Swiss prosecutors announced Aug. 31 that Erwin Sperisen, former commander of Guatemala's National Civil Police, was arrested in Geneva. The arrest is based on evidence submitted in 2011 by Guatemalan authorities linking Sperisen to extrajudicial killings. Sperisen, 42, holds both Swiss and Guatemalan nationalities; because of his Swiss citizenship he cannot be extradited, but authorities say he will be put on trial in Switzerland. He is accused in at least 10 homicides carried out in Guatemala's prison during his time as police commander from 2004 to 2007, thought to be part of a campaign of "social cleansing."
A court in Guatemala City on Aug. 21 sentenced Pedro García Arredondo, former chief of the National Police, to 70 years in prison for the 1981 disappearance and torture of a university student, Édgar Enrique Sáenz Calito. Enforced disappearance is a crime under international law, and the First Tribunal for High Risk found that the victim's torture in detention amounted to a crime against humanity. The judgment found that Arredondo "planned, cooperated with and aided in" Sáenz Calito's disappearance, and that he "had full authority and as a consequence, knowledge of what happened to the disappeared person." The ruling was hailed by human rights groups. "It has taken more than three decades for justice to catch up to Pedro García Arredondo, but this ruling sends another strong message that those responsible for past human rights violations in Guatemala will be held accountable," said Sebastian Elgueta, researcher on Central America at Amnesty International.
After living on land in the center of Guatemala City since January, a group of about 100 impoverished families were forced to move at least twice during the week of Aug. 13 as the result of an eviction order obtained by the Defense Ministry, which claims the property. Defense Ministry spokesperson Col. Erick Escobedo said the National Coordinator for Disaster Reduction had mandated the eviction on the grounds that the land was unstable; the disaster agency didn't return phone calls when the Associated Press tried to confirm Escobedo's statement.
An agent of Guatemala's National Civilian Police and two students were injured in a confrontation July 30 between riot police and students outside the Teachers School for Men in the south of Guatemala City; three students and a teacher were arrested for alleged attacks on security forces. The clash came after hundreds of students occupied eight schools, one in the capital and seven in other parts of the country, to protest proposed changes in the national teacher certification program. Security forces prevented the takeover of two other schools. Students also reportedly blocked various highways in the northern and northeastern parts of the country, but apparently without any confrontations with the police. (EFE, July 30)