Anthropologist Beatriz Manz Adds to Expert Testimony

Day 12 of the Rios Montt trial featured the testimony of 11 additional expert witnesses who documented the displacement of civilian populations by the army in the late 1970s and early 1980s and the later exhumation of human remains from sites in areas where the army operated during the years of the war. Prominent among these witnesses was renowned Chilean anthropologist and UC Berkeley professor Beatriz Manz, who testified regarding her research documenting the displacement of civil populations within Guatemala and in camps in the La Selva Lacandona area of Mexico in the early 1980s.

Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberto Menchu Tum, an indigenous Guatemalan who has dedicated her life to publicizing the plight of Guatemala’s indigenous peoples, was in the audience observing the proceedings in the morning, to the interest of many of those present.

As the court resumed proceedings in the morning, defense attorney Francisco Palomo asked the tribunal to reconsider what he described as its “defective procedural decision” (“actividad procesal defectuosa”) requiring expert witnesses who worked together on expert reports to testify one-by-one, rather than allowing them to be questioned together as a group. The court denied the motion, ruling that each expert needed to appear separately to ratify reports based on their own area of expertise.

Selket Susana Callejas Martínez, a forensic archeologist with the Guatemalan Forensic Anthropology Foundation (Fundacion Antropologico Forense de Guatemala, or FAFG) testified about exhumations she performed in Nebaj, Aldea Vilcabitz, and one other remote mountain location, describing the methods FAFG uses to extract remains from the soil. She also discussed her role in overseeing the chain of custody of evidence obtained by FAFG.

Danny Arnoldo Guzmán Castellanos, a FAFG forensic anthropologist, described his role in preparing sections of reports regarding his analyses of remains uncovered during FAFG exhumations performed in Tu Uchuch (a woman who was buried with two small children), Paraje Kabtze (a woman who was buried with her two sons), Batzuchil (3 men who died of unknown causes), and Tujolum I (a man who died of unknown causes), in Nebaj, Quiche. Guzmán also testified regarding the procedures used by forensic anthropologists at the FAFG to analyze remains in the lab once they have been removed from an exhumation site. Defense attorney Marco Cornejo asked whether forensic anthropologists can determine the date of death of a particular victim – and was again told “no.”

Rony Estuardo Piedrasanta Castellanos, a forensic archeologist, next testified regarding an exhumation of 50 sets of human remains from a clandestine grave hidden under a soccer field in Vijolom, Santa Maria Nebaj, Quiche.  Of the individuals exhumed, 24 were male, 20 female, and six had undetermined sexes; 33 were children, and 17 were adults.   Although numerous skeletons showed signs of bullet wounds or marks made from sharp objects, the causes of death could only be determined in four of the 50 sets of remains.  When defense attorney Palomo asked whether the dates of death of those buried under the soccer field could be determined by the forensic archeologist, he responded, “no… the interviews let us know when, but from the bones, you can’t tell.”

Rodolfo Alberto Leiva Solís, a FAFG social anthropologist, described interviews he conducted with family and community members in Batzumal II, Nebaj, Quiche, where an exhumation revealed two sets of remains (one of a young woman 14-19 years old, the other of an adult male, 26-40 years old) found buried directly in the soil, unclothed, one on top of the other. Their deaths were caused by deep cuts in the thorax region; there was a blue cloth around the neck of the female victim, who may have been strangled.

Christopher Steve Martínez Donado, a forensic archeologist, ratified reports he wrote regarding exhumations performed at Tucalum I, Nebaj, Quiche, where one set of human remains was found (a male, aged 42-62 years old). Martínez also reviewed the procedural steps archeologists follow when they arrive at a possible exhumation site.

Jorge Luis Romero de Paz, a FAFG forensic anthropologist and a forensic archeologist, testified regarding reports related to exhumations undertaken in Villa Hortensia Antigua, Batzuchil, Tusivan, and Canton Xemanzana, SMN, Quiche.

Reina Patricia Ixcot Chávez, a forensic anthropologist, ratified reports regarding her analyses of remains extracted during exhumations performed at Canaquil (remains of 22 individuals found, damaged by fire and decomposition), Villa Hortensia I (a male adult and a female adult, with gunshot wounds) Villa Hortensia II (a male with gunshot wounds), Parajes Xenexira and Xexabiac (a male adult with unclear cause of death), and Bijolom (an adult male).

Edgar Herlindo Hernandez Sanchez, an archeologist with the FAFG, described his work on exhumations at Chuatuj, Parramos Grande, Caseria Bajila, Xechaxuchen, and Aldea Xeo, ratifying sections of reports he wrote following his work at each site.

Jaime Enrique Ruiz Castellanos, a social anthropologist, testified regarding the conclusions he had reached from interviews conducted with family and community members at the time of exhumations performed in Ixto, TuUchuch, Batzuchil, Bajila, Kabtze, Chuatuj, and Parramos Grande.

Byron Estuardo García Méndez, another social anthropologist, described conclusions he reached following interviews he conducted with family members at the time of exhumations performed in Parajes Xenexira y Xexabiac, Aldea Pexla Grande, Sajsivan, and Bijolom, and a cemetery in Nebaj, Quiche. Interviews he performed during the exhumation in Sajsivan, caused him to conclude that the victims “died in a defenseless state, victims of the war.” He ruled out the notion that they had been killed during an armed confrontation, given that three of the women involved were in advanced states of pregnancy, and that they were all family members, killed inside their home. Another exhumation in the same village (Sajsivan) uncovered the remains of 30 people who died over a longer period of time, from 1979 to 1987, buried in a clandestine grave. García Méndez stated that 29 of those victims died of “indirect causes” of the displacement resulting from the actions of the Guatemalan army.

Finally, expert witness Beatriz Manz testified regarding the Guatemalan army’s systematic displacement of indigenous populations in the early 1980s. At the start of Manz’ testimony, prosecutor Orlando Lopez attempted to introduce photos into evidence that Manz took in 1982-1983 during her research in refugee camps in southern Mexico, as well as in the Ixil region, but Judge Barrios declined to admit the photos, indicating the request was made too late, emphasizing “you can only offer things already accepted into proof,” pursuant to the criminal procedure code. 

Manz nonetheless testified about what the photos showed: refugees who fled their homes without shoes or clothing, hungry, injured, sick and weary from their journeys. According to Manz, “the burning of milpa (cornfields), of the houses… the massacres… all were part of a pattern, not some isolated act that one patrol group thought of.” Manz indicated that in 1981, when she learned that some 2,000 Guatemalan refugees had been forced into southern Mexico, she went to investigate why they had fled their communities. When she returned to the camps in 1982, their numbers had grown to over 46,000. Most of these refugees were from the Ixcan and Huehuetenango and were living in 36 camps. 

Manz testified that she learned from her interviews with those who had fled “that maybe something even more critical was happening in the Ixil area… Those people couldn’t get out because of the distances and the military presence in the area. So I went to Nebaj and Chajul in 1983, to interview people about what was happening there. The military presence was huge.”  In her testimony, Manz referred to CIA documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act which show that it was obvious to the CIA that the Guatemalan army had decided that the civil population supported the guerrillas, and it was a “difficult situation because they treated the civilian population as though they were the same as the guerrillas.” In 1984, the Mexican government relocated Guatemalan refugees from the border area to Campeche in Quintana Roo, “in part because of a concern that soldiers from the Guatemala army were entering into Mexican territory to look for people, even killing some” in the camps.