Chiquimula, Guatemala: Guatemala's historic second war crime trial is about to conclude with the convictions of 4 ex - military. The trial against five ex-military involved in forced disappearances in Guatemala ends with a call for a 560-year sentence of imprisonment against four former military (one has passed away). This trial involving former military officers accused of forced disappearance of eight members of the village El Jute, Chiquimula, concludes with a high expectation of both the international community and hundreds of survivors of the crimes committed by the army during the armed conflict. This trial is taking place 28 years after the crimes where committed in 1981.
The Human Rights Office of the Public Ministry (MP) requested a penalty of 560 years in prison against an army cornel and four military officers commissioned at the military base in Zacapa during the eighties.
This is the first time in Guatemala's history that an ex-military of high rank is convicted. Usually only common soldiers of low rank in the military or the members of the PAC, Patrullas de Autodefensa Civil, paramilitary members have been put on trial and have been convicted.
The Public Ministry, MP, requested at the trial court of Chiquimula a sentence of 560 years against Marco Antonio Sanchez Samayoa, former commander of the military base in Zacapa, Solomón Maldonado Ríos, José Domingo Ríos Martínez, Gabriel Alvarez and Juan Carlos Ramos Rivera (deceased), all former military commissioners.
During the trial against those soldiers, which started last September, the prosecution charged them with the crime of forced disappearance of Jacobo Crisóstomo Chegüen, Miguel Ángel Chegüen Crisóstomo, Raúl Chegüen, Inocente Gallardo, Antolín Gallardo Rivera, Valentín Gallardo Rivera, Santiago Gallardo Rivera and Tránsito Rivera.
The MP also accused the ex-military of the crime of violation of duties against humanity, which carries a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison and forced disappearance which carries 40 years, for every loss, totaling 560 years in prison for the accused.
Mario Polanco, Director of Grupo de Apoyo Mutuo, the Mutual Support Group (GAM), who accompanied the victims during the trial, said he hoped for the achievement of a conviction against the military, contributing "to eradicate the fear that lingers in the victims and that other trials can begin and end with the wall of impunity that exists."
Polanco called the evidence presented during the trial by the MP and the Office of Human Rights, "overwhelming", which consisted of testimony from victims and documentaries, among others.
In the final phase of the trial, the ambassadors from Switzerland, Chile, Holland and USA where present, representing the international community, also present where Guatemalan human rights groups, Amilcar Velasquez, MP Attorney General of Guatemala and Sergio Morales, Human Rights Ombudsman of Guatemala.
The Mutual Support Group, GAM, informed today of intimidation tactics used by the Association of Military Veterans of Guatemala, Asociación de Veteranos Militares de Guatemala, AVEMILGUA at the trial in Chiquimula. Members of AVEMILGUA where taking pictures of the family members of the victims, witnesses of the trial, human rights activists, staff of the Public Ministry and ambassadors present. They also organized banners outside the building that stated in Spanish>"Mister Judge. We beg you to apply impartial justice and don't allow yourself be pressured by foreign undesirable people or pressure groups. They are thirsty of vengeance and wish to continue with the war that only divides and impedes the development of our society."
Another banner in front of the building was from the widows association of military.
Gam also informed that Prosecutors of the Public Ministry have been subjected in recent days to intimidations and have been followed by suspicious vehicles.
Members of the Association of Military Veterans of Guatemala present in the room where the trial takes place also made improper remarks against witnesses and family members of the victims.
GAM also stated in their Press release of today: "We ask each and everyone who has been accompanying this trial to be vigilant regarding the development of this process and especially the safety of those who have brought forward this request to dispense justice.
In an interview today with the Guatemala Times, Claudia Samayoa, Director of La Unidad de Protección de Defensoras y Defensores de Derechos Humanos, Udefegua, stated:
"The case that is being tried in Chiquimula, El Jute, is a very important trial, both because because it deals with people who where dissapered during the war and being taken by a military commisioners and handed over to the officer in charge of the military base in Zacapa, Coronel Mario Sanchez Samayoa, and because this has been the fist case where a high ranking official has been charged for a crime and not for intelectual authorship of a crime.
This in particular has been groundbreaking in the struggle against impunity in Guatemala.
First the military archives where given to the prosecutor who was investigating the case of genocide by order of the constitutional court. A cover up effort done by the army has been bluntly discovered and even though manueuvers to destroy part of the 3 archives had been done, it has not been done in impunity.
Second. For the first time a judge has sentenced a miltary commisionar for the crime of forced dissapearence against 3 guatemalan citicens in August this year. The condemmed Felipe Cusanero in San Martin Jilotepeque, Chimaltenago, had mantained power over the community until the day before he was captured. In this way as many other perpetrators have done after the war, using the threat of terror as a means to maintain control over the population, even in a democratic society.
The case of El Jute becomes the first milestone in a path that has become very dificult to turn, because of the number of threats and attaks against families of the victims, the witneses of the trial, the prosecutors of the MP, and even now as the trial has come to its end, protection measures have been stepped up to include international monitoring of the process through ambassadors, because intimidations have been oriented against them too.(see pictures of text).
The Human Rights Community hopes that the judges will decide according to the law and that the pathway that has been started at the beginning of this year will be continued by the Chiquimula Tribunal."
Sources: Gerson Ortiz, La Hora, Mutual Support Group, GAM
Pictures: Mutual Support Group, GAM