“Intellectual Authors” of Guatemalan Forced Disappearances Convicted.
Guatemala City—On September 20, a Guatemalan tribunal convicted the former director of the National Police of Guatemala, retired Col. Héctor Bol de la Cruz, and his subordinate Jorge Alberto Gómez López for the 1984 disappearance of student and labor leader Edgar Fernando García.
The verdict broke new ground in the case of Fernando García’s abduction and presumed murder, by condemning senior police officials for their role in ordering, overseeing, and then concealing the crime. The trial also gave the prosecution the opportunity to introduce eyewitness testimony from a fellow senior police officer indicating that after his capture, Edgar Fernando García was turned over to members of Guatemalan army intelligence. The revelation prompted the court to order the investigation to continue.
The case was presided over by Judges Yassmín Barrios, Pablo Xitumul, and Patricia Bustamante – the same panel of jurists who heard the landmark genocide case against former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt last May. Theirs is the second ruling in the case; the first, on October 28, 2010, found two former police agents – Héctor Roderico Ramírez Ríos and Abraham Lancerio Gómez – guilty of the same crime. In both trials, the prosecution drew on a mix of experts and witnesses to illustrate how the government of Gen. Oscar Mejía Víctores used systematic forced disappearance to kidnap, torture, and kill Guatemalans perceived to be enemies of the state.
Edgar Fernando García was a 27-year-old engineering student at the National University of San Carlos (USAC), employee and union leader at the Central American Glass Industry (CAVISA), and member of the outlawed Guatemalan Labor Party (PGT) when he was seized on February 18, 1984, by Ramírez Ríos, Lancerio Gómez, and two other policemen indicted in the case who remain fugitives.
According to eyewitnesses and documents from the Historical Archive of the National Police, García was in the company of fellow PGT member Danilo Chinchilla when the two were accosted outside a market in Zone 11 of Guatemala City by agents of the Fourth Corps of the police. The men tried to flee but were captured, as a crowd of onlookers gathered. Chinchilla, shot in his left leg, saw García pushed into a van by the agents and driven away. He was never seen again by friends or family.
I testified as an expert witness in the case, presenting declassified U.S documents from the National Security Archive’s Guatemala Project. Stay tuned for an Electronic Briefing Book with many of the most important documents and a fuller description of the trial.
The judges found both defendants guilty as “intellectual authors” of the crime of forced disappearance of Fernando García and sentenced them to 40 years in prison. In her summary of the sentence, Judge Yassmín Barrios, the president of the “High Risk” Tribunal A, called on all Guatemalans to absorb the lessons of this and other human rights trials taking place in the country.
“Guatemalans want to live in peace as a society,” declared Barrios. “This is our obligation now – to live in peace, to tolerate difference, and not to try and simply eliminate those who think in a distinct manner from us.” The judge declared the damage caused by Fernando García disappearance “irreparable,” and evoked the anguish of his family, “living day after day waiting for someone who possibly no longer exists. Waiting for a response that never comes.
“Guatemala should never have to experience that era of darkness again!”