The Sentencing in the Spanish Embassy Case: Inside the Courtroom with Dania Rodríguez

On Monday, nearly 35 years after an attack on the Spanish Embassy in Guatemala which resulted in the deaths of 37 people, former police chief Pedro García Arredondo was found guilty of orchestrating the 1980 burning of the embassy.

GHRC’s Dania Rodríguez was present at the sentencing hearing, and spoke to us about the mood in the courtroom, the importance of the case, and what the verdict means to her personally.

For more information about the case and the trial, check out the Spanish Embassy page on our website.

Q: What was the atmosphere like in the courtroom?

Dania Rodríguez: The courtroom was full of relatives of victims who passed away that January 31 in 1980, as well as relatives of other victims from the internal armed conflict from El Quiche, Chimaltenango, and other communities who were there expressing their solidarity. You could see a lot of emotion in the faces of Rigoberta Menchu Tum and Sergio Vi. They were the civil parties involved in the trial and, at that moment, were representing all relatives of the victims of the fire. The presence of Spain’s ambassador to Guatemala, Manuel Lejarreta, was also noticeable – he has followed the case since the beginning of the process and attended certain hearings. Above all, there were strong feelings of nervousness and of expectation because – after a trial that lasted more than 3 months – a verdict would finally be reached.

Q: Can you talk about how the case was initiated, and why it’s so important?

DR: Before entering the courtroom, Rigoberta Menchú mentioned that the lengthy process of bringing the case to court was initiated 16 years ago. In a press release from the beginning of the trial, Rigoberta Menchú, Sergio Vi and the relatives expressed, “…the empire of law and justice with due process is the only civilized path forward so that crimes against humanity and state terrorism do not remain in impunity.” This verdict is of great importance, especially in providing closure for relatives of the victims, who have waited 35 years for justice.

Q: How is the case important to you personally?

DR: This is without a doubt a very emotional moment. It was a long wait for those of us who wanted to enter the courtroom, and an hour more for the jury to enter the room. I was reflecting on how long it felt to wait those 4 hours, which is nothing in the face of the 35 years that relatives of those who died inside the Spanish Embassy waited for the court to recognize the case and hand down a verdict. This case, like the genocide trial, has given us much hope that the cases of human rights violations during the armed conflict can achieve justice.

 
 

Genocide Trial in Guatemala Drawing to a Close

Over the last month, the historic trial has been moving forward in Guatemala’s High Risk Court charging former Head of State Efraín Ríos Montt and former Head of Military Intelligence José Mauricio Rodríguez Sanchez with Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity. The victims have waited for over 30 years for justice to be served for the atrocities committed against Guatemala’s indigenous people, and finally, a verdict is in sight.

Thanks to all of our supporters who sent an email to U.S. Ambassador Arnold Chacon asking him to attend the genocide trial. Although the trial began on March 19, the US Ambassador didn’t make an appearance in the courtroom until April 9th. The following day the Embassy finally broke its silence regarding the trial and issued a press release reiterating the importance of justice for reconciliation in Guatemala. The press release also expressed the US’s support for justice processes which are “credible, independent, transparent and impartial,” and exhorted “all Guatemalans to respect the legitimacy and integrity of the process.”

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Nobel Peace Prize winner and genocide survivor Rigoberta Menchu greets victims’ families. (Photo: mimundo.org)

Breaking News: We’ve received word that a decision in the trial against Efraín Ríos Montt and José Rodríquez Sanchez may come as soon as the end of this week. The trial has progressed at breakneck speed covering testimony from more than 100 survivors and dozens of experts, despite constant attempts by the defense to stall or derail the process.

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