CERIGUA WEEKLY BRIEFS, NUMBER 7, FEBRUARY 15, 1996
Government Names New Peace Commission
Guatemala City, February 13. A rumored ex-guerrilla will
represent President Alvaro Arzu's government in negotiations
with the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity (URNG).
Foreign Minister Eduardo Stein announced yesterday that
Gustavo Porras Castejon, close advisor to President Arzu and
alleged ex-member of the Guerrilla Army of the Poor (EGP),
will head the government peace commission.
The other two civilians on the six member commission are
economists Richard Aitkenhead and Raquel Zelaya, both former
finance ministers. But Stein said government negotiators may
vary depending on the issues under negotiation. Military
members of the team have yet to be confirmed.
"In the new commission all real factors of power in the
country are represented," says Central American Parliament
Peace Commission president Manuel Conde. "The military sector
will be represented by officers the president selects, the
economic sector will have their trusted representative in Mr.
Aitkenhead, the political sector will have the president's
right-hand man Gustavo Porras Castejon, and the church will
have Ms. Zelaya."
Zelaya will be the first woman to sit on the government team.
Stein's long-awaited announcement coincides with a joint
declaration by the rebel high command and the Arzu government
regarding the resumption of peace talks. The declaration
reveals that since late December, Arzu and rebel commanders
have held a series of informal meetings sponsored by the
catholic San Egidio Community.
These meetings have helped establish the new "climate of
confidence and good will that should prevail at the
negotiating table," says the joint statement. The two sides
confirmed that negotiations -- the first between the URNG and
the new Arzu government -- will resume without modifications
to terms already established between the rebels and the
Earlier this week, both sides announced the first round of
new talks will begin in Mexico City February 22.
Meanwhile, traditional land barons are wasting no time in
attacking the new peace commission. The National
Agriculturalists Coalition (CNA) which represents the most
reactionary wing of the landowning elite, announced today it
will bring legal charges against the new COPAZ members for
illegally negotiating with an armed group.
Guerrillas Annonce Post-War Electoral Plans
Guatemala City, February 11. The Guatemalan NationalRevolutionary Unity
(URNG) has decided on the political party
they will join once the decades-long civil war is over. But
some members of the rebels' party of choice are uneasy about
the surprise announcement.
"URNG forces, once they have been incorporated into a legal
ambiance, will be integrated into the New Guatemalan
Democratic Front [FDNG]," rebel Commander Rolando Moran
announced February 8 from Spain. Fellow URNG Commander Pablo
Monsanto emphasized that the rebels had no intention of
taking over the front, but of contributing to it alongside
other democratic sectors.
Reactions in Guatemala to rebel intentions were mixed. FDNG
legislator Nineth Montenegro warned that rebel sympathy for
her party could endanger Front members. "We're the ones who
take the risks, the challenges," she says. "We could even
lose our lives in an effort that has hardly begun to take
But FDNG bench leader Antonio Movil said once the URNG become
a legal entity, its forces should be free to solicit FDNG
membership. "The Front is a broad political collective where
there is room for all democratic people who want political
change," he said. "But we have our authorities and they will
be the ones to decide [on URNG participation]."
Presidential Secretary Ricardo de la Torre and Defense
Minister Gen. Julio Balconi applauded the announcement as
evidence that the rebels are committed to ending the armed
conflict and reincorporating their ranks into civilian life.
FDNG legislators continue to be subject to anonymous death
threats that began more than one month ago.
New Witness Re-ignites Search for Bamaca's Grave
Guatemala City, February 11. A former army specialist has
testified that army intelligence ordered the execution of
Efrain Bamaca Velasquez, and that the rebel leader is buried
in a cane field between Cocales and Santa Lucia Cotzumalguapa
in Escuintla province.
According to Rodolfo Hernandez Coronado, Bamaca was tortured
at the Santa Ana Berlin military base in 1992 and killed and
buried in 1994. Hernandez told the Public Ministry that
Capt. Luis Alberto Gomez Guillermo and two other officers
ordered the rebel's death, but a specialist named Carrillo
was the actual perpetrator. Maj. Ernesto Sosu Orellana was
one of Bamaca's torturers, Hernandez said. The ex-
specialist's account coincides with testimony given last year
by another former intelligence specialist, angel Urizar.
On the weight of Hernandez's statements the Public Ministry
has ordered excavations in the area indicated, reversing
Judge Miguel Eduardo Leon Ramirez's February 7 ruling to
discontinue the search for Bamaca's grave. Leon had ruled
that Bamaca was legally dead and buried in a grave in
Morazan, Nuevo San Carlos, Retalhuleu province that was
exhumed in March 1992. But the Public Ministry determined
that no scientific proof nor any key witnesses verified that
the buried remains were those of Bamaca.
Leon's ruling had halted planned diggings at Las Cabaqas army
base in La Montaqita, San Marcos province, where human rights
groups say dozens of army victims are buried.
Also this week, opponents of the investigation into Bamaca's
disappearance suffered a setback when a Guatemalan court
recognized U.S. citizen Jennifer Harbury as the rebel's legal
widow. Opponents had cast doubt on the marriage in an effort
to block Harbury from acting as plaintiff in the case.
Ministry of Indigenous Affairs Proposed
Guatemala City, February 14. In a private meeting yesterday,
President Alvaro Arzu Accepted a proposal by the New
Guatemala Democratic Front (FDNG) to replace his government's
planned Indigenous Secretariat with a Ministry of Indigenous
"We applied for the interview and discussed several issues,
such as peace negotiations, democracy, violence, and the
subject I consider most important -- the creation of the
[Indigenous Affairs] Ministry," said Antonio Movil, leader of
the FDNG bench in Congress. Movil added that Arzu suggested
the formation of a commission to liaison with different
indigenous groups that could aid the ministry's creation.
The proposed government body on indigenous affairs has
divided the Mayan community. Some sectors support the idea
of an indigenous secretariat that would facilitate their
demands, while others are wary of the unknown nature and
possible paternalism of such a body. "The Secretariat will
be an obstacle to channels of communication between the state
and the indigenous comminity, will not be responsive to the
real needs of the people and will only create more
confusion," said German Curruchiche, director of the Mayan
Cultural Center (CECM-).
Church Condemns Land Evictions
Guatemala City, February 13. Condemning recent evictions ofcampesinos from
lands they have occupied as contrary to
national reconciliation, San Marcos Bishop Alvaro Ramazzini
said last week's evictions at Australia and El Tablero
estates are unjust.
"Campesinos who occupied the lands have shown documents that
prove their ownership and have confirmed their titles are
very old, going back to the time of Justo Rufino Barrios
[president from 1873-85]," said Ramazzini. "It's lamentable
that the justice system can be so effective for the wealthy."
Ramazzini added that the greatest cause of strife in
Guatemala is the uneven distribition of land.
Ramazzini is backed by campesino organizations who criticize
the land barons' hard line toward campesino "invaders" and
the bias of government authorities. National Coalition of
Campesino and Indigenous Organizations (CONIC) spokesperson
Pedro Esquina said that while the title of Australia estate
is under dispute both campesinos and alleged landowners
should be prohibited from entering the lands.
The controversy surrounding El Tablero and Australia estates
resurfaced last December when local campesinos, armed with
documents that support their claim, reoccupied land they
claim was stolen from their ancestors.
Women Document Their Role in Peace Talks
Guatemala City, February 14. Women's groups who participate
in the assembly of Civil Sectors (ASC) presented February 12
a compendium of their contributions to the peace process and
the gains they have achieved for women at the negotiating
The document brings together the proposals made by the ASC
Women's Sector on each of the topics being debated by the
government and the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity
(URNG). It also highlights those demands that have been
incorporated into signed accords.
Among the women's demands agreed to by the government are:
the promotion of the classification of sexual harassment as a
legally punishable offense and in cases against indigenous
women as an aggravated offense; the promotion of compliance
with the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of
Discrimination against Women; the correction of educational
materials that carry cultural or gender stereotypes; and the
promotion of the incorporation of a gender focus
indevelopment programs and strategies.
One of the first challenges the women faced in their struggle
was their exclusion as a sector from the list of ASCparticipants established by
government and rebel negotiators.
Today, women's representatives sit on the ASC Coordinating
Committee and a women's sector representative is one of two
official spokespersons for the Assembly.
The Colonel, the Cops and the Car Thieves
Guatemala City, February 13. Defense Minister Gen. Julio
Balconi Turcios ordered the temporary suspension yesterday of
an air force colonel accused of harboring car thieves.
National Police officers accuse Col. Hugo Rolando de la Cruz
Mendez, commander of the Guatemala City International
Airport, of protecting car thieves in his Guatemala City
According to police, late February 4 a police patrol spotted
several young men driving a car reported stolen only hours
before. The suspected thieves fled to a military
neighborhood where they abandoned the car and escaped into
the colonel's house. Residents of the house refused to allow
police to enter and apprehend the suspects.
Both the Justice Department and the Attorney General's Office
refused to issue police a search warrant for the colonel's
Military representatives initially tried to defend de la Cruz
claiming it was the colonel himself who reported the stolen
car and the police had no valid reason to enter his home.
"If we permit this type of police action without a legal
order, tomorrow it could happen in the homes of any one of
you" warned army spokesperson Col. Guillermo Caal Davila.
The incident, coming on the heels of a former army
specialist's accusations that high-level army officers are
running car-theft rings, sparked outrage in the local media.
In the face of negative press coverage and Interior Minister
Rodolfo Mendoza's unprecedented backing of his officers,
Balconi ordered the suspension of de la Cruz until his
situation can be clarified by the courts .
Human Rights: Justice Sabotaged
Guatemala City, February 13. State security agents
implicated in several human rights crimes are getting a
helping hand this week through anonymous threats
againstjudges, witnesses and plaintiffs.
The family of milkman Haroldo Pedro Sas Rompiche, shot dead
last week in an alleged assassination attempt againstPresident Arzu, has asked
the archdiocesan Human Rights
Office (ODHA) for protection. According to the office, shots
have been fired at houses in the Sas' neighborhood and
strangers have made inquiries at the Sas home. The family
reportedly plans to see the government for killing their son,
who they say was simply completing his milk rounds.
In Jalapa province, four judges who ruled last month that the
case of soldiers accused of massacring 11 returned refugees
in Xaman, Alta Verapaz province should be heard by a
civilian, not a military court, say they began receiving
death threats by telephone shortly after their decision.
Victor Manuel Gonzalez, key witness to the 1994 murder of
high school student Ruben Dario Flores, says he and his
family continue to be victims of threats and police
harassment that began after his testimony helped convict
National Police officer Mauro de Jesus Sandoval. Gonzalez
says on august 30 last year police arbitrarily searched the
homes of two family members, destroyed furniture and carried
In other human rights cases, the accused continue to enjoy
impunity. Ex-military commissioner Raul Martinez -- accused
of the June,1995 hostage-taking of five international human
rights observers -- remains free despite three warrants for
his arrest and this week's plea by Presidential Human Rights
Commission (COPREDEH) director Vicente Arranz for the army to
help catch the fugitive.
But in a small victory for justice in Guatemala, Helen Mack
is one step closer to bringing the army officers accused of
ordering the 1990 murder of her sister Myrna before a
civilian instead of a military tribunal. An appeals court has
left it to the Supreme Court to decide who has jurisdiction
over the case.
Pope Leaves Message of Peace, Bishop Ruiz Praises Guatemala's
Guatemala City, February 12. Pope John Paul II returned
briefly to Guatemala February 9 after visits to Nicaragua and
El Salvador. One day after the Pope's departure Monsignor
Samuel Ruiz, bishop of San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas,
Mexico, arrived in Guatemala City, invited by the Secretariat
for Latin American Christian Solidarity (SCSAL).
Upon leaving Guatemala Pope John Paul II spoke about thepeace
process: "I address everyone, but especially those who
occupy the positions of greatest responsibility, exhorting
you to encourage a climate of peaceful coexistence,
solidarity and justice for all Guatemalans."
Nobel Peace Laureate Rigoberta Menchu had requested a private
audience to petition the Pope on behalf of indigenous
peoples, but the audience was denied because of the Pope's
busy schedule. Invited to a shared audience, Menchu
declined. The Pope did not meet with any indigenous groups
during this visit, as he had in 1983. But SCSAL
representative Pedro Bermudez, whose group works closely with
the indigenous population, said their work is fully supported
by the Pope.
Bishop Ruiz, mediator between the Zapatista National
Liberation Army (EZLN) and the Mexican government in their
peace negotiations, came to Guatemala City February 10 to
participate in various activities sponsored by SCSAL. Duing
his stay Bishop Ruiz said he supports any changes in
Guatemala that would lead to greater justice and democracy.
CACIF's Lamport goes to Washington
Guatemala City, February 14. Guatemala will soon have a new
ambassador in Washington, and according to rumors, the United
States may also appoint a new ambassador to Guatemala.
On February 9, Foreign Minister Eduardo Stein announced that
former Chamber of Commerce president Peter Lamport will
replace Edmond Mulet as ambassador to Washington March 1.
Meanwhile, rumours abound that U.S. Ambassador to Guatemala
Marilyn McAfee will soon be replaced. Unidentified sources
said this week that Don Planty, head of the U.S. State
Department's Southern Cone office, will take McAfee's post.
U.S. Embassy press attachi John Roney said the announcement
McAfee assumed her ambassadorship June 1993 when she replaced
then ambassador Thomas Strook.
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