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Astonishing Discovery of Remains of Guatemalan Death Squad Diary Victims

December 4, 2011

Page from "Death Squad Diary"

The National Security Archive recently published an electronic briefing book detailing  the discovery of the remains of two victims listed in the famous “death squad diary.” The Forensic Anthropology Foundation of Guatemala, a non-profit based out of Guatemala City, was able to identify the remains using DNA, as reported in their press statement on November 22.

The remains of Amancio Samuel Villatoro (death squad diary entry number 74) and Sergio Saúl Linares Morales (death squad diary entry number 55) were found in a mass grave at the former military detachment in Comalapa, Chimaltenango.

These two men were abducted by security forces in early 1983; their families never heard from them again. Their fates were not known until 1999 when the National Security Archive publicly released the death squad diary which recorded the disappearance of 183 people, including Villatoro and Linares. The handwriting at the bottom of their entries in the log book records the date they were murdered, March 29, 1984, and indicates their murder with the code “300.”  Linares’ entry includes the date of his capture, February 23, 1984.

As Kate Doyle, senior analyst at the National Security Archive stated in the posting, “It is an astonishing development in a case that has come to symbolize the impunity and injustice that persist in Guatemala 15 years after its bloody civil conflict ended.” (See the full electronic briefing book on the National Security Archive’s website, here.)

Family Members of Saul Linares Speak at FAFG press conference 11-22-11

Why is this so important? For many reasons…

The friends and families of these two men have been anguishing for over 27 years to know the fate of their loved ones, and to have their remains returned and given a proper burial. By locating the remains of the disappeared, many families are able to finally receive the closure of having the remains returned, and knowing, to a certain degree, what happened to their loved ones.  As Villatoro’s widow, María del Rosario pleaded (recounted in the posting),

“We hope there will be justice one day and that at least we will be able to learn where his remains are to give him a dignified Christian burial.”

By locating the remains of these two disappeared men, the families and friends of these activists have “re-discovered” their bodies and denied the military’s effort to “erase” them from existence.  Forced disappearance was a popular tool used by the Guatemalan government (and governments around the world) against the dissenting groups. The governments and militaries believed they could break the morale of a movement by erasing community leaders and prominent activists from their communities, the media, and public discourse. This was routinely done by kidnapping the person, holding them in a clandestine prison, most likely torturing them, killing them, and then disposing of the body in an unmarked location. The government denied involvement in the disappearance and provided no information to family members of the detention, or the whereabouts of the body.  For just an example of this heinous practice, see Mirtala Linares’ testimony as recounted in the posting:

“He wouldn’t tell us anything; he claimed they hadn’t captured [Sergio], that he knew nothing of his whereabouts – and that maybe my brother had gone as an illegal alien to the United States! That was how he answered us.”

Son of Amancio Villatoro speaks at FAFG press conference 11-22-11

This discovery further validates the power of government documents in the search for truth and the fight against impunity. These two men are recorded as being murdered on the same day, March 29, 1984, and their bodies were found near each other in the mass grave, along with other yet to be identified victims. This document proves that these two men were kidnapped and murdered by the Guatemalan government’s secret military intelligence unit, the Archivos, the authors of the death squad diary. The discovery of the remains put together with the government document, along with witness testimony, rounds out an important story, giving light to a truth that has been kept in the dark for over 27 years.  This shows that the government has been able to get away with these crimes and other crimes for decades, enjoying impunity while family members wait in anguish for decades, suffering from injustice. However, as discussed in the Archive’s posting, the period of impunity and injustice may be coming to an end…

“The extraordinary work of the FAFG team is all the more important because there is a collective human rights case based on the disappearances of the death squad diary currently pending in the Inter-American system. Filed in 2005 by the Myrna Mack Foundation of Guatemala and involving the family members of 26 of the victims in the logbook, it was remanded to the court by the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights on February 18, 2011, and is scheduled to be heard some time in 2012.”

**For more information and to read the complete posting, visit the National Security Archive’s website, here.

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