At the end of October another crack was opened in the wall of impunity: there was a further conviction for forced disappearance. That is the third success for justice, along with the El Jute and Choatalum cases. The bare facts of the case are that student leader Edgar Fernando García was disappeared on 18 February 1984 and was never seen again. The whereabouts of his remains are still unknown, as the two police officers convicted have not revealed them. The police officers have been sentenced to forty years each in prison.
So far, so routine, if such hideous crime as forced disappearance can ever be described as “routine”, but so many were disappeared that it’s almost like accident statistics: you read them in the paper and sigh, and pass on to the sports page. Just some numbers, but we choose not to imagine the people behind them. What’s the story of Edgar Fernando García, one of the thousands of disappeared? What marks him out? What marks his case out anyway?
While Edgar Fernando García is just one from the list of the disappeared, estimated at 45,000 long, and the third conviction for forced disappearance, his case nevertheless marks many firsts. This is the first time that the case was brought because of evidence found in the vast archives of the National Police. García was not only a student activist, he was also a member of the then illegal Guatemalan Workers’ Party (Partido Guatemalteco del Trabajo, PGT), a fact which was openly discussed during the proceedings. This is a real breakthrough – no-one has dared to bring this out before as the long shadow of the repression in the ‘80s still tends to hold people’s tongues. It was remarkable to hear the PGT’s aims and organisational methods from some of those involved.
The police archives allowed a detailed analysis of the monitoring and eventual capture of García, leading to the identification of the four police who actually carried it out – four men who were then recommended for a medal. Even more horribly fascinating was the use of the audio testimony of Danilo Chinchilla, who was captured with García, describing in detail how it was conducted from the victim’s point of view. Chinchilla was sprung from the hospital he was taken to, injured, after their capture, and made the recording before he was disappeared again later in 1984. An excellent account of the case from Kate Doyle, an expert witness, explaining it all in more depth can be found on the National Security Archive’s website.
A moving blog, written by Garcia’s daughter Alejandra, describing the passage of the case can be read here and also includes her “Letter to Fernando Garcia” imagining what might happen should she meet her father again now.