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March 29, 2009

GT History

A succint article detailing the civil war that ravaged a country and its people. Secret files reveal even more atrocities. This is for those of you that want to know more about the truth and for those of you who claim that those that report it have "sensationalized" it. Hopefully this will help you understand it better.

-The secret files reveal that children whose parents were killed during the war were put up for adoption by government forces instead of being placed with surviving family members. Investigator Marco Tulio Alvarez said the evidence suggests that hundreds of other children were taken to orphanages, and most were probably adopted by Americans.

-It has also emerged that the US government knew the Guatemalan regimes it supported with arms and cash were behind the disappearances of around 45,000 leftists. It is worth noting that Guatemala's civil war began after a CIA-spurred coup.

Violence and secrets: Guatemala bares its soul
- Sunday Herald

By Billy Briggs

In a country riven by gang warfare, death and disappearances, the release of millions of top-secret police files could be the first step towards justice

link: http://www.sundayherald.com/international/shinternational/display.var.2498500.0.0.php


Violence and secrets: Guatemala bares its soul
By Billy Briggs
In a country riven by gang warfare, death and disappearances, the release of millions of top-secret police files could be the first step towards justice

GERSEN ARMANDO Ramirez Santus was wheeled into San Juan Dion Hospital at 2.19am. Santus, a tattooed gang member nicknamed Lucifer, had been shot twice in the chest on the streets of Guatemala City. In the emergency treatment room he writhed in agony as he was stripped naked by a team of medics who frantically set to work. Lucifer was the 10th shooting victim to be brought to the hospital in as many hours and as doctors tried to save his life a row of wide-eyed patients, all suffering gunshot and knife wounds, looked on fearfully.

"This is what we deal with every single day in Guatemala. This is the violent reality of our country," said medic Luis Alberto Garcia.

Guatemala City is the capital of the Republic of Guatemala, which borders El Salvador, Honduras, Belize and Mexico. A land of stunning beauty, resplendent with smoking volcanoes and jungles studded with ancient Mayan temples, it is also one of the most violent places on Earth. A traumatised nation, Guatemala is still recovering from a 36-year civil war that claimed the lives of an estimated 200,000 people, and although that conflict ended 13 years ago its brutal legacy has left Guatemala virtually lawless with a machismo culture seeped in brutality.
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In 1999, a UN-sponsored Truth Commission said that the nation's armed forces and police were responsible for 93% of the atrocities that took place during the war, and that those responsible for the worst crimes should be brought to justice. To date, there has been no such justice. Moreover, according to human rights activists, army and police officers accused of abuses have kept their positions of power. The nation's culture of impunity is personified by General Rios Montt, whom Spain tried to extradite in 2007 for genocide and crimes against humanity. Montt ran for president in 2003 and now sits in Congress. Today, paramilitary death squads linked to the past are considered primary perpetrators of current atrocities. Violence is endemic, public lynchings are common and the streets are ruled by both a corrupt police force and the infamous tattooed Maras gangs who murder at will.

The UN stated last November that Latin America has the highest murder rate in the world. Guatemala took fourth spot after El Salvador, Colombia and Venezuela. Guatemala's annual killing rate is 55.4 per 100,000, which makes young men there 70 times more likely to be killed than on the streets of Scotland. Official government figures estimate there are around 6000 murders per year. The levels of violence are worse than during the civil war and a recent nationwide poll found that 94% of the population was more frightened now than during those dark days.

Last week, however, Guatemala witnessed a momentous moment. In a move that could implicate hundreds of former officers accused of killing innocent people during the civil war, the contents of a top-secret police archive were made available to the public for the first time. The files, some 80 million pages, include classified information relating to spies, informers, government officials, clandestine death squads and some 45,000 unexplained disappearances.

The material belonged to the national police, second only to the army as the core security force during the war, and an entity so inextricably linked with violence that the December 1996 peace accord which ended the fighting specified that it be disbanded.

Human rights investigators say the importance of these files cannot be overstated. Scanned images of seven million of the files were released by Sergio Morales, the Guatemalan government's human rights ombudsman. His final report is due next month. Chillingly, Morales's wife was abducted shortly after the files were released. She was tortured but later freed by her kidnappers. Another official was beaten up, while a number of death threats were made against other staff at the Human Rights Ombudsman's Office.

Already two former members of a police unit linked to death squads that operated during the war have been arrested.

"We have to know the truth, not because we want revenge, but so we don't repeat errors made by ourselves or others," vice-president Rafael Espada said during the release of the report. As he spoke to a crowd of hundreds, people shouted "we want justice".

The secret files reveal that children whose parents were killed during the war were put up for adoption by government forces instead of being placed with surviving family members. Investigator Marco Tulio Alvarez said the evidence suggests that hundreds of other children were taken to orphanages, and most were probably adopted by Americans.

It has also emerged that the US government knew the Guatemalan regimes it supported with arms and cash were behind the disappearances of around 45,000 leftists. It is worth noting that Guatemala's civil war began after a CIA-spurred coup.

The accidental discovery of the police archive in 2005 was astonishing. Human rights workers found the dusty documents when they went to a rat-infested munitions depot in Guatemala City to investigate complaints by nearby residents about old explosives stored there.

The archive now sits in a former police base, ringed by razor wire. The building is under 24-hour armed guard. I was allowed access in 2007 on condition that I did not identify any of the 100 investigators working here. Gustavo Meono, in overall charge of the operation, explained that it took months to get a court order allowing an inquiry and several more months to recruit and train a team of investigators.

Meono, who had received numerous death threats, said people in the higher echelons of the army and government were determined to prevent the documents being made public.

Touring the corridors of the two-storey building I saw hundreds upon hundreds of sacks of documents, piled in musty rooms where investigators wearing protective masks painstakingly worked through bundles of papers, prioritising the information before computerising it. Hundreds of rolls of still photographs were being developed. Some showed pictures of bodies and of detainees. In one room a poster showed a lone shadow in a desert and read: "The Missing - and the Silence. The Right to Know." Some of the finds included confidential messages from the police to senior Guatemalan leaders.

Later, I interviewed the director of the Guatemalan Forensic Foundation, Fredy Peccerelli. A veteran of forensics work after the Bosnian war, the New Yorker has the job of finding and exhuming bodies from the hundreds of mass graves hidden across Guatemala. "They say 40,000 to 45,000 people disappeared during the war, but I believe the figure is much more," he said.

I also met a woman called Wendy Mendez, who was just nine years old when she last saw her mother alive. The date was March 8, 1984. Wendy and Luz were in police custody in Guatemala City, and Wendy was being tortured. "They put my head in a bucket of water and gave me electric shocks. I remember one of the policemen laughing and saying to my mother, Look what we are doing to your baby'," she said.

The memories were painful for Mendez, whose only crime was to be a child of parents who supported the rebels. Her mother worked at San Carlos State University and produced anti-government leaflets. Guatemala's culture of impunity meant that Mendez had been unable to find out what happened to her mother.

"These documents could finally put some people in prison and give us closure," she said. "My mother had a life. The people that did this are still free on the streets."

Mendez, who campaigned with HIJOS, a human rights group made up of young people who were children when their parents "disappeared" or were killed, explained that much of the violence in Guatemala was targeted at women, with tabloids such as Dia and Nuestro Diario full of reports of female murders In 2006, Amnesty International issued a report that highlighted a staggering rise in the number of women murdered. According to the study, the figure had increased by more than 400% since 2002. In 2005, the fourth consecutive year the total had risen, 665 deaths were registered. The death toll for 2006, according to the Guatemalan Human Rights Commission, was 672. That equated to nearly two women every day, and female killings increased again in 2008. Many victims have been tortured and badly mutilated. The phenomenon, called femicide, is probably the most sinister legacy of the civil war.

Gangs are to blame for most of the female killings - or so runs the official line in Guatemala City - but I was offered another theory by a human rights defender called Claudio Samayoa who did research into femicide.

"Gang violence is generally gang against gang, using guns. But we've had weeks when it's just been pregnant women killed, or periods when females with the same characteristics have been targeted, or only female evangelicals, or specific age groups," she said Samayoa said these patterns of killing resemble those seen during the civil war when women were targeted by the state in the fight against leftist guerrillas. "Women were raped and killed extremely violently to give out a graphic message to communities that they should not support the rebels," Samayoa said.

She believed that forces linked to the military and the police were deliberately orchestrating atrocities for their own gain. In targeting women, Samayoa said, they were promoting instability and fear in Guatemalan society and engaging in a form of psychological warfare by casting up a perfidious past. "There were mutilated women's bodies put on the streets back in the 1980s during the war, and there are women's corpses littering the streets again now," Samayoa said.

Last month, Amnesty International released a report called Time For Justice For Guatemala's War Victims and yesterday the human rights NGO issued another statement.

Kerrie Howard, Americas deputy director at Amnesty International, said: "The ghosts of the past have no place in Guatemala today. The Guatemalan authorities must ensure that people responsible for the attacks and threats against those who work to bring to light the abuses committed during the armed conflict do not get away with it.

"The opening of the police archives is a huge step towards real justice in Guatemala. The key now is to ensure that the information is used to deliver justice to thousands of victims of human rights violations in Guatemala. Without justice, Guatemala will not be able to move forward from its dark past."

Until there is justice, violence will continue unabated in Guatemala.

I spent two nights in the A&E department of San Juan Dion Hospital to document the bloody reality of modern Guatemala. The tattooed gang member, Lucifer, survived his two shots to the chest but many other shooting victims that weekend did not.

"The problem with Guatemala is that you can get away with murder...literally," said medic Luis Alberto Garcia.

Posted by Marie at March 29, 2009 05:21 AM
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