This is a news story that I’ve been following for a while here. I was actually half-waiting for some kind of resolution in the story so that I could write a nice little article that was complete and summarized everything. I should have known better. In Guatemala such stories which shine a light on the possibility of justice tend to get drawn out and encounter many obstacles on the way, even if supposedly they have an expiry date.
The story relates to the release of four military archives – Plan campaña Victoria 82, Plan Operativo Sofía 82, Asuntos Civiles Operación Ixil, and Plan Firmeza 83 – detailing counterinsurgency strategies including massacres which took place in 1982 and 1983. The archives would act as vital evidence in the genocide trials which are currently being brought forward by victims of the violence who form the Association of Justice and Reconciliation (AJR).
The release of the archives was first ordered in early 2007. An appeal was subsequently lodged, in which it was claimed that the archives were state secrets, and their release would have implications for national security. This appeal was overturned and last year on the 25th February, the president of Guatemala, Álvaro Colom, promised the declassification of the archives. The 25th February 2009 was the deadline for the release of the archives. Were they released? No. And what’s the significance of the 25th February? It’s the Day of the Dignification of Victims of the Armed Conflict.
Actually the Defense Minister did present the judge in the case with two of the archives – Plan Victoria and Plan Firmeza – claiming to not know the whereabouts of the other two. The judge refused to accept the “incomplete delivery”, also claiming a lack of a suitably secure storage space for the documents. Days later it was reported that the Defense Minister and his family were receiving death threats.
There have been several official lines since then as to the whereabouts of the remaining documents – Plan Sofía and Operación Ixil. First the documents were destroyed. Then they were lost under the previous government. Then they did exist but could be in any military detachment in the country. However, copies of parts of these documents have been circulating in human rights groups and in the press for a long time.
In mid-March a supposed copy of one of the missing documents, Plan Sofía 82, mysteriously arrived at the presidential house. It’s still in the process of being authenticated (by the military). And Plan Victoria and Plan Firmeza have now been accepted.
I should have known better in anticipating a timely resolution to this story. I also should have known better about expressing hope. But in this I wasn’t alone. Guatemalans I spoke to seemed to fit into one of two groups. The first being highly enthusiastic and expressing their hope that this could be the beginning of the end of impunity in Guatemala. Generally-speaking these were “the newbies”. The second group was highly cynical. These were the people who have seen these kinds of hopes raised before. And have seem them shattered. But still these people continue to seek justice, just more tired, more cynical, and most importantly, with each blow, more determined.