From Tue Mar 26 07:30:08 2002
Date: Mon, 25 Mar 2002 20:18:47 -0600 (CST)
From: GHRC <>
Subject: FW: 20 years since scorched earth policy in Guatemala
Article: 135366
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20 years since scorched earth policy in Guatemala

DEJURE, CALDH Press Release, 25 March 2002

Susie Kemp, Legal Director
9 Ave. 9-29, Zona 1, Guatemala City
Direct phone: 251 4157;

In Guatemala in 1981, the government of Romeo Lucas Garcia initiated a scorched earth campaign resulting in the commission of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. Eframn Rmos Montt continued the campaign during 1982. These were the most intense years of the 36 year civil war.

March 23rd is the 20th anniversary of the coup d'etat which brought Rmos Montt to power. On this day, survivors of the violence and family members of victims from the areas most affected will join together in San Martin Jilotepeque, Chimaltenango to commemorate 20 years and to demand justice for the atrocities committed.

The Association for Justice and Reconciliation (AJR) submitted legal complaints denouncing the military high command of Lucas Garcia on May 3, 2000. A similar complaint was submitted to the Public Prosecutors Office on June 6, 2001 against the Rmos Montt high command.

Progress has been made in the cases. Declarations have been taken from material witnesses by the Prosecutors Office. Most recently, in a surprising move, three accused former generals have come forward and testified, unsolicited, to the Special Prosecutor in the case, Mario Leal: Hector Mario Lspez Fuentes, Horacio Maldonado Schadd and Francisco Gordillo Martmnez. AJR and CALDH (Center for Human Rights Legal Action) as its legal adviser are pressuring for the investigation to continue and arrest warrants to be issued in the near future.

A recent set back for the justice system in Guatemala occurred, however, as 11 forensic scientists involved in exhumations of clandestine graves received death threats in February. The threats were denounced publicly but were followed-up with further threats by telephone. It is believed that those responsible fear the existence of physical evidence them to the massacres.

Attached is a document with more background information on the 20th anniversary. Should you wish further information, please do not hesitate to contact Susan Kemp ( or Christina Laur ( at CALDH, Direct Telephone: (502) 251-4157.

Commemorating 20 years: a call for reflection

Events of the 23rd of March 1982

As early as two months prior to the military coup of March 23 1982, some 900 officers of the Guatemalan military had decided, after years of discontent and international isolation, to overthrow the regime of General Lucas Garcia.

On March 23, helicopters, troops and armored vehicles sealed off the presidential palace. All radio stations played military music, interspersed at 15 minute intervals with announcements appealing for calm. Lucas Garcia was caught off guard and offered no resistance. The operation was smooth and bloodless.

Then, in a radio broadcast by Leonel Sisniega Otero, the deputy leader of the right wing MLN party came, a call for General Eframn Rmos Montt to present himself at the national palace to take charge of the new regime. Journalists waiting for Guatemalas new rulers to arrive at the palace were bewildered. Five ornate chairs had been made ready for the incoming junta but were soon reduced to three. Rmos Montt took his place in the center, flanked on his right was General Horacio Maldonado Schaad and on his left by Colonel Francisco Gordillo Martmnez. The Governmental Military Junta had been installed.

Later that day, General Rmos Montt, dressed in camouflage fatigues and gesticulating wildly to the cameras, treated his audience to a 13 minute diatribe, littered with invocations to God my Lord and King, religious overtones which characterized his brief and violent leadership. Rmos Montt declared the coup would to put an end to corruption, guarantee human rights and revitalize our institutions. To the dismay of Guatemalans and the international community their hopes of a break with the Lucas years of violent repression and civilian deaths were soon to be shattered.


Black, George (1984) Garrison Guatemala Monthly Review Press New York

20 years since the coup

The military coup of the 23rd of March 1982 marks the midpoint between the two bloodiest military regimes in modern Guatemalan history, those of Generals Lucas Garcia and Rmos Montt. Their methods of anti communist counterinsurgency left tens of thousands of civilian victims, particularly indigenous Mayan civilians, massacred in their own villages. Noted for their abuse of power for personal interests (economic enrichment and pretensions of political and religious power respectively) both Generals, now retired, continue today to benefit from their gains as military rulers.

In today's Guatemala, an inevitable step in the process towards peace and reconciliation is the acknowledgement that these military leaders, for various motives, tried to win the war at all costs, ordering its forces to carry out what were clearly illegal operations. Some have argued that the massacres were sporadic excesses, the result of arbitrary acts by local commanders. Such an explanation cannot however be sustained, legally or factually and, consequently, the members of the Military High Commands of Lucas Garcia and Rmos Montt will not be able to escape justice by simply pushing their responsibility over to their military sub-ordinates.

Demanding justice

The people of Guatemala who suffered the aggression of these military regimes are today speaking out against the lack of humanity and the illegal acts of extreme brutality committed against them and their families. The civilian victims of state and non state abuses during the Guatemalan armed conflict and their suffering will not disappear and will continue to fight for justice and equality.

In its conclusions, the Guatemalan Commission for Historical Clarification, CEH, specifically recommended that the Guatemalan authorities prosecute those responsible for crimes against humanity and war crimes, especially those who instigated and promoted their commission.

20 years after possessing authoritarian power, the military high commands of Lucas Garcia and Rmos Montt are accused in Guatemalan criminal prosecutions for their participation in atrocities against the civilian population. The Association for Justice and Reconciliation (AJR), a group of victims and relatives of those who lost their lives as a result of the atrocities, seek to demonstrate that the poorest, most marginalized sector of Guatemalan society has the right and the power to demand accountability from Guatemalas former military rulers and to push for the fulfillment of all the CEH recommendations.

The members of AJR presented a legal complaint against the Military High Command of Romeo Lucas Garcia on May 3rd 2000. A second legal complaint was launched against the Military High Command of Eframn Rmos Montt was presented on June 6th 2001. A special prosecutor has been appointed, and both cases are under investigation. Three of the eight former Generals accused, (all members of the Rmos Montt regime) have voluntarily approached the Special Prosecutor to make statements. The legal advisor of the AJR, the Center for Human Rights Legal Action, CALDH, continues to provide evidence to the Prosecutor and his team to progress the investigation.

Today Guatemala has the opportunity, through the AJR cases, to become an example to the world on constructing the rule of law after a brutal internal conflict, and helping ensure that such acts of violence are not repeated. The Armed Forces as an institution now facing the future, will also benefit from recognizing the individual responsibility of those who committed these unacceptable violations during the conflict, thus gaining national and international respect and demonstrating its professional commitment to building and consolidating peace and democracy.