RIGHT TO LIFE1
A. General Considerations
1. Article 43 of the Constitution of the Republic of Guatemala establishes the following:
The state guarantees as rights inherent in the human person: life, corporeal integrity, dignity, personal security...
Although Article 54 establishes the death penalty, it is recognized that such penalty “shall be considered extraordinary. It may not be imposed on the basis of presumptions, nor shall it apply to women or minors, to persons over seventy years of age, to persons guilty of political crimes,2 or to persons whose extradition has been granted under that condition.” And it provides that “all existing recourses are admissible against a sentence imposing the death penalty, including cassation and clemency (gracia).” “The penalty is to be carried out after all recourses have been exhausted.”
3. In reality, as shall be seen in this chapter, a situation has in fact been created in Guatemala in which lack of respect for human life and for the laws that support and protect it actually prevails.
B. Origins and Agents of the Violence in Guatemala
1. Although there has frequently been violence throughout Guatemalan history and, after the fall in 1954 of President Arbenz, a violent repression became evident, it can be stated that the current situation characterized by steady and systematic violence is of a closer origin around the beginning of the 1960's.
As one of the early origins of the process of antigovernmental violence, one should mention the military uprising that took place in 1960 against administration of General Ydígoras Fuentes, caused by the desire of a group of army officers to improve the morals of their institution and to counter prevailing corruption. This movement was unsuccessful, and as a consequence of that fact, the military insurrectionists decided to establish guerrilla groups under the name of Rebel Armed Forces (FAR), 13th of November Revolutionary Movement (MR13) and Edgar Ibarra Guerrilla Front (FGEI), which devoted themselves to various acts of harassment and attack against different public and private entities.
2. To counter more strongly the increasingly generalized emergence of groups which, through the use of violence and weapons, challenged the established order with the declared intention of changing the legal system and social structures in Guatemala, the government authorities intensified counterinsurgency tactics. Thus emerged several paramilitary organizations which, without apparent ties to the armed or police forces, began to fight in the same direction as the government entities, but much more efficiently, against the emergence and development of the activities of antigovernmental armed groups.
Thus organizations appeared under the name of “MANO” (Organized Nacional Anticommunist Movement), “MANO BLANCA,” “New Anticommunist Organization,” “Eye for an Eye,” the “Death Squadron,” and others. They introduced into Guatemala a new way to eliminate political opposition of every kind by means of violence through threats, beatings, assaults to kill, kidnapping, murder of individuals, tortures, etc. The objectives and victims of these groups are not only the guerrillas and their groups and persons clearly identified as members of the political opposition, but also persons who are suspected or who show the least inclination to sympathize with any of them or to lend them cooperation or assistance. As a result of the activities of these paramilitary bodies, which proceed in the most indiscriminate and arbitrary manner, hundreds of innocent persons have been victims of this counterinsurgent terrorism.
3. With the development of this spiral of progovernment and anti-government violence, which worsened beginning with 1966, the severity of the struggle was leading the country to a true “state of terror,” that is, to the most extreme level of violence. In this state of affairs, terror came to be, moreover, a weapon of social repression against unions, opposition groups, universities, political parties, cooperatives, rural organizations, church members, journalists, and, in short, against all entities critical of the government. Every kind of aggression and assault has been carried out against them, for which the official military and police authorities have always denied responsibility, while these acts have been indiscriminately, and sometimes even simultaneously, attributed to the aforementioned paramilitary groups.
In fact, before the 1966 presidential election, on 6 March, 28 union members and leaders of the Guatemalan Workers Party (PGT) were arrested and disappeared. This took place under circumstances in which they are attending an alleged clandestine meeting. This event was attributed to the government security forces, but the police and military authorities positively denied knowledge of the taking of the union members. Four months later, nevertheless, according to the information received, some of those who had participated at the instruction of the security forces in the arrest of those persons acknowledge that the 28 persons had been arrested, tortured and murdered.
4. After Julio César Méndez Montenegro, leader of the Revolutionary Party (PR), won the 1966 elections, and during his administration, in which the army had strong influence, an intense antiguerrilla campaign was begun. Appointed for this purpose as director of those operations was Col. Carlos Arana Osorio, who in October 1966 began the offensive in the Departments of Izábal and Zacapa. He succeeded in almost completely exterminating the rural guerrillas with a result of three to eight thousand dead, in the great majority rural people.
5. In 1968, the excesses of the paramilitary organizations reached such extremes that they brought about a reaction even within the government itself. In March of that year, the “Mano Blanca” kidnapped and held the Archbishop of Guatemala, Monsignor Mario Casariegos, with the purpose of blaming the leftist guerrillas for that act. This event brought about such indignation, and the mark of the “Mano Blanca” was so difficult to hide, that they were forced to release the archbishop. Moreover, this situation brought about a political crisis which resulted in the dismissal of the Minister of Defense, the Chief of the National Police Force and other authorities, and which caused Col. Carlos Arana Osorio to be retired from his post and sent to Nicaragua as Ambassador. The application of these measures temporarily reduced the violence, until in August 1968 the Ambassador of the United States, John Gordon Mein, was shot to death in a frustrated kidnapping attempt by a leftist guerrilla group. The Ambassador of Germany was also kidnapped and killed.
6. In 1969, Colonel Carlos Arana Osorio returned to Guatemala as candidate for president of the republic, which post he assumed soon after having won that country's presidential elections. Upon taking office, Col. Arana resumed the counterinsurgency operations. In the address he delivered upon initiating his administration's activities, President Arana stated that, upon having been elected, he and his running mate had been given a mandate: “to pacify the country and to end the crime wave. You have not set conditions for us nor have you told us how.” Upon initiating his administration, he declared a state of siege and suspended all constitutional guarantees, stating his intention to eliminate leftist insurgency in Guatemala by any means.
In 1971, the number of denunciations involving persons who had disappeared or who had been murdered reached alarming levels. At that time, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights asked the Government of Guatemala for information in May 1971, September 1972, and again in June 1973. According to the information given to the IACHR by the Committee of Families of Missing Persons, the number of deaths and disappearances during 1970 and 1971 was seven thousand. In 1973, that Committee gave the Commission a new list, which included more than fifteen thousand persons.
During the administration of President Arana Osorio, the armed and police forces took on their present structure, and the organ called the Mobile Military Police was also established. Also during this period, the Commission received denunciations of an increase in the military and police forces, influence over the country's political organization and of the notorious accumulation of wealth by the dominating military sector by acquiring extensive amounts of land and obtaining substantial petroleum and mining concessions.
In July 1974, General Kjell Laugerud García assumed the office of chief of state. He had previously been Minister of Defense and Chief of the Army Staff. The contested electoral triumph of General Laugerud García over candidate Ríos Montt brought about a wave of protests due to electoral fraud accusations. The clamor by the people gave rise to new acts of indiscriminate violence. Despite the fact that at that time the number of dead and missing persons was not as serious as before, human rights organizations in Guatemala estimate that, on the other hand, new strategies were used at that time to cause intense panic in the population.
First of all, during that period, the Death Squadron and the Anticommunist Secret Army (ESA) published lists of persons sentenced to death, which included the names of well-known opposition political party leaders, labor leaders and other leaders of the Guatemalan community. As the result of the murder and execution of persons whose names appeared on the aforementioned lists, many other persons who were also included on those lists chose to suddenly abandon the country. The “voluntary” and significant exodus of important Guatemalan politicians could be an example of the efficiency of the methods of terror used to eliminate the opposition leaders, apparently at their own decision. A second strategy would have been, through those paramilitary groups, to execute and cause the disappearance of persons while maintaining the most complete silence with regard thereto, that is, not announcing an execution or, after carrying it out, not assuming responsibility for it. This new strategy of psychological war, it is said, would be even much more effective, since unknown terror is even worse than terror which is known. As an additional strategy used during that period, and which is still being used, it would be necessary to add the performance of acts of violence and terror through the paramilitary groups aimed at implicating the guerrillas in those acts and attributing responsibility for those acts to the guerrillas.
8. In recent years, the government's main opposition has come from the labor organizations, the opposing political groups, the university groups and some (rural) groups, most of which have been unarmed. In the mid-1970's, nevertheless, a new armed rebel force called the Pool People's Guerrilla Army (EGP), which has been joined by the Organization of the People in Arms (ORPA) was formed. These groups, with other smaller groups, have announced that they will join efforts in favor of the People's Armed Resistance at the political-military levels. This trend of consolidating efforts has also been evident among the unarmed resistance groups. Recent information on the number of these organizations and the number of their members seem to indicate that the government forces must have underestimated the importance of such resistance in Guatemala, which contrary to the assumption of the official sources, must have much more importance than has been attributed to them, and that such resistance is kept active despite the very high number of civilian leaders who have been murdered.
9. In recent months, political and social violence has become more acute in Guatemala, to the obvious detriment of the right to life and other basic human rights.
This situation is made worse by the fact that the perpetrators of the acts of human rights violations enjoy complete impunity, and the Commission has not received indication from the Government of Guatemala that those responsible are being brought to trial or that measures have been taken for such purpose.1
10. This violence, springing from armed terrorist groups on both the right and the left, leads the Commission to once again emphasize its well-known doctrine on the matter. The Commission has repeatedly stressed the obligation the governments have of maintaining public order and the personal safety of the country's inhabitants. For that purpose, the government must prevent and suppress acts of violence, even forcefully, whether committed by public officials or private individuals, whether their motives are political or otherwise.
In the life of any nation, threats to the public order or to the personal safety of its inhabitants coming from persons or groups making use of violence can reach such proportions that they require temporary suspension of the exercise of certain human rights.
Most of the constitutions of the American countries accept such limitations and even provide for certain institutions, such as the state of emergency or the state of siege, for such circumstances. Of course, in order for them to adopt such measures, there must be extremely serious reasons, since their establishment must be precisely in keeping with the need to preserve those rights and freedoms which have been threatened by disturbance of public order and personal safety.
Nevertheless, it is equally clear that certain basic rights must never be suspended, such as, among others, the right to life, the right to personal integrity, or the right to due process. In other words, the governments may not make use, under any circumstance, of summary execution, torture, or inhuman conditions of detention; nor may it deny certain minimum conditions of justice as a means for restoring public order. These means are proscribed in the constitutions and in the international instruments, both regional and universal.
Each government which faces a subversive threat must, consequently, choose between respect for the rule of law on the one hand, or fall into state terrorism on the other hand. When a government enjoys broad popular support, the choice of the first method will always be successful, as several countries have shown in the distant as well as the most recent past.
Moreover, respect for the rule of law does not exclude, under certain circumstances, the adoption of special measures. Where an emergency situation is truly serious, certain restrictions, for example, on the freedom of information, may be imposed, or the right to assembly may be restricted within the limits indicated by the Constitution. In more extreme cases, individuals may be arrested for a short time without specific charges. It is true that these measures can bring the risk of losing the rule of law; but this is not inevitable if the countries act responsibly; if they keep a record of arrests and inform families of detentions; if they issue written orders prohibiting torture; if they train the security forces carefully, eliminating sadists or psychopaths from such forces’ if, in short, there is an independent judicial branch with sufficient authority to quickly correct any abuse of authority.
C. Deaths Attributed to Governmental Authorities or their Agents
1. The Commission has been receiving on a regular and steady basis over the last four years several accusations, testimonies, documents and reports which accuse the governmental authorities and security forces of innumerable acts which involve extremely serious and systematic violations of the right to life.
2. Such accusations, documents, testimonies and reports have led the Commission to the unmistakable conclusion that in Guatemala de almost daily extrajudicial executions of thousands of persons or the extrajudicial arrests which later result in missing persons are due to the action, in repeated instances, of the legally constituted security forces or to the paramilitary groups of civilians who act with the knowledge and generally with the close cooperation of the government authorities.
3. Among the numerous accusations and reports on the right to life in Guatemala which the Commission has received, it is possible along very general lines to classify the violations of the right to life of which the security forces have been accused into three large groups:
i) Extrajudicial executions and street killings; ii) Massive deaths of campesinos and Indians; and iii) Missing persons. Due to its special importance, the Commission will refer to the latter two situations in special sections.
4. With regard to extrajudicial executions through street killings, the Commission, because of its importance and as a typical example of this situation, will refer below to the murder of Alberto Fuentes Mohr (Case Nº 3740) regarding which the IACHR received the following denunciation:
On Thursday, January 25, 1979, the Former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Guatemala, Alberto Fuentes Mohr, was murdered in Guatemala City at the Avenida de la Reforma and Primera Calle, Zone 10, at 1:30 p.m. The killers, who shot with machine guns from two vehicles and motorcycles, seriously wounded a relative of Dr. Mohr who had witnessed the incident.
Another witness of the event, a former secret police agent, was murdered the next day.
It is suspected that the assailants came from the honor guard, which is some three blocks from the site of the killing.
No record of death was taken at the site of the killing as demanded by the law, and the authorities have not made any investigation of the murder.
The pertinent denunciation was made known to the Government of Guatemala on February 14, 1979; and when no answer was received, it was repeated on December 16 of the same year with the notice that, if within a reasonable period an answer was not received, the IACHR would consider possible application of Article 39 of the Regulations, assuming the events denounced to be true.
On January 20, 1981, the Government of Guatemala sent the Commission a communication stating the following on the matter:
With regard to this matter, I wish to express the following to you:
1. In accordance with Communication Nº 023 of January 15, 1980 from the President of the judicial branch and of the Supreme Court of Justice, the proceedings to verify the death of Dr. Hector Alberto Fuentes Mohr, under Number 109/79, which is assigned to the First Officer of the Ninth Criminal Court of First Instance of the department of Guatemala:
a) It is currently in its summary phase;
b) The proceeding was begun in the Thirteenth Office of the Justice of the Peace of the Criminal Branch on January 25, 1979. On that date, a visual inspection was made at the place of the events, and the same judge ordered the Chief of the National Police Detective Bureau to make the corresponding investigation.
Upon receiving the proceedings, the Ninth Judge of the First Instance of the Criminal Branch took a statement by Mrs. Shirley Ann Knight Hagne de Fuentes, wife of Dr. Héctor Alberto Fuentes Mohr, and from Mrs. Ana María Méndez de Rodríguez.
He also ordered the Judicial Section of the Public Ministry to investigate the facts which gave rise to the proceeding.
The records contain the report of the Judicial Section of the Public Ministry, and the law prohibits revealing its contents, due to the summary condition of the judicial proceedings, in accordance with Articles 14 and 309 of the Criminal Procedural Code.
2. The Public Ministry, after January 25, 1979, sent a brief to the Judge who is hearing the case, establishing itself as prosecutor in the aforementioned proceeding. That is to say, the state of Guatemala, through the Public Ministry, is prosecutor in the aforementioned proceeding.
Acting as private prosecutor in the aforementioned criminal proceeding is Mrs. Ann Knight Hagne de Fuentes.
Mrs. Shirley Fuentes Mohr, widow of Dr. Fuentes Mohr, in reference to official letter Nº 023 of January 15, 1980, from the President of the Supreme Court of Guatemala, which refers to the governmental communication in the official letter transcribed, commented as follows:
I feel that I have the duty of contributing, although in a modest way, to Guatemala's ending the current crime wave. My husband, Alberto Fuentes Mohr, was murdered for having tried to do that very thing; for having denounced the repression unleashed by the government against the Guatemalan people; for having tried to organize a political, peaceful and democratic opening based on respect for the basic rights of the great majority of Guatemalans. To prevent this, they did not hesitate to murder him.
More than a year has now passed since he was bullet-riddled in mid-day on one of the main avenues, in the middle of heavy traffic and one block from a large military barracks. Nevertheless, after more than one year, there is no defendant, not even an arrest; and the recent letter from the Supreme Court of Justice of Guatemala referring to assumed judicial proceedings has no purpose other than to simulate a nonexisting investigation in order to neutralize public opinion and the international agencies and to prevent the identification and punishment of the true perpetrators, who are the terrorist groups in open or concealed complicity with the regime.
Thus far, the illegal and arbitrary repression has not been curbed. After my husband, the murder of Guatemalans of all walks of life has continued. They include prominent political figures, such as Manuel Colom Argueta, who was riddled at 11:00 a.m., also in the middle of downtown and brought to an end two months after my husband without even one defendant being arrested thus far. The Secretary General of the Association of University Students, Oliverio Castañeda, twenty-three years of age, and one of the most outstanding exponents of the young Guatemala generation, as also hit at mid-day, hardly half a block from the Central Park and from the Government Palace, with the most absolute impunity.
I have mentioned some of the most prominent persons who have been victims of this bloody and insane repression since mid-1978. They are not the only ones. Numerous opposition politicians, clergymen, and journalists have paid with their lives for having denounced the regime's abuses, as shown by the careful documentation prepared by Amnesty International and distributed to denounce the trampling of human rights in Guatemala. But neither has the repression been limited to those who, in some way, had a certain capacity for leadership or for expressing their opinions. On the contrary, in an attempt to stop the resistance of the more humble strata of the population through mass terror, innumerable rural people and workers have paid with their life for having tried to defend their rights or their meager interests by trying to organize themselves to prevent or attenuate their systematic violation.
5. Among the murders of leaders and prominent persons in the Guatemalan political world, mention should also be made of the case of Mr. Manuel Colom Argueta, leader of the United Revolutionary Front and prominent former mayor of Guatemala City. The act is attributed to the Army Intelligence Section G-2, with the participation of 9 to 12 vehicles belonging to the Armed Forces, as in the murder of the university leader, Oliverio Castañeda.
With regard to the death of these and other distinguished political, union, and religious figures and of figures from many other important sectors of national endeavor, no exhaustive effort by the Guatemalan authorities to investigate and punish those responsible is known.
Among the most recent murders, mention should also be made of Jorge Romero Imeri, Director of the School of Political Science of the University of San Carlos, who was taken by security forces in March 1981 in Guatemala City and whose body was identified by his wife in June of that year in Masatenango, showing signs of barbarous torture; and Oscar Bonilla, Carlos Amancio Ortiz and Carlos Enrique Tuch, professors of the Law School of the University of San Carlos, who were killed in Guatemala city in May 1981. In February 1980, Mario Arnoldo Castro Pérez, José Gerardo Reyes Alvarez, and Guillermo Alfonso Mozón Paz, also university professors, had been murdered. In March 1961, Jorge Palacios Motta, professor at the University of San Carlos, was murdered, also in Guatemala City. These crimes are in addition to the murder between March and September 1980 of 27 members of the staff of the University of San Carlos, among others.
D. Massive Deaths of Campesinos and Indians
1. Summarized below are the situations presented in various testimonies and accusations referring to cases of slaughter of members of the Indian communities which took place in the communities of Panzos, Olopa, Chajul, Nebas and Río Negro, culminating with the events in the Spanish Embassy in Guatemala.
a) Deaths in Panzos
2. Panzos is a small community located in the Polichic Valley of the Department of Alta Verapáz in northern Guatemala. The region's inhabitants are Kekchi Indians, who have been slowly divested of their land.
According to information and testimony received by the IACHR, on May 29, 1978, approximately 700 campesinos, coming from various villages in the municipality of Panzos, gathered in the main square because, according to a communique by the authorities of that place, they were going to be given a message from the capital city. They thought that this message would be the answer to the briefs which had been prepared by the campesinos in which they set forth their agrarian situation and demanded fair land distribution, that they be given title to the property legally belonging to them, and that there be and end to the divestments to which they were being subjected by both the region's farmers and the army.
When the campesinos were gathered in the square, members of the national army and several armed ranchers began to fire on them. The campesinos were defenseless, carrying only their machetes and sticks, which are farm work implements. Men, women, children, and old people were falling mortally wounded. They caused the death of more than 130 persons and wounded an undetermined number of persons.
The wounded denied assistance in the fear that they would be finished off and, in trying to flee, the survivors fell into the turbulent and voluminous waters of the Polichic river, where they drowned.
After this massacre was carried out, there was an extensive military operation throughout the region. The wounded had to wait several hours sprawled on the streets for medical assistance authorized by the army to arrive. The dead remained in the places where they fell for several hours and were finally picked up by two official trucks, in which they were carried to a common grave prepared in advance.
The testimony of the survivors consistently indicates that all the campesinos were unarmed, that they were called so that the document which supposedly was coming from the capital could be read to them. They, more than 700 campesinos, were surprised by the shots and were massacred with impunity by army soldiers.
b) The Deaths of the Campesinos of Olopa3
3. The IACHR received the following denunciation:
i. We denounce to the people of Guatemala the abuses which are being suffered by the campesinos of the villages of El Rodeo, Amatillo, Agua Blanca, El Camalote, Tunoco, Carrizalito and others in the Municipality of Clopa, Chiquimula, and the repression the local authorities have unleashed against their families.
ii. As denounced by the campesinos of that area, the Mobile Military Police (PMA) of Monteros, Esquipulas, have murdered more than one hundred campesinos, including some religious teachers, 15 women and 40 children from 1977 to the present.
iii. This repressive situation has become more serious since last September, when the above-mentioned police, at the order of César Lemus and Domingo Interiano, ranchers there, abducted eight campesinos from their houses, who appeared later, some drowned in the river and others hanged. On September 26, the PMA abducted 15 campesinos and later killed them. The next day, the 27th, the Assistant mayor of Amatillo, Francisco García, addressed himself to the Court of Olopa to report on the events and to request identification of the bodies in order to bury them. Nevertheless, that very night he was also abducted and murdered. The campesinos have not been able to bury their relatives and neighbors, since they also expose themselves to being victims of the repression.
iv. We also denounce the savage and criminal manner in which the PMA is oppressing the population of that area. As stated by the campesino companions, when the police come to their huts, they grab the children and split their backs against the knee. They hang the women and they drown the men in the river or shoot them to death. After that they burn down their huts and crops.
v. Barely a few months ago, we repudiated the Panzos massacre and now we see with indignation and anger how, due to the excessive ambition of a few landowners and the complicity of the authorities, the events are being repeated in the villages of Olopa. César Lemus and Domingo Interiano, ranchers, intend to rob the campesinos of their land. At the present time they do not allow the campesinos to gather the crops in their coffee groves and bean fields, which are taken from them for later sale. They knock down the campesino's fences and enter livestock without caring about ruining the crops, which are the campesinos' very life.
vi. As a consequence of this repression, the villages of El Zarzal, Piedra Amolar and El Amatillo have been practically abandoned, either because the campesinos have been killed or because they have had to flee the repression unleashed in Olpaga. The landowners seek to have the campesinos, desperate due to this situation of terror, abandon their lands so that the landowners can illegally expand their properties.
The Commission processed the denunciation.
The Government of Guatemala, in a note dated March 1, 1979, answered as follows:
i. I am pleased to provide you below with precise data on the events denounced to the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights. The inhabitants of the villages called Carboneras, Municipality of Esquipulas; Juipilingo, Zarzal, Monteros, San José, Las Lágrimas, el Rodeito, Tunucó, San Antonio and El Carrizal, of the municipalities of Olopa and Camotán, have been victims since 1977 of raid by armed bandits who have committed crimes of every kind, such as rape, abduction, murder, arson of houses and huts of the inhabitants and of their crops, robbery of belongings and livestock, etc. They have been harassed to such an extreme by the outlaws that those who remain alive have decided to abandon their huts and houses and have taken to the mountains, and some have gone to Honduras fearful of suffering the same fate as the others. Finally, they have requested protection by the Army, which has provided them with such protection, and then they have returned to their homes.
ii. For further illustration, I take the liberty of attaching the December 6, 1978 issues of the daily papers “El Gráfico,” “Impacto,” and “Diario de Centro América,” as well as “La Hora” of December 7, 1978. The latter gives an account with details and photograph of the events as they occurred and of the participation of the Guatemalan army, which was requested by the very victims of the threats, who show their pleasure and appreciation to the military authorities for having given them the protection they requested to defend themselves from the attacks and raids by the bandits and outlaws.
c) The Chajul massacre
4. On December 6, 1979, nine Uspantán campesinos were abducted by the national army. In December of that same year, two of the campesinos succeeded in escaping.
The army carried the 7 campesinos in helicopters to Chajul, and when they arrived, they dressed them in olive-green uniforms, gave them old shotguns which did not work and make them walk by themselves along the road to Chajul. On that road, the soldiers ambushed and killed all of them, saying that they were guerrillas and had attempted to assault the Chajul detachment. The campesinos were shown to everybody who went along the road and the army called the Mayor of Chajul to bury the seven bodies, which were buried in the Chajul cemetery. They put all of them into two holes after having burned one of the bodies with gasoline.
Twenty days after the killing, the army initiated repressive steps in Chajul, combining tracking, controls, massive military presence, household searchers and abduction of campesinos.
The victims were Gaspar Chávez Pacheco, Pedro Chávez Caba, Antonio Chávez Caba, Gaspar Laines, Salvador Bop, Luca Caba, and Tomás Caba.
d) Events in Nebaj
5. The Municipality of Nebaj is located in the Department of Quiché in the northwestern part of the country and in one of the most densely populated regions of Guatemala. Many rural families have been divested of their lands, as in the case of Panzos. Facing such divestment of land, the rural Indians have organized to fight for their legitimate rights. Every time the country's agricultural frontier is expanded, every time new territories are settled or given over to foreign companies for exploitation, the Indians are forced to abandon the land they have traditionally farmed and that has belonged to them since late in the last century.
To remove the rural Indians from the place, legal, apparently legal, or illegal means are used. With regard to the legal means, the local large landowners present documents which make them owners of large areas, which means that the Indians, who very often are unable to prove their common-law entitlement to the land, must be removed. With regard to the apparent legal means, the Guatemalan army sends large contingents of troops to intimidate and repress them in order thus to remove them with greater ease.
The events in Nebaj were as follows:
On March 2, 1980, the national army located in Nebaj informed all the inhabitants that all men over 14 years of age must appear at the local military detachment to receive “a military control card.” According to the army's information, nobody could leave the town without that card. This, naturally, is an illegal measure, because citizens are not obliged to carry any identification other than the certificate of residence.
Approximately 8,000 men waited turn to obtain the military control document. The process was slow. Moreover, it was market day there, so there was a conspicuous crowd of people. Since the village people were not prepared to stay in the town and the long lines indicated that this would be necessary, several persons who were in line indicated that they wished to return to their homes, since they had not brought food.
When merely 200 men had obtained the card and it was obvious that the time there would last more than two days, there was a general clamor, and because of this urging, several campesinos were imprisoned at the military detachment.
The next day, on March 3, a group of women claimed the right to see their husbands who had been imprisoned since the previous day, and they asked for an end to this unfair situation. The atmosphere was tense and there was an argument between the soldiers and the women. The soldiers answered the women's request with machine-gun fire into the crowd which was gathered. Ten persons died, six of whom were women and one of whom was a minor. Ten persons died, six of whom were women and one of whom was a minor. Dozens of wounded were sprawled in the square, also as a result of this act.
e) The Río Negro Deaths
6. Río Negro is a village in the municipality of Pueblo Viejo in the Department of Alta Verapáz. Construction of the Chixoy Hydroelectric Complex is under way in that municipality. This will serve as an energy source for the entire region, principally for exploitation of the northern transversal strip, which contains the most important copper and nickel deposits exploited, as well as the oil deposits thus far unexploited.
According to information received by the IACHR, on March 4, 1980, several army contingents arrived in the village of Río Negro. They were carrying three inhabitants of the municipality whom they had captured on the road and whom they accused as being “subversives.” Upon arriving at the village, the arrested persons began to shout so that the people in the town would know they were in the hands of the army. A crowd gathered around the vehicles carrying the troops. Some asked them to release the campesinos, who were known at that place, others asked them not to take them away, not to hit them and to think of their families. Upon seeing that the people were gathering, the soldiers machine gunned the crowd, which resulted in six dead, including two women, and 13 wounded.
f) The events at the Spanish Embassy
7. At 11:00 a.m. on January 31, 1980, 29 men, including 23 campesinos from El Quiché, the rest being leaders of popular organizations in Guatemala City, entered the Spanish Embassy in an orderly and peaceful manner. Dr. Máximo Cajal López, his staff, and two visitors, as well as the former Vice President of the Republic, Eduardo Cáceres Lehnhoff, and the former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Adolfo Molina Orantes, were inside the Embassy.
According to various testimonies and reports received by the Commission, the embassy was quickly surrounded by some 400 policemen. The Guatemalan Government has claimed that the police arrived at the request of the embassy. Ambassador Cajal López, as well as the press, radio and television media stated that the facts were different. The occupiers offered to leave peacefully (in pairs) with the hostages if the police force were to withdraw.
The ambassador, through a megaphone, told the police that their presence was not required and indicated that diplomatic immunity was being violated. Both Mr. Cáceres and Mr. Molina Orantes backed him up, stressing the provisions of international law.
At 1:30 p.m., the police took possession of the roof and balconies of the Embassy. At 2:10 p.m., the persons responsible for the operation received instructions from their superiors through the patrol car radios, and at 2:15 p.m., they broke open a skylight on the second floor where the occupants and hostages were located. The Ambassador again reminded them that the mission's diplomatic immunity was not being respected. When the journalists and staff of the Red Cross, who attempted to negotiate, left the embassy, they heard hatchets breaking open the door of the room containing the campesinos and hostages. They heard three shots one after the other and an explosion, and a fire broke out. The Ambassador ran out shouting “they are stupid, they are brutes.” The last words of Mr. Molina Orantes were “God, men, what have you done?” The Ambassador was held by the police for ten minutes in one of the patrol cars. An official from the United States Embassy intervened and the Ambassador was released.
The television program “Aquí el Mundo” reported that the police did nothing when the fire broke out. The people on the streets shouted “they are burning alive, break open the door,” and meanwhile the police remained completely inactive.
After leaving the embassy, burned and wounded, the Ambassador spoke with Spanish journalists. “I thought all the time the matter could be taken care of by negotiating. We were some thirty or forty persons in my small office when the police began to destroy the door with hatchets. At that time there was great confusion, some shots rang out, I could not pinpoint from whom, and one of the occupants threw a Molotov cocktail against the door. I was very close to the exit and jumped outside with my clothes burning like a circus lion.”
According to the official report of the Spanish Government, “the Spanish Ambassador attempted repeatedly to make contact with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, with the Ministry of the Interior and with the Director General of the Police, without obtaining any answer to his repeated requests for the public force to withdraw from the area of the embassy and to refrain from intervening.
In the face of this situation, Ambassador Cajal López personally addressed the commander of the forces surrounding the embassy, repeating that request to him and informing him that the occupants agreed to abandon the embassy peacefully in the company of the Ambassador himself. Despite these urgent steps, the police broke into the embassy, where the occupants and their hostages had taken refuge.
There were only two survivors: Ambassador Cajal López and campesino Gregorio Yula, who was seriously wounded. Both were put into the Herrera Llerandy Hospital.
On February 1, at 8:30 p.m., a group of heavily-armed civilians entered the Herrera Llerandi Hospital and abducted the survivor, Gregorio Yula. Subsequently his body was thrown from a car in front of the office of the Rector of San Carlos University in zone twelve. On his body was found a threat which read: “Tried as a traitor, the Spanish Ambassador will run the same risk.” Ambassador Cajal López was transferred from the Herrera Llerandi Hospital to the United States Embassy “to ensure his safety,” according to a diplomatic source.
The next day, the Spanish Government broke diplomatic relations with Guatemala.
The victims of these painful events were the following:
1. Luis Antonio Ramírez Pas Student
2. Felipe Antonio García Rac Worker
3. Edgar Rodolfo Negreros Straube Student
4. Vicente Menchu Christian from Chimel Uspantan
5. Salomón Tavico Z. Campesino from Quiché
6. Gaspar Vi Campesino from Chajul
7. Leopoldo Pineda Student
8. Mateo Sic Chen Christian from Chimel
9. Gavina Morán Chupe Campesino woman, San Pablo
10. José Angel Xona Gómez Campesino, San Pablo El Baldío
11. Sonia Magaly Welchez Valdéz Student
12. Regina Pol Cuy Chimel, Uspantan
13. María Ramírez Anay Chajul, Uspantan
14. María Ramírez Anay (hermana) Chajul, Uspantan
15. Juan Tomás Lux Chimel, Uspantan
16. María Pinula Lux Chimel, Uspantan
17. Trinidad Gómez Hernández Townsperson
18. Mateo Sis Campesino, San Pablo El Baldío
19. Víctor Gómez Zacarías Campesino from Santa Cruz
20. Francisco Tum Castro Village of Los Plátanos,
21. Juan Chic Hernández Macalahual, Uspantan
22. Mateo López Calvo Campesino from Santa Cruz
23. Francisco Chen Campesino, Rabinal, Baja
24. Gregorio Yuja Xona San Pablo, El Baldío, Uspantan
25. Juan Us Chic Chimel, Uspantan
26. Juan López Yac Campesino from Macalajau
27. Juan José Yos Campesino, Santa Lucía
28. Eduardo Cáceres Lehnhoff Former Vice President
29. Adolfo Molina Orantes Former Minister of Foreign
Affairs of Guatemala
30. Jaime Ruiz del Arbol Embassy of Spain
31. Luis Felipe Sáenz Martínez Embassy of Spain
32. Lucrecia de Aviles Embassy of Spain
33. Nora Mena Aceituno Embassy of Spain
34. María Teresa Villa de Santa Fé Embassy of Spain
35. Miriam Rodríguez Embassy of Spain
36. Lucrecia Anelu Embassy of Spain
37. Mary de Barillas Embassy of Spain
E. Missing Persons
1. With regard to the right to life, the case of the “missing persons” in Guatemala manifests itself as one of the most serious problems, in view of the way in which the persons have come to be missing and in view of the extraordinary number of victims.
2. This problem emerged in the country in late 1966, together with the intensification of the process of violence and political terrorism.
The victims come from all sectors of Guatemala society, but are mostly leaders of opposition and popular organizations, workers, campesinos and teachers, student leaders, and clergymen or their lay assistants. The authors or agents responsible for the kidnappings, arrests, tortures and subsequent murders of the “missing persons” have generally been the security agents or the same paramilitary organizations which have been described previously.
3. According to the many testimonies and reports received by the IACHR, one can indicate the following typical characteristics of the study and systematic practice of this cruel form of repression so widespread in Guatemala:
Victims are not legally held by court order or writ, but rather are practically “kidnapped” from their homes, places of employment, meetings, assemblies, or on their way to those places on the public streets and highways.
The illegal detentions or abductions are carried out by heavily armed groups of individuals who normally carry submachine guns. They appear and identify themselves orally as belonging to one of the various investigative or security bodies, but they do not inform anybody of the reasons for the alleged arrest or of the centers to which the people will be taken.
These groups act under the public eye with complete impunity and they move about in automobiles like those usually used by the police forces, or in automobiles easily identifiable as belonging to the security bodies due to the deteriorated plates they carry or simply because they are never registered for traffic. Many of the kidnappings, assaults and illegal arrests are carried out by groups of men who drive what are called the “Bracos” cars, which are one of the kinds most used by the Guatemalan Government security forces.
The obvious impunity with which they operate without at any time there being any interference from or activities by the other authorities or agents for order which are present or nearby, or which are merely needed to act at the request of family members, friends, or eyewitnesses leads to the assumption that they act with the complicity and even the support of the armed and police forces.
Victims thus apprehended disappear without a trace, as though they had faded away, without any further notice of their whereabouts.
4. These illegal arrests occur or are carried out publicly, without “hooding” the persons abducted; and when they are carried out at the homes of the victims, their belongings are not looted nor is there a request for “ransom” or for presentation of their identification documents. Neither are the spouses, children or other family members apprehended, except in special cases. The clear purpose is to create panic and intimidation among the other persons present, and it is systematically attempted to avoid identification of the bodies whenever they are found.
5. In some instances they are taken, as an exception and for very short periods, to military barracks or police stations for questioning. Later they almost always appear mutilated and with signs of having suffered brutal torture, floating in the rivers, inside plastic bags, thrown on the streets, in highway ditches or in gorges.
As a rule, when the bodies are discovered, they appear brutally disfigured, nude and without documents or signs of identification. In many instances they have been burned, thrown into the ocean or into de mouths or craters of volcanoes. Also, as it has been possible to ascertain in a large number of cases, especially when dealing with members of Indian or rural communities, whose populations have been decimated quite frequently, their bodies have been found already decomposed and rotting, buried together in large common graves.
6. The Commission has received various denunciations of missing persons. Some recent examples of missing persons are cases 7377, of Miguel Conrado de la Cruz; 7464, of Douglas Sequeira López;4 7733, of the widow Alaide Foppa de Solórzano; and 7822, of Iride Marasso Beltrán and her youngest son.
Many persons have disappeared in Guatemala in recent months, including the following: Mario Leonel de León Flores, a physician taken by soldiers from the Huehuetenango military base on May 7, 1981 in the locality of Chiantla; Ana Elizabeth Ramírez Bautista, María Dolores Castro Orantes, Iride del Carmen Marasso Beltrán de Burgos and her son Ramiro Ignacio Burgos Marasso, missing from Guatemala City in April 1981; Olga Esperanza Vásquez Masariegos, and María Eugenia and Ligia Monasterio Palacios, missing from Guatemala City in May 1981; Daniel Rodas Alvarez, Vidaul Romero Rodas, Carmen Cruz Rodas y Rodas, Erasmo Aguilar, and Benjamín Maldonado, missing in July 1981 from the locality of El Arbolito in the area of El Petén; Marco Tulio Galindo, Ovidio Pinto, Israel Morales, Mariano Manuel and his wife Angélica Chen, and Fernando Chen, missing in June 1981 from Rabinal, department of Baja Verapáz, and later found dead; Lazardo Valdéz and Alejandro Meléndez, missing in June 1981 from the locality of Nueva Libertad, in the department of El Petén.
F. The Secret Cemeteries
1. One of the most serious situations reported in Guatemala among the violations against the right to life has been the appearance since 1979 of what are called “secret cemeteries,” also called by the people “body dumps.” Their purpose, as that of the “common graves” found in some areas of the interior, has been to hide the bodies of missing persons shot en masse, without running any risk, in extrajudicial executions perpetrated in several agricultural areas and Indian communities and, by means of the body's decomposition or rotting, to make identification of the victims impossible.
The existence of these cemeteries is an abominable fact which has brought additional suffering to the thousands of relatives of the missing persons. Now, in addition to their long trek between jails, morgues and hospitals, they go to the distant and inhospitable areas where these cemeteries are found, seeking some date or indication that would enable them to hope for the possibility of finding some of their dear ones among the half buried bones.
2. After the accidental discovery of the first cemetery in the community of Comalapa, where 30 buried bodies appeared, new secret graves have been appearing of late. Thus on February 8, 1981, the police themselves reported one where the authorities had exhumed 17 decomposed bodies, apparently all men, in what has been called a secret cemetery in San Martín Jilotepeque, Chimaltenango, some 60 kms west of the capital.
Two days later, on February 10, 1981, the bodies of eight other persons were also found in an unpopulated area south of the Guatemalan capital. They had been hanged, and later on the authorities identified them as a group of suspects who had been kidnapped by a police patrol in the region of Quetzaltenango, also west of the capital.
On February 14, 1981, in the community of Ipala, department of Chiquimula, 200 kms east of Guatemala City, a group of farmers discovered another mound of bodies, half destroyed by the bullets, which, it was said, consisted of 14 campesinos who had disappeared from the region a few days before. According to the police reports, the bodies were nude, many showed indications of having had their throats slit or of having been hanged, and they had a clean hole in the head, a sign of having been given the coup de grace.
Also, on February 17, 1981, also this time in Chimaltenango, the discovery of 13 additional bodies of people who had been cruelly tortured was reported. All of this brings the number of bodies to 52 and the number of new cemeteries found to four.
G. The Right to Life and its Effect on Observance of the Other Rights
The Commission deems it appropriate to indicate that in Guatemala the right to life dominates the entire problem of human rights.
As will be shown in other chapters of this report, it can be said that in practice the arrests carried out legally are the exception, and that the illegal arrests in practice take the form of abductions, which in most instances end with the death of the person abducted. Neither is it possible in Guatemala to refer separately or independently to the rights to personal integrity and safety, since torture almost always precedes the death of the victim.
3. Almost every day, persons of different social standings are kidnapped, and it is possible to ascertain an impressive number of abducted attorneys and judges, of campesinos who are subjected to this procedure in rural areas, of political leaders and members of political organizations opposed to the government, of university leaders, of journalists, and of priests. These cases make it clear that it is impossible to exercise with full guarantees the other rights inherent to human beings, such as the right to due process, freedom of religion, freedom of association, and freedom of expression, among other rights.
4. The foregoing makes it obvious that the right to life is continuously threatened, and witness to this is the long list of cases of persons kidnapped who later appear murdered with signs of having been subjected to barbarous torture.
Moreover, it should be pointed out that, according to information the Commission has, in the cases dealing with the right to life, the paramilitary groups accused of having the complicity and protection of the public security agents act with impunity, and that the government has not made the appropriate serious investigations that would make it possible to clear up these crimes.
5. From the foregoing, it can be concluded that the intimidating threats, including the publication of lists of persons condemned to death by the bands and factions in conflict, the arbitrary kidnappings and detentions with their resulting disappearances, the discovery of secret cemeteries, the countless personal assaults, and the daily appearance throughout the country of bodies that are mutilated and that carry other evidence of having undergone brutal torture before their final machine-gunning, in fact, have created in Guatemala a situation in which lack of respect for human life predominates. This, in turn, has meant subverting the state of law and inhibiting exercise of the great majority of the rights established in the American Convention on Human Rights and in the very Constitution of Guatemala.
1 Article 4, “Right to Life,” of the American Convention on Human Rights, or Pact of San José, Costa Rica, provides as follows: 1. Every person has the right to have his life respected. This right shall be protected by law and, in general, from the moment of conception. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life. 2. In countries that have not abolished the death penalty, it may be imposed only for the most serious crimes and pursuant to a final judgment rendered by a competent court and in accordance with a law establishing such punishment, enacted prior to the commission of the crime. The application of such punishment shall not be extended to crimes to which it does not presently apply. 3. The death penalty shall not be reestablished in states that have abolished it. 4. In no case shall capital punishment be inflicted for political offenses or related common crimes. 5. Capital punishment shall not be imposed upon persons who, at the time the crime was committed, were under 18 years of age or over 70 years of age; nor shall it be applied to pregnant women. 6. Every person condemned to death shall have the right to apply for amnesty, pardon, or commutation of sentence, which may be granted in all cases. Capital punishment shall not be imposed while such a petition is pending decision by the competent authority.
2 As indicated in the preceding chapter, this provision meant that Guatemala, upon ratifying the American Convention on Human Rights, expressed a reservation regarding Article 4, paragraph 4 of the Convention, since the Constitution excludes application of the death penalty only for political crimes, but not for common crimes related thereto.
1 A pathetic example of this is made evident by the accusations and counteraccusations related to crimes that were made publicly in June 1981 by Col. Jesús Valiente Téllez, former Chief of Detectives, and the current Chief, Col. Pedro García Arredondo, each accusing the other of committing common crimes. This, despite its having been extensively reported by the press, has not been subjected to any clarification by either the government or the Judicial Branch.
3 This case is recorded by the IACHR under the Number 3497.
4 With regard to the case of the student, Douglas Sequeira López, missing after his arrest, the Commission adopted a resolution on June 25, 1981, during its 53rd session, which appears in Chapter III, page 62 of this report.