Critical hearing in Guatemala’s Molina Theissen case delayed again

The next hearing in the Molina Theissen case, already postponed once earlier this month from December 9 to December 22, has been rescheduled again by the office of Judge Víctor Hugo Herrera Ríos of High Risk Court C, with a new court date now set for January 13, 2017.

This is a critical hearing, at which the parties will present their concluding remarks, followed by the judge’s determination as to whether there is sufficient evidence to send to trial the former military officers who have been indicted in this case. Five high-ranking military officers have been indicted in this case, for the illegal detention, torture, and sexual violence committed against Emma Guadalupe Molina Theissen, and for the enforced disappearance of her 14-year-old brother Marco Antonio Molina Theissen in 1981. Among the accused is retired general and former chief of the Guatemalan army, Benedicto Lucas García. (For more on Lucas García, see the 2015 interview with him conducted by Plaza Pública here.)

The proceedings in the Molina Theissen case have moved forward at a snail’s pace since the first arrests were made in January 2016. Nor is this the first times hearings have been suspended and rescheduled at short notice.  This is especially burdensome for the members of the Molina Theissen family, who travel from Costa Rica, where they have lived since the disappearance of Marco Antonio, to Guatemala City, to take part in the hearings.

The defendants have steadfastly denied their responsibility in the Molina Theissen case. However, the facts of the case and the responsibility of the Guatemalan state are not in dispute: in 2004, the Inter-American Court for Human Rights Court found the Guatemalan state responsible for the enforced disappearance of Marco Antonio Molina Theissen, and ordered it to investigate, prosecute, and punish those responsible. The Guatemalan state recognized its responsibility, and has implemented some of the reparations ordered by the Court, including publication of the sentence, a public apology to the Molina Theissen family, and naming a school after Marco Antonio. The Court also ordered the state to search for the remains of the victim. To date Marco Antonio remains missing.

Given the political stakes involved in the case, allies of the Molina Thiessen family are seeking to raise public awareness of its significance. On December 9, for instance, a group of Guatemalan musicians, artists, and poets participated in a Concert for Marco Antonio and Interrupted Childhood, organized by singer and songwriter Fernando López, to commemorate Marco Antonio Molina Theissen and the estimated 5,000 children who were the victims of enforced disappearance during the Guatemalan civil war. The concert, at the National Music Conservatory in Guatemala City, was also addressed by Marco Antonio’s mother, Emma Theissen Álvarez.

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.