Editor’s Note: We at Tikkun have been involved for the last decade in supporting the important work of the SOA, the religious progressive organization that challenges the U.S. government to shut down its school (formerly known as the U.S. Army’s School of the Americas, and operating out of Fort Benning in Georgia) that trains torturers and murderers who go back to Central and South America and uses the latest techniques and equipment that they’ve learned at the School of the Americas to intimidate, torture or murder those whom they consider a threat to the oligarchs whose oppressive rule they are asked to protect. The SOA organization brings thousands of people to Ft. Benning the weekend before Thanksgiving each year to protest and demand that this horrific school be closed by the US Army. The demonstration also mourns the thousands of people killed by the actions of the graduates of this horrific institution.–Rabbi Michael Lerner
Last week, eighteen former military officials were arrested on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity in one of the largest mass arrests of military officers Latin America has ever seen. Twelve of them were trained at the SOA. The arrests happened one week before the January 14th inauguration of newly elected President Jimmy Morales, of the National Convergence Front (FCN).
Morales, whose party has close ties to the military, faces pressure in the face of the current developments. Morales’ right hand man, Edgar Justino Ovalle Maldonado, who is also the FCN party co-founder, newly elected congressman, and retired colonel, is also facing similar charges, though he was not arrested because of his immunity as a congressman. Guatemala’s Attorney General, however, has requested the Supreme Court look at the case to strip him of his immunity. Ovalle Maldonado, who is also an SOA graduate, is linked to massacres and disappearances during the 1980′s.The officers arrested last week are (see below for a list of notorious SOA graduates among those recently arrested):
- Ismael Segura Abularach (SOA, 1976)
- Pablo Roberto Saucedo Mérida (SOA, 1970)
- César Augusto Ruiz Morales (SOA, 1970)
- Manuel Antonio Callejas Callejas (SOA, 1962 & 1970)
- Colonel Fransisco Luis Gordillo Martínez (SOA, 1961)
- Carlos Humberto López Rodríguez (SOA, 1970)
- Edilberto Letona Linares (SOA; 1970)
- José Antonio Vásquez García (SOA, 1970)
- Manuel Benedicto Lucas García (SOA, 1965)
- Carlos Augusto Garavito Morán (SOA, 1984)
- Luis Alberto Paredes Nájera (SOA, 1960)
- César Augusto Cabrera Mejía (SOA, 1967)
- Juan Ovalle Salazar
- Gustavo Alonzo Rosales García
- Hugo Ramiro Zaldaña Rojas
- Raul Dahesa Oliva
- Edgar Rolando Hernández Méndez
The arrests are linked to two cases in particular, both of which have gone before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The first case concerns the operations that occurred at the military base in Cobán. In 2012, exhumations by forensic anthropologists led to the uncovering of at least 550 victims disappeared between 1981 and 1988. The second is for the disappearance of Marco Antonio Molina Theissen, a 14-year-old boy disappeared by the G-2 military intelligence forces on October 6, 1981.
A pretrial held before a District Court this week in the case of the disappearance of Marco Antonio determined that four of the former military officers accused – three of whom are SOA graduates – will go to trial, facing charges of forced disappearance and crimes against humanity. The retired officers – Fransisco Luis Gordillo Martínez, Edilberto Letona Linares, Hugo Ramiro Zaldaña Rojas, and Manuel Antonio Callejas Callejas – remain in custody pending ongoing investigations by the public prosecutors.
It remains to be seen if newly sworn-in Morales, whose party is backed by the darkest structures of the Guatemalan military, will allow for these cases to run their course.The struggle for justice in Guatemala is still as much a challenge today as it was in the past. Given the recent mass mobilizations that brought down the former President and SOA-graduate Otto Pérez Molina and his Vice-President Roxana Baldetti, Morales faces a citizenry that has lost much of the fear that created a culture of silence. In a recentNational Catholic Reporter article, Fr. Roy Bourgeois stated that “there will never be any justice or reconciliation until there is accountability and the perpetrators start going to prison”. The people of Guatemala are hungry for justice, and they have memory on their side.
Lessons for the U.S.
History has shown us that we cannot count on the government to hold itself accountable. We know from experience that the power we need to makes the changes we so desperately need will come from us, the grassroots. Vice-President Biden, who attended President Morales’ inauguration, also had a meeting with the northern triangle Presidents yesterday regarding the ill-named Alliance for Prosperity, which supposedly addresses the root causes of migration. This conversation comes at the same time that ICE is carrying out raids and deporting Central American refugees that have fled US-sponsored state violence. Instead of actually addressing the root causes of migration by changing its destructive foreign policy in Central America, the U.S. continues to create the conditions that make people flee their home countries through violence and economic exploitation. This was the case during the dirty wars of the 1980′s, and unfortunately it is the case now.
There is no question that there was absolute complicity by the U.S. during the 36-year-long armed conflict that marked Guatemala for generations to come. For Guatemalans, this is a decades-long struggle to break down the wall of impunity and the culture of silence and fear, and the steps being taken by surivors to bring cases forward have been nothing short of brave and courageous. For the U.S., what has unraveled over the past few days serves as a sobering reminder that the U.S. fully backed – covertly, directly and indirectly – the Guatemalan military through training, funding, adivising and equipping. Bill Clinton’s “apology” was clearly not enough. As Guatemala continues to seek truth, justice and accountability, shouldn’t the U.S. think about doing the same, and holding it’s officials accountable?
SOA Watch maintains that in order for there to truly be justice, those responsible in the U.S. for the training and funding one of Latin America’s most brutal conflicts must be held to account in any and all courts applicable, whether they be domestic, regional or foreign. The U.S. doesn’t have to look to far to see that lessons on justice and accountability can be learned through what is happening throughout Latin America.
General Manuel Antonio Callejas Callejas – 1988 SOA Hall of Fame graduate who attended the Command and General Staff College in 1970. As former head of intelligence, he was responsible for the assassinations that occurred under former dictator General Fernando Romeo Lucas García, also an SOA graduate. He later became Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces under President Vinicio Cerezo. In 2002, the U.S. revoked his visa due to suspected ties to human rights violations, narcotrafficking and organized crime.
Colonel Fransisco Luis Gordillo Martínez – Attended the Command and General Staff College, as well as Infantry and Weapons courses in 1961. Gordillo was part of the violent 1982 coup that brought SOA graduate and former dictator, General José Efraín Ríos Montt to power.
General Manuel Benedicto Lucas García – Head of the military under former dictator and brother, General Fernando Romeo Lucas García, he attended the Command and General Staff College in 1970, as well as the Combat Intelligence course in 1965. According to the Archdiocese truth commission report Guatemala, Nunca Más, he masterminded the creation of the Civil Defense Patrols (PACs).
Ismael Segura Abularach – Attended the Advanced Infantry Officer course in 1976, and was commander of the special forces that forced disappeared Maya guerrilla leader Efrain Bámaca to guide army patrols in their search for guerrilla arms caches.