Guatemala: top cop convicted in embassy fire

On Jan. 19 Guatemala's High Risk Court B convicted former police chief Pedro García Arredondo of the deaths of 37 people in a fire at the Spanish embassy in Guatemala City on Jan. 31, 1980. García Arredondo was sentenced to 40 years in prison for the fire and 50 years for the deaths of two students; he is already serving a 70-year sentence for the killing of a student. The fire broke out when police stormed the embassy, which had been occupied by indigenous and campesino protesters from El Quiché department; the police blocked the doors and refused to let firefighters enter. The victims included the Spanish consul, two of his employees, a former Guatemalan vice president, a former Guatemalan foreign relations minister, and 22 El Quiché campesinos; one was Vicente Menchú, the father of 1992 Nobel peace prize winner Rigoberta Menchú Tum.

The right-wing government of President Otto Pérez Molina, who was a military officer at the time of the fire, said it respected the court's decision. A note from the Foreign Relations Ministry expressed regret for the deaths of "famous Spanish people and Guatemalans." "These situations cannot be repeated," the note added. The Spanish Foreign Ministry wrote that the Spanish government "expresses its satisfaction and congratulates the Guatemalan justice system for having, 35 years later, judged these acts in accordance with the laws and with respect for due process." (Prensa Libre, Guatemala, Jan. 20; Prensa Latina, Jan. 20)

As of Jan. 13 Judge Carol Patricia Flores had ordered a medical examination for former dictator Gen. Efraín Ríos Montt (1982-83) to determine whether he can attend his new trial for genocide against Ixil Mayans in El Quiché department. He failed to appear at a hearing on Jan. 12 to discuss administrative issues in the trial. Ríos Montt was convicted of genocide and sentenced to 80 years in prison on May 10, 2013, but the Constitutional Court threw the verdict out 10 days later. A new trial started on Jan. 5 but was immediately suspended because of a defense challenge to one of the judges, Jeannette Valdez, on the grounds that she had written her 2004 doctoral thesis about the genocide. (La Nación, Costa Rica, Jan. 13)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, January 25.