Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Hearing in Genocide Case, Survivors Gather by the Hundreds

This struggle is everyone's struggle and the struggle of those that have not yet been born.  --Board member for the Association for Justice and Reconciliation (AJR)

The genocide cases have moved forward against former General and de facto President Efraín Ríos Montt and two officials under his command, retired General and former Army Chief of Staff Hector Mario López Fuentes and José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez, former Director of Military Intelligence.  On Monday, August 21st, legal proceedings began to resolve 13 procedural issues pending in the genocide case.  Once resolved, Judge Ángel Gálvez has the power to decide if the genocide trial officially opens against Ríos Montt, López Fuentes and Rodríguez Sánchez.

The court resolved eight procedural issues during the course of the proceedings, until the hearing was suspended this morning after lawyers for Rodríguez Sánchez filed a motion to recuse the current judge.  The prosecution has two days to respond to the motion, at which point the judge will prepare a written ruling. 

Legal proceedings against Ríos Montt, Rodríguez Sánchez and Lopez Fuentes will continue to be broadcast live online (in Spanish) as they happen at  NISGUA will also continue to broadcast updates in English during transmissions; receive up to the minute updates by liking our Facebook page or following us on Twitter.

Photo by Graham Hunt

At the start of proceedings in Guatemala City on Monday, hundreds of people from rural communities affected by genocide gathered to witness Ríos Montt and members of his high command face justice in the courts of Guatemala.  A Maya ceremony took place in the plaza outside the courtroom, with the participation of people from the five regions of the AJR (Association for Justice and Reconciliation), which include Chimaltenango, Huehuetenango, Ixcán, Ixil and Rabinal.  They were joined by community members from Choatulum, San Juan Sacatepéquez and Suchitepéquez.  A woman from the AJR membership shared that during the ceremony, "I felt the spirit of my assassinated father giving me strength to keep going in this struggle."  She later added, "I hear my father's voice saying, 'Today is the day that you speak for me.'"

Photo by Graham Hunt
The gathering continued on Tuesday and this morning.  People shared music and testimonies, greetings and companionship as they waited for the outcome of the hearing.  An estimated 150 people from different parts of Guatemala watched proceedings remotely.

Photo by Graham Hunt
Issues of discrimination were rampant during the first day of the hearings. Supporters of the accused were seated in the courtroom before lawyers and other observers were allowed entry.  In the afternoon, members of the AJR were denied access to the courtroom and told it was full.  Lawyers inside the courtroom confirmed there was ample space available and took the matter up with Judge Ángel Gálvez, who ordered an inquiry into whether an official order was given to the police not to allow people in.

Despite these challenges, when asked about the mood of the AJR a member responded, "We are in high spirits.  We know we are continuing a struggle on behalf of history, on behalf of our children and grandchildren."

Photo by Graham Hunt
With today's news about the suspension of the hearings, the mood of the survivors remains determined.  During a meeting following the judge's decision to suspend the hearing, members shared their thoughts.  "This has been happening for 500 years.  As long as there is injustice in Guatemala, there will be resistance." "We survived for 15 years in the CPRs (Communities of Population in Resistance) and now we are here in the capital.  We will not grow faint of heart." "We are grateful to the struggle you [elders] started before us.  We didn't see it [the violence], we didn't live it, but we feel it. ...We are ready to fight." "I don't think there is anyone here who has lost their motivation."  "This struggle is everyone's struggle and the struggle of those that have not yet been born."  One after the other, members of the AJR recommitted to the search for justice.

NISGUA has provided international accompaniment to the AJR board and members for over 12 years through the ACOGUATE project.  Stay tuned to NISGUA's blog, Facebook and Twitter for new developments.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Pedro García Arredondo Convicted and Sentenced to 70 years in prison

Student Édgar Sáenz Calito was disappeared in June 1981.  Photo:
Pedro García Arredondo, former chief of the now defunct National Police's infamous Comando Seis was convicted for the forced disappearance of student Édgar Sáenz Calito in June 1981.  He was sentenced to 70 years in prison.

Investigations by the Public Prosecutor's office found that Sáenz Calito was kidnapped, interrogated, submitted to torture and ultimately disappeared between March and June 1981.  Arredondo was found guilty for his role in planning and coordinating the operation, committed by Comando Seis.

Arredondo is also named in the legal case Rigoberta Menchú Tum filed before the Spanish courts for the burning of the Spanish embassy on January 30, 1980.  Over 30 campesinos and Spanish citizens, including Menchú Tum's father, were killed in the massacre.  Extradition warrants were generated for the capture of Arredondo in 2006, as well as Efraín Ríos Montt, retired generals Oscar Humberto Mejía Víctores and Romeo Lucas García, and two former ministers, Donaldo Álvarez Ruíz and General Ángel Anibal Guevara.  The extraditions were never carried out.

Comando Seis has also been implicated as responsible for other atrocities of the internal armed conflict, including the murder of 27 union workers of the CNT (National Confederation of Workers) and the disappearance of student leader Oliverio Castañeda León.

Pedro García Arredondo Sentenciado a 70 años por Desaparición Forzada

Estudiante Édgar Sáenz Calito fue desaparecido en junio de 1981. Foto:
Se sentenció a condena de 70 años de prisión para Pedro García Arredondo, ex-jefe del Comando Seis del extinto Policía Nacional, para la desaparición forzada del estudiante Édgar Sáenz Calito en junio de 1981.

Según las investigaciones del Ministerio Público, Sáenz Calito fue secuestrado, interrogado, torturado y finalmente desaparecido entre marzo y junio de 1981.  Arredondo fue declarado culpable por su papel en la planificación y coordinación del operativo, ejecutado por Comando Seis.

Arredondo fue señalado en el caso de la quema de la Embajada de España el 30 de enero de 1980, lo cual Rigoberta Menchú Tum presentó frente el sistema judicial de España.  Más que 30 campesinos y ciudadanos españoles fueron asesinados en el masacre.  Ordenes de captura para extradición fueron girados en 2006 para Arredondo, asi como a generales Oscar Humberto Mejia Víctores y Romeo Lucas Garcia, y dos ex-ministros, Donaldo Álvarez Ruiz y general Angel Anibal Guevara.  Las extradiciones nunca se llevaron a cabo.

El Comando Seis también ha sido señalado como responsable de otras atrocidades del conflicto armado interno, incluyendo el asesinato de los sindicalistas de la CNT (Confederación Nacional de Trabajadores) y la desaparición forzada del líder estudiantil Oliverio Castañeda de León.