Guatemala: ex-officers arrested in ‘disappearances’

Prosecutors in Guatemala on Jan. 6 announced the arrest of 14 former military and government officials for alleged crimes against humanity committed during the country's 1960-1996 civil war. Among the detained is Benedicto Lucas García, chief of the army High Command under the rule of his late brother, ex-dictator Fernando Romeo Lucas García, between 1978 and 1982. Also detained were retired Gen. Francisco Luis Gordillo, who helped bring José Efrain Rios Montt to power in the coup that toppled Lucas García in 1982, and Byron Barrientos, who was interior minister during the 2000-2004 presidency of Alfonso Portillo. "The cases that we have documented were [attacks] against the non-combatant civilian population including children," the country's chief proscutor Thelma Aldana said, asserting that they were among "the largest forced disappearances in Latin America."

Guatemalan media broadcast images of the former officials in handcuffs, some of them in tears, as they were led away to a military prison. Lucas García is accused of participating in at least 558 "forced disappearances." Other charges against the men include involvement in the 1982 massacre at Plan de Sánchez, Baja Verapaz department, in which soldiers and paramilitary troops tortured, sexually abused and killed local residents. Lucas García struck a defiant tone, telling reporters: "I fought the guerilla face-to-face, arm-against-arm, and not as a coward or a psychopath."

Prosecutors also moved to have the immunity of office lifted for Edgar Justino Ovalle, a member and co-founder of the party of presidnet-elect Jimmy Morales, who is set to be inaugurated next week. As a sitting lawmaker, Ovalle is not subject to criminal prosecution unless fellow legislators vote to remove his immunity. (AP, EFE, La Hora, Guatemala, Jan. 6)

The Lucas García and Rios Montt dictatorships have been accused of genocide agaist Guatemala's Maya indigenous peoples.