from Weekly News Update on the Americas:

Guatemala: Three Salvadoran Reps Murdered; Accused Killers Follow Them to Grave

Three Salvadoran legislative deputies to the Central American Parliament (PARLACEN) were murdered along with their driver on the afternoon of Feb. 19 as they were visiting Guatemala to attend a session of the parliament. Assailants followed them in vehicles to a place about 36 km from Guatemala City, killed them and set their van on fire—although there was evidence that some of the victims may have been alive when the fire was set.

The deputies were Eduardo D’Aubuisson, William Pichinte and Jose Ramon Gonzalez; the driver was Gerardo Ramirez. All three deputies were from the rightwing Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) of Salvadoran president Elias Antonio Saca; D’Aubuisson’s father, the late Roberto D’Aubuisson, founded ARENA and reportedly led the notorious death squads of the 1980s.

Four agents from the Criminal Investigation Division (DINC) of the National Civilian Police (PNC)—Luis Arturo Herrera Lopez, head of the Section Against Organized Crime, and agents Jose Adolfo Gutierrez, Marvin Langen Escobar Mendez and Jose Korki Lopez Arreaga—were arrested on Feb. 21 and Feb. 22 and charged with the murders. According to the Guatemalan government, the agents had followed the Salvadorans in a patrol car with global positioning equipment, which allowed investigators to place the agents at the crime scene.

The four police agents reportedly confessed to executing the Salvadorans but claimed they thought the victims were Colombian narco-traffickers. The agents refused to say who had told them to carry out the executions. Their lawyers, Sandra Aguilar and Amanda Salazar Rodriguez, charged that the agents were beaten and tortured after their arrests. The agents were placed in the El Boqueron maximum security prison in Cuilapa, Santa Rosa department. On Feb. 23 Salazar filed an appeal asking for her clients to be placed in a more secure unit on the grounds that they feared for their lives.

The four agents were found dead in El Boqueron on Feb. 25; a prison guard was also killed. According to Governance Minister Carlos Vielman, who is in charge of national security, a group of prisoners rioted, took the warden and four guards hostage, and cut the throats of the four agents with knives. According to the authorities, the 177 prisoners who rioted were members of the notorious Mara Salvatrucha gang. The authorities suggested that the killers were prisoners who had been arrested by these agents in the past. Some 300 polices and soldiers with anti-riot equipment regained control of the prison.

Some of the prisoners and family members visiting the prison gave a different version. According to them, a group of masked armed men entered the prison without opposition, cut the electricity and executed the agents. The other prisoners then took the warden and guards hostage because they feared that they too would be executed or would be blamed for the murders. The daily Siglo Veintiuno obtained a report from the Public Ministry that seemed to back the prisoners’ version. The killers had altered the scene to make it appear that they had had to force the lock, according to the report, which found no evidence of a struggle at the scene. The report said the agents were killed by gunfire; there was no mention of knives. Four eyewitnesses were willing to testify if they were guaranteed protection, according to the report.

On March 2 Governance Minister Vielman announced that police operations assistant director Javier Figueroa had resigned on Feb. 26 and that Victor Soto had been removed from his post as chief of DINC, the division to which the agents belonged. On Feb. 27 the Guatemalan Congress had passed a resolution calling for Vielman himself to resign, but Vielman said he would keep his position. (Guatemala Hoy, Feb. 21, 22, 23, 26, 28, March 3; Adital, March 26 from Grupo de Apoyo Mutuo, March 1)

The Mutual Support Group (GAM), a Guatemalan human rights organization, charged that the murders of the agents were “a demonstration of the degree to which organized crime and drug trafficking have penetrated the structures of Guatemalan state agencies, particularly in the national security forces.” Others noted that 43 complaints were filed against the DINC in 2006, including three for extrajudicial execution and 10 for forced disappearances. The GAM called the “indifference of the international community” to criminality in the Guatemalan government “worrying.” (GH, Feb. 23; Adital, Feb. 26 from GAM)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, March 4, 2007

PNC agent Marvin Roberto Contreras Natareno testified on March 16 for the first time since his arrest in connection with the murder of the Salvadoran deputies. In his three-hour testimony Contreras Natareno told Judge Nery Medina that he had been called in as backup after four police agents stopped the deputies’ vehicle. According to Contreras Natareno, the deputies and their driver were still alive when he arrived, and the police agents were searching the vehicle for drugs. Later the agents shot some or all of the deputies and set the car on fire with the deputies inside. As of March 16 the Public Ministry had not decided whether to charge Contreras Natareno with murder or treat him as a witness. (Diario Colatino, San Salvador, March 16; Miami Herald, March 16 from AP; La Prensa Grafica, San Salvador, March 16)

In an interview published on March 10, PNC director Erwin Sperisen told the Guatemalan daily Prensa Libre that “Guatemalan drug traffickers” were behind the murder, but he refused to give details. (El Nuevo Herald, Miami, March 11 from EFE) Salvadoran officials have said that the three lawmakers were not linked to organized crime. (MH, March 16 from AP) In Guatemala the case has led to the resignations of DINC director Victor Soto and assistant director Javier Figueroa; Figueroa fled to Costa Rica on March 4. (La Prensa Grafica, San Salvador, March 16)

Guatemalan authorities still maintain other prisoners were responsible for the execution-style killings of the four DINC agents. According to Mario Falla, head of the attorney general’s technical bureau, four pistols were found in electrical appliances that the prisoners had in their possession; three of the pistols were used in the killing of the agents, Falla says. Some prisoners said the weapons were in fact planted in the appliances, which had been in the hands of the authorities for several days. (La Nacion, Costa Rica, March 15 from AFP)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, March 18, 2007

Guatemala: Student Leader Murdered, Peasants Block Highways

On the night of March 9, unidentified assailants shot to death Guatemalan student leader Oscar Abelardo Chata as he was walking to his home in Peten. He was in his fourth year of teachers’ college. Chata’s killing is believed to be political, since none of his belongings were stolen. The Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity-Broad Movement of the Left (URNG-MAIZ) condemned the killing, noting that it was one in a string of recent attacks against leftist activists. (Guatemala Hoy, March 17)

The Movement of Human Rights has recorded 278 attacks in the past three years against community leaders, human rights and union activists, designed to intimidate them into discontinuing their work. Many of the attacks and threats have come from public security forces. (La Semana en Guatemala, March 14-19)

On March 15, members of the Committee of Campesino Unity (CUC) and the National Coordinating Committee of Campesino Organizations (CNOC) blocked several highways in Huehuetenango, Izabal, Zacapa and Chiquimula to demand justice for murdered community members. CUC leader Jose Domingo said the protest commemorated the second anniversary of the killing of CUC member Juan Lopez Velasquez by soldiers and police during protests against the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA) in Colotenango. Some 500 campesinos from Izabal, Zacapa and Chiquimula held a similar demonstration to demand a prompt and thorough investigation into the murder last Feb. 6 of community leader Israel Carias Ortiz and his two sons, nine and 10 years old, in Los Achiotes, Zacapa. (La Semana en Guatemala, March 14-19)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, March 25, 2007

Zacapa: Campesino Leader Murdered

On Feb. 6 in the Guatemalan municipality of Zacapa, unidentified assailants shot to death campesino leader Israel Carias Ortiz and his two sons, nine-year old Ledwin Anilson Carias Ramirez and 10-year-old Ronald Haroldo Carias Ramirez. The family was ambushed on a rural road while heading home to the Los Achiotes farm. According to Radio Sonora, Nelly Ortiz, the campesino leader’s mother, died of shock upon hearing the news. Carias Ortiz was a leader of the Los Achiotes Indigenous Campesino Development Association (ACIDEA), a group of 150 families fighting to recover their lands on the Los Achiotes farm in Zacapa, which is currently occupied illegally by large-scale landholders. The Committee of Campesino Unity (CUC) blamed the murders on landholders Geraldina Cordon, Faustina Barrillas, Jorge Madrid, Victor Hugo Salguero, Edwin Ruiz, Salvador Cabrera and others. According to CUC, these landholders have been threatening local campesino leaders, including Carias and his family, and regional CUC leader Abelardo Roldan. (AP, Feb. 7; CUC communique, Feb. 6)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, Feb. 11, 2007

Costa Rica: 50,000 Protest Free Trade

Some 50,000 people took to the streets of San Jose, Costa Rica, on Feb. 26 to demand that the country’s Legislative Assembly not ratify the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA), a US-sponsored trade pact referred to in Central America by the Spanish initials for free trade treaty, TLC. The demonstration, dubbed “A Day for the Homeland” and organized by the National Front to Support the Struggle Against the TLC, was the largest one yet in Central America against the trade pact, and one of the largest protests ever in Costa Rica.

Costa Rica signed DR-CAFTA last year but is the only participating nation which has not yet ratified the pact. The Legislative Assembly had planned to debate the TLC on Feb. 26. President Oscar Arias, who has been pushing heavily for DR-CAFTA’s approval, claimed his supporters have the 38 votes they need to ratify the pact. But in the end the Legislative Assembly was unable to debate the treaty on Feb. 26 because it lacked a quorum. (Red de Comunicacion Alternativa contra el TLC, Feb. 26; El Comerico, Peru, Feb. 27 from DPA; Inter Press Service, Feb. 26)

Ricardo Segura of the National Committee of Struggle Against the TLC said simultaneous demonstrations were also held in San Carlos and Palmares de Alajuela in Guanacaste province, in Coto Brus in the south of the country, and in Limon on the Atlantic coast, among other areas. Carlos Arguedas, leader of the Union of Agricultural and Plantation Workers (SITRAP), said riot police violently attacked more than 600 demonstrators who blocked Route 32 in Siquirres, Limon province. The agents destroyed banners and signs and confiscated a loudspeaker vehicle, detaining its driver. At least five people were arrested, and a group of at least 80 demonstrators encircled the Siquirres jail to demand their release. (Red de Comunicacion Alternativa contra el TLC, Feb. 26; Argenpress, March 4)

Leaders of the Union of National University Workers (SITUN) and the Union Association of Industrial Communication and Energy Workers (ASDEICE) said separately that police stopped and searched several buses taking workers to the demonstration in San Jose, and a number of protesters had to continue on foot. (Red de Comunicacion Alternativa contra el TLC, Feb. 26)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, March 4, 2007

El Salvador: Students Block Streets

In El Salvador, 27 people—most of them students of the University of San Salvador—were arrested on Feb. 28 for “public disorder” after blocking traffic on Constitucion Boulevard in the northern sector of San Salvador during a protest against DR-CAFTA. The protest marked the close of the country’s first year under DR-CAFTA; El Salvador was the first nation to implement the pact, on Mar. 1, 2006. (El Vocero de Michigan, March 2 from AFP)


Weekly News Update on the Americas

See also:

WW4 REPORT #130, February 2007

From our weblog:

Guatemala: Maya priests to purify sacred site after Bush visit
WW4 REPORT, March 13, 2007


Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, April 1, 2007
Reprinting permissible with attribution