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Preliminary hearings / Gustavo Adolfo Oliva Blanco and Víctor Augusto Vásquez Echeverría

Sept. 14 – Military installations turned into clandestine and illegal detention centers

After almost four months the preliminary hearing of Gustavo Adolfo Oliva Blanco and Víctor Augusto Vásquez Echeverría began. Since their capture, they have been held in the military medical center due to health problems. Because they indicated having hearing problems, they purportedly could not hear what was happening in the hearings. Expert medical reports determined that their health was stable, and they had no impediment to face justice.

Before starting, both the representative of the Public Prosecutor’s Office (MP) and the High-Risk Court “B” tested the hearing aids that were used in the court and determined that they would work perfectly for the accused Oliva Blanco and Vásquez Echeverría.

The accused held strategic positions within the state security forces. Retired Lieutenant Colonel Gustavo Adolfo Oliva Blanco served as head of the Department of Technical Investigations (DIT) from August 16th, 1982, to February 1st, 1984, during the de facto government of General Mejía Víctores. Retired General Víctor Augusto Vásquez Echeverría served as commander of Military Zone No. 302 in Chimaltenango, a position he held from April 16th, 1983, to May 31st, 1985.

According to the MP, in his position, Oliva Blanco concealed the fate and whereabouts of at least 131 people, 6 of whom were exhumed and identified in military installations. He is also accused of the murder of 15 people (whose bodies were found on the public highway with signs of torture), illegal raids, and the cataloging of children and adolescents as internal enemies.

All the illegally detained persons were subjected to torture. At least 28 women were subjected to violence and rape, of which 4 were pregnant and one of which was a 9-year-old girl. As such, Oliva Blanco is accused of forming part of the structure of clandestine and illegal detention centers, where people were detained and subjected to torture, cruel treatment, violence, and women, to rape.

In addition, the resources, vehicles and weaponry assigned to the DIT, of which Oliva Blanco served as the head, are indicated to have been used against persons considered internal enemies with the purpose of neutralizing, controlling and eliminating them according to military doctrine. All these clandestine operations and illegal detentions were part of a common plan for the execution of operations against persons considered internal enemies systematically registered in the document known today as the Military Diary.

People considered an internal enemy were illegally detained, subjected to torture and used as sources of information that served to feed the clandestine and illegal intelligence system in coordination with the Presidential High Command-National Police.

The actions for which Oliva Blanco is charged have been investigated by the MP through testimonial records, official certificates, expert reports, manuals, and military documents that situate him as part of the intelligence system.

Oliva Blanco is charged with forced disappearance against Jorge Alfonso Gregorio Velásquez Soto, Héctor Manuel de León Escobar and/or Marvin Girón Ruano and/or Daniel Augusto Salguero Guzmán, Alma Lucrecia Osorio Bobadilla and Jorge Hiram Muralles Garcí. Additionally, he is charged with commiting crimes against humanity against Alfonso Gregorio Velásquez Soto, Héctor Manuel de León Escobar, and/or Marvin Girón Ruano and/or Daniel Augusto Salguero Guzmán, Alma Lucrecia, Dora Elizabeth and Lidice Palmira Osorio Bobadilla, Jorge Hiram Muralles García, María del Rosario Paz Galicia de Muralles, Hiram (4 years old) and Eden (2 years old) Muralles Paz, Damsel Cleotilde Muralles Juárez, María del Refugio García Juárez and Dolores Bautista Escobar.

Separately, the MP indicated that at the time of the events, Vásquez Echeverría, the accused, had just been promoted to the rank of infantry colonel. At the end of completing the General Staff Diploma, he assumed command of the recently created Military Zone No. 302 in Chimaltenango. That region was targeted brutally by the counterinsurgency strategy with the implementation of a scorched earth policy.

The MP explained that in 2003, more than 200 human skeletons were exhumed, of which six were identified as victims registered in the so-called Military Diary. The bones are those of Amancio Samuel Villatoro, Sergio Saúl Linares Morales, Zoilo Canales Salazar, Juan de Dios Samayoa Velásquez, Hugo Adail Navarro Mérida and Moisés Saravia López.

The prosecution highlighted that these six people were recorded in the Military Diary with the note: “03-29-84 = 300”, indicating the day of their extrajudicial execution. These six people were identified by DNA in 2011 and 2012 by the Forensic Anthropology Foundation of Guatemala (FAFG). The MP accused Vásquez Echeverría of the forced disappearances of the siblings Juan Pablo and María Quirina Armira López, who, according to the Military Diary, were sent to the Chimaltenango military zone.

The MP also affirmed that within their authority, the accused, Vásquez Echeverría institutionalized forced disappearance, since his actions were congruent with the military doctrine and plans in force at the time. Plans in which the military installations were converted into clandestine and illegal detention centers, centers for violent interrogations, slavery, forced labor centers, centers where sexual violence was practiced against women, and clandestine cemeteries to hide the fate and whereabouts of people extrajudicially deprived of their lives by the state security forces.

Vásquez Echeverría’s defense lawyer said that his client did not understand the MP’s accusation, however, Judge Gálvez pointed out due to a history of deception about the situation of alleged hearing problems, he would not ask those indicted if they understood because they would answer that they did not. “What they don’t want is for me to continue with the hearing,” Judge Gálvez said.

Both in Guatemala and throughout Latin America, the military and its defense have used various mechanisms to delay, obstruct, and avoid facing justice, such as feigning insanity or health problems. After having heard the accusation, the judge adjourned the hearing until Thursday, September 16th at 9 a.m.

September 16. Sufficient Elements to issue indictment against both accused

The hearing scheduled for 9 am was delayed several hours, caused by the absence of the accused. The authorities of the Military Medical Center did not read the entire document in order to authorize the transfer to court. After the MP affirmed that there was sufficient rational evidence to support the accusation against them, they requested that the retired soldiers Gustavo Adolfo Oliva Blanco and Víctor Augusto Vásquez Echeverría be indicted for forced disappearance and crimes against humanity.

After having heard the accusation of the MP, the lawyers representing the Human Rights Ombudsman (PDH) and the complainants intervened, supporting the request that both accused be indicted.

The plaintiff’s lawyer for Grupo de Apoyo Mutuo (GAM), recalled Rosario Godoy de Cuevas, who was murdered, along with her 1-year-old son and brother, while searching for her husband, Carlos Cuevas, who is registered in the Military Diary. The lawyer indicated that at the time families and GAM were searching for the disappeared, they rarely received information on the whereabouts of the disappeared persons because of the modus operandi that governed the structures of the military and security forces.

The lawyer representing the plaintiff FAMDEGUA pointed out that the corruption experienced today in Guatemala stems from the corruption that existed in those illegal clandestine structures. They mentioned that the six people exhumed and identified at the military detachment in Comalapa were found in the same mass grave. The lawyer added that, whether Vásquez Echeverría had knowledge or not, what happened in those military installations was under his responsibility, and the location of the six people registered in the Military Diary had not been obtained from the accused willingly who continue to hide the fate of the victims.

The lawyer for the family members, Eliza Meza and Paulo Estrada, indicated that the clandestine and illegal centers such as the DIT facilities in zone 10 of the capital, of which Oliva Blanco was in charge, were used to detain, torture, violate, and rape people registered in the Military Diary considered internal enemies. According to the lawyer, Vásquez Echeverría is directly linked to the crimes as commander of the Chimaltenango Military Zone, responsible for the actions carried out by all those who were under his supervision in that military detachment. “We are convinced that in this case there are sufficient means of conviction where the crimes in which the aforementioned have participated have been detailed, so we request that they be issued an indictment,” he said.

The attorney for the plaintiff Wendy S. Méndez said that 17% of the attacks, according to the report of the Recovery of Historical Memory (REMHI), were directed against children and adolescents. “Despite the search actions carried out by the families, the state never gave them clear answers about the fate and whereabouts of their relatives,” he said.

The attorney for the plaintiff Alejandra Cabrera pointed out that Oliva Blanco and Vásquez Echeverría held public positions linking them directly to the crimes committed against persons considered internal enemies. “The effects of the forced disappearance continues to affect families, breaking familial fabric through pain. Without the opportunity to know the whereabouts of their relatives, denied for decades by the indicated persons and the military governments of that time. Such is the case of the Bautista Escobar family which, because of the generalized attacks on the whole family, was totally decimated, 6 of its members were disappeared and the rest were subjected to torture, violence, and rape,” they stated.

The lawyer explained that the two accusations include 8 female victims, including a girl, who were subjected to cruel, humiliating, and degrading treatment. This is in addition to hiding the whereabouts of their relatives, being subjected to torture, violence, and rape. They added that the lives and bodies of the women were used as a tool to perpetrate the counter-subversive State policy and reiterated that there are enough elements to issue an indictment against both accused.

After hearing the arguments, Judge Miguel Ángel Gálvez scheduled the hearing for the following day, Friday at 9 AM, to hear the arguments of the defense and the joining plaintiffs.

September 17. Meza: “Accept the massacres, all the deaths you carry”

At Friday’s hearing, Judge Miguel Ángel Gálvez gave the floor to the plaintiffs’ family members.

Manuel M. Farfán, the lawyer for FAMDEGUA said: “We have listened carefully to the MP, the accusations, and each one of the lawyers who represent the sons and daughters of men and women who were detained and disappeared. They are brave men and women who did not need awards to work and fight for the people of Guatemala. They had their ideals and fundamentals of struggle, and their ultimate objective was to support and accompany the Guatemalan people who have suffered and continue to suffer exclusion, discrimination, and poverty.”

He added: “There are testimonies and statements of survivors who were captured and tortured. Let us not continue to strengthen the wall of impunity and to obstruct justice. Enough fear. It is necessary for the soldiers to assume responsibility. Our mothers said it in the eighties: if at any time our relatives acted outside the law, they had the right to be brought before a court, to be heard, and to be able to be condemned by them, as is happening with you. But they did not, you maintained a cloak of impunity.”

The lawyer, Alejandra Cabrera said: “From what I have heard during this trial, this clandestine system should be understood as a great chain, in which each link is a fundamental piece of a criminal structure. Each link fulfilled a function that allowed the whole system to sustain itself. This great chain was nurtured by people within State institutions, especially those who oversaw security and managed the taxes of Guatemalans. Because of this chain along the clandestine system, protecting the clandestine and illegal detention and torture centers: torture, rape, extrajudicial execution, and disappearance was guaranteed because each link was in its place.

“If only one person had been absent, had been broken, said ‘NO’, or denounced the horror, that circuit would be incomplete, but to date, that chain is still assembled. Impunity and resistance to facing justice keeps it intact. Perhaps one of its strongest links would be the clandestine circuit of detention and forced disappearance. Without this, the task of this clandestine and illegal system would not have materialized. A system that included torture, sexual violence, execution, and forced disappearance of girls and boys, to whom unbelievably they were seen as internal enemies. Boys and girls.”

Complainant Paulo Estrada said in a written message: “For as long as I can remember the word ‘DIT’ has been familiar to me. It was my mother and my grandparents who told me that the members of the DIT had participated in the illegal capture of my father. They repeatedly went to look for him there without obtaining any answers. Now I remember the behaviour of the women who began this search: they were brave women, who years later told us how on several occasions they went to the DIT facilities in zone 10 who never gave them responses regarding our relatives.

“We are guided by love: love for our relatives. They were not objects. They were loved by their families and their friends. They were people who contributed to society, who did not have the right to be judged. They were people moved by an immense love of their community and the search for a better Guatemala so that all of us could have a dignified life,” continued Paulo Estrada.

The plaintiff Eliza Meza said: “This is the 38th anniversary since my father and aunt were kidnapped. The first time my aunt was kidnapped: my father was no longer allowed to return to the place where we were waiting for him with my mother. They took my aunt away, raped and tortured her, and set her free to give information. They murdered her in 1985. It was not enough- and then they killed my mother in 1988. Those responsible are the White Van structure. Every time I hear of the ‘White Van’ during hearings I remember that morning when they took her away.

Meza continued: “I have seen my counterparts, grandmothers, grandfathers, moms, and dads who continue to wait for their missing relatives and search for them, longing for that morning, that day, that night when their missing relative knocks on the door. The fact of thinking differently, of organizing to fight, to want a dignified life for me and my friends, for all of Guatemala, for the workers, for the proletariat, is NOT a crime. What you did IS a crime. You kidnapped, raped, tore my mother’s nails and nipples, she was pregnant and forced her to have an abortion. I remember that. Have a little dignity and accept it, accept the massacres, all the deaths that you carry. Be worthy for at least one moment in your life. And tell us where are they? Where is my dad? Where are all the people? We have been waiting to be able to even bury them. The fight they had was dignifying, what you two did is not.”

After having heard from the relatives, the judge scheduled the next hearing for Tuesday, September 21st to issue a decision on whether to indict the retired military personnel Gustavo Adolfo Blanco and Víctor Augusto Vásquez Echeverría and proceed to the intermediate step of trial.

September 21. Judge indicts two more military officers in the Military Diary Case, Oliva Blanco and Vásquez Echeverría

Judge Miguel Ángel Gálvez began his resolution by analyzing the Code of Criminal Procedure. He first recognized that the MP had presented their investigations and rational evidence before proceeding to substantiate his resolution.

During the resolution, Judge Miguel Ángel Gálvez referred to the historical context to identify that there was an armed conflict within which existed an excess of abuse on the part of the State authorities. Regarding the personal exhibits presented and the raids registered before the judge, Gálvez pointed out the illegality and ineffectiveness of the State, which at the time guaranteed impunity for clandestine and illegal structures.

According to the judge, the testimonies and means of investigation presented by the MP show the control and repression of an inoperative state which instead of protecting the population, was the direct perpetrator of serious human rights violations.

Of the investigative testimonies presented by the MP, the judge highlighted those that exemplify the use of the ‘White Van’ structure during the raids, detentions, and illegal disappearances. They also included a statement that demonstrates and reiterates the pattern of the clandestine circuit of detention, execution, and raids to which the persons registered in the Military Diary were subjected.

In reference to the 6 people registered in the Military Diary whose bones were exhumed in the former military detachment of Chimaltenango, Gálvez mentioned the analysis performed by the Forensic Anthropology Foundation of Guatemala (FAFG). This report presented evidence that the bodies were found in the same mass grave, concluding they were buried by the perpetrators at the same time. “How is it possible that the person in charge in Chimaltenango does not know that 220 people were killed? Where were they going to be put when they were taken?” The judge questioned. “It was impossible that he [Vásquez Echeverría] did not know what was happening.”

Subsequently, Judge Gálvez issued an indictment against Gustavo Adolfo Oliva Blanco, considering that there are rational indications about his participation in the forced disappearance of 4 people and crimes against humanity against 13 people.

Proceeding to the coercion measures against Oliva Blanco and Vásquez Echeverría, the MP pointed out that there is a latent threat that those now linked to the process could directly or indirectly obstruct the investigation of the truth and impede to justice.

The representative of the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman (PDH) joined the request presented by the MP to issue preventive detention for both those involved in the process, due to the danger of flight and obstruction of the truth.

The attorney for the plaintiff Wendy Méndez recalled that there is evidence of the obstruction and delay of justice as they have used difficulty hearing as an excuse, for which they joined the request for a preventive detention order for both.

“The people who are being investigated and today have been linked to the process are those who know the fate and whereabouts of the disappeared persons. By hiding it, they are already obstructing the truth,” maintained the attorney for the plaintiff Alejandra Cabrera.

“Our love is greater than death itself and this is not going to stop us. We request that you guarantee that during the process of the accused, they can be provided with health conditions to guarantee life. Our relatives never had these conditions or guarantees, on the contrary they were tortured and clandestinely buried. We ask the accused: tell us where they are, so that we can go and dig them up”, said the plaintiff Manuel Farfán.

“After the horrendous events that we the victims of the Military Diary and our families have experienced, we have suffered obstruction of the truth for over 30 years: even after the arrests were made, this process has been delayed. 37 years ago, the families begged and searched in morgues for their relatives to appear. There have been decades of waiting, searching, and wishing to find them. They have denied the crimes, the torture of women and girls and the disappearance of our loved ones with the intention that we do not find them”, said the plaintiff Cabrera.

Gálvez noted that on the part of the accused there had been months of delay, obstruction, and deception. He also confirmed suspicion of continued obstruction of truth and justice, on the part of the accused and the part of the Military Medical Center, where the accused were presently being held. Responding to the balance that must be maintained between the interest of the accused and the interest of the victim, the judge decided to order preventive detention for both in the Military Medical Center, maintaining control of the Penitentiary System and the necessary medical examinations.

Judge Miguel Ángel Gálvez also resolved to grant the MP a period of three months to present the evidence necessary for the process and scheduled a hearing for January 12th, 2022, at 9:00 am to present the conclusions.

Court hears challenges against judge Miguel Ángel Gálvez

On September 22nd, the Second High-Risk Appeals Court heard the challenges raised by the accused soldiers to recuse judge Miguel Ángel Gálvez of High-Risk Court “B” from the case, who had indicted 11 of those captured.

The following day, the court of the chamber unanimously decided to declare the challenge against the judge irrelevant, considering that they lacked legal support and that the alleged wrong was non-existent.