Guatemala: ex-officers convicted in disappearance

Four retired senior members of the Guatemalan military—including two high-ranking officers previously thought to be untouchable, former Army Chief of Staff Benedicto Lucas García and former chief of military intelligence Manuel Callejas y Callejas—were convicted May 23 of involvement in crimes against humanity. Three of the officials received a sentence of 58 years in prison, while one was sentenced to 33 years. The former officials faced charges arising from the illegal detention, torture and sexual violation of Emma Molina Theissen, as well as separate charges for aggravated sexual assault. Three of the officials also faced charges for the enforced disappearance of Emma’s 14-year-old brother Marco Antonio in 1981. The five officials were detained in January 2016, and in March 2017, the preliminary judge determined that there was sufficient evidence to send them to trial. The public trial started in Guatemala City's High Risk Court C, on March 1 of this year.

The judges ruled unanimously to convict Lucas García and Callejas y Callejas, as well as Francisco Luis Gordillo Martínez, former infantry colonel and commander of Military Zone No. 17, and Hugo Ramiro Zaldaña Rojas, former intelligence official of Zone No. 17. The court sentenced them to 25 years in prison. The court also found the four officials guilty of aggravated sexual violation of Emma, and sentenced them to an additional eight years.

The judges found three of the officials—Lucas García, Callejas y Callejas, and Zaldaña Rojas—guilty of the enforced disappearance of Marco Antonio, and sentenced them to an additional 25 years in prison. Presiding Judge Pablo Xitumul noted that enforced disappearance is a crime that continues until the individual is freed. To date, the whereabouts of Marco Antonio remain unknown.

Edilberto Letona Linares, former colonel and deputy commander of Military Zone No. 17, was acquitted of all charges. The court determined he lacked command responsibility and was not a member of military intelligence.

Emma Molina Theissen, 20 years old at the time, was detained in September 1981 in Guatemala City and taken to a military encampment in Quetzaltenango where she was raped and tortured for days beofre she manaed to escape. Marco Antonio was detained the following month—bundled into a sack by military officers and driven away. The Guatemalan state admitted responsibility for grave crimes against the Molina Theissen family in 2000, but it has taken 37 years for the perpetrators to be brought to account. (International Justice Monitor, The Guardian, AP, EFE)

Benedicto Lucas García also faces charges in the so-called CREOMPAZ case of enforced disappearance. He is the brother of Guatemala's late former dictator Romeo Lucas García.

Photo: Waging Nonviolence