Guatemala: Pérez Molina downsizes Peace Archives

During the last week of May the government of Guatemalan president Otto Pérez Molina began a process that human rights defenders charge will virtually close down the Peace Archives, the agency in charge of preserving and investigating military and police records from the country’s bloody 1960-1996 civil war. Newly appointed Peace Secretary Antonio Arenales Forno announced that the agency was unnecessary. Its function, he said, is “to computerize and analyze military archives to establish human rights violations, but this is the responsibility of the human rights community, and the investigation of crimes is the responsibility of the Prosecutor’s Office.”

The government notified 17 workers in the Peace Archives on May 28 that they would be laid off at the end of June, and Arenales Forno indicated that there more than 100 unnecessary positions in the Peace Secretariat that might be eliminated. The government hasn’t decided where the Archives’ records will kept, but they may be divided between several different Guatemalan agencies and the General Archives of Central America.

Mandated by the peace accords of 1996 and put into operation in 2008, the Peace Archives has already computerized two million documents and published nine reports on topics ranging from the National Police archives to forced disappearances during the war years and the illegal adoptions of children. Staffers from the agency have served as expert witnesses in trials for genocide and crimes against humanities, including the ongoing trial of former military dictator Efraín Ríos Montt (1982-1983).

Kate Doyle, a director of investigations at the Washington, DC-based research group National Security Archive, wrote on June 1 that “[t]he closing of the Peace Archives ends an important source of support to human rights prosecutions in Guatemala, and may in part reflect the current government’s particular distaste for the genocide cases.” President Pérez Molina has denied that there was ever genocide in the military’s counterinsurgency campaigns. Thepresident himself was a major in the army during the Ríos Montt dictatorship, operating around Nebaj, El Quiché department, in the Ixil Mayan region. (Prensa Libre, Guatemala, May 31; EFE, June 1; National Security Archive blog, June 1)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, June 3

See our last post on Guatemala.