ON THE SITUATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS
Article 43 of the Constitution of the Republic of Guatemala establishes
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.”
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.
Origins and Agents of the Violence in Guatemala
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
Deaths Attributed to Governmental Authorities or their Agents
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.
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.
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:
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.
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
a) It is currently in its summary
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
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
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.
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
Massive Deaths of Campesinos and Indians
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.
Deaths in Panzos
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
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
The Deaths of the Campesinos of Olopa3
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
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.
The Chajul massacre
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
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
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.
Events in Nebaj
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
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.
The Río Negro Deaths
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
The events at the Spanish Embassy
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
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
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
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
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
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
The next day, the Spanish Government broke diplomatic relations with
The victims of these painful events were the following:
Luis Antonio Ramírez Pas
Felipe Antonio García Rac
Edgar Rodolfo Negreros Straube
Christian from Chimel Uspantan
Salomón Tavico Z.
Campesino from Quiché
Campesino from Chajul
Mateo Sic Chen
Christian from Chimel
Gavina Morán Chupe
Campesino woman, San Pablo
José Angel Xona Gómez
Campesino, San Pablo El Baldío
Sonia Magaly Welchez Valdéz
Regina Pol Cuy
María Ramírez Anay
María Ramírez Anay (hermana)
Juan Tomás Lux
María Pinula Lux
Trinidad Gómez Hernández
Campesino, San Pablo El Baldío
Víctor Gómez Zacarías
Campesino from Santa Cruz
Francisco Tum Castro
Village of Los Plátanos,
Juan Chic Hernández
Mateo López Calvo
Campesino from Santa Cruz
Campesino, Rabinal, Baja
Gregorio Yuja Xona
San Pablo, El Baldío, Uspantan
Juan Us Chic
Juan López Yac
Campesino from Macalajau
Juan José Yos
Campesino, Santa Lucía
Eduardo Cáceres Lehnhoff
Former Vice President
Adolfo Molina Orantes
Former Minister of Foreign
Jaime Ruiz del Arbol
Embassy of Spain
Luis Felipe Sáenz Martínez
Embassy of Spain
Lucrecia de Aviles
Embassy of Spain
Nora Mena Aceituno
Embassy of Spain
María Teresa Villa de Santa Fé
Embassy of Spain
Embassy of Spain
Embassy of Spain
Mary de Barillas
Embassy of Spain
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.
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.
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
Victims thus apprehended disappear without a trace, as though they had
faded away, without any further notice of their whereabouts.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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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.
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.
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.
This case is recorded by the IACHR under the Number 3497.
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.