Trial for “Death Squad Dossier” Ties Guatemalan Wartime Atrocities to Current Criminal Networks

Jo-Marie Burt and Paulo Estrada write in El Faro on the Diario Militar, or ‘Death Squad Dossier’ trial, currently taking place in Guatemala. The trial is continuing against a backdrop of sustained attacks on judicial independence and threats against human rights defenders, coming from the higher echelons of the State itself.

Marco Antonio González Taracena covers his face, irritated that courtroom photographers want to take his picture. At 79, the retired army general and one-time minister of defense looks frail in his hospital gown and wheelchair. His lawyer says he has cancer.

Prosecutors say that between 1983 and 1985, González Taracena was chief of an intelligence and operational unit of the Presidential General Staff (EMP) known as the Archivo. The mere name Archivo inspires terror among Guatemalans, bringing to mind clandestine intelligence operations against political dissidents who were kidnapped from their homes, their places of work, or the streets, brought to secret detention centers where they were interrogated and tortured, and then either executed or forcibly disappeared.

According to the Commission for Historical Clarification, a U.N.-sponsored truth commission created in the aftermath of Guatemala’s 36-year internal armed conflict (1960-1996), 45,000 were forcibly disappeared during the war, mostly at the hands of the army. A total of 200,000 people were killed and another million were forcibly displaced in a country that in 1985 had eight million residents.

The case against González Taracena and more than a dozen other retired military and police officials is based on a military intelligence document known as the Military Diary, or the “Death Squad Dossier.” The document, which was leaked to the National Security Archive and made public in 1999, registers surveillance operations that led to the illegal arrest, torture, extrajudicial execution, and forced disappearance of 195 political dissidents during the de facto government of general Óscar Humberto Mejía Víctores (1983-1986).

Mejía Víctores had come to power in a palace coup against the infamous dictator Efraín Ríos Montt (1982-1983), under whom he served as Minister of Defense. He continued the repressive policies launched under Ríos Montt and previous military governments, now focusing especially on political leaders in Guatemala City and other urban centers.


In the present context of sustained attacks on judicial independence and threats against human rights defenders from the parallel networks that have harbored men like González Taracena and Salán Sánchez, the future of the Military Diary case remains uncertain. But after waiting nearly four decades for their day in court, the families of the victims remain steadfast in their demands for truth and justice.

You can read the full article with links and photos here, Trial for “Death Squad Dossier” Ties Guatemalan Wartime Atrocities to Current Criminal Networks.

Jo-Marie Burt and Paulo Estrada are founders and co-directors of Verdad y Justicia en Guatemala (Truth and Justice in Guatemala), which monitors and reports on war crimes prosecutions in Guatemala. They are on Twitter @VerdadJusticiaG and please do follow them.

Categories: Accompaniment, Corruption, Genocide, Guatemala, Human Rights, Impunity, Indigenous peoples, Justice, Military, Violence

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