On March 26, a day after Guatemala’s Human Rights Ombudsman Sergio Morales released the first report on the contents of the National Police Archives, his wife was abducted and tortured. If anyone doubts the relevance of records and archives to the present, not only in redressing the past but as factors in ongoing terror and repression, well, here you go.
Gladys Monterroso, a lawyer and journalist as well as the wife of Morales, was released the next day and is recovering.
Frontline Defenders has a letter you can sign and send, urging President Colom to investigate this crime, and to ensure the safety of the Morales family and all human rights defenders.
Antonio González Quintana, an archivist who has published frequently on human rights issues, has a blog post in Spanish here. Below is a translation into English courtesy of Gustavo Castaner of the UN Archives and Records Management Section (thanks Gustavo).
On the 24th of March in Gutemala City the report of the Attorney for Human Rights (Procurador de los Derechos Humanos) of Guatemala, called THE RIGHT TO KNOW, on the data furnished by the National Police Archives on human right violations committed during the years of the so-called “Inner Armed Conflict” was presented. The same day of the report’s presentation the digitized fonds of the archives were opened to public consultation, through SEREVIDH (Servicio de Referencias sobre Violaciones de Derechos Humanos /Reference Service on Human Rights Violations), of the Office of the Attorney for Human Rights (Procuradoria de los Derechos Humanos) of Guatemala, and a few days before the regulation for access to this service was published. SEREVIDH counts the databases and finding aids produced by the Recovery Project for National Police Archives and the images digitized during the same, corresponding essentially to the years from 1975 to 1985, which nowadays represent nearly 10% of the volume of records of the archives and a total volume of 7,500,000 images. The day of the report’s presentation was complete chaos at ciudad de Guatemala. Bus drivers and passengers were killed, on top of multiple attacks to transport means without death results, blocking the city and sowing confusion. All type of rumors broke loose. Finally, president Colom made a public appearance warning about a planned escalation of violence addressed to create a climate of unrest and panic. None of us who assisted could avoid thinking that all this was related to the report’s presentation and the opening to the public of the archives. The ceremony itself was emotionally charged and was experienced with enormous expectation by public and media. All the powers of the State attended through their highest representatives (except the executive, who sent the Vice-president instead of the President, who couldn’t attend due to his press conference related to the violent events commented). The next day, we awoke with the news of the kidnapping of the wife of the Attorney for Human Rights. Fortunately she was freed after twelve hours of captivity during which she underwent torture, humiliations and maltreatments, to be finally abandoned in the street. The monsters are afoot. As it happened in Argentina with the disappearance of Julio Lopez –witness in the first trial against the torturers of the dictatorship once repealed the acts of Full Stop and Due Obedience (Leyes de Punto Final y Obediencia Debida)- these are the typical thuggish answers that criminals use to scare society and try to continue living in absolute impunity. Let’s hope they don’t achieve it. Letting people from our countries know what’s happening in Guatemala, spread it as much as possible, can help those who strive there to know the truth and call for justice. We have to continue to support the Recovery project for the National Police Archives, defending, as archivists, that which seems better for it. That is, without forgetting that those who have to deal daily with the beasts are the Guatemalans; and it’s evident that there’s much at stake. (Antonio González Quintana, March 31 2009)