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.