Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Guatemala opens National Police archive to civil war victims' families

Marylena Bustamante traveled 24 hours on a bus from Mexico City for a new chance at finding information about her brother, who disappeared 27 years ago during Guatemala's civil war.

Guatemalan human rights authorities recently opened a vast archive of police records that could contain information about Bustamante's brother, Emil, and thousands of other victims of state repression during the country's 36-year civil war.

"Like every family member of a detained/disappeared person, you have no idea how much I long to find the truth," said Bustamante, who arrived at the archive building holding a large portrait of Emil, whom she described as a "university intellectual."

Human rights officials discovered the archive by accident in July 2005 while investigating a complaint by neighbors about improperly stored explosives. Soon after, hundreds of workers set about cleaning up the rat-infested, mildewed building and restoring and organizing the estimated 80 million documents contained within.

The archive is considered the complete record of the National Police, with documents dating from 1881 until 1997. At the latter date, the police corps was replaced by the current National Civil Police.

Less than 10 percent of the documents have been digitized thus far, but victims' family members, investigators and academics can now file requests for information that may be contained in those documents, which primarily correspond to the most violent years of the war, 1975-85.

Read the rest of the story in the Miami Herald.

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