Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA
Home|About GHRC|Programs|Resources|About Guatemala|How You Can Help


Important Cases and Political Actors

Plan de Sanchez Case
Bámaca Case
Las Dos Erres
Forced Disappearance of Fernando Garcia
Myrna Mack Assassination/Helen Mack
Operation Sophia
Ex-President Portillo
Rio Negro Massacres
Spanish Embassy Attack

The Plan de Sanchez Case

The majority of the following is a summary of the report published by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights regarding the Plan de Sanchez case against the Guatemalan government. Read the full report here .

On July 18 th, 1982 armed forces, paramilitaries, and civil self-defense patrols ((‘Patrullas de Autodefensa Civil’, or PACs) brutally massacred over 250 people in Plan de Sanchez, a remote Maya Achi community in northern Guatemala, outside of Rabinal, Baja Verapaz. The year of the massacre is considered one of the bloodiest of the internal armed conflict. Military officials frequently visited Plan de Sanchez to intimidate the local population and question about the whereabouts of mens not involved with the PACs. Such presence created an environment of fear in which community members would sometimes hide in the hills nearby to avoid interaction with the military.

The PACs were one of the primary groups responsible for killings and disappearances throughout the armed conflict. The PAC program was initiated in 1982 by General Rios Montt’s government with the intention of maintaining control over rural areas. The PACs were recruited and organized at the village levels, where male community members were forced under threat of death or disappearance to serve without pay or remunerations of any kind. PACs were then forced to patrol their own neighbors and sometimes participate in kidnappings or murders within their communities. The PAC program was seen as a very important aspect of the military’s counterinsurgency and intelligence strategies.

The day of the massacre was a market day and many members of neighboring communities were passing through the village. In the early morning, witnesses report that two grenades fell east and west of Plan de Sanchez and by 2 or 3 pm, about 60 armed men in military uniforms arrived. Soldiers guarded all entry and exit points into or out of the community, while others went door to door gathering men, women, and children. The girls and young women were held separately, about 20 of which were taken to a house, raped, beaten and then killed. The remaining victims were put inside another house, which was then fired upon with guns and grenades and burned to the ground. Community members who arrived later that day discovered the house and bodies charred and still smoldering. Local PAC officers and community members were ordered to bury the bodies immediately in 21 mass graves.

After threats and intimidation from local military officers, survivors from the community fled for several years. It wasn’t until 1993 that a group of community members was able to begin the process of seeking justice when they called upon the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office to denounce the massacre and have the bodies exhumed. In 1994, the Guatemalan Team of Forensic Anthropology (EAFG) dug up 19 sites in Plan de Sanchez, discovering the remains of at least 84 victims. The findings of their exhumation were not released until March 1995. In 1996, the Ombudsman’s office published a report on the massacres of Plan de Sanchez, Chichupac and Rio Negro, placing responsibility on state agents (mostly PACs), military commissioners, members of the army and high ranking officials for not protecting the community and trying to cover up the massacre. The report concluded that the massacres were part of a premeditated state policy—the ‘scorched earth’ campaign—‘designed to defeat the insurgent movement through the strategic eradication of its civilian support base.’ Despite community and survivor efforts to initiate a government investigation into the case, little was done to respond to their requests and the Law of Reconciliation impeded those responsible from being charged.

In the report put forward by the Inter-American Court on Human Rights, the Guatemalan State acknowledged that the massacre occurred and condemned the tragic loss of lives. The State also asserted that the massacre occurred in the context of the armed conflict and both sides experienced devastating losses. While the State recognized the gravity of the events, it also argued that it cannot be held responsible for examining the evidence or establishing a position, because such actions are delegated to the judiciary.

In 2004, the Inter-American Court on Human Rights finally reached a ruling on the case in which it argued that:

  • There was genocide in Guatemala;
  • The genocide was part of the framework of the internal armed conflict through the application of the National Security Doctrine in their counterinsurgency actions
  • These counterinsurgency actions took place during the regime of General Efrain Rios Montt

The ruling also stated the armed forces of the Guatemalan government had violated the following rights protected and delineated by the Human Rights Convention of the Organization of American States:

  • The right to personal integrity
  • The right to judicial protection
  • The right to judicial guarantees of equality before the law
  • The right to freedom of conscience
  • The right to freedom of religion
  • The right to private property

Furthermore, the Inter-American Court demanded that the Guatemalan government pay a reparations fee to the families of Plan de Sanchez of $25,000, which they paid in three installments. The government was also required to provide health care, mental health services, multicultural education, water systems, roads, and dignified housing. Finally, under the ruling, the government was to support and implement an investigation into the intellectual and material authors of the massacre, including former dictators Lucas Garcia and Rios Montt.

As of August of 2011, five people have been arrested and charged for their role in the Plan de Sanchez Massacre: Julian Acoj Morales, Lucas Tecu, Mario Acoj, Eusebio Grave, and Santos Rosales. The first four were arrested in early August, all of whom denied any involvement in the massacre. The suspects are still waiting to be brought to trial.

The Bámaca Case

**Case updates:
Jennifer Harbury has published a website with case updates, background information and her testimony. Visit to read more [Spanish only].

The Bámaca case, along with nine other paradigmatic cases, is advancing in Guatemalan courts, after an important ruling by the Inter-American Court, and a willingness on the part of Guatemala’s judiciary to prioritize them. Visit our Action Center to support Jennifer and put an end to impunity for Everardo's torturers.

Background on the Bámaca Case

Jennifer Harbury, a lawyer from Texas, lived in Guatemala from 1985-1986, monitoring and reporting the ongoing human rights violations against indigenous Guatemalans. She returned repeatedly during the following years, and in 1991 visited a base camp in Volcán Tajumulco to interview female URNG (Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity) combatants for her first book, Bridge of Courage (Common Courage Press 1993). During the war, the URNG was an umbrella guerilla organization fighting against the oppression of the Guatemalan army and other government forces. The URNG included the Revolutionary Organization of the People in Arms (ORPA), the Guerrilla Army of the Poor (EGP), the Rebel Armed Forces (FAR), and the National Directing Nucleus of PGT (PGT-NDN). Today, URNG is a legally recognized political party.

While conducting her research, she met one of the founders and commanding officers of ORPA, Efrain Bámaca Velásquez (alias “Everardo”). They fell in love and married. Bámaca was kidnapped a year later, in 1992.

Jennifer began the search for her husband the same year. She carried out two hunger strikes in Guatemala (one lasting 32 days in 1994), demanding that the government acknowledge that they had detained Everardo, and that they give him a fair trial. The military refused to admit they had Bámaca in custody, and met Jennifer’s demands with silence.

When information surfaced that the U.S. government had information on the fate of Bámaca, and the perpetrators responsible for his detention, torture, and eventual murder, Jennifer took her hunger strike to the streets of DC. She began to fight civil rights cases against the CIA, the State Department, and the National Security Council. In 1995 Congress finally released documents proving that the United States, which previously denied knowledge of his disappearance, knew that he had been captured alive by the Guatemalan military.

Her case caused a scandal at the highest levels of government, as it was revealed that Bámaca’s torturers were paid CIA assets. As a result, then-President Clinton ordered declassification of secret archives on the Bámaca murder and other human rights crimes committed by the Guatemalan military. The Guatemala Declassification Campaign led to the disclosure of thousands of records on U.S. support and collaboration with Guatemalan government atrocities. The records are now being used as evidence in dozens of Guatemalan human rights cases. Jennifer’s case demonstrates that the right to truth is an essential element to the right to justice.

With no just resolution to the case in Guatemala, Jennifer took it to the Inter-American Court on Human Rights (IACHR) in Costa Rica. In December 2000, the IACHR found the Guatemalan military guilty of the disappearance, torture, and execution of Efrain Bámaca Velazquez and in 2006 the Guatemalan government apologized for his murder. The Guatemalan government still took no action, and it wasn’t until 2009, when the IACHR ruled that Guatemala had not complied with the sentences, that the criminal process resumed in earnest in Guatemala.

A series of remarkable recent rulings by the Guatemalan Supreme Court has permitted the Bámaca case and others to move forward in the penal system once again. The rulings required Guatemalan courts to comply with international law, including the Inter-American legal principles and decisions. The case sets a crucial legal precedent prohibiting the forced disappearance and torture of any human being, no matter what their political, religious or racial backgrounds, and no matter which side of the internal conflict they supported. There is no exception to the ban on torture, and hence no justification, legal or moral, for the 200,000 dead and disappeared in Guatemala.

With the support of GHRC, Jennifer has continued to fight the case over the last 18 years. The Bámaca case has been of great interest to the international community, and of particular importance for citizens and organizations in the United States. It is now (2010) one of the ten paradigmatic human rights cases moving forward in Guatemalan courts, backed by the Dutch Embassy.


Massacre at Las Dos Erres

**Case updates:
July 13 , 2011: Kaibil associated with the Dos Erres case deported from the United States and arrested in Guatemala

Background on the massacre

In December 1982, during the de facto administration of Ríos Montt, approximately 300 residents of Dos Erres, Libertad, Petén were murdered by the Guatemalan military’s special Kaibil Unit. Of those killed 113 were children under the age of 14. The soldiers began with babies, throwing them down wells in the town. Next, the women and children were gathered in the town’s churches, where the women were raped and the children were beaten. The children were eventually thrown, some still alive, into wells. After the women and children, the men were beaten to death and their bodies were thrown into a well.

After having children of their own, two Kaibiles confessed to the massacre and named the other officers involved. The case was first filed by the Association of Families of the Detained and 'Disappeared' of Guatemala (FAMDEGUA) in 1994 and the site of the massacre was exhumed and the remains of 171 people were recovered. The case was highlighted in the Historical Clarification Commission report and was introduced to the Inter-American Court by FAMDEGUA in 1996. In 2001, an agreement was reached in which the state, under President Portillo, recognized the massacre; money and psychiatric help were given to the survivors and a monument was constructed in the town. In December 2001, Q14 million (around $1.7 million) was paid to the families of the victims.

In 2005, the Guatemala Supreme Court ruled to drop the charges against the officers, claiming that it could not act under the National Reconciliation Law that exempts members of the armed forces and those under their command from prosecution to for unspecified crimes carried during the conflict. The court stated that the law annulled actions taken after its passage in 1996. In January 2010, the Inter American Court ruled that the state had obstructed the case and ordered the case and arrest warrants reactivated. In February two Kaibiles were arrested in connection with the massacre. Nearly 30 years since the massacre no military officers have been convicted for the murders committed.

A small victory

On Wednesday, September 15 th, the sentencing hearing of former Guatemalan soldier Gilberto Jordan occured in the U.S. District Court of Southern Florida. He was given the maximum sentence of 10 years in U.S. prison for making false statements on citizenship forms. He will most likely be extradited to Guatemala after serving his sentence.

Jordan was participant in the massacre of over 250 civilians in Dos Erres, in the Peten region of Guatemala in November, 1982. He has confessed to the murder, rape, and torture of numerous men, women, and children, as well as throwing bodies, including live babies, down the village well. In September of 1996 Jordan applied for U.S. citizenship, falsely denying that he had ever been involved in the military or committed a crime. He was sworn in as a citizen in August of 1999. In May of this year, Jordan was arrested in Florida for making false statements on his immigration forms and pled guilty two months later.

During the initial hearing, U.S. Attorney Wilfredo Ferrer publicly recognized the importance of the case: “The massacre at Dos Erres was a dark moment for the Guatemalan people, and we will not allow suspected perpetrators to escape justice by taking refuge in our cities and towns.”

The implications of this case are profound for Guatemala and the other cases of massacres and crimes against humanity from the internal armed conflict. Although the Peace Accords were signed 15 years ago, perpetrators of the genocide and forced disappearance of 200,000 Guatemalans remain in impunity. Survivors still live in fear. The trial of Jordan and a guilty verdict in U.S. courts will set an important precedent for other human rights abusers who reside in the U.S., as well as provide momentum for this and other paradigmatic cases in Guatemalan courts. Another soldier, Pedro Pimentel Rios, is under investigation in the United States, and 17 arrest warrants have been issued in Guatemala. He was deported from the United States on July 12, 2011 and arrested upon his arrival in Guatemala. Jorge Sosa, another ex-kaibil linked to the case, was arrested in Canada on January 21, 2011 for charges in the U.S. of immigration fraud, and may face also war crimes charges in Canada.

See also:

January 21, 2011: Guatemalan kaibil officer arrested in Alberta, Canada
September 16, 2010: Ex-Guatemalan soldier gets 10 years in US prison
May 5, 2010: U.S. rounds up Guatemalans accused of war crimes
April 29, 2010: Guatemala: Unearthing a massacre
June 1, 2009: Another appeal paralyzes the trial against soldiers in the Dos Erres massacre

Read more on the trial on the NSA's blog.

Read declassified U.S. documents on the case collected by the National Security Archives.
See also Ramiro Remembers: key witness in Guatemalan massacre


Forced Disappearances

Fernando Garcia

**Case Updates:

October 29, 2010: Two ex-members of the National Police get 40-year sentence in Fernando Garcia case. A judge of the Eight District Court sentenced Hector Roderico Ramirez Ríos and Abraham Lancerio Gómez, holding them responsible for the forced disappearance of Fernando Garcia 26 years ago.  A key component of the trial and outcome was the recording that Daniel Chinchilla, Garcia's comrade, made the day they were both captured, as well the historical archives of the National Police. Two other men involved in Garcia's disappearance Hugo Rolando Gómez Osorio and Alfonso Guillermo De León, are still fugitives. [Prensa Libre]

October 20, 2010: Fernando Garcia trial continues. Six expert opinions and seven witnesses were brought to court on Oct. 19, including Danilo Chinchilla, Garcia's companion who was also kidnapped, and Rember Larios, former director of the National Civil Police. Lagos confirmed the existence of patrols and social cleansing operations coordinated by the central office of the National Police. The accused include former police officers Héctor Ramírez Ríos and Abraham Lancerio Gómez, charged with illegal detention and forced disappearance. The Human Rights Division of the Public Prosecutor's Office will present its decision next week; the maximum sentence for each defendant is 62 years. [Prensa Libre

October 19, 2010: Fernando Garcia case begins. Deputy Nineth Montenegro, wife  of Fernando Garcia, gave her statement yesterday in which she entailed the suffering she and her daughter have undergone, and her demand for justice.  Hector Ramirez Rios and Abraham Lancerio Gomez allegedly captured and killed Garcia on February 2, 1984.  Plaintiff Alejandra Garcia, daugher of Fernando, as well as the MP has affirmed that they have over 550 documents from the archives of the National Police.  Kate Doyle has also stated that there are documents in the CIA archives that record the capture of a union leader on the day of Fernando's disappearance.  U.S. Ambassador McFarland attended the hearing and expressed his support that the case be brought to light. [Prensa Libre]

Background on the forced disappearance of Fernando García

Edgar Fernando García was only one of over 40,000 civilians abducted by the state during the internal conflict, however his case is particularly crucial to Guatemala’s historical transparency and the eradication of impunity. Recently declassified archives have brought to light important details that have resulted in an attempt to bring García’s perpetrators to justice. As a student and trade union activist, Fernando García was specifically targeted by Guatemalan military forces who worked in conjunction with the CIA. He was an advisor to the Labor Orientation School at the University of San Carlos, the secretary of the glass worker’s union, and a member of the Association of University Students, a group that actively protested oppressive governmental acts. On February 18, 1984, he was kidnapped near his home in Guatemala City and never seen again. The government denied any involvement in his disappearance. García’s wife, Nineth Montenegro, in response to the indifference of the government and their refusal to provide facts, founded the Mutual Support Group (GAM). The relatives of missing Guatemalans continued to press for information and truth regarding their loved ones.

Twenty five years later, the bilateral collaboration of the National Security Archives in the U.S. and the National Police Archives in Guatemala resulted in the obtainment and release of key documents from both countries regarding the cases of numerous victims, including Fernando García. It was revealed that García’s abduction was a political act organized by top government officials, who saw him as a communist threat. It also became apparent that the U.S. was well informed of these actions. The names of those involved were found in these documents as well.

On Monday, October 18, the trial of Hector Ramirez Rios and Abrahan Lancero Gomez, two former officers of the National Police, began. They both face charges of kidnapping and murder with a maximum sentence of 62 years.



More on forced disappearances...

August, 2010: GAM Report, released on the International Day of the Disappeared: La Desaparición forzada en Guatemala (Necesided de esclarecimiento e investigación). The report details the long history of forced disappearance in Guatemala, the lack of justice, and recommended steps for the government to take. There were over 45,000 people disappeared during Guatemala's internal armed conflict and almost no investigation by the government. GAM and a coalition of organizations are calling for the government to pass a law to find the disappeared. (GHRC has supported this proposal, Law 3590.) See also: Albedrio.

December 11, 2009: Exhumation underway to search for victims named in the Death Squad Dossier. Ten years after the document was made public, families of those whose disappearances were recorded in the Death Squad Dossier, or "Diario Militar" will finally be able to find the remains of their loved ones. It will be the first proceeding in the department of Guatemala. [elPeriodico]

- El Jute -

December 4, 2009: First military officer sentenced for forced disappearance. Marco Antonio Sanchez became the first army officer to be convicted for the crime of forced disappearance in the Guatemalan armed conflict. He was sentenced to 53 years in prison yesterday for ordering the forced disappearance of 8 peasants in El Jute, Chiquimula in October 1981. He was convicted along with three paramilitaries. [elPeriodico][New York Times] [La Hora]
**Family members of the disappeared, though satisfied with the outcome of the case, fear reprisals. Some have already received threats from retired military personel present at the trial. Though they have been given segurity guards, the measures are only temporary. [Prensa Libre]
**Vea un video sobre la audiencia.

November 26, 2009: Seeking Justice in the El Jute Case. U.S. Ambassador Stephen McFarland attended the hearing in Chiquimula on the disappearance of eight people in 1981, hoping his presence would support the families of the victims. He stated that the Guatemalan state needed to respond to the abuses from the war. The prosecutor in the case is asking for a sentence of 570 years for the accused. [Prensa Libre]

- Cusanero Coj -

September 1, 2009: Ex-military Commissioner Condemned to 150 Years in Prison. The first trial for forzed disappearance in Guatemala, that of ex-commissioned soldier Felipe Cusanero Coj, concluded yesterday. He was found guilty of disappearing six people, and sentenced to 150 years in prison. According to the penal code, however, he will only serve 50 years. [Prensa Libre]
See also:
Guatemala Sees Landmark Sentence [BBC]
Guatemala convicts paramilitary in disappearances [Washington Post]


Myna Mack Assassination / Helen Mack

Saturday, Sept. 11, 2010 marked the 20th anniversary of the assassination of Myrna Mack. In an interview with La Hora, Helen Mack - Myrna's sister and the director of the Myrna Mack Foundation - stressed the importance of historical memory and justice: "Twenty years later we continue the fight against impunity...because the impunity of the past is what has generated the impunity of the present."

Myrna Mack Chang was a Maya/Chinese anthropologist who researched human rights violations of internally displaced populations during the Guatemala’s armed conflict. As a result of her outspoken criticism of the government, she was stabbed to death as she left her office in Guatemala City on September 11, 1990.

In 1991, Helen Mack, pursued prosecution in Guatemala of those responsible for the assassination, including multiple graduates of the U.S. School of the Americas. The case was taken to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington, DC, and later to the Inter-American Court in Costa Rica. Two years later, one of Myrna's attackers, a low ranking security official, was convicted in a groundbreaking decision. The case also led to the trial of two colonels and a general, as the intellectual authors of the murder; the highest ranking officials in Guatemala ever to be tired for human rights violations. In 2002, Colonel Juan Valencia Osorio was convicted for his role in ordering her murder. The decision, however, was overturned in an appeals court in 2003, and the case has been taken to Guatemalan Supreme Court. This case was the first of its kind in Guatemala and paved the way for similar human rights cases.

Helen Mack went beyond the prosecution of her sister’s killers and in 1993 founded the Myrna Mack Foundation to “drive the fight against impunity, the formation of the Rule of Law in Guatemala, and the consolidation of peace and democracy.”  

Mack has continued to fight against impunity and human rights violations in Guatemala. In 2010, Helen was appointed by President Colom to lead investigations into police corruption. If one of her first statements after her appointment, she asserted that the low pay and poor work conditions of Guatemala’s police were key catalysts in corruption and must be addressed. On April 28, 2010, Helen won the Judith Lee Stronach Human Rights Award from the Center for Justice and Accountability.


Operation Sophia

December 3, 2009: Operation Sofia: Documenting Genocide in Guatemala. The deliberate massacre of thousands of indigenous Mayans by the Guatemalan army during the summer of 1982 has been verified with internal records and was presented to the Spanish National Court yesterday. The records on "Operation Sofia," which had previously been “missing” according to the Defense Minister, implicate responsibility for what the UN-sponsored Historical Clarification Commission determined "acts of genocide" in 1999. Kate Doyle of the National Security Archive obtained the records from military intelligence sources in Guatemala and was able to verify their authenticity. [National Security Archives][New York Times]


Panzós Massacre

The massacre of 35 residents of Panzós in the department of Alta Verapaz is considered the first of many that occurred during the armed conflict that gripped Guatemala from 1960 to 1996. On May 29 1978, 179 eight hundred residents met in the town square to protest the Canadian mining company Inco, Ltd, which had taken over private lands to open a new nickel mine. While the mayor of Panzós addressed the crowd, the Guatemalan army surrounded the plaza and opened fire, killing 35. Eighteen more died attempting to flee across the Polochic River. The leader of the movement against the mine, Mama Maquín, and her grandson were killed by the gunfire.

In 1997, exhumations of the victims and an investigation into the massacre began, led by Association of Families of the Detained and Disappeared of Guatemala (FAMDEGUA). The State has taken responsibility for the massacre but the investigation has yielded few insights into who exactly was responsible for the murders.


Ex-President Portillo

Alfonso Antonio Portillo Cabrera was president of Guatemala from 2000 to 2004, as a member of the Guatemalan Republican Front (FRG). During his presidential campaign, it was revealed that in 1982 he had killed two Mexican students when he was a professor of political science at the university in Chilpancingo, Mexico. He claimed that he had shot the students in self defense and fled the country because he was not a Mexican citizen. Despite this admission, he was elected in the second round of elections with 68.3% of the vote. Portillo’s administration was marked by high levels of corruption and impunity and when his political impunity ended in 2004, he quickly fled to Mexico.

His extradition from Mexico to Guatemala was approved in 2006 and he returned to the country in 2008. He then sued Guatemala to be reinstated as a member of congress in order to qualify again for political immunity, however it was not granted. In 2010, the District Attorney of Southern New York requested his extradition to the United States to face charges of laundering $70 million through American and European banks. Portillo was arrested soon thereafter by the National Police, CICIG and the Public Prosecutor’s Office. Portillo has appealed the charges and experts believe it may take five years before the ex-President is sent to the US because, if found guilty, he must first serve his sentence in Guatemala before going to trial in the U.S.


Rio Negro Massacres

**Case updates: Representatives from Rio Negro and the community organization ADIVIMA met with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in March 2010 to request that their case of the five massacres at Rio Negro be moved to the Inter-American Court in Costa Rica. The 33 communities affected by the Chixoy dam have successfully negotiated an integral reparations package with President Colom.

Background on the case

Five massacres occurred in the Rio Negro (“Black River”) communities between 1980 and 1982. The people of Rio Negro (named after the nearby river) had occupied the region since the classic Mayan age and owned 1,440 hectares of land. During the energy crisis of the 1970’s the Guatemalan government looked for local energy alternatives, creating the state-owned National Institute of Electrification (INDE). In 1975 INDE unveiled plans to dam the Rio Negro, also called the Chixoy River, to provide the country’s electricity, which would flood 31 miles of the river valley. Funds from the Inter-American Development Bank, Italian company Cogefar-Impressit, and the World Bank were used in the construction of local roads and the dam itself. The Rio Negro communities were notified that it would be relocated and the 150 families would receive two to three hectares of land. A local committee negotiated with INDE officials for a permanent settlement in Pacux, near Rabinal. After a violation of the agreement, 20 families moved back to their community, while dam construction began. During early construction a French firm was hired to excavate Ancient Mayan objects, desecrating the sacred land in the eyes of the local communities.

Five years after the plan was proposed, in March 1980, violence broke out between the local community and the developers when two men were accused of stealing coffee beans from Cogefar-Impressit and arrested. A confrontation broke out between the village and three security officers chased the men back to their village. The officers were then rounded up by the villagers and brought to the Church where one officer was hit by a community leader. The officer then opened fire, killing seven villagers. The officers fled and one was injured and drowned crossing the river. That July two villagers asked to bring a written agreement to the dam site were found murdered a few days later and the written documents were lost.

In 1981, the Guatemalan government began destroying villages as part of the scortched earth campaign, and relocating communities in ‘model villages’ that could be easily controlled and monitored by the army and also provide cheap labor to neighboring towns. The government also created Civil Defense Patrols, made up of armed locals, often forcefully recruited. One such patrol was created in the village of Xococ, near Rio Negro, and would eventually be responsible for much of the violence in the region.

In February 1982, villagers in Rio Negro were instructed to bring their identification cards to Xococ. When the villagers reached the town they were murdered by the Xococ Patrol. One woman escaped and returned to Rio Negro to warn the other villagers. The men of the village decided to flee and hide in the hills leaving the women and children in the village, under the assumption they would not be harmed. The next month Civil Patrols from Xococ arrived in Rio Negro, under the pretense of guerilla activity in the area, and massacred the women and children, killing 177. Two months later, 84 more people were killed in ‘Los Encuentros’, Rio Negro, and fifteen women were abducted. Then, in September, 92 villagers were burned alive, including survivors of previous massacres. Of Rio Negro’s almost 800 Maya-Achí inhabitants, 444 were killed in the massacres between 1980 and 1982.

Today the Rio Negro community is in negotiations with the Guatemalan government for reparations for the construction of the dam. A case is also being heard in the Inter-American Commission for integral reparations for the massacres that took place. The UN Historical Clarification Commission concluded that the killings were carried out by patrols created by the Guatemalan military, but the government has yet to take responsibility.



**Case updates:
March 30, 2010:
First jail sentence emitted in Rosenberg Case

Background on the case

On May 10, 2009 Guatemalan lawyer Rodrigo Rosenberg was shot and killed while riding his bike in Zone 14 of Guatemala City. Two days later a video recorded before his murder was released in which the Rosenberg stated, “If you are watching this message, it is because I was assassinated by President Álvaro Colom, with help from Gustavo Alejos" (Colom's private secretary). He went on to claim that the President planned his assassination because he was in possession of documents linking the President to the murders of prominent businessman Khalil Musa and his daughter Marjorie a month earlier. The next day the capital erupted in protest calling for Colom’s impeachment, while the president denied any involvement. Many of the demonstrations were led by Guatemalan youths protesting impunity in Guatemala, rather than taking a specific political stance.

The murder and allegations against the President rocked the nation and threatened to destabilize the Colom Administration. However, the CICIG’s (International Anti-Impunity Commission) Special Prosecutors Office 9 (UEFAC) began its investigation on May 14, 2009. By November 13, 2009, CICIG's director Carlos Castresana expressed confidence the case would be resolved by the end of 2009.

In January, 2010, the CICIG concluded that Rosenberg had in fact planned his own death, distraught over the death of his mistress Marjorie Musa. The CICIG revealed that Rosenberg had faked his own extortion, hired hit men to kill the supposed extortionist and then posed as the extortionist with the help of two family members and multiple cell phones. Additionally, the CICIG found no connection to President Colom or his secretary. In February 2010, President Colom visited the United States to thank the Organization of American States for withholding judgment in the case which he believes helped prevent a coup in the country.

As of March 31, 2010 one person was charged in the crime, but the material and intellectual authors have not been brought to trial.

Past updates on the case of lawyer Rodrigo Rosenberg.


Spanish Embassy Attack

On January 31, 1980 a group of students and farmers from the department of Quiché occupied the Spanish Embassy in Guatemala City to demand an end to military repression in their communities.  In response to the occupation, security forces encircled the building and occupied the first and third floors - despite the ambassador’s warnings that to do so violated international law. Security forces then bombed the embassy, setting the building on fire. The fire killed 39 people, including farmers, diplomats and officials. Among the victims was Vincente Menchú, father of now Nobel Prize recipient, Rigoberta Menchú Tum.  The Spanish Ambassador Máximo Cajal survived along with demonstrator Gregorio Xujá. The latter was taken by a group of armed men from his hospital room where he was being treated for third degree burns. He was tortured and then shot and killed; his body was found dumped on the campus of the University of San Carlos. Thirty years later, no one has been convicted for the fire or deaths of the demonstrators and embassy workers. The case is currently being heard in Spanish Courts, along with charges of genocide, brought by the Menchú Foundation.



Violence Against Women

Mining and Land Rights

Government Corruption

Violence, Gangs and Narcotrafficking



Justice and Impunity

Economic, Social and Cultural Rights











Donate to GHRC
Sign Up to Receive Emails from GHRC
Take Action

Home | Site Map | Contact Us

3321 12th Street NE, Washington, DC 20017

This site is maintained by the Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA
as a means of informing the general public of the Commission's work
on behalf of the people of Guatemala