Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Guatemalan war orphans were sold, records show

Several children listed as missing during Guatemala's 1960-1996 civil war were sold in illegal adoptions, the country's social welfare agency records revealed.

The director of the government's Peace Archive, Marco Tulio Alvarez, told a press conference in Guatemala City on Monday that during the analysis the archive, officials found a series of irregularities that prove the disappearance of children between 1986 and 1987.

"In the analysis carried out, patterns of activity can be established that show the ease with which the adoption procedures were handled to hide the violation of rights of Guatemalan children through forced disappearance," he said.

Alvarez did not rule out that members of Guatemala's police and armed forces could be implicated in the selling of the children.

Read the rest of the story here.

Guatemala scans police archive for civil war clues

Information long hidden in police archives covered with mold and bat droppings could implicate hundreds of former officers accused of killing students and leftists during Guatemala's 36-year civil war, according to human rights activists.

Sergio Morales, the Guatemalan government human rights ombudsman, on Tuesday is set to release the first report on the contents of 80 million documents unearthed four years ago that dated from the 1960-96 conflict.

Human rights activists have expressed hope that information from the archives will lead authorities to arrest hundreds of former police officers who may be implicated in crimes committed during a civil war in which around 250,000 people were killed or disappeared.

Two former members of a police unit linked to death squads that operated during the civil war were detained this month based on evidence from the archive.

Human rights workers discovered the dusty floor-to-ceiling stacks of papers in 2005 when they went into a rat-infested munitions depot in Guatemala City to investigate complaints by nearby residents about old explosives stored there.

The government gave the human rights ombudsman permission to investigate the archives from a civil war-era police force so linked to repression and disappearances that it was dissolved in 1997 after leftist guerrillas and security forces signed a peace agreement.

Archivists have cleaned, scanned and filed some 11 million documents, scouring them for information from the conflict.

Read the rest of the Reuters story here.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Declassified US State Dept Docs, US Knew of Abuses by Guatemalan Leaders it Supported

The U.S. government knew that top Guatemalan officials it supported with arms and cash were behind the disappearance of thousands of people during a 36-year civil war, declassified documents obtained by a U.S. research institute show.

The National Security Archive, a Washington D.C.-based institute that requests and publishes declassified government documents, obtained diplomatic and intelligence reports from the U.S. State Department under the Freedom of Information Act and posted them on its Web site on Wednesday.

"Government security services have employed assassination to eliminate persons suspected of involvement with the guerrillas or who are otherwise left-wing in orientation," one 1984 State Department report said.

State Department spokesman Fred Lash said he was unaware of the declassified documents and could not immediately comment.

Guatemala's U.S.-backed army battled leftist guerrillas in a 1960-1996 civil war that left more than 200,000 people dead or missing. Most were Mayan Indians.

"The government is obviously rounding up people connected with the extreme left-wing labor movement for interrogation," then-U.S. Ambassador Frederic Chapin said in a 1984 cable.

Chapin also said he was optimistic that missing union activist Fernando Garcia was alive and would be released. But Garcia has never been found, and two police officers were arrested in his case last week based on information found in Guatemalan police documents discovered in 2005.

The U.S. and local police files show that disappearances and executions were part of a deliberate strategy to crush leftist rebels, said Jesse Franzblau, a researcher at the Archive.

See the rest of the AP story here

Read it all at the George Washington University National Security Archive

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Archaeologist Hansen Unveils Frieze at El Mirador

A group of archaeologists led by Richard Hansen, who discovered the frieze representing the twin heroes of the Popul Vuh, Hunapú and Ixbalanqué, revealed it to the public on Sunday. The frieze was built about 300 years before Christ in the El Mirador archaeological site, in the north of Petén.

Hansen, director of the El Mirador Basin project and who coordinates the group of archaeologists-mostly Guatemalans, who work at that site, reported the discovery of a part of the Mayan sacred book, the Popul Vuh.

The frieze is about four meters long and three meters high, and was built in limestone and stucco.

This find is very important because it proves that Ixbalanqué and Hunapú existed 300 years before Christ, confirming that they are purely a product of the Mayan civilization.

"Some do not give credibility to the Popul Vuh because they say it has Christian influence, but this find demonstrates that the Mayan culture was already aware of the Popol Vuh story in 300 BC," he said.

Hansen pointed out that the oldest copy of the Popol Vuh dates from 1700, when the Spanish friar Francisco Jiménez found a document written by the Maya and translated it. So it was felt that this book had a lot of Christian influence.

Hansen described the frieze as illustrating the story of the two twins swimming after rescuing the head of their father, Hun Hunapú, after he was deceived and decapitated by the gods of the underworld.

The frieze was a lucky find when archaeologists were trying to locate the site of water storage cisterns and channels used at El Mirador because there are no nearby rivers.

The expert explained that the major discoveries about the Maya at Mirador date from 200 to 150 BC, such as the famous La Danta pyramid, considered one of the largest in the ancient world in terms of volume, along with 45 other sites.

La Danta, which is not yet fully uncovered, is thus far the largest built by the Mayans. It is 300 meters wide by 600 meters long and reaches a height of 72 meters.

"The Mirador Basin is the beginning of the Mayan culture, which began a thousand years before the development of Tikal," he added.

Hansen reported that the archeological operations at El Mirador require a budget of U.S. $2.7 million a year to continue.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Defense Minister's Family Threatened Over Archives

The family of Guatemala's defense minister received death threats after the government promised to open long-sealed military archives that could reveal army abuses during the country's civil war, President Alvaro Colom said on Tuesday.

Colom vowed last year to open the archives to allow investigators to scour them for evidence of army-backed massacres during the 1960-1996 conflict between the government and leftist guerrillas.

"We have information that the defense minister's family members received death threats from a group of ex-army officials upset about the de-classification of potentially compromising archives," Colom said at a news conference.

Almost a quarter of a million people were killed or disappeared during the war, with the bulk of the victims Mayan civilians, and a United Nations-backed truth commission found 85 percent of the murders were committed by the army.

Despite the threats, Defense Minister Abraham Valenzuela still intends to make public thousands of army documents from as far back as the 1954 U.S.-supported military coup against the social democratic government of Jacobo Arbenz, said Colom.

Read the rest of the Reuters story here.

Guatemalan Team to Release War-Era Military Files

A new government commission will organize and declassify military documents that could shed light on torture, disappearances and other atrocities during Guatemala's 36-year civil war, President Alvaro Colom announced Tuesday.

Starting next week, the five-member panel will spend 10 months gathering files from military bases and other institutions, Colom said. Once organized, the documents will be released to the public.

"We are no longer at war. We have no reason to hide anything," Colom told reporters.

However, the team of four civilian government workers and one Defense Ministry official will determine whether any of the documents contain secrets that could jeopardize national security, said presidential spokesman Ronaldo Robles.

A U.N. truth commission in 1999 found that 90 percent of the atrocities committed in the war were carried out by former soldiers and paramilitaries. More than 200,000 people were killed, mostly Mayan Indians.

Read the rest of the AP story here.

Court Papers Disappeared

The prosecution began the process of investigation to determine what happened to two of the alleged military plans to be submitted to the court for investigation, but that mysteriously disappeared.

The investigations were in the Fiscalía de Delitos Administrativos (Office of Administrative Offenses), which is also the complaint filed last week by more than 28 social organizations against Abraham Valenzuela, Minister of Defense, for not having delivered the plans to the judge, thereby breaching the order by the Constitutional Court (CC), who ordered the delivery of those documents.

The prosecution must examine the conduct of Valenzuela and if they deem it appropriate, request a preliminary request against him because he is protected by immunity. The first step is to determine who was directly responsible for these processes.

Last Wednesday, the minister went before the second judge of Criminal Court of First Instance, where only two military plans were delivered: Firmness and Strength, and said that he was unaware of the plans named Sofia and Operation Ixil, so the judge rescheduled the date of delivery.

That night, before traveling abroad, the minister told President Álvaro Colom that the last two plans "disappeared".

One of the documents that was expected at the hearing was the Plan Sofia, an offshoot of the Plan Victoria, in which countermeasures were designed for use in northern Quiché. The plan was conceived in July of 1982, four months after Rios Montt came to power.

According to archives of the Historical Clarification Commission, the military plan was drawn by order of then Chief of Staff of the Army, General Hector Lopez Fuentes. In February 2002 he stated that the Ministerio Publico received direct orders from the de facto head of state, Ríos Montt, and the deputy minister of defense during that administration, Humberto Mejia Victores.

Lopez was the creator of the Plan Victoria 82, aimed at directing counterinsurgency operations and ideological warfare, to locate, capture, or destroy subversive groups to ensure peace and security of the nation, in Quiché, Huehuetenango, Quetzaltenango, San Marcos, Solola and Petén.