As newly-elected Guatemalan president Jimmy Morales prepares to start his four-year term, the ghosts of the Central American country’s past violence are re-emerging in a dramatic way as, earlier this month, Guatemala’s Public Prosecutor’s Office arrested 18 high-ranking retired military officers for war crimes.
Jo-Marie Burt writing in the Huffington Post describes that the arrests centred on two cases: the 1981 disappearance of 14-year-old Marco Antonio Molina Theissen, and hundreds of extrajudicial executions uncovered at Creompaz, a site currently used for training UN peacekeepers in Cobán, where over 550 bodies have been exhumed, of which 97 have been positively identified, permitting investigators to link victims reportedly forcibly disappeared between 1981 and 1988 with the military officers who were in charge during those years.
Never before in Latin America have so many high-ranking military officials been arrested simultaneously in connection with historic human rights cases.
However, the arrests are not only about Guatemala’s past as some of those arrested have long been believed to be leaders of the crime syndicates that developed after the 1996 Peace Accords were signed and that retain tremendous de facto power in post-war Guatemala.
Over the past several years the Public Prosecutor’s Office has developed capacity and initiative in prosecuting complex crimes, buoyed by the support of the UN-sponsored International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG). This was evident with the dismantling of the La Línea crime syndicate and the resulting arrest and deposal of president, Otto Pérez Molina. The recent arrests were the work of the Public Prosecutor’s Office on its own, revealing how far the office has come in its capacity to investigate and prosecute complex cases.
The author goes on to challenge the US administration to support reform efforts to strengthen rule of law in Guatemala and, in particular, it should listen to the voice of civil society, especially the youth, who played a critical role in the peaceful protests that led to the resignation and arrest of Pérez Molina last year. In relation to historic crimes cases, Washington should support efforts to increase the capacity and independence of the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the judiciary.
You can read the full article by Jo-Marie Burt, here, on the Huffington Post website.