This month saw the opening of the First Declarations for the 11 men accused in the massacre of Rancho Bejuco, where on July 29, 1982, 10 soldiers, 15 civil patrolers and 4 military commissioners came to the hamlet, tortured 2 men and captured the rest of the community. They then enclosed the rest of the victims in a home and threw in grenades, killing those inside. The 25 people killed in the Rancho Bejuco massacre were mostly children (17 were minors), some as young as 8 months old. This case is particularly important as it shows the Guatemalan state structures, such as the army and civil patrols, and how the State coordinated with civil patrols in different municipalities to systematically destroy the Achi people.
The hearings have been off to a slow start, as some of the accused are elderly and need evaluations for hearing aids in order to participate in the process. This week, two of the accused were separated from the process pending evaluation. Hopefully, they will be accessed and have their First Declaration hearings in time to join the other accused in the Intermediary Phase.
Another major set-back in the case was the resignation of judge Erika Aifan, who was forced to flee Guatemala after numerous threats against her for her incredible work as an impartial judge in cases of impunity and corruption at the highest levels of Guatemalan government, as well as organized crime. Edwin Ramírez, the judge who is temporarily replacing her, made concerning comments at the hearing on Wednesday, March 23, stating that the journalists present must respect human rights and that the court would not hesitate to press charges against them for any “violations”. Shortly after, two armed National Civil Police arrived in the courtroom, something that is highly unusual for a hearing when both security from the penitentiary and the court security are present. It appeared to be an intimidation tactic against the journalists present, as though the judge felt his security was at risk. The First Declarations are set to continue on April 7, where the accused will have the opportunity to declare “guilty” or “not guilty”. It is not clear if the current judge will continue to preside over the hearings.