The Attack on the Spanish Embassy

The 31st January 2010 marks the 30th anniversary of the Guatemalan state attack on the Spanish Embassy and the massacre of 37 people. As well as a memorial, this highlights the barbarity of the regimes in this era.   The following is a composite of two sources:   The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR)   Organizing and Repression in the University of San Carlos, Guatemala, 1944 to 1996, The American Association for the Advancement of Science  

In 1980, after years of selective repression in Guatemala City, the State initiated a campaign of indiscriminate mass violence throughout the country. The year began, symbolically, with the arrival in the capital of a delegation of peasants from Quiché demanding an end to state terror in their department. In August and September 1979, nine Indians from the villages of Uspantán had been kidnapped and murdered. For the Lucas government, the mere presence of Indian peasants in the capital demanding respect for their human rights was a subversive act, even more so considering that the protesters were being advised by the Peasant Unity Committee (CUC) and university students from the Robin García Revolutionary Student Front (FERG), groups with legal standing but whose leadership was tied to the EGP guerrillas.   First, the delegation attempted to gain an audience in Congress. In response, presumed government assassins killed their adviser, FUR activist and lawyer Abraham Rubén Ixcamparic, in front of the national police headquarters. Protesters wanted to call attention to the violence in Quiché, but given the climate of repression, a public march or an occupation was impossible.  

CUC and FERG decided it would be more prudent to occupy an embassy, as the concept of diplomatic extra-territoriality would make it more difficult for the government to attack their protest. They chose the Spanish Embassy, less for historical or political reasons than for its location close to various bus routes, and for the building’s design which made it easier to occupy. Some of the Quiché peasants agreed to go along during the operation. The result was one of the darkest moments of state terror in Guatemala.

 

On January 31, the protesters entered the building, locking the door to the street from the inside, trapping security guards outside in the street. Unexpectedly, two ex-functionaries of the Arana military government were visiting the Embassy and were taken hostage along with the staff and the Spanish diplomatic corps. The Spanish ambassador, Máximo Cajal y López, received the protesters, who asked him to intervene to help form an international commission to verify the repression in Quiché. The occupiers hung banners outside the building and carried a megaphone to the balcony to communicate with the press and security forces.   Lucas García met that morning with his interior minister Donaldo Alvarez Ruiz and police chief German Chupina Barahona in the national palace to discuss a response to the Spanish Embassy protest. Instead of trying to dialogue with protesters, they decided to send hundreds of agents to retake the Embassy.   Security forces surrounded the Embassy while the occupants took refuge in a room on the second floor. Without warning, police forces broke into the building and began to launch incendiary devices into their hideout which, together with combustible materials carried by the protesters, exploded into a massive fire. Both occupiers and hostages began to choke on the fumes. Instead of rescuing the trapped victims, the police prohibited firefighters from entering the burning building. Outside, the press and bystanders could hear the victims’ cries for help, yet their pleas to the police were to no avail. Security forces held their ground. Thirty-seven people died in the inferno: hostages, peasants and four university students.   There were only two survivors: Ambassador Cajal López and campesino Gregorio Yula, who was seriously wounded. Both were put into the Herrera Llerandy Hospital.   On February 1, a group of heavily-armed civilians entered the hospital and abducted the survivor, Gregorio Yula. Subsequently his body was thrown from a car in front of the office of the Rector of San Carlos University. On his body was found: “Tried as a traitor, the Spanish Ambassador will run the same risk.” The Ambassador was transferred to the United States Embassy.   The next day, the Spanish Government broke diplomatic relations with Guatemala.   The tragedy at the Spanish Embassy marked the beginning of a new phase in the political struggle in Guatemala. The government had shown its complete disinterest in the rule of law. It had also sent a message to the opposition about how far it would go to shut down protest. The attack on the diplomatic mission brought Guatemala international isolation. But from the perspective of Lucas García, this was less an embarrassment than a necessary condition for the regime’s survival, allowing it to wage an unlimited war on any and all signs of opposition.  

The victims of these painful events were the following and we remember them again: 

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Luis Antonio
Ramírez
Pas             
Student

Felipe Antonio García
Rac             
Worker

Edgar Rodolfo Negreros
Straub      Student 

Vicente
Menchu              
Catechist
from Chimel Uspantan

Salomón Tavico
Z.          
Campesino
from Quiché

Gaspar
Vi              
Campesino from Chajul

Leopoldo
Pineda              
Student

Mateo Sic
Chen               
Catechist from
Chimel

Gavina Morán Chupe   
Campesina, San Pablo El Baldío

José Angel Xona
Gómez          
Campesino, San Pablo El Baldío

Sonia Magaly Welchez
Valdéz         Student

Regina Pol
Cuy              
Chimel, Uspantan

María Ramírez
Anay                   
Chajul, Uspantan

María Ramírez Anay
(sister)          Chajul, Uspantan

Juan Tomás
Lux                
Chimel, Uspantan

María Pinula
Lux              
Chimel, Uspantan

Trinidad Gómez
Hernández             Townsperson

Mateo
Sis                                  
Campesino, San Pablo El Baldío

Víctor Gómez
Zacarías                 
Campesino from Santa Cruz

Francisco Tum
Castro          
Villager of Los Plátanos, San Miguel

Juan Chic
Hernández             
Macalahual, Uspantan

Mateo López
Calvo           
Campesino from
Santa Cruz

Francisco
Chen               
Campesino,
Rabinal, Baja Verapáz

Gregorio Yuja
Xona                   
San Pablo, El Baldío, Uspantan

Juan Us
Chic                 
Chimel, Uspantan

Juan López
Yac                           
Campesino from Macalajau

Juan José
Yos               
Campesino, Santa Lucía

Eduardo Cáceres
Lehnhoff              Former
Vice President of Guatemala

Adolfo Molina
Orantes                
Former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Guatemala

Jaime Ruiz del
Arbol                   
Embassy of Spain

Luis Felipe Sáenz
Martínez                     
Embassy of Spain

Lucrecia de
Aviles          
Embassy of Spain

Nora Mena
Aceituno               
Embassy of Spain

María Teresa Villa de Santa
Fé        Embassy of Spain

Miriam
Rodríguez              
Embassy of Spain

Lucrecia
Anelu                            
Embassy of Spain

Mary de
Barillas              
Embassy of Spain

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Categories: Human Rights, Indigenous peoples, Violence

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  1. Spanish Embassy Case Nearing Close | Guatemala Solidarity Network

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