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Human Rights Developments

This past year was one of breathtaking political changes in Guatemala, with important implications for the human rights situation. Dramatic events of May and June 1993 propelled a human rights advocate into the presidency and produced some positive steps, although in other areas, the new government failed to take strong action in defense of rights, apparently for fear of confronting the army.

The most important reform effort affected the abusive police force, whose corruption and subservience to the army had long crippled its ability to investigate crimes, especially those committed by the military or its agents. Areas where there was no evidence of change included the militarization of the countryside and the power of the civil defense patrols, which continued to commit grave abuses, including murder, death threats, forced displacement, and illegal detentions. Moreover, a kind of psychological war continues against popular organizations, human rights monitors, labor unionists, and independent journalists. The sources of the assaults, kidnappings, and death threats these individuals suffered were in many cases unknown, but the techniques of intimidation were consistent with clandestine methods used by the security forces. The government's response to new evidence of clandestine detention and death squad activity by the army were disappointing as well. And while there were some important prosecutions of members of the civil patrols and police for human rights violations after the new government came into office, impunity remained the norm.

Violations of international humanitarian law by guerrillas in 1993 included the use of child soldiers; in two incidents during the year, children fighting with the guerrillas were captured in combat-one was ten years old and the other thirteen.

On May 25, 1993, Guatemala's elected civilian president, Jorge Serrano Elías, set off a constitutional crisis when he closed down the congress, supreme court, and attorney general's office and suspended a broad range of constitutional rights. Remarkably, his efforts to establish a dictatorship were reversed, thanks to pressures from Guatemala's emerging civil society, the Clinton administration, some elements of the military, and the previously obscure constitutional court. One week after Serrano seized power, he was forced to resign. Less than one week after that, the nation's respected human rights ombudsman, Ramiro de León Carpio, was elected by the congress to finish out Serrano's term.

Resolution of this crisis through peaceful and legal means marked an important victory for the constitution, the rule of law, and Guatemala's civil society. Moreover, de León Carpio's ascension to the presidency raised hopes for an improvement in the human rights situation and for a civilian president who would finally be willing to challenge the overwhelming power of the armed forces. During his term as human rights ombudsman, de León Carpio had energetically investigated and publicly denounced human rights violations, something no government official had done before in Guatemala.

In the weeks after his sudden assumption of power, de León Carpio sent two successive defense ministers into early retirement because of their behind-the-scenes support for Serrano's coup. A third officer allegedly involved in the coup, Gen. Francisco Ortega Menaldo, was sent into diplomatic exile at the Inter-American Defense Board in Washington, D.C.

The president named individuals known and trusted by the human rights community to the posts of interior minister and head of the National Police. The new police director, Mario René Cifuentes, launched an ambitious program to eliminate military control over the police by removing military "advisors" to police department heads and by disbanding a joint military/police task force known as "Hunapú." Cifuentes announced plans, as part of a broad restructuring of the police, to create a special unit to investigate human rights violations, including extrajudicial executions, disappearances, and torture.

Some positive results of these efforts to reform the police have been the decisive intervention of police agents to save the life of Joaquín Jiménez Bautista, a refugee who returned to his village of Todos Santos, Huehuetenango, only to be captured and beaten by civil patrol members who accused him of committing atrocities as a guerrilla commander in the early 1980s. Jiménez would undoubtedly have been lynched were it not for the intervention of an official of the governmental refugee authority, CEAR, and the police, who ultimately turned him over to the local human rights ombudsman. The police also took decisive action on September 23, when a prison riot resulted in the escape of Noel de Jesús Beteta, the convicted murderer of internationally known anthropologist Myrna Mack. Police captured Beteta and fourteen other convicts out of the thirty-seven who had escaped prison the same day.

Nonetheless, the police have failed to take effective action in other areas such as executing arrest warrants for members of the police and civil patrols accused of human rights violations. According to Casa Alianza, which operates a refuge and legal clinic for street children in Guatemala City, there were more than a dozen outstanding arrest warrants for police agents accused of violence against street children. Nor did the police detain several civil patrol chiefs whose arrest was ordered in July for the murder of human rights activist Tomás Lares Sipriano (described below).

On August 5, President de León Carpio announced the dissolution of the Presidential Security Directorate, a notorious intelligence unit commonly known as the "Archivos." The Archivos forms part of a large security apparatus operating from the presidency, and has for decades been pinpointed as a source of political repression. The trial and conviction of Beteta, an Archivos specialist, for the murder of Myrna Mack, opened a window into the secretive world of the Archivos and made the unit synonymous with repression in public opinion. This impression was reinforced in March 1993, when a secret office of the Archivos, used to intercept mail, was discovered in the General Post Office in Guatemala City.

Although the Archivos's dissolution was undoubtedly related to its criminal activities, the president never made such a link explicit. When the Myrna Mack Foundation, a human rights group formed by the sister of the slain anthropologist, called for an investigation into the Archivos's repressive activities, its demand went unheeded. Nor was it clear that Archivos activities would stop. They might simply be launched from a different location.

According to the Guatemalan newsweekly Crónica, the extensive files the Archivos kept on citizens and used as the basis for composing death lists were transferred to military intelligence (known as G-2 or D-2), despite widespread demand they be made public. Like the Archivos, G-2 had a long history of involvement in political repression. President de León Carpio reportedly sought to allay popular concerns by saying that if there ever were such files, it was "logical to believe" that they had been destroyed; but doubts persisted.

The president failed to take any action to curb the power and abuses of the civil patrols, which appeared responsible for the majority of human rights violations in Guatemala during 1993. Although as human rights ombudsman, de León Carpio had been a strong critic of the patrols' abuses, as president he rejected suggestions that they be dismantled, saying such a move should come only as part of peace negotiations with the guerrillas. Yet in many rural areas, the patrols usurped the functions of government and were a law unto themselves, as in the cases described below.

On April 30, patrols shot dead Tomás Lares Sipriano, a human rights activist from the village of Chorraxá, Quiché. The day before he was killed, Lares had organized a demonstration in the town of Joyabaj protesting military pressure on the area's inhabitants to join the civil patrols, which according to the constitution are strictly voluntary. Patrol leaders in Chorraxá had repeatedly threatened Lares in the past, and although the Quiché branch of the human rights ombudsman's office had ordered police protection for him, it had never been extended.

On May 1, patrollers killed ten alleged thieves outside the patrol-dominated town of San Pedro Jocopilas. Although the army and police claimed the victims died in a shoot-out, evidence collectedby human rights monitors indicated that the eight men and two women were slain execution-style, some while tied to trees. Moreover, although the police reportedly arrived at the abandoned house where the patrollers had captured the ten alive, they left when the patrollers insisted on handling the matter themselves.

On August 3, patrollers fired on peaceful demonstrators in the village of Los Naranjales in Huehuetenango department, killing sixty-four-year-old peasant Juan Chamay Pablo and wounding several others. Although arrest warrants were issued on September 9 for fourteen patrollers, only one had been detained as of mid-November. Responsibility for this failure fell not only on the National Police, whose members were easily intimidated by the army-backed patrols, but also on the Mobile Military Police-the army's own police unit-which failed to respond to orders to detain the patrollers. A Colotenango patrol chief, Efraín Domingo Morales, was murdered on September 15, possibly in retaliation for the August 3 shootings and other patrol abuses, although it is unclear who was responsible. And on September 26, Andrés Godínez Díaz and María Pérez Sanches, his wife, who had participated in the August 3 demonstration, were tortured and killed after receiving numerous death threats from the civil patrols in Colotenango, Huehuetenango.

Some inroads were made into the impunity with which human rights violators had traditionally operated in Guatemala, while other cases suffered setbacks or went nowhere. In July, an appeals court overturned the acquittal of two civil patrol chiefs for the murder of two human rights activists from the village of Chunimá, Quiché, and sentenced them to thirty years imprisonment. Also in July, a court sentenced the third-in-command of the National Police and four other officers to prison terms for violently breaking up a peaceful demonstration which took place in July 1992 in front of the National Palace. An appeals court toughened to thirty years the sentences imposed on other police officers who murdered a student in April 1992 as well.

On the other hand, although an army captain was convicted in the 1990 murder of U.S. citizen Michael Devine, he promptly escaped from the barracks where he was detained and remains at large. Instead of being punished, the colonel in charge of the barracks, Luis Felipe Miranda, was promoted to general by de León Carpio on October 1. Nor did the government take steps to prosecute cases the president investigated when he was human rights ombudsman, such as the murder of peasant Lucas Pérez Tadeo, whose tortured body was found on September 3, 1992, in Nentón, Huehuetenango. When he was still human rights ombudsman, Ramiro de León Carpio issued a resolution blaming the local Las Palmas military base for the disappearance, torture, and murder of Pérez Tadeo.

The Right to Monitor

Those who sought to defend human rights in Guatemala continued to suffer harassment, intimidation, and physical violence for their work. The change of government in June brought a welcome end to the climate of intense official hostility towards human rights monitors prevalent under the Serrano administration-during which the president himself and his defense minister frequently issuedbaseless accusations against human rights monitors for purported links to the guerrillas.

The director, staff, and clients of Casa Alianza, a center for street children in Guatemala City, suffered a steady stream of threats during the year. Collective written death threats were issued to journalists, human rights monitors, development workers, and other activists in March and October.

The staff of the Association for the Advancement of Social Sciences in Guatemala (AVANCSO) were the objects of intimidation and threats culminating in the ransacking of their Guatemala City office on August 3l. The harassment appeared to be a response to AVANCSO's calls for prosecution and punishment of the perpetrators of the murder of Myrna Mack, one of AVANCSO's founders. Witnesses and judges involved in the Mack case also received threats during 1993, as did Mack's sister, Helen.

As in past years, the indigenous human rights group known as the Counsel of Ethnic Communities "We Are All Equal" (CERJ), suffered serious persecution. Tomás Lares Sipriano, whose murder by civil patrollers is described above, was an active CERJ member. On May 8, three CERJ members-Pablo Itzep Hernández, Cruz Luz Hernández, and Manuel Batén Hernández-were detained and tortured at the military post in Chiul, Quiché. The officer in charge of the base, Capt. Aníbal Roberto Landaveri Martínez, was convicted of battery by a military court and sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison. Also on May 8, the Guatemala City office of CERJ was raided by armed assailants and its staff threatened. Finally, CERJ members Juan Ren González and Alberto Calvo were imprisoned on trumped-up charges from October 1992 until their acquittal in June 1993.

Even governmental authorities who attempted to protect human rights faced persecution. On May 21, the local human rights ombudsman for the department of Huehuetenango, attorney Tibaldo Ricardo Gámez López, was detained and threatened by civil patrolmen when he traveled to the village of Llano del Coyote to investigate a case.

The executive secretary of the Guatemala Association of Jurists (AGJ), Fernando René de León Solano, was harassed several times during the month of July, and a trade unionist who had recently visited de León was abducted and questioned about him and others before being released. On September l0, the Guatemala City office of the AGJ was damaged by an explosive placed outside it.

In March in collaboration with the Archbishop's Office of Human Rights, the San Pedro parish in El Estor, Izabal began a program of training human rights monitors in the villages inhabited by Qeqchi Indians. Due to harassment and warnings by local patrol leaders, one-third of the monitors were forced to withdraw from the program.

The Mutual Support Group-which represents relatives of the disappeared and is Guatemala's oldest human rights group-suffered several incidents of harassment. In two office break-ins during October and November, documents regarding human rights violations and office equipment were stolen. A member of the group, FranciscoGuarcas Ciphiano, was reportedly kidnapped by civil patrol members in the Guatemala City bus terminal on October 19.

U.S. Policy

The Clinton administration played an extremely important role in frustrating Serrano's coup by suspending all government-to-government aid and threatening to suspend trade privileges under the Generalized System of Preferences. The State Department also warned that it might oppose loans to Guatemala in international financial institutions if the coup were not reversed. The administration's unequivocal rejection of the coup consolidated opposition in Guatemala and motivated the business community and some sectors of the military to throw their weight against the coup. Washington's diplomacy also contributed to the building of a constitutional outcome to the crisis, instead of what at first appeared destined to be a military solution.

Since her arrival after the coup, the U.S. ambassador to Guatemala, Marilyn McAfee, has used her position creatively to further human rights in Guatemala, speaking out publicly about human rights abuses, visiting victims of human rights violations on several occasions and helping them get access to senior government officials. She told Americas Watch that she maintained a regular dialogue with Defense Minister Mario Enríquez and other senior officials in which she pressed for investigation of human rights violations.

The administration was eager to support de León Carpio's government and discussed expanding its police criminal investigations program and providing support to the police academy. Military training and joint exercises were renewed, after a brief hiatus during the coup, and the administration promised at a donor's meeting sponsored by the World Bank in September to provide $10 million in economic support funds to help with balance of payments strains. Approximately $11 million in military aid which had been suspended because of human rights violations since December 1990 remained on hold pending measurable improvements in the human rights situation and reforms in the military.

In August, two senior U.S. military officials visited Guatemala to express support for President de León and for the role of the military during the constitutional crisis. The generals, Army Chief of Staff Gordon Sullivan and George Joulwan, chief of the U.S. Southern Command, announced the resumption of joint civic action projects to be undertaken by the U.S. and Guatemalan militaries. Americas Watch objected to the U.S. promotion of the Guatemalan military's role in development and what it termed "nation building," as areas which should be the clear domain of the civilian government. We urged the Clinton Administration to end its support for military involvement in what should be civilian affairs such as vaccination campaigns and the building of schools. Regrettably, Generals Joulwan and Sullivan did not use the occasion of their visit to express publicly U.S. concern over the August incident in which civil patrollers shot peaceful demonstrators inHuehuetenango, killing an elderly peasant man and wounding several others. As the number of patrol abuses rose under the new government and the authorities' failure to prosecute and punish those responsible became more apparent, the need for public pressure from the United States became greater. We urge the Clinton administration to press for a dissolution of the patrols which, in addition to being involuntary in many parts of the country, remain the major source of human rights violations in Guatemala.

The Work of Americas Watch

An Americas Watch representative traveled to Guatemala the day of Serrano's coup to emphasize the organization's interest in a peaceful and legal restoration of constitutional government and our concern over the possibility that the coup would give rise to human rights violations and the persecution of monitors. In June, Americas Watch representatives met with government officials and human rights groups, and traveled in the countryside to investigate human rights violations. A report on the new government's human rights record and challenges was scheduled for publication in December.

Before the coup, Americas Watch sought to draw attention to clandestine detentions by the military, publishing a short report in March. Clandestine detention had been practiced for decades, but had been consistently denied by the authorities. Follow-up to the report was pursued through correspondence with the government on individual cases. An Americas Watch consultant specializing in issues of displacement and the repatriation of refugees traveled twice to Guatemala and Mexico to conduct research for a forthcoming report. Together with the Jesuit Refugee Service and other Washington-based groups, Americas Watch organized a series of roundtable discussions among non-governmental organizations to heighten awareness of human rights and humanitarian issues in Guatemala.

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