Guatemala: Judge to investigate military for disappearances of indigenous people
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Guatemala: Judge to investigate military for disappearances of indigenous people

A Guatemalan judge has re-opened proceedings trialling 11 retired army officers currently under arrest for forced disappearances and crimes against humanity. The acts were committed against hundreds of people during the country’s 1960 to 1996 civil war.

Judge Claudette Dominguez said there is sufficient evidence to prosecute 11 of a total of 14 soldiers held by the prosecution.

The remaining three are considered to have insufficient evidence against them in regard to their alleged involvement. However Dominguez said that “lack of merit will not close the criminal proceedings.”

The prosecution states that between 1978 and 1988 the detainees were active members of the Military Zone 21, in the northern Alta Verapaz region, where according to the State, hundreds of people were killed and disappeared.

Growing poverty, corruption in public institutions and the militarization of the country gave way to the country’s 36-year-long war, resulting in the emergence of armed groups that fought for a future without inequalities, inspired by principles hailing from the Cold War and Communism.

Among the military members under investigation is Benedicto Lucas Garcia, brother of the late President Romeo Lucas García (1978- 1982), former Chief of State Defense.

Mass Graves

According to the prosecution, a report from the Forensic Anthropology Foundation of Guatemala said at least 558 bones and human remains have been found in 83 mass graves within the military area. A total of 97 remains have been formally identified.

During the hearing, the judge said that the foundation’s reports are legal and can be used in the process.

Yat Mauro, a 60-year-old victim, arrived at the court hearing, explaining that the victims want justice for what happened. “We’re going to testify,” he said.

Mauro said the parents and two brothers of his wife, Maria de Jesus Pop, remain missing, after the army came to their community and forcibly removed them in 1982.

“They were taken to the military detachment and we did not hear anything else about them,” he said.

As part of the same case, the prosecution has requested that Justin Edgar Ovalle’s immunity be overturned. Ovalle, a deputy elected by the National Convergence Front party (FCN) was also current President Jimmy Morales’ chief advisor. The Supreme Court has yet to decide whether impeachment will be granted.

A United Nations report indicated that some 245,000 people died or disappeared during the country’s internal armed conflict. It pointed out that 97 percent of deaths were attributed to the military and paramilitary groups.

The 11 military defendants are retired General Manuel Benedicto Lucas Garcia and officers Jose Antonio Vasquez Garcia, Carlos Augusto Garavito Moran, Raul Dehesa Oliva, Gustavo Rosales Alonzo Garcia, Cesar Augusto Cabrera Mejia, Ismael Segura and Juan Ovalle Abularach Salazar.

The 11 will remain in custody in the Mariscal Zavala military brigade.

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