GUATEMALA CITY – Some 100 family members of victims of Guatemala’s 1960-1996 civil war are demanding that police take into custody former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt, following last week’s celebrated arrests of two Guatemalan military officers sought by Spain’sNational Court
for crimes against humanity.
Shouting “We demand justice,” the activists rallied peacefully outside the Supreme Court building in Guatemala City Nov. 8 and demanded the arrest of Ríos Montt, who ruled the country as a dictator for 18 months in 1982-83, after taking power through a coup.
The former dictator, who launched scorched-earth tactics against indigenous communities he thought were his enemies, is blamed for some of the worst atrocities of the civil war.
Acting on a request by theNational Court
in Madrid, a Guatemala City judge ordered that four former military officers and two civilians be detained Nov. 6, but no arrest warrant was issued for the 80-year-old Ríos Montt.
In 1999, Guatemalan indigenous leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Rigoberta Menchú asked the tribunal in Spain to prosecute eight former officials and retired military officers for torture, mass murder and state terrorism during Guatemala’s war.
More than 200,000 people died in the civil war, the vast majority of them indigenous campesinos.
One of the eight accused by Menchú, former President Fernando Lucas, died earlier this year in Venezuela.
Menchú turned to the Spanish court after denouncing the denial of justice in her native country. Spain is one of several countries whose courts claim jurisdiction over crimes against humanity committed anywhere.
The court requested the arrest, for extradition purposes, of Gens. Oscar Mejía, Anibal Guevara and Benedicto Lucas, Col. German Chupina and civilians Pedro García Arredondo and Donaldo Alvarez, all accused in connection with a Jan. 31, 1980, assault on the Spanish Embassy that left 37 dead, including three Spaniards.
Guevara and Chupina are the only two who have been arrested thus far. Ríos Montt, according to Guatemalan Judge Morelia, cannot be arrested for the embassy incident because he was not holding public office at the time the attack occurred.
“Se Busca Por Genocidio” (Wanted for Genocide) could be seen on a big sign in reference to Ríos Montt outside the Supreme Court building, where protesters also placed 20 photographs of victims of the armed conflict.
The victims’ relatives said they are pleased that the two former military officers had been detained, adding that “this is a first step” in ensuring accountability for thecrimes of Guatemala’s security forces and paramilitary allies.
For her part, the head of the Relatives of the Detained-Disappeared of Guatemala, Aura Elena Farfan, said: “We feel satisfied because the pursuit of justice has not been in vain.”
Farfan’s brother, Ruben Amilcar, was kidnapped in March 1984 during the regime of Oscar Mejía. He was never seen again.
Farfan added: “A small opening has been created to take these men who massacred and ‘disappeared’ our people where they belong.”