Court Reinstates CREOMPAZ Victims, but Obstacles Remain

On December 14, the Constitutional Court granted a provisional protective measure (amparo) to the plaintiffs in the CREOMPAZ case. The amparo seeks the reincorporation of dozens of victims who were excluded by the June 2016 decision by presiding pretrial judge Claudeth Domínguez to send eight of the eleven defendants to trial. CREOMPAZ is the current name for the installations in Cobán, Alta Verapaz where Military Base No. 21 (MZ21) was located. Since 2012, investigators have exhumed 558 bodies from MZ21, over 100 of which have been identified as victims of enforced disappearance and related crimes.

Juan Francisco Soto, executive director of the Center for Legal Action in Human Rights (CALDH), which is one of the organizations representing the victims in the case, told IJ Monitor that by excluding dozens of victims, Domínguez’s ruling undermines the case presented by the Public Prosecutor’s Office. He noted that Domínguez did not provide any justification for this decision, leading the plaintiffs to challenge her ruling. Domínguez rejected the appeal, leading them to take their case to the Constitutional Court.

A second amparo, presented in June by the Coordinating Group of Victims of Alta Verapaz (CODEVI) challenging the decision to exclude it as a civil party to the case, has not yet been ruled on. Judge Domínguez determined that as a result of this amparo, hearings are suspended until an appeals court resolves the matter. Soto is concerned that there are behind-the-scenes pressures to delay the case to prevent it from coming to trial.

Ovalle Impeachment Decision Still Pending

The victims in the CREOMPAZ case are still awaiting the decision of the Supreme Court of Justice impeachment proceedings against congressman Edgar Justino Ovalle. On December 1, victims staged a protest before the Supreme Court of Justice over the delay in its decision on the Ovalle case. Days later, Judge Domínguez imposed a travel ban on Ovalle until the decision is pending, at the request of prosecutor Hilda Pineda, head of the Human Rights Section of the Attorney General’s Office. Ovalle is seeking to have the travel ban overturned. He has also threatened to file charges against Pineda and Judge Domínguez.

And in another development, on December 12 the Constitutional Court rejected an amparo presented by Ovalle in which he sought to terminate the ongoing Supreme Court impeachment proceedings against him. The Public Prosecutor’s Office seeks revocation of Ovalle’s congressional immunity so as to pursue a criminal investigation against him for his alleged responsibility for a series of enforced disappearances that occurred at MZ21 in 1983, when Ovalle was an intelligence and operations official there.

Ovalle is also embroiled in a separate controversy, related to charges that the governing National Convergence Front (FCN), refused to report on campaign spending from the 2015 presidential and congressional elections. The Supreme Electoral Tribunal, which has twice requested the information, brought the charges against the FCN. According to El Periódico, Ovalle, as Secretary General of the FCN, and President Jimmy Morales will be required to respond to these charges. Numerous doubts have been raised about the origins of the FCN’s financing. Some press reports suggest that the main funding source is retired military officers.

Fugitives in the CREOMPAZ Case

The Public Prosecutor’s Office arrested 14 retired military officials in the CREOMPAZ. As previously reported, 11 were indicted and three were freed due to lack of sufficient evidence. Judge Domínguez determined that there was sufficient evidence to send eight of these officers to trial, while two were freed (which has been appealed by the plaintiffs) and one will be submitted to a special investigation due to mental health issues. As noted above, the decision on whether Ovalle can be prosecuted in this case remains undetermined.

The original arrest warrants of January 6, 2016 included eight additional retired military officials who were not apprehended and remain fugitive. Among these are retired generals Luis René Mendoza Palomo, who was Minister of Defense during the period of Romeo Lucas García (1978-1982), and Angel Aníbal Guevara Rodríguez. The other six fugitives are military personnel from the MZ10, who served as commander, second commander, S-2 intelligence officer and S-3; The arrest warrants against each of these individuals remains active within Guatemala and INTERPOL has also been alerted.

Jo-Marie Burt is an associate professor of political science and Latin American Studies at George Mason University. She is also a Senior Fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). She is an expert on human rights, transitional justice, and war crimes prosecutions in Latin America. This report was prepared with the assistance of Paulo Estrada, human rights activist, archaeology student at San Carlos University, and civil party in the Military Diary case.