 Guatemala Defense stand or presidential office? Jill Replogle As a lawsuit against Ríos Montt progresses, so does his presidential campaign. While the ruling Guatemalan Republican Front (FRG) party gears up for the official start of this year’s national election campaign, a genocide case against the party’s presidential candidate and current Congress president, General Efraín Ríos Montt, edges closer to the courthouse doors. Ríos Montt stands accused of ethnic cleansing by the survivors of 22 communities that suffered massacres at the hands of the dictatorial regimes headed by himself (1982-1983) and Romeo Lucas García (1978-1982). The "scorched earth" policies employed by both administrations saw tens of thousands of indigenous people murdered and over one million displaced. The Association for Justice and Reconciliation (AJR) filed the lawsuit in 2001 and all evidence is expected to be in the public prosecutor’s hands by the end of the year, according to the AJR’s legal representatives from the Center for Human Rights Legal Action (CALDH). A similar case against Lucas García, who was overthrown in a coup by Ríos Montt in 1982, is being prosecuted at the same time by the AJR. According to Sandra Sosa, assistant public prosecutor in the case, more than 100 witnesses of 25 massacres (11 committed during the Lucas García regime and 14 during Ríos Montt’s time) have given testimonies. Additionally, all forensic evidence has been turned over to the prosecutor’s office by CALDH, while nearly all the site reports have been completed. CALDH estimates that over 2,100 men, women, and children died in the 25 massacres orchestrated by the two dictators and carried out by the army and army-controlled Civil Defense Patrols (LP Aug. 12, 2002). Of the over 200,000 people killed during Guatemala’s 36-year civil war, it is thought that some 132,000 perished under the governments of Lucas García and Ríos Montt. Of them, 83 percent were indigenous peoples, according to the Guatemalan Commission for Historical Clarification. If the cases against Ríos Montt and Lucas García make it to trial, they will be setting a precedent both nationally, as the first genocide cases to be heard in Guatemala, and internationally, as the first to be heard in the court system of the nation where the crimes were committed. Past and ongoing war crimes and genocide trials, against Nazi leader Adolf Eichmann and, more recently, against former Yugoslavian president Slobodan Milosevic, have been heard in foreign or international courts. This is the case in the other pending genocide case against Ríos Montt, pursued by Nobel Peace Prize winner, Rigoberta Menchú in Spanish courts. Trying the case nationally during this fragile period of democratic transition in Guatemala is both a challenge and a key opportunity. "Justice is one of the most important factors in strengthening state institutions, and this case could help the justice system regain its credibility," said Fernando López, legal director of the Justice and Reconciliation Program at CALDH. "If there isn’t legal truth, documented and filed, there’s a risk that this could be forgotten and repeated," said Christina Laur, also with CALDH, adding that the legal process has provided both an outlet for the victims to express their grief and the possibility of healing. "When the witnesses first started to meet as a group, people kept their heads down, they didn’t talk. But when they finally did start talking, there was an incredible outpouring of grief," said Laur. "Now they’ve moved from being victims to social actors." In April, the children of the witnesses, now young adults, got together for the first time to learn about the case their parents are prosecuting. "It’s time for us to be informed about the legal process," said 23-year-old Oliverio Uz Alvarado. "When our parents die, there won’t be anyone left to say what happened." As the case moves along, so does the FRG election campaign, headed by its presidential candidate, Ríos Montt. The party’s Secretary of Organization, Haroldo Quej Chen, said the FRG is not worried about the accusations against its candidate. The more immediate problem is whether or not Ríos Montt will be allowed to run in this year’s election. His attempts to get on the 1990 and 1995 ballots were both thwarted when his candidacy was ruled unconstitutional. Article 186 of the Guatemalan Constitution states that anyone who has participated in a coup is prohibited from running for president or vice-president of the country. However, according to Roberto Villeda, from the Center for Defense of the Constitution, the FRG’s influence in the courts could be stronger than the jurisprudence that has thus far found Ríos Montt’s candidacy to be illegal. While other analysts and human rights activists share this concern, some are more optimistic about the power of the law. In an interview with Guatemalan daily Prensa Libre, political analyst Héctor Rosada said, "if [Ríos Montt’s candidacy] is approved, it would go against history, and compromise the image of the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Electoral Tribune."
VOA News 24 May 2003 Former Guatemalan Dictator Nominated for Presidency Guatemala's ruling party has chosen former military dictator Efrain Rios Montt as its presidential candidate for the November elections. Leaders of the conservative Republican Front party announced their decision at a meeting Saturday in Guatemala City. The country is due to elect a new president in November. General Rios Montt is an evangelical minister who is currently the head of the Congress. His opponents say he cannot legally run for president brecause the country's 1985 constitution bars former coup leaders from seeking the presidency. Mr. Rios Montt is expected to mount a court challenge to that ban. Mr. Rios Montt seized power in 1982 and ruled for 18 months, during which his government was accused of numerous human rights violations. Human rights groups say at least 17,000 political opponents were murdered during the general's "scorched earth" anti-guerrilla campaigns. The strongman eventually lost power in 1983 via another military coup. Two years, ago, authorities ordered investigations into General Rios Montt for charges of genocide against Mayan Indians during his administration. Thousands of peasants were killed and hundreds of Indian villages were destroyed during his reign. Human rights groups describe General Rios Montt's 1982-83 presidency as the most violent period in Guatemala's 36-year civil war. Peace accords ended the fighting in December 1996. Some information for this report provided by AP and AFP.
AP 23 May 2003 Washington Squirms Over Guatemala Race By GEORGE GEDDA - To the discomfort of the Bush administration, Guatemala's ruling party is preparing to nominate as its presidential candidate a former president who is remembered for massacres of civilians during his first presidency two decades ago. The selection of Gen. Efrain Rios Montt as the nominee of the ruling Guatemalan Republican Front Party is expected to be made official Saturday. Administration officials have informed allies of Rios Montt that U.S. relations with Guatemala could be damaged if he were to prevail in elections this fall, which could affect cooperation in such areas as alien smuggling and counternarcotics activities. Rios Montt currently is president of the Guatemalan Congress. Except for strategically important countries, leaders of foreign governments with a record of rights abuses generally do not get White House invitations. Rios Montt is expected to be no exception if he is elected. The Rev. Phil Anderson, of the Washington-based Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA, said, "We stand with those in Guatemala, many of them survivors of massacres during his presidency, that want him tried for acts of genocide." A Guatemalan truth commission that examined human rights conditions during three decades of civil war concluded that, during Rios Montt's presidency, agents of the state "committed acts of genocide against groups of Mayan people." The Guatemalan Constitution bars anyone who has participated in a coup from assuming the presidency. The incumbent president, Alfonso Portillo, a Rios Montt supporter, says he believes the candidate will be able to clear that hurdle. The issue may be decided by Guatemala's Constitutional Court. If nominated, analysts say Rios Montt would be no shoo-in on election day because of Portillo's unpopularity. The U.S. visas of a number of Latin Americans have been revoked for human rights violations. The State Department, following established procedures, won't say whether Rios Montt is among them. Efforts seeking comment on Rios Montt's candidacy Friday from the Guatemalan Embassy were unsuccessful. Successive U.S. administrations have praised the evolution of democratic rule in Latin America, seeing it as the best hope for a better future. Reflecting disappointment with the results so far, Secretary of State Colin Powell warned a month ago that Latin American governments need to deliver a better life to their peoples, or democratic rule could be in jeopardy. A handful of countries have performed well, but Guatemala, with its problems of endemic poverty, corruption and rampant street crime, is not among them. Most of the high hopes generated by a 1996 peace agreement with leftist rebels have not been fulfilled. The State Department's most recent report on human rights conditions worldwide cites some positive developments but says the Guatemalan judiciary "suffers from inefficiency, corruption and intimidation." A U.N. mission in Guatemala reported last year that the overall human rights situation in the country had deteriorated. While many in Guatemala have bitter memories about Rios Montt's presidency two decades ago, others remember with fondness that order prevailed in the capital city in that period. The city is not nearly as safe now as it once was. Rios Montt was part of a long string of military presidents who ruled from the mid-1950's until 1986. He seized power in a coup in March 1982 and was deposed 17 months later. --- On the Net: State Department's Guatemala page: http://www.state.gov/p/wha/ci/c2866.htm
Rightsaction.org 18 June 2003 GUATEMALA: THROWING STONES AT A LEADER OF GENOCIDE The article below describes a confrontation between Maya-Achi residents of Rabinal (department of Baja Verapaz, Guatemala) and politician-members of the ruling FRG party that occurred on the day that Achi massacre survivors were re-burying the remains for their loved ones who had been massacred during the years of genocide [1978-1983]. They had only recently completed the legal-forensic process of exhuming the mass graves. The President of the FRG ruling party in Guatemala is former General Efrain Rios Montt, who was one of two military leaders that oversaw and implemented the policies of massacres and genocide. GLOBAL BUSINESS AS USUAL During the years of genocide and repression, the regimes of Guatemala were supported – militarily, politically and economically -- by the United States, other ‘western’ nations, the World Bank (WB), the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), and an endless number of western-based companies and banks. Today, the FRG –headed by Rios Montt– has full military, political and economic relations with the USA, Canada, western nations, the WB, IDB, … and an endless number of western-based companies and banks. IMPUNITY This confrontation is to be understood in the context of historic and on-going impunity. Despite the documented repression and genocide [leaving over 200,000 mainly Mayan people killed and disappeared], next to no justice has been done in Guatemala. The ruling economic and military elites –-empowered by their extensive relations with the international community-- continue to run the country as they have in the past – with impunity. COURAGE Despite the impunity and on-going human rights violations [including economic exploitation], there are courageous and visionary groups across the country – like ADIVIMA – that are challenging the impunity at every step of the way. Over the next weeks, Rights Action will publish a series of articles about local and regional efforts to have justice done, despite the impunity of the national power holders and their international supporters. If you want on/ off this e-list, firstname.lastname@example.org. Please publish and circulate this information, citing source.=== GUATEMALA: THROWING STONES AT A LEADER OF GENOCIDE by Annie Bird and Grahame Russell (Rights Action) On September 15, 1981, Rabinal (center of the Maya-Achi world in Guatemala) celebrated its biggest annual town fair. As villagers auctioned their cattle and children climbed into a Ferris wheel, the Guatemalan national army blocked all the exits from the town square and began massacring indiscriminately the fairgoers; even the Ferris wheel operator was killed. Witnesses estimate more than 1,000 people were killed that day and their bodies dumped into mass graves on the edge of town. This was the largest of dozens of massacres in the municipality of Rabinal that left more than 5,000 Maya-Achi dead, more than a quarter of the total local population at the time. Family members of the victims of the September 15 massacre recently exhumed the remains of some of the victims (with the support of the FAFG exhumation team), and planned to properly bury their loved ones on June 14, 2003. On June 2, ADIVIMA (Association for the Development of the Maya Achi Victims of Violence) began plans for the re-burial. They placed radio announcements and on June 9 got the required permit from the mayor. What is on-going impunity? This mayor is an active local leader of the FRG political party and a man personally accused of killing hundreds while he served as Military Commissioner during the years of repression and genocide. In spite of the surviving victim’s plans, on June 12 the FRG announced a political campaign visit to Rabinal for their Presidential candidate in the upcoming November elections, Efrian Rios Mott. Rios Mott was the military dictator of Guatemala during the second half of the ‘scorched earth’ military campaign whose strategy was to massacre civilian, mostly Mayan villagers, including many whose remains were to be re-buried June 14. Rios Montt has been formally accused of genocide in two separate complaints, one in Guatemalan courts and another in Spain. His eligibility to run for president is in question because of a constitutional provision preventing those who came into power through a military coup from running for president. Though lower courts have rejected his candidacy, the Constitutional Court will make the final ruling. What is national and global impunity? Whether the courts rule in his favor or not, he remains the president of the ruling party and the most powerful politician in the country, maintaining a whole host of economic, political and military relations with western countries, international financial institutions and global companies and banks. On the day of the re-burial, more than 500 surviving victims gathered to carry the coffins to the cemetery. Outraged by the presence of Rios Montt in Rabinal they decided to carry the coffins to the FRG rally as a demonstration against the ongoing impunity enjoyed by the authors of genocide in Guatemala. Many accused war criminals, including Rios Montt and Rabinal’s mayor, form part of the FRG-controlled government, which dominates the executive branch and congress. Only 3 paramilitaries (PAC – Patrullas de Autodefensa Civil) and 1 civilian Military Commissioner have been convicted for atrocities committed during the State sponsored genocide and repression in which more than 200,000 people were killed and disappeared. At the rally, approximately 2,000 people were gathered. The majority were former paramilitaries – PAC – the FRG brought in from the neighboring municipalities of Cubulco, San Jeronimo, Grandos and El Chol. They were rumored to be collecting the controversial State payment to former paramilitaries that the FRG government promised last year (for their “services” during the repression and genocide) and began disbursing recently during the electoral campaign. Few PAC from Rabinal were present, though many residents of the town center of Rabinal gathered to watch the rally. The victims, from outlying Rabinal villages, arrived and began shouting “murderer”, “genocidist”, and “thief” at the FRG congressional candidate for Baja Verapaz, former military officer Juan Santa Cruz. Santa Cruz responded by accusing the protesters of being manipulated by opposition parties and foreigners who steal babies. The latter is an accusation Guatemalan journalists and human rights organizations say is promoted by evangelical churches, former paramilitaries and right wing politicians which have spawned violence against tourists, including at least two mob murders. When an Associated Press photographer climbed onto the stage for better photos, Santa Cruz pushed or kicked him violently off the stage. The angered crowd, including townspeople from Rabinal who had gathered before the arrival of the victims, began throwing rocks at the stage and burning FRG banners. The stage was evacuated, but when the crowd began to disburse they saw another stage had been set up 100 meters away where Rios Montt and his vice presidential candidate, Edin Barrientos, were speaking. The crowd then proceeded to throw sticks, bottles and stones. Rios Montt was hit but not seriously injured. He was rushed off to the stage into a nearby car, where he was shuttled to Cubulco. In Cubulco, according to press reports, he promised the PAC a third payment for their “services” during the state sponsored genocide, but in response the PAC called him a liar and a thief. The surviving victims proceeded to the cemetery to bury their loved ones with Mayan and Christian ceremonies. The next day one activist with ADIVMA received a written death threat referring to the previous day’s incident. This is the latest in a constant stream of violence and threats directed against ADIVIMA members since they formed the organization in 1995.
NYT August 1, 2003 Former Dictator to Seek Guatemalan Presidency By DAVID GONZALEZ UATEMALA CITY, July 31 — Efraín Ríos Montt, a former military dictator accused of presiding over atrocities during the harshest era of Guatemala's civil war, registered today as a presidential candidate. His registration came less than 24 hours after the Constitutional Court, the country's highest court, ruled in his favor, ending a judicial crisis over legal challenges filed in a lower court by opposition parties. His registration also came less than a week after mobs apparently organized by his political party rampaged through upper-class neighborhoods in the capital demanding that he be allowed to run. The Constitutional Court also reversed two of its rulings in 1990 and 1995 that had prohibited Mr. Ríos Montt from seeking the presidency. Opposition leaders faulted the court's 4-to-3 decision, saying the judges should have recused themselves over conflicts of interest for having been friends of Mr. Ríos Montt or having served as ministers during the present government, which is dominated by his Guatemalan Republican Front party. Mr. Ríos Montt, a 77-year-old evangelical Christian, is third in opinion polls, but the ranking may not accurately gauge his popularity in remote rural provinces where his party enjoys its greatest support. It was in those rural provinces that Mr. Ríos Montt imposed his harshest rule, forcing indigenous men into patrols that joined troops in numerous massacres, according to a report published after the 36-year civil war ended with peace accords in 1996. "Under Ríos Montt they no longer committed selective massacres of men," said Victoria Sanford, an anthropologist and the author of "Buried Secrets," a recently published book that looked at human rights in Guatemala and analyzed data on massacres. "Ríos Montt killed more people, he killed more women and children. It was a systematic practice." Mr. Ríos Montt has immunity as president of the Congress. "Morally, his candidacy is a tragedy," said Frank LaRue, director of the Human Rights Legal Action Center here, which has filed a complaint against him. "He does not have the moral qualities to be president. And we will follow the case whether he is president or not." Mr. Ríos Montt has dismissed the criticism. He has not apologized for any crimes or excesses during his rule. He has presented himself as a champion of the poor who will impose order — promises that appeal to impoverished rural communities.
NYT 1 Aug 2003 Editorial: Guatemalan Power Play Guatemala's Constitutional Court made a fateful mistake this week when it ruled that Efraín Ríos Montt can run for president in November. Mr. Ríos Montt has already proved his unfitness for the job — he was Guatemala's dictator in 1982 and 1983. Backed by clandestine security forces, his victory could once again allow fear to rule Guatemala. The Constitutional Court, the nation's highest, has bought the contorted argument that Mr. Ríos Montt is not covered by a law that bars anyone who took power in a military coup from serving as president. Mr. Ríos Montt took over the government in a coup, and the law clearly applies to him. In fact, it was approved because of his coup. It is legal sophistry to suggest, as the court did, that it does not apply to him because his seizure of power occurred three years before the law was adopted. Mr. Ríos Montt's misrule was disastrous for Guatemala. The truth commission in Guatemala concluded that during his brief time as president, 400 Mayan villages were destroyed and some 17,000 people murdered. These were the worst atrocities of the country's 36-year civil war — the truth commission called them acts of genocide. Mr. Ríos Montt, a retired general, tried to run for president in 1990 and 1995 but was blocked by the Constitutional Court under the same law. The difference this time is that his party, the Guatemalan Republican Front, controlled several of the court appointments. A supposedly random lottery to choose judges to sit on the case was conducted in private by the court's president, a former minister in the current Republican Front government. Mr. Ríos Montt serves today as president of Congress and is widely seen as the power behind President Alfonso Portillo. Intimidation is openly part of his strategy — thousands of his supporters were recently allowed to carry out a daylong protest in the city center, and they looted stores, burned cars and attacked reporters — fatally, in one case. His supporters are also widely thought to be behind a series of attacks on democracy advocates. The next president's term in office will coincide with the withdrawal from Guatemala of a United Nations' monitoring mission, a move that will sharply reduce the world's interest and scrutiny. If Mr. Ríos Montt comes back to power, there will be virtually nothing to stop him and his network of former military officers from returning Guatemala to the dark ages.
Denver Post 1 Aug 2003 Ex-dictator seeks presidency -- Guatemala's poor back Rios Montt despite bloody history By Billie Stanton, Special to The Denver Post GUATEMALA - Former dictator Efran Rios Montt, 77, registered as a presidential candidate Thursday, 20 years after a reign that was widely denounced by human rights groups. The Supreme Electoral Tribunal accepted Rios Montt's registration for the November election after the nation's top court ruled he was eligible despite a constitutional provision banning from the presidency those who have seized power in the past. After an initial court ruling last week against Rios Montt's candidacy, an angry mob of more than 5,000 demonstrators rioted in Guatemala City, wielding weapons including machetes. Many of those demonstrating on Rios Montt's behalf came from Guatemala's poor villages, such as San Antonio Aguas Calientes, about 30 miles from the capital. The village sits in a verdant valley encircled by volcanoes - and it is plastered with posters of support for "Seguridad, Bienestar, Justicia," and for Rios Montt's party, the Frente Republicano Guatemalteco. Security, the good life, justice - promises critics say drip with irony, considering Rios Montt's previous 18-month presidency. More than 60,000 people were killed or disappeared in a campaign that lay waste to 440 indigenous Mayan villages, according to international human rights groups. But 32-year-old Juan Perez, of the village of Ciudad Vieja, said Rios Montt has his vote. "I was a child when this (genocide) happened. (But) I don't think he would do that now because the laws are stronger," Perez said. When Montt took office in March 1982, he annulled the nation's 1965 constitution, disbanded Congress and convened secret courts to try his opponents and other "subversives," according to the Council on Hemispheric Affairs. But Perez shrugs off the complaints. "Rios Montt's party gives fertilizer to the farms. I will vote for Montt." In San Antonio, the tiny white snack shop run by Maria Lopez sports blue stenciled slogans supporting Rios Montt. "The majority of the town supports Rios Montt," so she lets his party post the advertisements, said Lopez, 47. Still, Lopez recalls indignantly how Rios Montt, a former evangelical minister, snubbed a papal visit to this predominantly Catholic country. "He started off good, normal. But later he changed. He doesn't care about the indigents. But he pays them, in other places," for their votes. Many urban residents support presidential candidate Oscar Berger, saying his independent wealth will preclude him from corruption. Educated Guatemalans don't think twice when asked how Rios Montt can muster support from the very people whose villages were decimated. He feeds them, they say. And he pays them - powerful tools in a country where at least 80 percent of the people live in extreme poverty, according to a Harvard University report. The nation's illiteracy rate exceeds 30 percent, according to Stanford University. "Rios Montt drives the poor people in all the country, because he knows the hatred toward the social class for many years," said Sergio Anleu, 42, an environmental engineer. "Poor people don't read the papers; they don't pay attention to politics; they don't know anything. Rios Montt wants to destroy the (democratic) system of government, and then he will take the power. Poverty and corruption here are hand-in-hand."
Pacific News Service, 12 Aug 2003 Why Won't Bush Condemn Rios Montt, the 'Central American Saddam Hussein'? Commentary, Roberto Lovato, Editor's Note: The Guatemalan Constitutional Court has recently cleared the way for Efrian Rios Montt, responsible for mass killing in Guatemala in the 1980s, to run for president. The writer explores why the U.S. barely denounces Rios Montt while it condemns Saddam Hussein daily. We don't need to spend $4 billion a month to bring a genocidal dictator to justice. Not a single drop of American or non-combatant blood needs to spill in order to punish someone universally acknowledged in the early 1980s to have gassed, tortured and killed as many people as Saddam Hussein. Instead of sending out several naval fleets to pursue justice, all that's needed are a few airline tickets -- to Guatemala. U.S. marshals then can simply go to the Guatemalan Congress and arrest the current head of that body, former dictator Efrain Rios Montt. But instead of pursuing justice against the 77-year-old retired brigadier general whom some call the "Guatemalan Saddam Hussein," the interventionist Bush administration responds to Montt's potential return to power with laissez-faire human rights policy. Lack of U.S. government condemnation of the former dictator places the United States in an untenable moral position and endangers the peace and people of Guatemala. Following a decision on July 30, 2004, by Guatemala's Constitutional Court clearing the way for a Rios Montt candidacy, Guatemalans and human rights activist are on red alert for the renewed possibility of terrorist attacks -- by their own government. During his 17 months as Guatemala's president, Rios Montt presided over a military responsible for almost half of all atrocities committed in Guatemala over the past 30 years. But as human rights activists like Rosalina Tuyuc wasted little time warning of another potential "genocidio," the Bush administration weakly responded to the possibility of a Rios Montt presidency, calling it "problematic." Why the fuzziness about the man in the Americas who most embodies Bush administration descriptions of "evil"? Steady, daily denunciations of Saddam Hussein over the last 23 months contrast staggeringly with the deadly silence around Rios Montt. It's hardly the response we've come to expect from an administration bent on redefining the moral discourse of the world. So why is Washington being evasive? Some observers believe that lack of resources like oil in Guatemala condemns it, and, for that matter, the entire Central American region, to perpetual neglect. Others think that former President Ronald Reagan's influence on the Bush administration guarantees that the mass graves of Guatemala will not see the light of CNN, though such sites were being uncovered at about the same time as those in Iraq. Declassified State Department documents released by the Clinton administration in 1999 reveal that high-level U.S. officials knew that Guatemala's mass graves were created after "executions ordered by armed services officers close to President Rios Montt." On Dec. 4, 1982, President Reagan visited Central America and met with Rios Montt, whom he described as a "man of great personal integrity and commitment" who had been "getting a bum rap." Forensic anthropologists later found that three days after the meeting, Rios Montt's military slaughtered more than 300 villagers in the hamlet of Dos Erres. A month after the massacre, Reagan managed to free military aid to Guatemala that had been frozen in Congress because of human rights concerns. Many of the same people who crafted Reagan's policies and pronouncements in Central America now shape Bush policy in Iraq. The high moral tone of current Bush administration discourse has its roots in Central America policy by way of high-level policymakers such as former Reagan administration assistant secretary of state Elliot Abrams, who was largely responsible for U.S. policy in Central America in the 1980s. Abrams is now senior adviser on the Middle East at the National Security Council. The re-emergence of Rios Montt puts the Bush administration in a quandary. Silence in the face of his past crimes looks bad. But bringing attention to Rios Montt's legacy risks the exposure of decades of U.S. support for genocide in Central America. Human rights advocates continue efforts to put Rios Montt on trial for crimes against humanity in Nuremberg-style proceedings. Bush must call on Montt to withdraw his candidacy and submit himself to international tribunals or face arrest. Rios Montt and his cronies threaten a peace already paid for with the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocents in Guatemala. PNS commentator Roberto Lovato (email@example.com) is the former head of the Central American Studies program at California State University, Northridge.
South Florida Sun-Sentinel 13 Aug 2003 Ex-dictator loses support By Robert Buckman Special to the Sun-Sentinel Posted August 13 2003 GUATEMALA CITY · Former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt has slipped to fifth place in the presidential race, apparently a victim of the violence his supporters unleashed in the capital last month. A new survey, published in Tuesday's edition of Prensa Libre, was conducted from July 28 to Aug. 4 by the firm Vox Latina, the week after supporters of Ríos Montt's ruling Guatemalan Republican Front, or FRG, went on a violent rampage in the capital. It shows Ríos Montt with only 3.3 percent of support. The poll also shows the frontrunner, former Guatemala City Mayor Oscar Berger of a new three-party coalition called the Grand National Alliance, or GANA, close to a first-round victory on Nov. 9 with 44.4 percent. A distant second was Alvaro Colom, candidate of a left-wing coalition called the National Unity of Hope, or UNE, with 17.1 percent. The survey included 1,200 respondents from throughout the country and has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percent. In the last Vox Latina poll on July 2, Berger had 36.9 percent, Colom 13.1 percent and Ríos Montt 7.9 percent. "The polls for more than a year have shown a downward trend for him [Ríos Montt] because of corruption and unkept promises," Berger said on Thursday. Berger , who lost the 1999 election to the FRG´s Alfonso Portillo, cited his own poll showing him winning a first-round victory with 51 percent, but he said he fears the FRG will resort to fraud. "His popularity is stronger in the rural areas, where they have a very disciplined organization, where they have undertaken public works," said Berger, who turned 57 on Monday. "We don´t worry that much about actual electoral fraud, but about intimidation. These are some very violent people, and the [Indians] are very timid people. They are very easy to intimidate. About 60 percent of Guatemala´s 12 million people are of Mayan descent. Berger is of Belgian descent. Interviewed Friday, Ríos Montt´s daughter, Zury Ríos Sosa, the second vice president of Congress, discounted polls showing her father´s drop in popularity as a ploy of what she called "the oligarchy." "Polls in Guatemala are not very sophisticated and you can make them say whatever you want them to say," she said. On July 24, which the media have dubbed Jueves Negro, or Black Thursday, dozens of FRG supporters wearing ski masks and carrying clubs committed acts of vandalism, burned tires and attacked journalists, one of whom died of a heart attack. They were protesting a Supreme Court decision that briefly delayed legalization of Rios Montt's candidacy. For years, Ríos Montt, 77, who ruled from 1982-83 and is blamed by human rights organizations for committing genocide during the 36-year guerrilla war, was barred from running by a provision in the 1986 constitution that blocks those who have participated in military coups from seeking the presidency. On July 14, the Constitutionality Court, a majority of which is composed of FRG appointees, voted 4-2 to overturn the ban and permit Ríos Montt, now the president of the Congress, to run. The anti-Ríos Montt media published photographs and aired video footage of FRG deputies, high-ranking party officials and Ríos Montt´s niece, Ingrid Argueta, participating in the disturbances. Mario Antonio Sandoval, a political columnist for Prensa Libre and president of the paper´s new cable channel, Guatevisión, linked Black Thursday to Ríos Montt´s precipitous drop in the newest poll. "Guatemalans reject violence, especially when someone who has been accused of violence is being violent again," said Sandoval, a harsh critic of Rios Montt. If a runoff is necessary, it will be held on Dec. 28.
Amnesty USA 2 Oct 2003 After tremendous pressure from thousands of activists in the US, Guatemala and around the world, and from governments who joined in our calls to action, on September 24, 2003 the Guatemalan Congress passed a law to abolish the EMP (Estado Mayor Presidencial or Presidential Guard). The law transfers its legitimate functions to the Secretariat of Administrative Affairs and Security of the Presidency (SAAS). . . The Estado Mayor Presidencial (Presidential General Staff, also translated as the Presidential Guard or Presidential High Command), and generally referred to as the EMP, has been implicated in many of Guatemala's high profile human rights cases. While officially charged with providing security to the president and the vice-president, the EMP has in practice served as one of the most notorious military intelligence agencies. The 1996 Peace Accords, which officially ended Guatemala's three-decade-long conflict, identified the abolition of the EMP and other reforms to military intelligence as integral components of demilitarization.
AP 7 Oct 2003 Rios Montt Tells AP He'd Obey Moral Code GUATEMALA CITY (AP) -- Efrain Rios Montt, a former iron-fisted dictator and evangelical minister who is running for president, said in an Associated Press interview Tuesday that he would look to God to solve his country's problems. He also dismissed charges his past administration committed acts of genocide. The 78-year-old brigadier general, who has made campaign stops with a former guerrilla commander by his side, called on Guatemalans to move beyond their bloody past. He said those who accuse him of past atrocities are only attacking him because his government won the country's civil war. ``They are still affected here, today, because they lost the war,'' he said, speaking at his daughter's posh Guatemala City home. ``They are their own victims. I don't want to blame all the victims of the war, but what occurred was a dirty and cruel war fought all over the country, so what they did was very unfair.'' Human rights groups say Rios Montt's government carried out some of the worst atrocities in Latin American history. Rios Montt seized power in a 1982 coup and was deposed in another military uprising the following year. His dictatorship came at the height of a 36-year civil war between the government and leftist, largely Mayan guerrillas. He ordered an anti-insurgency campaign in which soldiers burned down mountain villages to cut the rebels off from civilians accused of supporting them. Peace accords ended the war in December 1996, but not before 200,000 Guatemalans had been killed. Criminal complaints filed in Guatemala and with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in Costa Rica charge Rios Montt with genocide for massacres soldiers carried out during his dictatorship. Rios Montt founded the party that controls Guatemala's presidency, and he served as president of Congress up until Aug. 27 when he took a leave of absence to run for president. A victory on Nov. 9 would extend the immunity from criminal prosecution he enjoys as an elected official. On Tuesday, Rios Montt said he believes Guatemala can battle soaring crime rates, stamp out corruption and improve a sluggish economy by following the Christian code. He refused to give specific policy examples, saying only he ``would not impose anything,'' but added that he would ensure Guatemalan society was ``based on strict values, because if we don't put fundamental norms in place, we lose our way and go backward.'' While in office, Rios Montt enforced a curfew, ordered restrictions on the sale and consumption of alcohol, and gave podium-pounding television addresses every Sunday, singing the praises of evangelical values for an audience that was overwhelmingly Roman Catholic. He said that if he wins the election he would lead ``by example, doing what's appropriate, honest and fair,'' and that he was the only one capable of re-establishing a ``proper moral center'' for his country. ``If we want to maintain an ethical and social system, we should build one based on spiritual, and moral values that transcend any interest,'' he said. ``God is vital.'' Washington was openly supportive of Rios Montt's dictatorship. In December 1982, then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan called him ``a man of great personal integrity'' who was ``getting a bum rap on human rights.'' During the interview, he sat next to a black-and-white photo of him sitting with Reagan. However, the State Department said in May that a second Rios Montt government would jeopardize Washington's relationship with Guatemala, apparently because of his human rights record. Rios Montt is trailing in the latest polls behind Oscar Berger, a conservative former Guatemala City mayor supported by the business community, and Alvaro Colom, a former interior secretary running on a left-leaning ticket. But Rios Montt has gained ground recently in large part because potential voters see him as the most capable of reversing a crime rate that has skyrocketed since the end of the war. ``If you look at my past in a legal light,'' he said, ``You see I followed the law.'"
AP 17 Oct 2003 Reporter Covers Guatemala Despite Threats Friday October 17, 2003 8:01 AM By GEORGE GEDDA WASHINGTON (AP) - Guatemala is not an easy place to be an independent journalist. Marielos Monzon knows firsthand. Since 1998, when she began to expose the abuses of the military and allied groups, Monzon has received threatening phone calls. Her home has been broken into three times. After her two dogs were kidnapped, she received a call warning that her two children would be next. Monzon, 32, was so concerned about safety this past spring that she left Guatemala for three months. Not long after her return, her two cats were kidnapped and killed, their remains delivered to her house. ``The message,'' she says, ``was that that the same thing is going to happen to you and your children.'' Monzon's tenacity earned her a ``Courage in Journalism'' award this week from the International Women's Media Foundation. In an interview, Monzon said not much has changed in Guatemala since a 36-year civil war ended in 1996 with the negotiation of as peace agreement between the government and rebel forces. The war is believed to have killed some 200,000 Guatemalans, the great majority at the hand of the military, according to an independent commission that examined the conflict. Monzon's assessment of the postwar situation is shared by a U.N. mission in Guatemala. In a report issued a year ago, the mission documented assassination threats to human rights activists, church workers, judges, witnesses, journalists, political activists and labor unionists. ``Lynchings and mob violence continued. Illegal groups and clandestine structures operated with impunity,'' according to the report. Monzon, whose children are 9 and 11, outlined her thoughts to a reporter hours before taking part in a ceremony with two other women honored by the foundation: Anne Garrels of National Public Radio and Tatyana Goryachova, editor in chief of an independent weekly newspaper in Ukraine. Monzon started out as host of a radio program that highlighted rights abuses. She now writes a column for the independent newspaper Prensa Libre and is host of a television program that examines the upcoming presidential elections. The candidate of the ruling Republican Guatemalan Front is Efraim Rios Montt. To some, his selection was a surprise, given his role 20 years ago as military dictator during one of the bloodiest periods of the civil war. A Guatemalan truth commission that examined human rights conditions during the war concluded that, under Rios Montt, agents of the state ``committed acts of genocide against groups of Mayan people.'' She says it will not matter much who wins because no candidate is able to neutralize the military. Guatemala has elected civilian presidents since 1986, but Monzon says the country remains backward politically, economically and socially. The blame, she says, rests with the country's military, its oligarchs and, lastly, the United States. She sees as a major turning point a CIA-led coup in 1954 against a leftist president and the installation of a rightist colonel. On the other hand, she says the United States does exert positive influences today, citing its support for human rights groups in Guatemala and for development of civil society. But she has little hope that things will change, at least over the short term. ``I see the situation as very difficult,'' she says. ``I don't believe that the problems will be resolved by the next government."
WP 26 Oct 2003 Social Breakdown Turns Deadly in Guatemala Drugs, Broken Justice System and Resurgent Militarism Are Blamed for Growing Lawlessness By Mary Jordan Washington Post Foreign Service Sunday, October 26, 2003; Page A21 PUERTO DE SAN JOSE, Guatemala -- Minutes after Elder Anibal Moran and his wife, Veronica Colindres, got into their car to distribute campaign banners last week, the bullets -- a hallmark of the upcoming national elections -- started flying. Moran ran from the car but fell dead 20 feet away, in front of Mery's beauty salon in this small town on the Pacific Ocean. Colindres died on the way to the hospital. Many of the 24 bullets that pierced their red Toyota had hit her, too. It is unclear why the couple's four children were so suddenly orphaned. Family and officials are divided on whether the killings were motivated by politics or drugs. Both have contributed to the alarmingly lawless atmosphere that now reigns in the most populous country in Central America. About 60 people are killed every week in Guatemala City alone, double the murder rate in 2001, according to analysts. They say the violence and bloodshed in this country of 12 million people stems from growing drug trafficking organizations, a broken justice system that investigates as little as 3 percent of all crime and the resurgence of past military leaders. One of the leading candidates for president in the Nov. 9 election is former general Efrain Rios Montt, who was dictator in 1982 and 1983 at the height of Guatemala's bloody civil war. Under his leadership, soldiers and paramilitary squads murdered thousands of unarmed people, mainly Mayan Indians. Human rights activists are now pressing a genocide case against Rios Montt, even as he runs for president. Rights activists say retired soldiers from Rios Montt's era, organized in clandestine gangs, are behind much of the recent violence. Rios Montt supporters paralyzed the capital in July, burning tires, breaking windows and assaulting journalists who had criticized him. "There is anarchy," said Hilario Herrarte, the mayoral candidate in this port, where men fish for snapper and shark and women sell embroidery along the black sandy shore. "We fear we are going backwards to the time of the war." Peace accords signed in 1996 officially ended the civil war in which 200,000 Guatemalans were killed. The war left this country one of the most heavily armed in the hemisphere. Guatemala's independent ombudsman for human rights estimates that there are 2 million unregistered guns in Guatemala, one for every six people. It seems as though nearly everyone carries a gun, from the guard sitting atop a Coca-Cola truck rolling down a city street to the families who live in shacks in the mountainous countryside, rich in coffee and coconuts. The peace accords were followed by relative tranquillity in the late 1990s. But now, murders, kidnappings, lynchings and politically motivated assassinations are more common than at any time since the war, according to human rights activists, who also express the fear that social unrest threatens Guatemalan democracy. Regardless of the outcome of the November election, many believe riots will follow. If Rios Montt doesn't win, he faces possible criminal prosecution for past abuses, as do many of those around him. These stark choices for Rios Montt supporters -- the presidency or jail -- have raised the stakes and the tensions here, electoral officials said. "It's a time bomb about to explode," said Santiago Canton, executive secretary for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, part of the Organization of American States. Although reliable crime statistics are hard to come by, civic groups here estimate that the murder rate has more than doubled in the past two years. During the current campaign, two dozen candidates and political activists have been killed, according to the Mirador Electoral, a private nonprofit funded in part by the United States and European countries. Many acts of violence are similar to the case of Abel Perez, a mayoral candidate in Santo Domingo, who was kidnapped, blindfolded for three days and tossed at the side of the road last month with a warning to quit his campaign. No ransom was asked. Perez has stayed in; others have quit. Herrarte, 38, a business administrator whose party, the rightist Grand National Alliance, is leading in the polls said he, too, has been threatened. He said anonymous, menacing voices on his phone have urged him to quit the race. He said he believes supporters of Rios Montt's party, the Guatemalan Republican Front, which is also the party of outgoing President Alfonso Portillo, are stirring up violence because they fear "their time is up." Drugs are also playing a role. U.S. officials said powerful cartels are taking advantage of Guatemala's weak and underfunded anti-drug forces, while the Bush administration focuses on Colombia. "It's a drug dealer's paradise," said one U.S. law enforcement official. Most drug shipments pass through Guatemala unnoticed. But occasionally there are spectacular cases, such as the $14 million in U.S. currency found hidden at a house in an upscale neighborhood of Guatemala City. Crashed hulks of small planes, believed to belong to drug traffickers, routinely turn up in remote areas of the country. Last month, a Cessna with nearly a ton of cocaine was found on a farm. Some people suspect that the killings of Moran and Colindres were an act of political vengeance. Others, including neighbors and the police chief of Puerto San Jose, said they suspected the couple was mixed up in the drug trade because they had a fancy new car and unusually expensive possessions. The couple's 16-year-old son, Alberto, said he doesn't know why they were killed. But Alberto said crack cocaine and marijuana are flooding into this port, where the Daiquiri Disco and other establishments have signs that say "no illegal drugs are allowed to be consumed here." Whether inspired by politics or drug trafficking, many people agree that poverty is the ultimate source of the violence. "It has never been worse economically," said Miguel Quiej, a national leader representing indigenous peoples, who are a majority in Guatemala. Quiej estimated that unemployment is as high as 40 percent in some poor agricultural zones. Many coffee plantations have closed due to low world coffee prices, idling hundreds of thousands of workers. Much of Rios Montt's support comes from rural Guatemala. But Quiej said the former dictator is trying to manipulate poor people, telling them that even during the days of civil war there were jobs. "If he wins, there will be another war. People won't stand for it," he said. President Portillo, who is closely tied to Rios Montt, has been widely criticized, in Washington and elsewhere, for doing little to stop drug trafficking. U.S. officials have said that drug cartels have ties to the Guatemalan government and military. However, Washington recently recertified Guatemala as a cooperating partner in the fight against drug trafficking. Meanwhile, Rios Montt, 77, is on the campaign trail, casting himself as a man of the poor and a tested leader who can restore order. In an interview earlier this year, the general, as his campaign posters refer to him, said he has done nothing wrong. Rios Montt's daughter, Zury Rios, who is vice president of the Guatemalan Congress, said in a recent interview that her father has been unfairly maligned and that his administration would be "totally democratic." She said her father was looking forward to an election that would vindicate his record. "Let the people decide," she said. There is growing friction between those who supported Rios Montt's "scorched earth" policy against leftist opponents of his military government and candidates who want those responsible for abuses during those years to be held accountable. Rigoberta Menchu, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and human rights activist, has called for genocide charges against Rios Montt. She was shoved and roughed up by Rios Montt supporters earlier this month. The clash between wartime leaders and those pushing for them to go on trial, as well as the rising body count, weigh heavily on merchants on the narrow street where Moran and Colindres were killed. But few in this town of 50,000 were willing to talk about the murder or the upcoming election. "We are so nervous we can't sleep. It's scary," said one shopkeeper, who asked not to be identified by name. She said she had voted for Portillo in 2000. "I had a lot of hope then, but now if I saw him, I would slap him. Look at what has happened to our country." Staff writer Marcela Sanchez in Washington contributed to this report.
Denver Post 2 Nov 2003 perspective Guatemala's election choice: democracy or genocide By Billie Stanton GUATEMALA CITY - A momentous presidential election one week from today will show the world whether Guatemala is poised to take new strides toward democracy or possibly revert to the genocide and atrocities of yesteryear. Although two credible candidates appear to be in the lead, no one truly can measure the quiet country support for former dictator Efrain Rios Montt, whose brief hold on power during the 1980s was a field day for war crimes, murders and torture. While polls show wealthy businessman Oscar Berger and industrial engineer Alvaro Colom well ahead of retired general Montt in popularity, such polls depend on telephones, a scarce luxury in outlying regions that may support Montt. "Rios Montt should definitely not win this election," says Joel Edelstein, who retired from the University of Colorado at Denver after decades of teaching Central American studies. "The Republicans are saying we can't have normal relations with Guatemala if Rios Montt becomes president," notes Rick Clifford, a member of the Denver Justice and Peace Committee who spent the first half of this year in Guatemala. "Democrats don't want him either. Even (President Bush) says Rios Montt is not the answer to Guatemala's problems." "Clearly, his record is abominable," agrees Dr. Eric Popkin, an immigration expert and assistant sociology professor at Colorado College. "Under his reign, more people were killed - particularly indigenous people - than at any other time in Guatemalan history." Yet along roadsides from the poor pueblo of San Antonio Aguas Calientes to the tourist magnet of Coban, boldly painted rocks promise "Seguridad, Bienestar, Justicia - FRG - Rios Montt." "Security, the good life, justice" - promises dripping irony, considering the record racked up during Montt's 18-month presidency after he seized power in a coup d'etat in 1982. More than 60,000 people were killed or disappeared in his scorched-earth campaign, which laid waste to 440 indigenous Mayan villages, according to documentation by human rights groups worldwide. Memories are long. Many blue-collar Denver Guatemalans, as well as a local university professor from Guatemala, politely declined to comment on Rios Montt. "We still have family in Guatemala ... and our family could easily be identified," one said, summarizing fears expressed by the others. The exception was Dr. Alvaro Arias, a math professor at the University of Denver who immigrated in 1985: "I remember the time of Rios Montt. And I don't know a single person who likes him." Nonetheless, Montt "definitely" could win the election, Popkin says. The fallout from a Montt victory would hit the U.S. and Guatemala hard: Guatemalan migration to the U.S. quickly would escalate, predicts Popkin. The U.S., Canada and many European nations have vowed to end trade with Guatemala if Montt ascends to the presidency. Guatemala's coffee industry, suffering already amid worldwide price drops, could sustain another severe blow. So could tourism, which surpassed coffee last year as the nation's leading industry. Native weavers, whose vividly hued textiles keep them afloat, would face a struggle to survive, as would other impoverished rural folk who flow into tourist towns to hawk their hand-crafted wares. Without tourists, who will buy? Still, few dismiss Montt's ability to win. Popkin cites the former dictator's fierce anti-crime stance for his appeal among rural campesinos entrenched in "horrible poverty" and rampant crime. "He tends to win even in villages that had been decimated under his rule. A perceived 'strong leader' appeals to people who feel vulnerable. They don't connect the dots." In addition, Montt's evangelical Christian beliefs seem to have prompted "a substantial rise in evangelical and Pentecostal sects," Popkin notes. "I remember in the early '80s on late-night TV watching Pat Robertson try to raise money for 'Brother Rios Montt.' His (evangelicalism) is a motivation for some to vote for him as well." More startling was the leak of "Plan Lazaro," the secret, three-pronged election strategy of Montt's party, Frente Republicano Guatemalteco (FRG) or the Republican Guatemalan Front, which is in power today under President Alfonso Portillo: Secure the Constitutional Court's vote to let Montt run, or use force, if necessary, to ensure his candidacy. (The court gave Montt's campaign the nod July 30, amid an international outcry. The ruling came one week after "Black Thursday," when more than 5,000 Montt supporters stormed this capital city, wielding machetes and rocks, killing one Guatemalan journalist, injuring bystanders, burning buildings and bringing downtown business to a halt.) Using resources supplied by the current FRG government, make threats or commit violence against the opposition. (Amnesty International reported Sept. 18 that intimidation and threats against opposition leaders, journalists and human rights activists have escalated as the election nears. In June, 12 armed men forced their way into the home of Jose Ruben Zamora, editor of El Periodico newspaper, held a gun to his head and beat his sons. U.S. Ambassador to Guatemala John R. Hamilton urged the government to investigate and prosecute perpetrators of the "violent and barbaric" attack.) Ensure high voter absenteeism on election day. Says Arias, the only Denver Guatemalan willing to speak on the record, "Montt was not supposed to be able to run (under the constitution), yet he's running. They can always resort to fraud in the end. They are the party in power." In addition, the government made payments in April to about 2,000 former Civil Defense patrollers (Patruilleros de Defensa Civil, known as the ex-PACs). These civilian, supposedly unpaid "volunteers" were assigned by the former Montt regime to patrol villages. The government insisted they would prevent crime; human rights defenders and massacre survivors say the PACs worked as unpaid thugs. Now, Portillo's government vows that more of approximately 1 million ex-PACs will get payments after the election, provided the FRG retains control. Human rights activists fear that surprise payments may even be made in late October, to ensure more FRG votes Nov. 9. In a nation of 11 million people, with about 4.5 million registered voters, the impact of votes from the newly reorganized ex-PACs could prove significant. Any candidate receiving 50 percent or more of the votes Nov. 9 - an unlikely scenario - wins the election. A runoff election Dec. 28 is more likely. The FRG, meanwhile, repeatedly has denied any involvement in the July 24-25 protests that rocked the capital or in any threats, intimidation or violence. Montt, likewise, consistently denies culpability for genocide and war crimes. Montt told The Washington Post recently, "I was president, not a platoon commander," and thus wouldn't have known about atrocities. Known as "Guatemala's Pinochet," the 77-year-old Montt was trained at the much-criticized, U.S.-funded School of the Americas, where U.S. experts trained Latin American "anti-Communist" strongmen and their army officers in anti-guerilla combat, psychological warfare and mass coercion. Montt ruled with covert U.S. support during the Reagan era. Educated Guatemalans don't think twice when asked how Montt can muster support from the very people whose villages were decimated. He feeds them, they say. And he pays them. In Guatemala, seemingly, poverty promotes power. If poverty and illiteracy spawn power in Guatemala, Montt is in the right place. At least 80 percent of Guatemalans live in extreme poverty, and the illiteracy rate exceeds 30 percent, according to studies by Harvard and Stanford universities. Many urban residents back Berger (pronounced Ber-shay), saying his wealth will preclude him from corruption. Many also insist that Montt's support springs from those too young to remember or too unsophisticated to know better. Several mature poor people, however, belie that simplistic analysis. Teodoro Hernandez, 52, says he is poor but cannot support Montt. As the dusty road from Antigua to San Antonio morphs into a smooth highway, Hernandez dismounted his bicycle to reflect on Montt's politics. "The past governments began to build this road. But the FRG stopped construction. Now, with the election coming up, they've started again," says Hernandez, a stout but hardy cyclist who rides this stretch daily. "And the farmers who owned this land don't get paid for the land that was taken (to build the road). They went together to the capital because the road has environmental and construction problems, too. But they got no solution. I tried to work construction on this road, but I wasn't with the right party, the FRG." His views on Montt are echoed by many in the international tourist center of Antigua and in Guatemala City, bastions of urban sophistication compared with the rest of Guatemala. Says Elena deAragon, 42, a mop- topped Spanish teacher in Antigua, "He has an obsession to govern the country. He does not accept failure. So he wants to be president, and he doesn't care how. If it's necessary to murder, to sell our resources, whatever - he's oppressive." Says ex-patriate restaurateur Jesper Nielsen, 24, "I'm sad to say, but I think he has a chance to become president because of his manipulation of the current government and the people in the country. He masterminded a coup before, and he may do it again." As world attention once more swings southward, the educated middle-class of Guatemala can't help but remember that Montt's first term brought a massive exodus of the country's dispossessed. Most fought desperate odds seeking illegal sanctuary in the kitchens, ski resorts, farms and gardens of Colorado and other states. Many found richer, safer lives elsewhere in "El Norte." But the world is a far more dangerous place since September 2001. American borders and immigration laws, which never welcomed Central America's huddled masses, could prove a more daunting barrier if "the troubles" loom closer. At least Nielsen, a four-year Guatemala resident and Danish member of a large and entrenched European and American population, has an exit strategy. If Montt takes office, he says, "A lot of us will leave the country."
WP 8 Nov 2003 Party To Mass Murder? By Daniel Wilkinson Saturday, November 8, 2003; Page A27 A presidential election is being held tomorrow in which one of the leading candidates stands accused of genocide. Efrain Rios Montt, a retired general, is seeking the presidency of Guatemala. In the early 1980s he headed a military regime that carried out hundreds of massacres of unarmed civilians and -- according to a U.N.-sponsored truth commission -- "acts of genocide." Now Rios Montt is attempting to return to power, and as part of his campaign has even displayed a picture of himself with Ronald Reagan that was taken in the '80s. The U.S. Embassy has pointed out that this photo was taken in a different context, and indeed it was. The context was the Cold War, and the Reagan administration, concerned about leftist insurgencies in Central America, was seeking congressional approval to restore direct military aid to Guatemala. Reagan posed with Rios Montt, praised him as "a man of great personal integrity" who was "totally dedicated to democracy," and dismissed charges of atrocities in Guatemala as a "bum rap." As Reagan spoke, Rios Montt's troops were preparing to march on a village called Las Dos Erres for a counterinsurgency operation that was to include the rape of young women, smashing of infants' heads and the interment of more than 160 civilians -- some while still alive -- in the village well. Now the skeletons have been exhumed from the well in Las Dos Erres, as well as from hundreds of other clandestine cemeteries scattered throughout the countryside. A truth commission has documented tens of thousands of abuses committed by the Guatemalan state, as well as a much smaller number committed by leftist guerrillas. And in 1999 President Clinton issued a public apology in Guatemala for the U.S. role in supporting that country's abusive regimes. The apology came backed by aid -- millions of dollars that the U.S. government has invested in efforts to promote the rule of law in Guatemala, including the truth commission, an extensive U.N. peacekeeping mission and the litigation of human rights cases. And what does Guatemala have to show for these efforts? Only two major human rights cases have resulted in convictions of senior army officers. And these came only after witnesses were assassinated and investigators, judges and prosecutors forced to flee the country. (Both convictions were subsequently overturned on dubious grounds and remain under review in the courts.) Neither Rios Montt nor his fellow officers have been tried for the massacres of the 1980s. Although the public prosecutor's office has opened a formal investigation into charges that they committed acts of genocide, it has moved at a snail's pace. Meanwhile, the general is running for president and stands a decent chance of forcing a runoff with the rightist politician who is the frontrunner. Whoever wins the election, the country's most pressing problem will remain its perilous journey toward the rule of law after the years of repressive violence that peaked under Rios Montt's previous rule. The biggest obstacle to recovery is the existence of a shadowy network of private, illegally armed groups that appear to have links to both government officials and organized crime. They are powerful, ruthless and apparently responsible for scores of threats and attacks against rights activists, justice officials, journalists and others. Given these groups' ability to corrupt and intimidate, it would be easy to conclude, as many have, that the situation in Guatemala is hopeless. But it isn't. At least not yet. A new initiative has emerged that could offer Guatemala its last best opportunity to restore the rule of law. This year the Guatemalan government and civil society leaders agreed to support the creation of a special U.N.-sponsored commission to investigate and promote the prosecution of these groups. To be successful, this commission will require substantial support -- political and economic -- from the United States and the rest of the world. Without adequate resources and personnel, the commission is likely to fail, a failure that could make things in Guatemala even worse, with half-baked investigations leading to the acquittal of dangerous criminals and reinforcing the climate of impunity in which they thrive. Given Guatemala's position as both the largest economy in Central America and a major transshipment point for the illegal drug trade, any further deterioration of the country's rule of law could have implications far beyond its borders. If, on the other hand, the commission succeeds, it could serve as a useful model for other countries in the region. Two decades after supporting Rios Montt, the United States should do all it can to help Guatemala clean up the human rights disaster it helped create. The context may have changed, but the wounds have not healed. The writer is counsel for the Americas Division of Human Rights Watch and author of "Silence on the Mountain: Stories of Terror, Betrayal, and Forgetting in Guatemala."
Reuters 11 Nov 2003 Guatemala ex-dictator's party accepts defeat - Human Rights Situation Remains Bleak, UN Reports By Frank Jack Daniel GUATEMALA CITY, Nov 11 (Reuters) - Former dictator Efrain Rios Montt's Guatemalan Republican Front accepted defeat on Tuesday in the country's presidential election, ending his hopes of regaining power through the ballot box. The ruling party, known by its Spanish initials FRG, had remained quiet since Sunday's vote, only Guatemala's second presidential election since the end of its 36-year civil war. That had raised fears its supporters might protest results showing Rios Montt finishing third, out of next month's runoff between the top two candidates. Edin Barrientos, who was Rios Montt's vice presidential running mate, said on Tuesday the party accepted defeat. "Of course we accept the results. The election is an expression of the people and the people didn't vote for us," Barrientos told Reuters. "We know the people are the judges and if they say no, it's no. What are we going to do? We go back to the opposition," he said. "The people did not vote for us because the media spoke badly of us throughout the campaign." With 85 percent of votes counted, conservative businessman and landowner Oscar Berger led with 35 percent support. A former Guatemala City mayor backed by the country's wealthy elite and the main newspapers, Berger fell short of an outright majority. He now faces a runoff on Dec. 28 against leftist politician Alvaro Colom, who won about 26 percent of the vote. Rios Montt, who ruled this impoverished Central American nation with an iron fist in the early 1980s, trailed with 17 percent. His share was expected to rise only slightly as returns came in from Guatemala's most remote rural areas. CRUSHING DEFEAT It was a crushing defeat for the fiery 77-year-old former general, who spent the past few years planning a return to power at the ballot box. The FRG also lost its control of Congress. Rios Montt's 1982-1983 dictatorship was the bloodiest period of Guatemala's 36-year civil war. Survivors and rights groups accuse him of ordering massacres of civilians in Maya Indian villages as part of a "scorched-earth" campaign against leftist rebels. They are building a genocide case against him, and Rios Montt, who is the FRG's secretary-general and leads it in Congress, could face trial once his parliamentary immunity ends at the end of his legislative term in January. Analysts said Guatemalan voters rejected Rios Montt because of his civil war legacy and because the outgoing FRG government of President Alfonso Portillo had been plagued with corruption allegations and a rise in organized crime. Portillo was barred from seeking a second four-year term. Although Berger came in first on Sunday, he is linked to a traditional elite many poor Guatemalans despise, and some analysts say Colom could pull ahead in the runoff by winning smaller parties' support. Berger has accused Colom of seeking an alliance with Rios Montt's FRG, but Colom said on Monday he had no plans to meet with Rios Montt. "We're not interested in that," he said.
rightsaction.org 10 Nov 2003 ELECTIONS DEMONSTRATE DESIRE FOR PARTICIPATION, SOVEREIGNTY AND END TO IMPUNITY: Rios Montt eliminated, Berger and Colom face off in a Second Round -- by Annie Bird (Rights Action co-director) In the November 9, 2003 Guatemalan presidential elections the biggest news is who did not win. The ruling party, the Guatemalan Republican Front (FRG) presented Efrain Rios Montt, a former military dictator who presided over the massacre of tens of thousands of unarmed men, women and children in a State-sponsored genocide between 1982 and 1983, as its presidential candidate. After widespread repudiation during his campaign, having been stoned, protested, and denied entry to towns during his campaign, and even booed while he voted, Rios Montt was eliminated in the first round. In loosing his candidacy, Rios Montt will also lose the immunity he has enjoyed during his term as President of Congress, possibly expediting efforts to bring him to trial for the crimes against humanity committed during his rule. Oscar Berger and Alvaro Colom will face off in a December 28 run off election, given no candidate captured more than 50% of the total vote. Berger is the candidate for the GANA coalition and Alvaro Colom is candidate for the UNE party. Colom had previously run in the 1999 elections for the ANN coalition that included the URNG party composed of the former revolutionary movement. The URNG had little presence in these presidential elections, and their performance may have been further affected due to internal party administrative problems that left at least two mayoral candidates favored to win in Rabinal and San Miguel Chicaj, Baja Verapaz off the ballots. The millions of Guatemalans who voted did so in spite of tremendous difficulties. Late opening and early closing of voting tables caused unrest. Problems with the voter registry caused mass confusion, with voters waiting in line for hours then being told they had to go to another voting center or were not registered. In Chajul, Quiche two elderly women were crushed to death in line when voters pressed in to the late to open polling center. Some voters had to walk for hours, bus drivers refusing to transport voters in two municipalities known to lack support for the ruling party. According to the official numbers, virtually every adult Guatemalan was registered to vote. This extraordinarily high number of voters led to suspicion that the ruling FRG party had manipulated the registries. Many suspect that false citizen identification cards were issued, especially given a well-publicized robbery of the blank cards from the national printer over a year ago and the lack of control of the private companies that produce the cards. Others suspect the reason for the high turn out was corrupt use of State resources by the ruling party in conditioning payment for having served as a paramilitary during the war and participation in development programs on voting for the FRG. There were widespread reports that the supposedly indelible ink that marked people who already voted was easily removed. Several false citizen cards were detained, trucks with ballots marked in favor of the FRG were detained and people intending to vote in municipalities to which they were not residents were stopped. In months leading up to November 9, there were many reports of people carrying two citizen cards and that others were voting in the place of dead people. Though corruption did not bring Rios Montt to power as some had feared, it is unclear to what degree municipal and congressional elections may have been effected. VIOLENCE OVERSHADOWS ELECTIONS – VOTERS WANT END TO IMPUNITY Many feared more violence, given that violence has been ever present during the campaign and during the elections. Reported elections-related violence has included killings, threats, violent attacks, rape, kidnapping, rioting and arson. Violence was particularly targeted against journalists, in hopes of limiting citizens’ access to information. However, opposition party activists were the principal victims. Elections day violence was relatively limited; more than 9,000 votes were burned in El Quetzal, San Marcos and 11 tables of votes were burned in Cuyotenango, Suchitepequez by mobs of former Civil Defense Patrolers (PAC) discontent at not having received the promised payment for their services during the war. Even today, 17 years after the formal shift from military to civilian rule and seven years after the signing of the peace accords, Guatemala lives in the shadow of the massive State sponsored violence that peaked between 1981 and 1983 with widespread massacres in the highland Mayan villages. More than 200,000 Guatemalans lost their lives, 93% of those as a result of US and western-backed military repression against a largely civilian population in what the United Nations sponsored truth commission called “State-sponsored genocide”, those responsible for the violence continue to hold positions of power in local and national government. Human rights organizations combat the clandestine networks of occult power which continue to maintain impunity and control resources through corruption and violence. The FRG government has been considered the maximum expression of the marriage of State and mafia and most reporting of these elections has focused on the nefarious role of Rios Montt in the elections. GANA, IMPUNITY & WAR CRIMES However, little has been reported on the wide spread presence of military actors implicated in human rights violations in most of the political parties. This includes the GANA coalition which is favored to win. GANA, a party led by the economic elite, has been billed as the “clean” alternative to Rios Montt. However, the GANA coalition includes the Partido Patriota, a new party formed by former military officers, and allies such Otto Perez Molina, who served as an intelligence officer during the genocide. Harris Whitbeck, another PP leader, was in charge of the social programs during the period of genocide which formed the Beans of the “Beans and Bullets” strategy. In this infamous social control strategy, peasants were given the choice of forming paramilitary organizations commanded by the military and receiving development aid, or being massacred. This spawned the widespread support of the FRG by these paramilitaries who still form the party’s principal base. Unfortunately, the electoral process appears to offer little possibility of ending the impunity enjoyed by the ongoing alliance between the military, the local economic elite and their international business partners. A DEEP DESIRE FOR DEMOCRACY AND SOVEREIGNTY – DENIED Irrespective of how much violence and corruption have tainted the elections, what was made clear today and in the months leading up to the elections was the tremendous desire by the majority of Guatemalans to participate in the governance of their country, a basic right denied to them throughout Guatemalan history, beginning with the Spanish colonies, followed by the interests of competing colonial-imperial powers and then by a century of constant direct and covert military and economic interventions by the United States. While civil society struggles to rebuild itself and foster the ability of the people to exercise self-governance, international financing institutions (World Bank, Inter American Development Bank and the International Monetary Fund) have pushed through programs and legislation that weaken Guatemalan citizens’ ability to exercise control over their own nation, its resources, and basic social services such as education, healthcare and energy. These institutions have promoted the privatization of basic services to transnational corporations, the concession of natural resources to multinationals with little or no benefit to the population or control of environmental damages, free trade policies that undermine small producers and destroy local economies and the dedication of State resources to creation of infrastructure needed by corporations rather than investing in promoting local markets, social services, better conditions for small producers, and guaranteeing fundamental human rights. “THE US EMBASSY CANDIDATE” Both Berger and Colom are promoting agendas favorable to international economic interests. Indeed, Berger is known as the US embassy candidate. Widespread reports indicate that US embassy officials and USAID funding has openly supported GANA through both political support and financial resources for GANA-dominated non governmental organizations which, among other things, have promised easier access to US travel visas for those who participate in their activities. Guatemala’s ability for self-governance is further undermined given that policies related to two of the largest sources of income for the nation, remittances sent by undocumented workers in the United States and profits from drug trafficking, are entirely determined by the United States. Though very different in nature, migration and drug trafficking have led to increased militarization and human rights violations. Drug profits appear to be controlled by many of the same mafia that maintain influence in the government, and have led to the increased violence, arms and death squads freely operating in sections of the country. The ability of the United States to act directly in military and policing operations to control drug trafficking and migration has increased, especially in the context of the “War on Terrorism”. Just how “clean” the elections were is difficult to determine, despite the presence of thousands of Guatemalan elections monitors and many international observer delegations. Over the next few days, much will be reported about the electoral process. However, there is little discussion of the global structural conditions that undermine self-determination in a small, former colonial nation like Guatemala and the efforts of thousands of organized Guatemalans struggling to make a decent life for their family and their community and in the process build a better nation. Over the next few weeks, Rights Action will be distributing information related to the possibility of democracy and self governance, impunity and social control, and information produced by volunteers accompanying community based organizations, RA partners, struggling to transform their society and their planet.
FT.com 18 Jan 2004 Nobel prizewinner to oversee Guatemala peace deal By Sara Silver in Mexico City The Guatemalan Nobel prizewinner Rigoberta Menchu will help to oversee the implementation of the peace accords that ended the country's 36-year civil war as part of its newly elected government. Successive governments have ignored or stumbled over the recommendations of the 1996 United Nation-brokered accords ending the conflict that killed 200,000 people, mostly members of the nation's Maya Indian majority, which includes Ms Menchu. Thorny issues remain, such as reducing the role of the army, compensating war victims, fighting ethnic discrimination, redistributing land and lessening the gross inequality that fuelled support for the anti-government rebels. Ms Menchu, who won the peace prize in 1992, said on Saturday that she would work within the Oscar Berger government, reportedly as a type of "goodwill ambassador to the accords". The president's wife, Wendy Widmann de Berger, stressed the administration's commitment to implementing the accords: "We believe [Ms Menchu] is the person who can show the world the changes we want to make." Ms Menchu's international credibility had been tarnished when she conceded that she mixed the testimony of other war victims into I, Rigoberta Menchu, the book that brought to world attention the horrors of the civil war. Reflecting the patchwork of his nation's past, President Berger is appointing leading human rights activists, officers who played key roles in US-backed military regimes and figures who come with the strong backing of the landed elite that financed his own campaign. Both Ms Menchu and respected human rights lawyer Frank LaRue, who was named head of the presidential human rights office, have long worked to prosecute on genocide charges the military officers who designed or carried out human rights violations. Chief among the targets is former military dictator Efrain Rios Montt, whom Mr Berger beat in November's first round of elections. Mr Berger has dodged questions on whether he will allow genocide charges to proceed against Mr Rios Montt, who until last week enjoyed legislative immunity as president of Congress.
Lawyers Committee for Human Rights 22 Jan 2004 www.lchr.org Rights Organizations Hail Supreme Court Decision in Myrna Mack Case January 22, 2004 The Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) and the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) today welcomed the decision of Guatemala’s Supreme Court to reinstate the conviction of Colonel Juan Valencia Osorio for orchestrating the murder of renowned Guatemalan anthropologist Myrna Mack Chang in 1990. The three organizations, which have all campaigned for justice in the Mack case and in other human rights cases in Guatemala for many years, described the decision as “a tremendous victory for the Mack family and everyone in Guatemala who challenges entrenched impunity.” The Supreme Court’s decision, which was notified on Tuesday to Myrna Mack’s sister Helen and the Mack Foundation, overturned a May 2003 ruling of the Fourth Appeals Court, which had reversed Valencia Osorio’s earlier conviction by a trial court. In October 2002, a trial court had sentenced Valencia Osorio to thirty years imprisonment for masterminding the murder while he served as Head of the Department of Presidential Security of the Presidential General Staff (Estado Mayor Presidencial, EMP), a unit originally created to provide security for the President and Vice-president which operated as a military intelligence center and has been implicated in some of Guatemala's most high-profile human rights abuses. The Supreme Court reconfirmed the sentence and ordered Valencia Osorio’s arrest. The Lawyers Committee, CEJIL and WOLA commended the Supreme Court ruling, noting that judges and lawyers in Guatemala remain under constant threat of violence and intimidation. “We hope that this decision marks the beginning of a new period in Guatemala where rights abusers are held accountable for their actions, no matter their positions in previous power structures,” stated Neil Hicks, Director of the Lawyers Committee’s Human Rights Defenders Program. Adriana Beltrán, WOLA's Program Officer for Guatemala and co-author of a recent publication, entitled “Hidden Powers: Illegal Armed Groups in Post-conflict Guatemala and the Forces Behind Them” added “The countless delays and obstacles in the Myrna Mack case provide a prominent example of the influence and impunity enjoyed by clandestine power structures in Guatemala." In its decision, the Supreme Court held that the Fourth Appeals Court had erred in its reasoning when it found an “inconsistency” in the original trial court decision concerning the role played by Valencia Osorio in the planning and execution of the Mack murder. The trial court had found that “resources of the EMP’s Department of Presidential Security, where the order to kill anthropologist Myrna Mack originated, were used to carry out the murder.” It also later stated that “it has not been totally proven that the plan of execution … would have been conceived at the level of the EMP.” The Fourth Appeals Court perceived a contradiction between these two statements insofar as they relate to the role of the EMP in the crime. The Court therefore concluded that, as Valencia Osorio was tried on the basis of his role as a member of the EMP, the contradiction in the trial court’s reasoning placed into question the causal relationship between Valencia Osorio and the crime and his imputed authorship of the crime. However, the Supreme Court disagreed, finding that there was no inconsistency in the trial court’s position. The reconfirmation of Valencia Osorio’s conviction and sentence marks the end of a thirteen-year struggle for justice by Helen Mack and the Mack Foundation. Osorio’s conviction also represents the first time a high ranking military officer has been convicted of a human rights violation committed during the country's long civil war. While Noel de Jesús Beteta Álvarez, a soldier with the EMP, was convicted in 1993 for carrying out the killing, Helen Mack sought to have those responsible for ordering and arranging the execution of the crime also held accountable. In addition to Juan Valencia Osorio, she also accused General Edgar Augosto Godoy Gaitán and Lieutenant Colonel Juan Guillermo Oliva Carrera of involvement. In October 2002, however, the trial court acquitted Godoy Gaitán and Oliva Carrera, and their acquittal was reconfirmed by the Supreme Court. While domestic criminal proceedings were stalled in Guatemala, Helen Mack brought a parallel case to the Inter-American Commission and subsequently the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. These institutions are mandated to determine state responsibility for violations of the American Convention on Human Rights. In November 2003, the Inter-American Court found in favor of Helen Mack, ruling that Guatemala was responsible both for Myrna’s murder and for the subsequent denial of justice in the case. The Court specifically found that commanding officers in the EMP had ordered and carried out the murder and directed Guatemala to make reparations. Such reparations included ensuring the removal of all obstacles to justice in the case, public recognition of the state’s responsibility, and creating public memorials to Myrna Mack. “We believe that the Inter-American Commission and Court proceedings have helped to push the domestic justice system forward in this case,” commented Roxanna Altholz, Staff Attorney at CEJIL. Fundación Myrna Mack www.myrnamack.org.gt
Reuters 12 Feb 2004 Ex-Guatemala dictator to testify over reporter death GUATEMALA CITY, Feb 12 (Reuters) - A judge has banned former dictator Efrain Rios Montt from leaving Guatemala and ordered him to testify to a court investigating his possible implication in the death of a reporter last year. Judge Luis Alfredo Morales subpoenaed Rios Montt and members of his family and political party for their alleged role in violent protests in Guatemala City last year in which a radio journalist died while fleeing an armed mob. The reporter's son is accusing Rios Montt -- whom rights groups accuse of genocide during his iron-fisted 1982-83 dictatorship -- of murder, his lawyer said on Thursday. Radio reporter Hector Ramirez died of a heart attack in July as he was being chased by stick-wielding rightists at a demonstration backing a presidential bid by the ex-dictator. Walter Roble, the lawyer representing his son, also called Hector, said he welcomed the judge's ruling, made on Wednesday. "The decision to ban the accused from leaving the country is prudent, in virtue of the fact that in Guatemala those accused often become fugitives of justice," he told Reuters. Rios Montt, 77, was head of Congress at the time of the protests, called in support of his bid to be a candidate for Guatemala's 2003 presidential election. The retired general lost parliamentary immunity from prosecution when he stepped down from Congress in January after losing the election in the first round. Rights groups accuse Rios Montt of ordering the massacre of thousands of Maya Indians during his rule at the height of a 36-year civil war in which 200,000 people died. Judge Morales told local media that a warrant for Rios Montt's arrest would be issued if he did not present himself willingly to the court. Lawyers in the case say they expect Rios Montt to be called to appear next week. The court will then decide, based on his initial testimony, whether to proceed with the case.