Human Rights Developments
The human rights situation worsened in many respects in Guatemala in 1991, despite some encouraging developments in the prosecution of crimes in which the military or its agents are implicated and the replacement of some abusive military personnel. Although a new civilian president, Jorge Serrano Elías, came to office in January promising to respect human rights and end impunity for violators, the army, police, civil patrols and death squads continued to get away with political killings, torture and disappearances. The army and civil patrol leaders continued to compel participation in the supposedly voluntary civil patrols, especially in the highlands, and to exact reprisals against those who refused. A massive campaign of death threats against leaders of human rights organizations, unions, church groups, popular organizations, and the press added to the terror. On August 19, a powerful bomb was deactivated in a building that houses several news agencies.
The gravity of the threats was underscored by several high-profile political assassinations, such as the April 29 shooting death of Dinora Pérez Valdez, a social democratic candidate in the November 1990 elections for the national legislature; the stabbing death of Marist Brother Moisés Cisneros that same day; the slaying on July 15 of Julio Quevedo, the director of social action for the bishop of Quiché; the August 5 murder of José Miguel Mérida Escobar, the chief of the Homicide Division of the National Police, who developed evidence implicating military intelligence in the September 1990 murder of anthropologist Myrna Mack; as well as dozens more slayings of lesser known individuals. Two massacres were committed in August and another in October, at least one of them allegedly carried out by the army.
Entrenched repression in Guatemala has long prevented domestic groups from conducting on-site investigations into human rights abuses, which has made it difficult to measure accurately the level of violations throughout the country. Although some groups are beginning to conduct field research, their efforts are not systematic and are fraught with risk for investigator and witness alike. Various groups now produce statistics about human rights violations, but for the most part they are based on press reports and cases in which individuals come to the group's offices to provide testimony. The most conservative statistics are those published by the congressionally elected human rights ombudsman. In the first six months of 1991, the ombudsman documented 116 extrajudicial executions; another 172 cases are listed by the office as under investigation.75 The ombudsman also documented twenty-seven forced disappearances during the same period, with an additional thirty-four cases still under investigation.76 These figures undoubtedly understate the true number of violations, because fear prevents many victims and witnesses from reporting abuses. The tempo of killings appeared to rise in August and September, leading many observers, including Archbishop Próspero Penados del Barrio, to recall the carnage of the late 1970s and early 1980s.77
Torture remains a permanent aspect of Guatemala's human rights situation. Although most victims tortured by the security forces in Guatemala do not live to testify about their experience, evidence that the practice is common can be deduced from the condition in which bodies are found. In 1991 a handful of individuals tortured by the police or army survived and were able to provide detailed testimony about their ill-treatment.
o On August 25, detectives from the National Police Department of Criminal Investigations tortured three men arrested in connection with a wave of assassinations. The incident prompted the human rights ombudsman to issue an unprecedented call for the resignation of the National Police director in late October. The victims had signs of first and second degree burns as well as severe bruising, according to the ombudsman.78 The National Police director, Colonel Mario Paíz Bolaños, denied that police agents had tortured the victims, suggesting that their wounds were self-inflicted.79 Nonetheless, Colonel Bolaños resigned on President Serrano's orders on October 30.80
o The December 1990 torture by the army of Julio Chalcu Ben came to light only in the middle of 1991, when the severely injured youth was discovered in a hospital in Escuintla. According to testimony taken by the Guatemalan human rights group CERJ (the Council of Ethnic Communities "We Are All Equal"), military commissioners (among them Chalcu's uncle) seized Chalcu in the hamlet of Peña Blanca, Sacsiguan, in the department of Sololá, on the evening of December 16, 1990. Chalcu was taken to the military base in Sololá, where he was held, bound hand and foot, for ten or eleven days, with no food and only urine to drink, and with frequent beatings. On December 26, soldiers stabbed him on the right arm, the abdomen and the throat. The next day, firemen found Chalcu lying by the side of the road just outside Escuintla, more than 130 kilometers from Sololá. He was hospitalized for nearly five months before he was able to write out his name and "Sololá," enabling his family to discover for the first time since his disappearance that he was still alive. Chalcu suffered severe and permanent injuries, including brain damage which left him partially paralyzed and unable to speak.
o The torture by the National Police of former trade union leader Otto Iván Rodríguez, who was beaten and burned repeatedly with cigarettes in the police station in Chiquimula in April, was documented by the Archbishop's Human Rights Office.
Street children and their advocates continued to be singled out for abuse, by the National Police, private security guards licensed by the government, and unidentified men. For example, on August 1, two National Police agents helped a plainclothesman capture fifteen-year-old Edwin Esteban Rodríguez García, a street child, after he stole a pair of sunglasses in Guatemala City's Zone 1. The policemen rode in the third man's vehicle, only to get out later. Two other plainclothesmen then entered the vehicle. The men drove Rodríguez García to a secret location in Mixco, just outside of the capital, where they beat him severely and burned his chest, back and testicles with lit cigarettes. Later they threw him in a gulley.
Casa Alianza, the Guatemalan branch of the New York-based Covenant House which operates shelters for street children as well as a new legal aid office, came under heavy pressure as a result of its work in 1991. Two Casa Alianza "street educators" were captured at gunpoint in Guatemala City by plainclothes policemen on January 25. Although witnesses saw the agents take the two into the National Police headquarters, the police denied having detained them until U.S. Ambassador Thomas Stroock intervened and secured their release. Another Casa Alianza street educator in Guatemala City received telephoned death threats in April. On July 18, four armed men in a blue BMW with smoked glass windows shouted death threats and fired on the Casa Alianza shelter in Zone 1 of Guatemala City.
Leftist insurgents were apparently responsible for several political assassinations, particularly in the northeastern department of Petén. Most of these killings violate common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions of 1949, which prohibits attacks against persons taking no active part in hostilities.
In addition, on February 16, a guerrilla unit ambushed a group of armed civil patrollers who were attempting to take down banners that guerrillas had placed on the Xalbal bridge in the village of Santo Tomás Playa Grande, in the department of El Quiché. Ten patrollers died in the ambush and three were wounded. According to testimony taken by the human rights ombudsman from patrollers who survived, some of the guerrillas emerged from their hiding place after the initial attack to "finish off" (rematar) the patrollers who lay wounded on the ground.81 While an ambush of armed civil patrollers is legitimate under the laws of war, the execution of those placed hors de combat by their wounds is absolutely prohibited by common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions.
The courts made some progress in pursuing cases in which the security forces or civil patrollers are implicated, including an unprecedented conviction of military personnel in connection with the December 1990 massacre at Santiago Atitlán. Yet in many cases, efforts to obstruct justice overshadowed all other developments, and even the conviction for the massacre was a parody of justice.
o At about 1:00 A.M. on December 2, 1990, soldiers fired on a crowd of peaceful indigenous protesters near the town of Santiago Atitlán, killing thirteen and wounding twenty-one. Although there were thousands of witnesses, including the outgoing mayor and the mayor-elect who led the demonstrators, the military judge in charge of the inquest never interviewed any of them, nor did she collect physical evidence at the site of the massacre. The bodies were buried without autopsies. Testimony gathered by Americas Watch and Physicians for Human Rights from demonstrators who were at the front of the crowd suggest that up to fifteen soldiers were shooting.82 Nonetheless, the army from the outset insisted that only two soldiers were responsible for the incident. Consistent with the army's version of events, on October 19, the military court convicted Sergeant Major Efraín García González for murder, and Lieutenant José Antonio Ortiz Rodríguez, the garrison commander whose violent carousing in town the night before had precipitated the residents' protest, of public intimidation and unauthorized use of a firearm. García González was sentenced to sixteen years in prison and Ortiz Rodríguez to four. The attorney general has appealed García González's sentence as too lenient.
o On October 6, 1990, Chunimá's most outspoken human rights activist, Sebastián Velásquez Mejía, was kidnapped from a bus stop in front of dozens of witnesses. Three local men later testified that the captors seized Velásquez minutes after conferring with the local chief of the military-organized civil patrol, Manuel Perebal Ajtzalam III, a man who had threatened Velásquez and other rights activists repeatedly in the past. Velásquez was found dead in Guatemala City two days later.
On February 17, 1991, two of the witnesses _ Manuel Perebal Morales and Diego Perebal León _ along with their father, Juan Perebal Xirúm, were shot near their village by civil patrol leaders Perebal Ajtzalam and Manuel León Lares, along with four other unidentified men. Only Diego Perebal León survived the shooting; he remains confined to a wheelchair.
The February 17 shootings could easily have been avoided because, at the time, the police had ignored for nearly a month an order issued by a district court judge to arrest patrol leader Perebal Ajtzalam for the kidnapping and murder of Velásquez Mejía. Also ignored by the police was a 1990 warrant for the arrest of León Lares in connection with an attack by patrollers on a peaceful human rights demonstration.
On February 18, arrest warrants were again issued for patrol leaders Perebal Ajtzalam and León Lares. In mid-April, fifteen members of the U.S. Congress wrote to President Serrano about the case, urging him to have the suspects arrested and to protect the lives of surviving human rights activists in Chunimá. Apparently as a result of this pressure, the police on April 26 made their first attempt to arrest the patrollers but, faced with armed resistance from the patrollers, fled the village without detaining anyone. Nonetheless, on May 3, President Serrano wrote to U.S. Senator Alan Cranston and falsely stated, in reference to the case, "today I can report that all suspects are in Police custody."
On June 13, the police again entered Chunimá and again were repelled without arresting anyone. Immediately after the police fled, patrollers beat and threatened an elderly member of the human rights group GAM (the Mutual Support Group) who had helped show the police the suspects' homes. They also briefly detained and threatened a CERJ member who had accompanied the police as a guide.83
It was only on the morning of July 30, when Guatemala was obliged to appear before the Organization of American States (OAS) Inter-American Court of Human Rights to answer a complaint filed by Americas Watch and the Center for Justice and International Law concerning the Chunimá case, that the patrollers were finally arrested. They remain in pretrial detention in Santa Cruz del Quiché.
o On September 11, 1990, Guatemalan anthropologist Myrna Mack was stabbed to death as she left her office in Guatemala City. On August 5, 1991, José Miguel Mérida Escobar, the chief of the Homicide Division of the National Police and one of two police investigators working on the Mack murder case, was shot dead outside the National Police headquarters. He had developed evidence implicating military intelligence in the murder of Mack _ a murder carried out, according to a September 29, 1990 police report written by Mérida and another investigator, for political motives. The September report was apparently censored by Mérida's superiors, who instead provided the judge with a report in which all references to the army and political motivation were omitted.
Nonetheless, a copy of the original report was leaked and presented to the judge by the attorney general's office. Shortly before his death, Mérida was summoned to the court to authenticate the report. According to the Archbishop's Human Rights Office, Mérida ratified all the sections of the more-than-sixty-page report in which his signature appeared. This enabled the judge to name a suspect from the army.84
Mérida confided to a witness shortly after his court appearance that he had just "signed his death sentence." Nonetheless, Mérida offered to testify before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights about high military involvement in the Mack murder and subsequent cover-up, if he and his family could be taken safely out of Guatemala. Arrangements for their safe passage were underway at the time of his murder.85
Mérida had come under surveillance following his court appearance. He had met with Interior Minister Fernando Hurtado Prem, Attorney General Acisclo Valladares and Human Rights Ombudsman Ramiro de León Carpio to tell them that he feared for his life because of his role in the Mack case. The interior minister responded by suggesting that Mérida wear his gun even when off-duty.
Evidently to counter the strong circumstantial evidence that Mérida was killed for having exposed official involvement in the Mack murder, the government tried to shift the blame in a patently incredible fashion. In late August, the government produced a suspect who "confessed" to the police that he had killed Mérida because of a personal grudge. According to a videotape of the confession, Gonzalo Cifuentes Estrada was having his shoes shined on August 5 when by pure coincidence he saw Mérida leaving the National Police headquarters. Acting on a three-year-old grudge, he allegedly shot Mérida on the spot. According to a police report, Cifuentes, overcome with chagrin that state agents were being unfairly blamed for Mérida's killing, voluntarily confessed to the crime when the police picked him up for an unrelated offense.86
There is evidence that Cifuentes was not in Guatemala City at the time of the crime and that his videotaped confession was made under threat of death. Once he was allowed to see a judge, Cifuentes retracted his confession.87 Moreover, in making a videotape of his confession and distributing it to at least one television station, the police violated a provision in Article 13 of the Constitution which states: "The police authorities cannot ex officio present before the news media any individual who has not previously been arraigned before the competent court." Having tried and failed to cover up official involvement in the Mack slaying, the authorities now find themselves involved in an ever more complicated web of violence and deceit.
Meanwhile, on December 3, police in Los Angeles, California detained Noel de Jesús Beteta Alvarez, the named suspect in the Mack murder. The police turned Beteta Alvarez over to the custody of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, for whom he signed a "voluntary departure agreement." He was flown to Guatemala the next day and detained at the airport.
o On the morning of August 9, the bodies of ten men and one woman were found on the highway from Escuintla to Taxisco, shot in the head with their hands tied. Several of the victims were involved in truck transport of goods from Puerto Quetzal to the capital, and some were also customs workers.
On August 16, the army press office announced that seven military personnel had been detained in connection with the massacre, including the commander of the Pacific Naval Base, Captain Aníbal Rubén Girón Arriola. Also detained were another captain, two lieutenants and three soldiers. A judge has since ruled that Captain Girón _ whose reputation for human rights abuses is said to be well established in the area _ will not stand trial in the case.88 Attorney General Valladares has appealed the judge's decision.
The motive for the massacre remains a source of speculation. A government official told Americas Watch that either the naval officers were dispensing summary justice against traders in some unspecified contraband, or the naval officers themselves were engaged in contraband and the victims were killed for having encroached on their turf.
o The torpor with which the June 1990 murder of U.S. citizen Michael Devine has been investigated and prosecuted in Guatemala was a primary reason for the suspension of U.S. military aid and commercial arms sales to Guatemala in December 1990. Several soldiers were detained in 1991 in connection with the case, as was Captain Hugo Contreras Alvarez. Three colonels were questioned by a military court, but one was never detained and the other two were detained but then released for insufficient evidence of guilt. The military tribunal that released the officers also granted Captain Contreras provisional liberty on September 20. All of the officers have been returned to their posts.
o A member of the Presidential High Command has been detained and charged with the July 1989 murder of José Rolando Pantaleón, a Coca Cola union activist and a member of the union's now-disbanded political theater group.89
The lack of enthusiasm with which Guatemala's civilian leaders have viewed the notion of seeking redress for the horrendous human rights abuses committed during the decades of military rule was best expressed by Vinicio Cerezo Arévalo, the former president, who in 1985 said, "We are not going to be able to investigate the past. We would have to put the entire army in jail."90 Nonetheless, grass roots pressure from relatives of the victims of thousands of disappearances produced some results in 1991.
o In June 1991, the National Coordinating Body of Guatemalan Widows (CONAVIGUA) announced the discovery of a clandestine cemetery containing an estimated 110 bodies of peasants killed in 1981 and 1982. A court-ordered exhumation of the graves was carried out between July and October, with the assistance of Oklahoma forensic anthropologist Clyde Collins Snow and the Argentine Team of Forensic Anthropologists. Twenty-seven skeletons so far have been exhumed from the site, and fourteen of them positively identified. Laboratory analysis of the skeletons by Dr. Snow showed that thirteen of the victims died as a result of bullet wounds from ammunition commonly used by the army; those victims also showed signs of having been burned. These findings corroborate the testimony of relatives and witnesses who said the army had locked the victims inside the church, set them on fire, and then shot them. Another thirteen victims were found buried together, with their hands tied behind their back and a single wound from a .22 caliber rifle in their head. This evidence corroborated testimony of relatives and witnesses that the victims were executed by civil patrolmen, who are known to use .22 caliber rifles. There have been no arrests in the case.
o The exhumation in 1989 of eight clandestine graves in the village of Tunajá, in the department of El Quiché, eventually led to the arrest of the former patrol chief from that village, Santos Coj Rodríguez. However, in early October 1991, shortly before Coj Rodríguez was expected to be tried for the eight murders and illegal burials, he "escaped" from prison in Santa Cruz del Quiché, apparently with the assistance of two National Police officers. Attorney General Valladares has reportedly initiated criminal proceedings against the police agents responsible.91
o The police have also failed to arrest the former civil patrol leader of San Antonio Sinaché, in the department of El Quiché, whose arrest was ordered for a string of murders in 1984 after exhumations assisted by Dr. Snow were carried out in December 1990 and January 1991.92
The Right to Monitor
The violent persecution of human rights monitors continued in 1991. Between February and June, four human rights activists were murdered and a fifth disappeared; three sons of rights activists were also murdered. In each case, circumstances suggest involvement of the security forces or their agents.93 Amílcar Méndez Urízar, the leader of CERJ, was obliged by surveillance, threats and harassment to spend a portion of the year in hiding, and eventually to leave the country for several months.
In addition, in trying to discredit its critics in the human rights movement, the Serrano government has recklessly exposed them to the risk of further violent attacks. For example, during a visit to Washington in late September and early October, President Serrano publicly proclaimed, "We have documented all the relations of [CERJ President] Amílcar Méndez with the insurgency." He insisted flatly that Méndez "is working with the insurrection" and that CERJ is a "parallel organization" to the guerrilla movement. These statements, without foundation to the best of our knowledge, are tantamount to a death sentence for CERJ activists, who have suffered unrelenting persecution since the army launched a propaganda campaign in 1989 to equate CERJ with the insurrection. Serrano told representatives of U.S. human rights groups that he based his accusations on the similarity of the slogans used by CERJ and the guerrillas, as if the guerrillas' echoing of CERJ demands for respect for human rights and the Guatemalan Constitution makes CERJ party to an armed rebellion.
On October 17, Méndez appeared in Washington, D.C. at a lunch meeting sponsored by the Washington Office on Latin America. When Méndez and his hosts arrived at the meeting room, they discovered a table covered with dozens of copies of an anonymous flyer attacking Méndez and his wife. The flyer, which included a picture of Méndez meeting with President Serrano in June, accused Méndez and his wife of involvement with the guerrillas _ an accusation which Méndez emphatically denies. The picture, which has not appeared in the press, appeared to be the same one that President Serrano had displayed to human rights groups during his visit to Washington a few weeks before. Both the inclusion of the photograph and the style of the flyers bore the hallmarks of a military job. Civilian officials of the Guatemalan Embassy have denied any knowledge of the origin of the flyers, but there is evidence to suggest that the military attaché was responsible.
The Serrano government also hampered the work of the OAS Inter-American Commission on Human Rights by pressing for the removal of its staff attorney working on Guatemala. Shortly after the hearing on the Chunimá case before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights which the Commission had requested, Guatemala's ambassador to Washington twice wrote to the OAS secretary general demanding the removal of staff attorney Cristina Cerna. The Commission complied and removed Cerna from all of its work on Guatemala, despite the protest of human rights groups in Washington. Yet, in a September 30 meeting with human rights groups, President Serrano emphatically and angrily denied that his government had pressured the Commission to remove Cerna.
An incident in October involving the United Nations special representative to Guatemala brought a commendable response from President Serrano. The representative, Christian Tomuschat, was visiting an isolated community of displaced persons in a conflictive area of northern Quiché province, following a cease-fire arranged between the government and the guerrillas. Despite the negotiated cease-fire, Tomuschat learned upon arriving that the air force had strafed the area only moments before. Serrano moved quickly to fire the air force chief.
Although the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has had an office in Guatemala City since 1988, the government has not allowed it to expand its work beyond disseminating information to the army and visiting prisons. Prison visits are of little use to the ICRC in Guatemala, because those captured by the security forces who are suspected of ties to the guerrillas are generally held in clandestine detention and killed, rather than being turned over to the courts and the prison system.
U.S. policy toward Guatemala continued more or less on the course set on December 21, 1990, when the Bush Administration suspended military aid and commercial arms sales to Guatemala on human rights grounds. Overall, the Bush Administration's policy toward Guatemala _ especially in the last two years _ has been far more attentive to human rights concerns than that of its predecessor.
The Administration made efforts to improve relations with the new Serrano government during its first months in office. Ambassador Stroock, in a meeting with President Serrano in February, offered to deliver military "flight safety equipment" worth approximately $1.2 million, while reportedly insisting that further assistance would only follow measurable human rights improvements. Serrano, who is fond of defending what he calls Guatemala's national dignity, told the press that he had refused Stroock's offer. "I'm not going to accept their orders," he said, referring to human rights conditions. "Our dignity must be respected. My government has decided not to accept the military aid."94 Nevertheless, the flight safety equipment was delivered and accepted, according to the State Department.
Because of the aid suspension in December 1990, most of the military aid that would have gone to Guatemala in fiscal year 1991 was "reprogrammed" to other countries. However, military training was not affected by the suspension, and continued at a rate of $414,000 in the 1991 fiscal year. The Bush Administration has made no explicit statement about the future disposition of approximately $10.8 million worth of military aid which had been obligated for Guatemala in prior years but not delivered before the aid suspension.
The Foreign Aid Authorization Bill passed by the U.S. House and Senate for fiscal years 1992 and 1993 would have barred military aid and commercial arms sales and restricted economic support funds (balance of payments relief) pending human rights improvements. However, the House refused to vote for the final version of the authorization, which incorporated versions already passed by the House and the Senate, thereby postponing decisions on foreign aid until an appropriations bill can be passed. We expect that the language restricting aid to Guatemala which was included in the now-defunct authorization bill will be retained in the appropriations bill.
Despite having suspended military aid on its own initiative, the Bush Administration initially fought congressional attempts to impose restrictions through legislation. Administration spokesmen argued that the Serrano government had broken with the past.95
During a March 5 hearing before the House Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere Affairs, Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs Bernard Aronson hailed President Serrano for having made human rights promises during his inauguration speech and for having chosen his own defense minister and chief of staff of the armed forces, rather than accepting those who would have held the job automatically. Secretary Aronson also praised President Serrano for visiting the office of the human rights ombudsman, committing himself to reform of the penal code, and making unspecified "changes" in the investigation into the 1990 slaying of Michael Devine.
It was inappropriate for the Administration to praise these largely symbolic steps without at the same time decrying the lack of any improvement in the actual behavior of the army and police. Between the time that President Serrano took office and Secretary Aronson presented his testimony, three human rights activists had been shot, two of them fatally, by military-organized civil patrols in Chunimá. As noted above, those killings were wholly preventable, given the existence of outstanding arrest warrants against the two identified assailants. On several occasions, President Serrano was made aware of the police's failure to arrest the suspects, who continued to live freely in their communities and to terrorize local rights activists, yet neither he nor his interior minister, who is nominally in charge of the police, had taken any action. Indeed, the judge in the case described to Americas Watch his futile efforts to get the interior minister on the telephone to ask him to press the police to make the arrests.
Nonetheless, as political killings mounted in the subsequent months, the Bush Administration agreed not to oppose the legislation emerging from the House Foreign Affairs Committee. However, on September 27, the Administration moved to make available to the Serrano government $50 million in economic support funds obligated in fiscal years 1990 and 1991 but suspended because of disagreements over fiscal policy. The funds will be disbursed once Guatemala meets certain economic criteria wholly unrelated to human rights. In our view, this payment violates Section 502B of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (as amended), which prohibits the provision of security assistance _ defined to include economic support funds _ to governments engaged in a consistent pattern of gross violations of human rights.
This large package of cash assistance is far more significant to the Serrano government than the symbolic amount of military aid now suspended because of human rights violations. Providing these funds under the current circumstances undercuts the message that the Bush Administration sent by suspending military aid. To send an unmistakable signal on human rights, the Bush Administration ought to withhold Economic Supports Funds until the Guatemalan security forces cease political killings, torture, and disappearances and begin to prosecute those responsible.
At the same time, the Bush Administration continues to support the Guatemalan police by providing equipment and training through a variety of special programs such as the Justice Department's International Criminal Investigations Training and Assistance Program, aid to the Treasury Police for drug eradication and interdiction, and police training under the State Department's Anti-Terrorism Assistance program. Americas Watch opposes such aid while the police continue to carry out torture and murder with impunity. Revelations about the police's role in covering up the murder of Myrna Mack make a mockery of U.S. efforts to reform the police.
On the positive side have been several significant Administration interventions and gestures on human rights. In a meeting with President Serrano at the White House on October 2, President Bush highlighted U.S. concern about continued human rights violations as well as the failure to prosecute those responsible for the murder of Michael Devine, according to the State Department. And, as noted above, Ambassador Stroock's intervention in what appeared to be an attempt by police plainclothesmen to disappear two Casa Alianza street educators in January may have saved their lives. Ambassador Stroock's presence at a memorial mass on the first anniversary of the assassination of Myrna Mack was also an important symbolic gesture.
In November, the Guatemalan attorney general issued a formal complaint before a judge on charges that two agents of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) had kidnapped and tortured an alleged drug trafficker in Guatemala before flying him to the United States. The victim, Nicaraguan citizen Carlos Gadea Morales, has alleged that the DEA agents, along with agents of Guatemala's military intelligence bureau, seized him on September 22 at Guatemala's La Aurora airport and tortured him in a back room at the terminal. The next day, Gadea stated, the agents took him to a farm in the eastern department of Izabal, from which he was flow by U.S. Coast Guard jet to Miami. The State Department has offered a rather improbable account in denying that Gadea was kidnapped. John Arndt, State Department desk officer for Guatemala, told Americas Watch that Guatemalan officials approached Gadea at the airport and asked him to cooperate in an investigation of drug trafficking in Guatemala. The Guatemalan officers invited the DEA agents to join them in a trip to some properties in Izabal. Given the choice between being forcibly expelled from Guatemala and voluntarily flying to Miami to face drug-trafficking charges, Gadea chose to fly to Miami, Arndt said, adding that upon arriving in Miami Gadea was examined by a physician who found no signs of torture.
The Work of Americas Watch
To a large extent the objectives that Americas Watch set out for U.S. policy toward Guatemala were met in 1991, as U.S. military aid remained suspended, and Congress moved toward legislation that would restrict economic support funds and prohibit all military aid and arms sales. If enacted next year as expected, the restrictions will send a strong message to the Guatemalan government and military that human rights must be respected if normal relations with the United States are to be maintained. It is hoped that a firm U.S. stance on human rights will lead to concrete improvements in Guatemala.
Our collaboration with Physicians for Human Rights, which began with a mission to Guatemala in December 1990, continued in January 1991 with a mission that included exhumations in San Antonio Sinaché and a fact-finding trip to Santiago Atitlán. In early September, the two organizations jointly published a report on impunity and the medico-legal system entitled Guatemala: Getting Away With Murder. The report received considerable attention in the U.S. and Guatemalan press and generated pressure on President Serrano to address human rights abuses during his September-October visit to the United States.
The interest elicited by the exhumations of victims, conducted with the help of expert members of our delegation that visited Guatemala in December 1990 and January 1991, brought about a request for similar assistance when a large clandestine cemetery was discovered in June, as described above. Americas Watch and Physicians for Human Rights helped arrange for experienced forensic authorities to spend an extended period in Guatemala assisting with the exhumations and helping to identify and determine the cause of death of the victims.
Perhaps our most pressing concern in Guatemala over the past four years has been the violent persecution of human rights activists. The tragic story of Chunimá, described above, has been a vehicle for pressing these concerns in 1991. During our December 1990 mission, we assisted in the exhumation of the first victim from Chunimá, human rights activist Sebastián Velásquez Mejía. A few days after two of the witnesses to Velásquez's kidnapping were shot together with their father on February 17, 1991, an Americas Watch representative interviewed the badly wounded survivor in the hospital in Sololá. On April 14, we issued a newsletter on the case, which helped draw congressional attention to the issue. The congressional letters which were subsequently sent to President Serrano prompted him for the first time to direct the police to arrest the suspected killers, although they did not succeed in carrying out their mission.
Also in April, Americas Watch and the Center for Justice & International Law (CEJIL) filed a petition with the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights asking it to investigate and seek redress from the Guatemalan government for the slaying of four Chunimá human rights activists and the wounding of a fifth, as described above. The petition also called on the commission to seek an injunction from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights demanding that the Guatemalan government protect the lives of twelve human rights activists and two judges connected with the case who faced imminent risk of persecution from the Chunimá civil patrols. As one of several measures of protection, the petition asked that the outstanding arrest warrants against the patrollers be executed.
On June 28, acting on this request, the commission sought an injunction from the court, and on July 15, the court's president, Héctor Fix-Samudio of Mexico, issued a preliminary injunction requiring the Guatemalan government to "adopt without delay whatever measures are necessary to protect the life and physical integrity" of the fourteen named individuals. He also required the Guatemalan government and the commission to attend a July 29 hearing of the court on the request for an injunction. An Americas Watch representative attended the hearing, in San José, Costa Rica, as an advisor to the commission. On the morning of the hearing, which was postponed until July 30 at the government's request, the government sent soldiers to Chunimá in helicopters to arrest the patrollers.
On August 1, the full court affirmed the preliminary injunction issued by its president and extended it until December 3. The court also ordered the government promptly to report the specific measures of protection it had taken with regard to each of the individuals specified. It further required the commission and the government to keep the court informed of compliance with the resolution.
The court's action marked the first time in its history that it has held a public hearing on human rights in Guatemala, an event which received considerable publicity in Guatemala. It was also the first time that the court has issued an injunction to protect human rights monitors.96 It is fitting that this unprecedented step be taken in Guatemala, where so many monitors have died at the hands of government forces or their agents.
Americas Watch representatives undertook several fact-finding missions to Guatemala in the second half of the year. In August and November, a staff member traveled with a delegation of church, human rights and other nongovernmental organizations to visit isolated communities of peasants in northern areas of the Quiché department. The peasants, organized into so-called Communities of Population in Resistance, are among thousands of displaced villagers who have been hiding from the army for as long as ten years. Americas Watch plans to conduct further research into this subject for a possible publication in early 1992.
The ombudsman's figures include an undetermined number of slayings by the guerrillas, as well as those attributed to government forces and death squads. The percentage of extrajudicial executions by the guerrillas is believed to be relatively small.
A rough comparison can be made between the figures compiled by the ombudsman in the first half of 1990 and those compiled during the same period in 1991, although the categories used by the office have become more refined in 1991. In 1990, the ombudsman simply reported the number of alleged violations received by his office, without indicating the number of complaints verified, under investigation, or dismissed. In the first six months of 1991, the ombudsman received a total of 321 complaints of extrajudicial executions and 80 of disappearances. During the first six months of 1990, the ombudsman received complaints of 204 alleged extrajudicial executions and 105 disappearances. Clearly the total number of reported extrajudicial executions and disappearances rose in the first six months of 1991, compared with the same period in 1990. Subsequent months in 1991, for which the ombudsman's figures are not yet available, are expected to show greater political violence still.
See archbishop's message to President Serrano on the 170th anniversary of Guatemalan independence, September 15, 1991.
Procurador de los Derechos Humanos, Ref. Exp. Gua. 398-91/p, of.3ro, October 21, 1991.
"Paíz: La Procuraduría viola la Constitución," Siglo Veintiuno, October 26, 1991.
Miami Herald, October 31, 1991.
Procurador de los Derechos Humanos, Ref. Exp. Qui. Eio.025-91/p, printed in Resoluciones del Procurador de los Derechos Humanos 5-91, Colección: Cuadernos de Derechos Humanos, p. 12.
Americas Watch and Physicians for Human Rights, Getting Away With Murder, pp. 53-61.
See Americas Watch, "Slaying of Rights Activists, Impunity Prevail Under New Government," April 14, 1991; and Americas Watch and Physicians for Human Rights, Guatemala: Getting Away With Murder, August 1991, pp. 32-36.
The suspect, Noel de Jesús Beteta Alvarez, worked until November 1990 in the security section of the president's military affairs department (Estado Mayor Presidencial), an elite military intelligence unit.
Human Rights Office of the Archbishop of Guatemala, "Myrna Elizabeth Mack Chang (40), Guatemalan Anthropologist Murdered on September 11, 1990," October 1991, pp. 11-16.
Ibid, p. 28.
Ibid, pp. 27-28.
Doug Mine, Associated Press, August 19, 1991.
See Americas Watch, Messengers of Death: Human Rights in Guatemala November 1988 - February 1990, pp. 20-23.
Jean-Marie Simon, Guatemala: Eternal Spring, Eternal Tyranny (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1987), p. 227.
"Escapa un ex patrullero civil sindicado de varios crímenes," Siglo Veintiuno, October 12, 1991; and "GAM teme venganza por la fuga de ex patrullero," Siglo Veintiuno, October 13, 1991.
Americas Watch and Physicians for Human Rights, Getting Away With Murder, pp. 71-76.
Those killed were CERJ members Manuel Perebal Morales, Juan Perebal Xirúm, Camilo Ajquí Jimón and Celestino Julaj Vicente. CERJ member Santos Toj Reynoso has disappeared. The murdered sons of a CERJ member are Manuel Ajiataz Chivalán, Pablo Ajiataz Chivalán and Miguel Calel. See Americas Watch and Physicians for Human Rights, Getting Away With Murder, Appendix E.
"Guatemala Rejects U.S. Aid, The Washington Post, February 9, 1991.
The Guatemala chapter of the State Department's annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1990, published in February 1991, was the strongest and most accurate to date, a major improvement over past years. Yet because it covered the final year of the outgoing government of Vinicio Cerezo Arévalo, the Bush Administration treated it as irrelevant to its appraisal of the new Serrano government.
The court has used its injunctive power on one other occasion, to order protection for witnesses to the murder of journalist Hugo Bustíos in Peru.