Guest Post by Marvyn Pérez: The Return of the Military/El retorno de los militares


The Return of the Military
(español abajo)

General Otto Pérez Molina’s ascendency to the presidency of the Republic of Guatemala has provoked frustration and sadness in some and joy in others. For those of us who lived and survived the war, this fact can be hard to understand, as the general is accused of crimes against humanity including  carrying out massacres against the indigenous civilian population in the Ixil region at the beginning of the 1980s. There are also accusations of forced disappearance and extrajudicial execution such as that carried out against the insurgent Efraín Bámaca, who was captured alive and then was “disappeared.” The dark and tenebrous past of the general is benefited by his supposedly “moderate” posture within the military, which brought him to be the army’s representative during the negotiation process between the government and the insurgency and a signer of the Peace Accords, signed on the 29th of December 1996.

Despite the accusations presented against him, no case has been successful in the Guatemalan justice system. This includes the first week of January, when the criminal charges against him with the greatest chance of moving forward were dismissed by the Public Prosecutor’s Office based on the report/analysis put forth by a Peruvian army officer who serves the Prosecutor’s Office as an expert in military affairs. This report concluded that there were not elements that tied Pérez Molina to the chain of command responsible for the execution of the insurgent Efraín Bámaca. However, the report pinned the blame on other high military commanders who were also part of the criminal complaint brought by Jennifer Harbury, wife of Efraín Bámaca. The report apparently did not take into consideration the documents declassified by the State Department where Pérez Molina is mentioned as one of the people responsible for the captivity and eventual execution of the insurgent.

If the Prosecutor’s Office continues to work independently and without pressure of any nature, it’s likely that in the near future we will see other legal processes and arrests against members of the army accused of crimes against humanity. The arrival of Claudia Paz y Paz as the Attorney General has allowed the Prosecutor’s Office to move forward professionally and independently in many cases which were bogged down/shelved in the justice system. The advances in the investigations has allowed some military men to be captured, taken to jail and charges brought against them such as the case of the Kaibiles who participated in the massacre of Dos Erres as well as Francisco Arrendondo who led the feared “Command Six” of the National Police in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Other high ranking officers, soldiers and civilians have been sentenced, and others are facing charges for crimes committed in the past.

These open processes against military men and civilians have provoked the rage of retired military officers and ultra right-wing civilians who fear that they will be charged in the future or that their names will come to light and they will be connected to the investigations. These conservative sectors, accustomed to impunity, have launched a dirty campaign against the Attorney General. This campaign is meant to rid the Prosecutor’s Office of the Attorney General and thus stop the cases and other investigations which are being carried out. The dirty campaign consists of tying members of her family with the old insurgency, trying to create the idea that she is biased and only interested in damaging the military. As part of the same campaign, these ultra conservative groups have filed complaints with the Prosecutor’s Office against those who they claim belonged to the old guerillas, hoping in this way to equate the crimes against humanity committed by the army with those of the guerillas. The conservative groups have put together and presented to the press lists of the supposedly implicated, many of whom died long ago or were children when the crimes occurred, as is the case of the columnists and human rights defenders. These lists seem to send a message of terror to those who are still alive, in the style of the death squads who functioned with the help of the State and ultra conservative civilians during the war years and who are responsible for many of the forced disappearances.

It is very likely that these right-wing groups feel encouraged and emboldened by the arrival of General Otto Pérez Molina to the presidency in Guatemala. This step is not just the arrival of a military commander. His entire inner circle is also made up of military men who have accompanied him throughout his long military career. The security institutions, such as the Interior Ministry, the Secretary of Administrative Affairs and Guatemala’s Presidential Security, just to mention the closest, are all now controlled by military men. In this way, it doesn’t seem to be just that a military man is assuming the presidency, but that it is a return of the military men and the counterinsurgent military officers who are accused of committing the worst crime—bringing about the last genocide on the American continent.

Without a doubt, the institution which will face the most difficulty will be the Prosecutor’s Office and the Attorney General, which will have to closely follow the support offered by the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) to the institutions charged with justice as well as the willingness of the new government to request the extension of the CICIG at the end of his time in office. Human rights defenders will surely be under the microscope of the ultra right-wing groups and, why not add, of the military and civil intelligence apparatus.

It appears that the future will continue to be difficult, civil society will have the complicated task of making sure the precarious rule of law is not turned back and will have to look to alliances with the international community to fortify the routes to denounce and pressure the new government. It seems that the international community, especially the countries which assisted with peace process, do not look favorably on the ascendency of a military officer to the presidency. This was clear from the lack of participation by heads of state and international delegations in the inauguration on the 14th of January. This could mean that the international community will closely follow the developments and steps taken by the new government, especially those which impact or violate human rights in the country.

Those of us Guatemalans who live outside the country, especially those of us who reside in the United States, will have the task of closely following the developments in the country and helping civil society with their just demands. It will be vital in this new period to fortify alliances with groups interested in Guatemala. For us, recipients of the Voiceless Speak Fund, who are working to keep war crimes from languishing in impunity, this could mean an opportunity to seek alliances with different sectors of whatever country we find ourselves in. We can participate more actively in bringing representatives of civil society in Guatemala to this country to denounce or share their experiences with their counterparts and taking delegations of various sectors of the social movement in this country travel to Guatemala to know, first hand, the developments and history of the country.

The Voiceless Speak Program opens opportunities to us survivors to help us continue denouncing the crimes against humanity carried out by the military with the complicity of many civilians. We have to knock on many doors—universities, religious groups, community groups, and unions— looking for youth, men and women to educate them about our history. Or obligation as survivors will continue to be the quest for justice through legal mechanisms, and to continue denouncing the crimes of the past to preserve memory and truth.

El retorno de los militares

La llegada a la presidencia de la republica de Guatemala del general Otto Pérez Molina ha provocado frustración y tristeza en muchos. Para los que vivimos y sobrevivimos la guerra éste hecho puede ser difícil de entender porque el general está acusado de delitos de lesa humanidad como ordenar masacres contra población civil indígena en el área Ixil a principios de la década de los 80´s. También hay señalamientos de desapariciones forzadas y ejecución extrajudicial como la llevada a cabo contra el insurgente Efraín Bámaca quien fue capturado vivo y luego desaparecido. El oscuro y tenebroso pasado del general se ve beneficiado por su postura aparentemente “moderada” dentro del ejército lo cual lo llevo a ser representante del ejército en el proceso de negociaciones entre el Estado y la Insurgencia y signatario de los Acuerdos de Paz firmados el 29 de diciembre de 1996.

Pese a las acusaciones presentadas en su contra ningún caso a prosperado en la justicia guatemalteca, incluso la primera semana de enero del presente año una de las demandas en su contra con mayores posibilidades de avanzar fue desestimada por el Ministerio Público (MP) basándose en un informe/análisis  elaborado por un  militar peruano que trabaja para el MP en calidad de experto en asuntos militares. Dicho informe concluye que no hay elementos que vinculen a Pérez Molina en la cadena de mando responsable por la ejecución del insurgente Efraín Bámaca. Sin embargo, el informe sí señala como responsables a otros altos mandos del ejército que forman parte de la denuncia presentada por Jennifer Harbury, viuda del insurgente Efraín Bámaca. El informe aparentemente no tomó en consideración los documentos desclasificados del Departamento de Estado donde sí se menciona a Pérez Molina como uno de los responsables del cautiverio y posterior ejecución del insurgente. Si el Ministerio publico continúa trabajando independientemente y sin presiones de ninguna índole es probable que en el futuro cercano podamos ver otros procesos legales y arrestos contra militares acusados por crímenes de lesa humanidad. La llegada de Claudia Paz y Paz como fiscal general ha permitido que el MP avance profesionalmente e independientemente en muchos casos que estaban atorados/engavetados en el sistema de justicia, el avance de las investigaciones ha permitido que algunos militares hayan sido capturados, se encuentren en la cárcel y enfrenten procesos legales como el caso de los kaibiles que participaron en la masacre de Las Dos Erres y de Francisco Arredondo quien dirigió el temible comando seis de la policía nacional a finales de los 70´s y principios de los 80´s.  Otros militares de alto rango, soldados y civiles han sido condenados y otros enfrentan procesos por crímenes cometidos el conflicto armado interno.

Estos procesos abiertos contra militares y civiles ha provocado la ira de militares retirados y civiles de ultra derecha que tienen miedo a ser procesados en el futuro o de que sus nombres salgan a luz y se les vincule en las investigaciones. Estos sectores conservadores  acostumbrados a la impunidad han lanzado una campaña sucia contra la fiscal general, dicha campaña tiene como objetivos: sacar a la fiscal general del MP y de esta manera detener los procesos abiertos y otras investigaciones que se puedan estar realizando. La campaña sucia consiste en vincular a miembros de su familia con la antigua insurgencia, pretendiendo así crear la idea de que ella es parcial y sólo tiene interés de dañar al ejército. Como parte de la misma campaña estos grupos de ultra derecha han presentado denuncias en el MP contra civiles a quienes ellos acusan de haber pertenecido a la antigua guerrilla, buscando de esta manera equiparar/igualar los crímenes de lesa humanidad que cometió el ejercito con los de la guerrilla. Estos grupos  elaboraron y presentaron a los medios de comunicación las listas de los supuestos implicados, muchos de los cuales murieron hace mucho tiempo o eran niñas cuando los hechos ocurrieron como es el caso de dos columnistas de medios escritos y defensoras de derechos humanos. Estas listas parecieran llevar el mensaje de atemorizar a los que están vivos, al estilo de los escuadrones de la muerte que funcionaron con apoyo del Estado y civiles de ultra derecha durante los años de la guerra y que son responsables de muchas de las desapariciones forzadas.

Es muy probable que estos grupos de derecha se sientan  animados y envalentonados con la llegada del general Otto Pérez Molina a la presidencia y es que no se trata de la llegada de un militar sino que todo su círculo cercano son militares que lo han acompañado a lo largo de su carrera militar. Las instituciones de seguridad como el Ministerio de Gobernación, la Secretaría de Asuntos Administrativos y de Seguridad de la Presidencia de Guatemala (SAAS), el secretario del Consejo Nacional de Seguridad y su Secretario Privado, sólo por mencionar a los más cercanos son militares. De esta forma pareciera que nos es un militar el que va a asumir la presidencia del país, sino que es el regreso de los militares y de los militares contrainsurgentes, aquellos acusados de cometer los peores crímenes: llevar a cabo el último genocidio en el continente americano.

Sin duda la institución que probablemente enfrentará más dificultades será el Ministerio Público y su fiscal general, habrá que seguir muy de cerca el apoyo que pueda seguir dando la Comisión Internacional Contra la Impunidad en Guatemala (CICIG) a las instituciones encargadas de la justicia, así como de la voluntad del nuevo gobierno de solicitar la ampliación de la CICIG al culminar su mandato. Los defensores de derechos humanos seguramente estarán bajo la lupa de los grupos de ultra derecha y porque no decirlo de los aparatos  inteligencia militar y civil. El futuro seguirá siendo difícil, la sociedad civil tendrá una tarea complicada de vigilar que el precario Estado de Derecho no retroceda y tendrá que buscar alianzas en la comunidad internacional para fortalecer las vías de denuncia y presión sobre el nuevo gobierno. Pareciera que la comunidad internacional, particularmente los países que apoyaron el proceso de paz no ven con buenos ojos la llegada de un militar a la presidencia. Esto fue evidente con la escasa  participación de Jefes de Estado y de delegaciones internacionales en la toma de posesión el pasado 14 de enero. Esto podría significar que la comunidad internacional estará vigilante de los acontecimientos y medidas que tome el nuevo gobierno, en particular aquellos que afecten o violen los derechos humanos en el país.

Los guatemaltecos que vivimos en el extranjero particularmente los que residimos en Estados Unidos tendremos la tarea de seguir muy de cerca los acontecimientos en el país y apoyar a la sociedad civil en sus justas demandas, será vital en este nuevo periodo  fortalecer  alianzas con grupos interesados en  Guatemala. Para nosotros, los becarios del Voiceless Speak Fund que estamos interesados que los crímenes de la guerra no queden en la impunidad puede significar una oportunidad para buscar alianzas con diferentes sectores en cualquier parte del país en que nos encontremos, podemos tener una participación más activa buscando que representantes de la sociedad civil  guatemalteca viajen a este país a denunciar o trasmitir sus experiencias con sus semejantes. Y que delegaciones de diferentes sectores del movimiento social de éste país viaje a Guatemala a conocer de primera mano los acontecimientos y la historia del país. El programa de Voiceless Speak Fund abre la oportunidad y facilita que nosotros los sobrevivientes/supervivientes podamos continuar denunciando los crímenes de lesa humanidad que llevaron a cabo militares con la complicidad de muchos civiles. Tendremos que tocar muchas puertas: universidades, grupos religiosos, grupos comunitarios, sindicatos, buscar a los jóvenes, hombres y mujeres y educarles de nuestra historia. Nuestra obligación como sobrevivientes/supervivientes seguirá  siendo la búsqueda de la justicia a través de los mecanismos legales, continuar denunciando los crímenes del pasado para preservar la  memoria y la verdad.

Weekly News Roundup

February 16th-February 23rd

  • Mixco will be protected by 420 new agents. President Perez Molina announced that a new police station will be created in Mixco to combat insecurity.  It is a pilot program that includes members of the National Police (PNC), the army, and support from the Municipal Transit Police.
  • Change of prosecutor in genocide case. Prosecutor Manuel Vasquez will no longer be in charge of the genocide case against Efraín Ríos Montt.  Vasquez was promoted to head of the district prosecutor’s office in Sacatepéquez.  He will be replaced with Orlando Salvador López, who worked with Vasquez on the case.
  • Second lawsuit brought against guerilla.  The lawsuit is brought by Telma Marcos Bernal, an indigenous woman, against the commanders of the Ejército Guerrillero de los Pobres (EGP) for kidnapping and murder.  Bernal is bringing cases of genocide against 20 individuals who include human rights defenders, family members of the Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz, and the sister of ex-president Álvaro Colom.
  • Judge in Ríos Montt case steps down.  The judge in charge of the genocide trial of Efrain Ríos Montt stepped down upon requests of the defense lawyers.  Judge Carol Patricia Flores announced her decision just before a hearing to decide if the charges should be dropped due to an amnesty law that was passed in 1986.  The new judge is Miguel Ángel Gálvez and he suspended the proceedings until March.
  • Retired general to be tried for Dos Erres massacre.  Oral debates will begin the legal proceedings against former general Pedro Pimentel, who was the head of the Kaibiles that carried out the Dos Erres Massacre in 1982.  He is being charged with assassination and crimes against humanity.

International News

  • Latin America divided by drug legalization debate.  President Perez Molina has reopened a debate within Latin America about the legalization of drugs as a way to combat narcotrafficking.  The US has rejected the proposal, and officials in El Salvador, Costa Rica, and Mexico have also expressed doubts.  The article discusses the range of opinions held by various leaders in Latin America.

Books to Benefit GHRC!

What War? Testimonies of Maya Survivors

“I am a survivor of the Guatemala civil war.”

In 2004, Laurie Levinger left her home in Vermont for Guatemala where she planned to teach English to Maya university students. But on the first day of class, Levinger became the student instead of the teacher when a young man named Fernando introduced himself by saying “My father was killed when I was four months old. I am a survivor of the Guatemala civil war.”

Shocked, Levinger’s first thought was “What war?”

Beginning in 1960, fighting between the Guatemalan military and guerrilla fighters raged across the country. By 1980, this violence-which began with a CIA-backed coup and efforts by the United Fruit Company to protect its financial interests-turned into the massacre of Maya people throughout Guatemala. By the time peace accords were signed in 1996, over 200,000 people had been murdered or “disappeared” and hundreds of thousands more forced into exile by their own government.

Levinger’s students had been young children when these atrocities were committed. Many lost their parents. Many had relatives who “disappeared.” All had suffered the loss of their culture, their family ties, their sense of safety, their personal identities.

As a clinical social worker, Levinger believes in the importance of bearing witness, of speaking the unspeakable out loud. After her initial trip, she returned to Guatemala, this time with a tape recorder and a mission: to record the testimonies of her students, to document their enduring love for their Maya culture, and to honor their unflagging search for truth.

In What War? Testimonies of Maya Survivors, Levinger brings us stories, told in the spare and eloquent language of truth-tellers, reminding us all that the true cost of war is borne by the survivors. And so is the hope for peace.


GHRC is featuring Laurie Levinger’s What War? to kick off our new book of the month series. We offer several titles for sale focused on different aspects of human rights in Guatemala. What War? which has been published in English and Spanish, in Guatemala and in the US, is a crucial and timely look at the importance of historical memory for the healing of Guatemala’s victims of its internal armed conflict. Your purchase of this book benefits GHRC’s work to support victims and survivors of human rights abuses in Guatemala.

What War? is available from GHRC for $20 ($3 off the normal price). To order What War? or other items we have for sale, print out our order form and mail it to us along with your payment.

Other Announcements

Host a Speaker with GHRC this April

Do you live in Washington, Oregon or California? Are you looking for ways to support human rights in Guatemala?

Host Iduvina Hernandez, Guatemalan journalist and human rights activist to speak at your school, place of worship, or other venue, starting April 23. Iduvina will discuss Militarization and Threats to Justice in Guatemala.

Email ghrc-usa@ghrc-usa.org for more information.

GHRC is Celebrating its 30th Anniversary!

2012 marks 30 years since Sister Alice Zachmann registered the Guatemala Human Rights Commission as a non-profit, and we’re celebrating all year. Watch for tidbits about GHRC’s history on Facebook and stay tuned for information about how you can get involved in celebrating this milestone. Mark your calendars for a special event in Washington, DC on September 27th.

Connect with GHRC

Here at GHRC, we’re always looking for new ways to educate and mobilize. There are all sorts of  ways to connect with us online: Like us on Facebook; follow us on Twitter; and check out our new blog. Join  our listserv to receive regular news and updates. Finally we’re excited to announce the imminent launch of our new website. Prefer not to use the internet? Don’t worry. GHRC will still be sending out El Quetzal and other updates by mail.

Apply For GHRC’s Voiceless Speak Fund

Since 1987, the Voiceless Speak Fund has empowered Guatemalans with personal knowledge of human rights violations in Guatemala to share their experiences and raise awareness among people in the United States. The Fund provides direct assistance to Guatemalans in the US who are in financial need and are engaged in Guatemala human rights work, or have demonstrated an ability and desire to do such work. For more information, visit our website. Applications are due June 30, 2012.

GHRC to Brief Congress: Invite your Representative

Contact your Representative and ask to them to attend GHRC’s Congressional Briefing: Threats to Justice and a Return to Military Rule in Guatemala

 As Guatemala’s President, a general linked to genocide, comes to the end of his first month in office, the U.S. Congress is opening the door to lift the decades-old ban on U.S. funding to the Guatemalan army. President Pérez Molina has already sent the military to patrol Guatemala’s streets, and has appointed numerous military officials to top cabinet posts and key ministries.

Now is not the time to consider increased support and funding for the Guatemalan military!

To this end, GHRC is organizing a Congressional Briefing on Threats to Justice and the Return to Military Rule in Guatemala. Human Rights Lawyer, Jennifer Harbury will speak to members of Congress about threats to justice and updates in the case of her husband, Everardo Bámaca, who was captured, tortured and presumably executed by the Guatemalan military. She will be joined by Annie Bird co-Director of Rights Action and GHRC Director Kelsey Alford-Jones.

We need your help to tell members of Congress how important it is that they attend. Please contact your Representative today and ask them to attend Tuesday’s briefing!

Take Action to Demand Freedom for Ramiro Choc

From our partners at the Guatemala Solidarity Project:

This February will mark four years since indigenous q’eqchi’ leader Ramiro Choc was kidnapped by the Guatemalan government.  He was not arrested, but pulled off a bus by soldiers who said they would kill him.  He has since survived threats, beatings, poison, denial of medical attention and numerous other hardships.

Choc has been eligible for release since February 2011, but the Guatemalan courts have refused to even consider legal motions calling for his release.  Since Choc was arrested the government has accelerated its pillaging of indigenous lands, in some cases burning hundreds of homes and destroying thousands of acres of subsistence crops.  Choc’s dynamic arguments in favor of indigenous rights, his ability to unite marginalized populations, and his courageous commitment to continue organizing in the face of repeated threats made him an enemy of wealthy, corrupt landowners:

Freedom for Ramiro Choc!

What you can do: February 14, 2012: Fast and Congressional briefing!

For the second year we will be helping to organize a fast on the anniversary of Choc’s illegal detainment.  On the same day, there will be a briefing in US congress organized by the Guatemala Human Rights Commission.  If you are participating in the fast – or even if you are not – please contact your member of congress and ask that they send someone to attend this important briefing.  The US government played a lead role in building the Guatemalan judicial system, and new Guatemalan President and US Army School of the Americas graduate Otto Perez Molina is pushing for increased military relations between Guatemala and the US.  It is a critical time for US congress to be informed about what is really happening in Guatemala.

While the fast will be a form of pressuring for Choc’s release, we also plan to use the fast to challenge ourselves to follow Choc’s example of working courageously for justice.  In addition we ask people to call the Guatemalan embassy and/or their legislators to request they work to win freedom for Ramiro Choc.

More information about the case and how to get involved here.

Sign the petition to free Ramiro Choc here.

For more information please visit www.guatemalasolidarityproject.org, or contact us at solidaridadguatemala@yahoo.com or 202-735-9165

Weekly News Roundup

January 30th – February 3rd

National News

  • Seven Guatemalans are bringing a class action lawsuit against the US government for using them as subjects in a scientific experiment.  The case is being brought in a Washington DC District Court on behalf of 700 soldiers, mental health patients, and orphans who were deliberately infected with gonorrhea but never given medical treatment or any type of compensation.
  • Nobel Peace Prize winner Jody Williams traveled to Guatemala to investigate crimes against women.  The 1997 American Peace Prize winner and spokeswoman for the Nobel Women’s Initiative led a delegation of 20 on a tour of Mexico and Central America.
  • The Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives (ALBA) awarded Guatemalan Fredy Peccerelli and American Kate Doyle with the Alba Activism Award for their work in human rights.  Peccerelli is the director of the Foundation of Forensic Anthropology and Doyle has been part of truth commissions in several countries including Guatemala.
  • Mutual Support Group (Grupo de Apoyo Mutuo) brought a criminal complaint against 3 former guerillas for the massacre of 22 campesinos that occurred on November 24, 1988 in El Aguacate.  The charges were brought now because the commander, Perdo Palma Lau, has now lost immunity.
  • GHRC board member Jean-Marie Simon was covered by an article in the New York Times.   It highlights her role as chronicler of violence during the civil war.  Her book “Guatemala: Eternal Spring, Eternal Tyranny” documents the worst of the violence during the war years and is currently being re-printed.
  • GHRC signed a letter published in El Periodico to Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz denouncing the assassination of artist Victor Leiva.  A year has passed since his death but a killer has not yet been identified.

International News

  • Adrián Ventura, the director of the Community Worker’s Center in New Bedford, MA, was attacked at gunpoint during the middle of the day.  The identity of the attackers in still unknown.    Adrián is of Mayan descent and a survivor of political persecution in Guatemala.  He was forced to flee his homeland, and now lives in Massachusetts where he works as an advocate for immigrant’s rights.  He recently pressured a local employment agency, EDA Staffing, to improve the working conditions for their employees, many of whom are immigrants.  Read the article in English and in Spanish.
  • Al-Jazeera published an article on the Rios Montt trial that analyzes how the defense attorney will defend the former dictator, who is charged with genocide and crimes against humanity.