In a stunning development springing from the 2005 discovery of the Guatemalan Secret Police Archives, The National Security Archive has posted declassified U.S. documents in a 25-year old disappearance case. Edgar Fernando García, a student leader and trade union activist, was captured and disappeared by Guatemalan security forces in 1984 during the height of the state-sponsored terrorism of the Guatemalan civil war.

From the NSA release written by Kate Doyle and Jesse Franzblau:

“Guatemalan authorities made the first arrest ever in the long-dormant kidnapping case when they detained Héctor Roderico Ramírez Ríos, a senior police officer in Quezaltenango, on March 5th and retired policeman Abraham Lancerio Gómez on March 6th as a result of an investigation into García’s abduction by Guatemala’s Human Rights Prosecutor (Procurador de Derechos Humanos—PDH). Arrest warrants have been issued for two more suspects, Hugo Rolando Gómez Osorio and Alfonso Guillermo de León Marroquín. The two are former officers with the notorious Special Operations Brigade (BROE) of the National Police, a unit linked to death squad activities during the 1980s by human rights groups.

According to the prosecutor Sergio Morales, the suspects were identified using evidence found in the vast archives of the former National Police. The massive, moldering cache of documents was discovered accidentally by the PDH in 2005, and has since been cleaned, organized and reviewed by dozens of investigators. [italics mine] Last week, Morales turned over hundreds of additional records to the Public Ministry containing evidence of state security force involvement in the disappearance of other student leaders between 1978 and 1980. As the Historical Archive of the National Police prepares to issue its first major report on March 24, more evidence of human rights crimes can be expected to be made public.”

The documents obtained by NSA under a FOIA request make clear that the US government was aware of the state’s activities, and sheds light on how disappearances and torture were employed as part of an organized, political strategy orchestrated at the highest levels of the Guatemalan government.

These arrests mark a tremendous step forward in the tortuous struggle against impunity for crimes of the Guatemalan civil war, and illuminate the power of documents and archives to play a direct and powerful role in the prosecution of justice.

To read more about the Guatemalan Archives and the recovery project:

2 thoughts on “Archives lead to arrests in Guatemalan disappearance case

  1. Hi Patrick – thanks for posting. A great point, about how the archives of perpetrators, of state terror and repression, have the potential to become archives of recovery and justice. I think – hope – that this is just the beginning of what the recovery of the Guatemala archive will engender. I thought Goldman's book was excellent, by the way, and was happy to hear he'd won the Duke award.

  2. Grace – Thanks for posting this. What a telling example of how the seemingly inactive records that are preserved in archives can be "reactivated" to further human rights and social justice causes. It also serves to remind us that it is important to invest in preserving records of past human rights abuses and investigations – the evidence maintained in the archives are like dormant seeds waiting to resprout when opportunities for justice present themselves, sometimes suddenly and unexpectedly.

    There is some interesting irony here, too. Last year Frank Goldman came to Duke Libraries to talk about his book, "The Art of Political Murder", winner of the 2008 WOLA-Duke Book Award for human rights in Latin America. In the book Goldman describes the central role that the federal intelligence unit popularly and sinisterly known as "el archivo" played in Bishop Gerardi's assassination and the fear it inspired in Guatemala. In the Garcia case the power of an archive is being re oriented: instead of being a tool of the state's impunity the archive is now an instrument for state accountability.

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