REPORT OF THE INTER-AMERICAN COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS
Case 4425 (GUATEMALA)
June 25, 1981
1. In a
communication of June 6, 1979, the following denunciation was made to the
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights:
Coca Cola Bottling Plant located in Guatemala City has had a history of
anti-union violence, but an extreme escalation of repression in recent
months, including the murder of union leaders, has drawn the attention of
international human rights agencies. Union sources cite the violence as a
coordinated effort by the plant management and its U.S. owner, John
Clinton Trotter, to destroy the union organization.
of the escalation of violence at the Bottling Plant from October 1978 to
October 16, 1978, Israel Márquez, Secretary General of the union, was
machine gunned as he drove back to his house. The attack, which he
miraculously survived, completely destroyed the windows of his automobile.
The report on this attack in "El Impartial" cites union
sources stating that a dispute had taken place in the bottling plant
earlier that day between union leaders and the management. According to
the Union Federation (CNT), "the workers were warned about what might
happen to them." According to union sources, a series of meetings
were held in the Hotel Dorado Americano after the attack on Márquez. On
at least one occasion, at the end of November, John Trotter and a group of
plant managers met with Colonel Germán Chupina, who is described in a
union statement as "one of the main agents of repression in
Guatemala". A number of workers present at that meeting reported to
the union that a decision had been made by the bottling plant management
and the Chief of Police that the union would be destroyed within six
November 1978, the bottling plant management advertised in the local press
for staff assistants and security guards.
advertisements stated that applicants must have experience in security
organizations and in personal defense. As a result, three lieutenants and
a number of armed guards now patrol de plant, prominently displaying their
weapons. The three Army lieutenants are Juan Francisco Rodas (who has
worked at the Río Hondo military bases), Edgar Gudiel Castro and Julio
García. According to the "Nuevo Diario" of January 25, 1979,
these three military men are now holding posts as heads of personnel,
warehouse operations and security.
December 12, 1978, Petro Quevedo, the union Financial Secretary, was
murdered. He was shot while seated in a company truck on a delivery route.
Newspaper reports, such as the one published in "EL Imparcial,"
of December 13, 1978, state that he received eight wounds in the throat
and four in the face. Quevedo had been jailed on three occasions for union
activities. In his speech at the annual meeting of the Coca Cola Bottling
Plant, Marquez said that, eight days before the murder, he was present at
a meeting when John Trotter threatened to have Quevedo killed. Eight
members of the military police arrived at the plant early in the morning
of December 1. Quevedo was murdered about 12:30 in the afternoon. Although
two military police officers usually patrolled the plant at night, the
presence of military personnel there in the morning was extremely rare.
After hearing the news of the murder, workers in the plant confronted the
police and said, "It is because you came to the plant this morning.
You knew that Quevedo was going to be murdered." The police replied
that they had come to the bottling plant because of rumors of robbery
attempt. In addition, Márquez stressed that several hours before the
murder, "all the plant managers appeared to be extraordinarily
to union statements, "a campaign of terror began" after the
murder of Quevedo. A death list of the Anti communist Secret Army (one of
the rightist death squadrons) included the names of the entire union
Executive Committee and Advisory Council. Threatening notes were also sent
to workers in their homes. The only source of the correct addresses of
these workers was the bottling plant office. In addition, the workers were
forced to sign blank petitions against the union.
anonymous worker reported in January 22, 1979, edition of "Noticias
de Guatemala" an number of the attempts to destroy the union. He
stated that, since the founding of the union, Trotter had tried to destroy
the organization. When this press interview took place, most of the
bottling plant workers were still in the union. A union spokesman said
that, in the last 15 days, 6 of the 10 union leaders had resigned because
of the increased repression and the consequent pleas of their families.
They were immediately replaced. He described the difficult situation in
where better jobs and salaries were offered to workers if they denounced
the union, while, if they refused, they were threatened with being fired
or murdered. He identified at least one specific death threat by
January 15, 1979, a number of vehicles with foreign license plates (the
type of vehicles used in murders committed by rightist organizations)
patrolled the plant grounds. On January 16, the same vehicles returned
with two buses of the Police Motel Platoon. According to union sources,
the police entered the plant to take Márquez into custody. When Márquez
arrived at the plant, on the morning of January 16, a group of policemen
tried to apprehend him, but he eluded them and ran away. His escape was
aided by a friend who was driving after him, and picked him up in a small
truck. While the two continued their flight, the police fired several
times at the small truck.
January 19, 1979, advertisements appeared in the local papers denouncing
the workers' leader, Israel Márquez, as a poor union leader and a false
representative of the workers' interests. The announcement allegedly was
published by a Víctor Godínez.
said that a number of announcements had been published to denigrate him,
and that they were all paid for by the company. The announcements were
published by the same advertising agency hired to promote Coca Cola
drinks. From Márquez' standpoint, the purpose of the company attacks was
to defame him, to the point that, when he was finally murdered, there
would be no public outcry. Interviews published in the "Noticias de
Guatemala" on January 22, 1979, supported the assessment that the
faith of union members in Márquez never failed and that all of the
announcements were fraudulent.
January 22, the union published in a number of newspapers a full-page open
letter citing the paid advertisement of January 19 as a fraud. In
addition, Víctor Godínez sent a sworn statement to the newspapers saying
that he had never published the advertisements nor had he authorized his
name to be used in any of those publications. In his open letter, he also
gave details on the history of repression against the union.
January 24, 1979, an innocent man, who had been mistakenly identified as
Israel Márquez, was murdered when he left the house of that union leader.
His wife was seriously wounded in the machine gun attack. Manuel
Antonio Moscoso Zaldaña, 27, and his wife were married the previous
month. Márquez told the ICCR that, on the day of the murder, a group of
eight policemen who had been patrolling the plant since the day of
Quevedo's murder were reinforced by 20 men armed with machine guns. As
occurred on the day of the previous murders, this detachment arrived at
the plant several hours before the crime was committed.
January 30, 1979, Israel Márquez, his wife and 10-month-old child took
refuge in the Venezuelan Embassy. The family remained in the Embassy for
about a month before traveling to Costa Rica.
March 13, 1979, Sonia Olivia, a union leader of the plant, was
taken prisoner and interrogated for 12 hours by the "Judicial
Police" CRICASA the detectives squadron. According to Yolanda de
Aguilar, the CNT Union Federation lawyer, Sonia Olivia was informed by the
police that they were going to kill Manuel López Balán, the new
Secretary General of the Coca Cola union.
March 19, 1979, "Noticias de Guatemala" reported that
Lieutenant Juan Rodas had continued warning workers to quit the union.
March 30, 1979, an attempt was made to abduct Yolanda de Aguilar, the CNT
lawyer. When she succeeded in escaping from her abductors ant entered an
establishment full of people, she was warned, "you are safe now, but
you know we are going to get you sooner or later."
April 5, 1979, Manuel López Balán, 28, who had replaced Israel Márquez
as Secretary General of the union, was murdered. Like Quevedo, he was
murdered while running his delivery route. They struck him down with an
iron pipe and then cut his throat from ear to ear. According to the "Nuevo
Diario" (April 6, 1979), when another worker came to Balán's
aid, one of the murderers hit him with a club and said "I don't want
to kill you... he's the one I want," indicating Balán. As in the
case of the Quevedo murder, the two murderers were reported to have
followed the company truck on motorcycles. There were 17 wounds on Balán's
Márquez said that Manuel Balán had been run down by a man on a
motorcycle shortly after assuming the post of Secretary General of the
union. He fractured a leg in the accident. Because of the nature of his
wound, Balán was absent from work for a month. He was murdered the second
day after he returned to work. Like Márquez, Balán had received numerous
threats of death in the last few months. In January 1979, Balán was told
at a meeting in the office of the manager, Alfonso Riego, that: "If
he wanted to save his life, there was still time to quit the union."
April 7, 1979, the father of Manuel López Balán was arrested by 20
uniformed policemen, according to reports in the Guatemalan newspapers.
April 18, two of the three CNT Union Federation lawyers were abducted in
an airport in Guatemala City. According to reports published in the
newspaper "La Nación," on April 19, they were not
arrested by members or agents of the regular police.
weeks after the murder of Balán, Marlon Mendizabal, 22, assumed the post
of Secretary General of the Bottle Workers Union. He immediately received
threats and warnings from the plant management. According to union
sources, he was shown a list of names and addresses of his closest family
members and was then made the following proposition: "Don't be a
fool, resign your post. Don't you realize that we have the names of all
your loved ones.
that torture is extremely painful... You know the various kinds of
torture... There is this method, and that one, etc. ... " This oral
harassment was followed by his arrest by the police on April 30, 1979.
2. In a note of
June 18, 1979, the Commission transmitted to the Government of Guatemala
the pertinent portions of the denunciation, requesting information on the
3. Later, on May
7, 1980, the following additional information was received from the
April 14, 1980, at 10:00 a.m., representatives of the Guatemalan Bottling
Plant Workers Union presented to the workers' court a request to discuss a
new union contract, since the previous one had expired on February 2,
1980. The labor judge issued a ruling at that time under the labor law,
prohibiting the dismissal of union members.
3:00 p.m. on that same day, 28 union members and three union leaders were
April 16, the three union leaders were reinstated.
others have not been reinstated. All of them were threatened with death by
Lieutenant Juan Francisco Rodas, an armed service officer on special duty
acting as the company's head of personnel, if they did not accept their
May I of this year, four union members were abducted: Arnulfo García, René
Reyes, Ricardo García, and Manuel de Jesús Gómez. The bodies of Arnulfo
García, showing signs of torture, and of René Reyes were found on May 2
and 3, respectively. The other two have disappeared.
4. This additional
information was transmitted by the Commission to the Guatemalan Government
in a note of May 8, 1980, and information on these cases was requested
from the Government.
5. In notes of
December 16, 1980, and April 20, 1981, the Commission again requested
information from the Guatemalan Government.
date, the Guatemalan Government has not replied to repeated requests from
the Commission for information on this case.
39 of the Commission's Regulations provides as follows:
facts reported in the petition whose pertinent parts have been transmitted
to the government of the state in reference shall be presumed to be true
if, during the maximum period set by the Commission under the provisions
of Article 31, paragraph 5, the government has not provided the pertinent
information, as long as other evidence does not lead to a different
INTER-AMERICAN COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS
1. Based on
Article 39 of its Regulations, to presume to be true the events denounced
in the communications of June 6, 1979, and May 7, 1980, concerning the
threats, intimidations, attacks, acts of violence, and illegal dismissals
to which leaders and members of the Coca Cola Bottling Plant union were
subjected, specifically: the machine-gunning and attempted murder on
October 16, 1978, of the then Secretary General of the union, Israel Márquez,
and his later attempted abduction on January 16, 1979; the murders of
Pedro Quevedo, Secretary of Finance, on December 12, 1978, and Manuel
Antonio Moscoso Zaldaña, on January 16, 1979; the attempted abduction of
Yolanda Aguilar, CNT lawyer, on March 30, 1979; the murder of the new
Secretary General of the union, Manuel López Balán, on April 5, 1979,
followed by the arbitrary arrest of his father on April 7, 1979; the
threats and later arbitrary arrest and imprisonment of Marlon Mendizabal,
who replaced Mr. Balán as Secretary General; and the abduction on May 1,
1980, of four union members--Ricardo García, Manuel de Jesús Gómez,
Arnulfo García and René Reyes, followed by the subsequent murder of the
2. To declare that
the Government of Guatemala violated Articles 4 (right to life), 5 (right
to humane treatment), 7 (right to personal liberty), 8 (right to a fair
trial), 15 (right of assembly), 16 (freedom of association) and 25 (right
to judicial protection) of the American Convention on Human Rights.
3. To recommend
that the Guatemalan Government investigate the events denounced and, if
warranted punish those responsible: and that it communicates its decision
to the Commission within 60 days.
4. To transmit
this resolution to the Government of Guatemala and to the claimants.
5. To include this
resolution in the Commission's Annual Report to the General Assembly of
the Organization of American States pursuant to Article 18 (f), of the
Statute and Article 59 (g) of the Regulations of the Commission.
Dr. Francisco Bertrand Galindo declined to hear and decide on this case because he was living in Guatemala when the reported events occurred.