The Molina Theissen Trial: Protected Witness Confirms He Saw Emma Molina Theissen in Military Custody

The fifth session of the Molina Theissen trial took place on Wednesday, March 14. Rodolfo Robles Espinoza, a retired Peruvian general who presented his expert testimony on the structure, organization, and doctrine of the Guatemalan military during the internal armed conflict (1960-1996) in the previous session of the trial, answered questions posed by the civil parties and the defense lawyers for more than four hours.

Following Robles was protected witness “G” who was a member of the Guatemalan Workers’ Party (PGT). Emma Molina Theissen was a member of the Patriotic Worker Youth (JPT), an affiliate organization of the PGT. Witness “G” testified about the capture and arrest of Emma between September 27 and October 5, 1981 and affirmed that he witnessed her being driven around in a heavily guarded military vehicle in Quetzaltenango during those dates. He also provided details about Emma’s escape on October 5, 1981.

Present at the hearing was the Chair-Rapporteur of the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance, Bernard Duhaime.

At the start of the session, presiding Judge Pablo Xitumul called attention to the relatives of the accused, who have been taking unauthorized photos and video during the sessions and using intimidating and pejorative language towards other members of the public at the hearings. Judge Xitumul warned the public that any future behavior of this nature would be reprimanded and sanctioned to the fullest extent of the law.

Expert witness: “Communism was not a political opponent to be combatted but an enemy to be exterminated”

The session began with Alejandro Rodríguez, the civil party lawyer for Emma Molina Theissen, asking the expert witness a number of questions. Robles reiterated his expert opinion that the head of the Second Section (G2) of the Army High Command was the senior-most official in charge of the military intelligence system and that subordinates within the G2 has functional autonomy yet acted based on orders handed down by their superior officer. In 1981, the head of the G2 was Manuel Callejas y Callejas, one of the five senior military officials accused in this case.

Robles also reaffirmed his statement from the previous session noting that the Guatemalan army’s implementation of the Doctrine of National Security and the related concept of “internal enemy” was unique in that no political prisoners were taken. Rather, extreme violence was employed against those determined to be the “internal enemy,” resulting in assassinations, enforced disappearances, and extreme persecution that forced large numbers of Guatemalans into exile.

He contrasted this to the case of Peru, where many members of the insurgent group Shining Path were arrested and incarcerated, including the head of the organization, Abimael Guzmán, who was prosecuted first in military and then in civil courts and who remains imprisoned.

Later in the session, in response to a question by Jorge Lucas Cerna, son and lawyer for Benedicto Lucas García, who earlier denied that the concept of “internal enemy” was in use by the Guatemalan army in 1981, Robles noted that the term is mentioned in the Guatemalan Constitution of 1966, which was in place at the time.

“Communism was declared to be the ‘internal enemy’ in the Constitution,” Robles stated. “Communism was not a political opponent to be combatted but an enemy to be exterminated.” (The Guatemalan Workers’ Party was prohibited after the 1954 CIA-sponsored military coup. A new Constitution was instituted in 1986.)

Robles also testified that at the time of the crimes, the military intelligence system had units that were specialists in obtaining intelligence about the PGT. These units transferred any intelligence to the head of the G2. Such intelligence gathering is part of the modus operandi of militaries across Latin America to learn more about the enemy, Robles affirmed. In this sense, he testified, Hugo Zaldaña Rojas realized that Emma Molina Theissen, who was carrying a series of documents related to the JPT and the PGT, was an important source of military intelligence and was required to report this information to the G2.

Robles further affirmed that it was because of the potential utility of information that could be extracted from Emma that she was subjected to interrogation after her capture. She was asked about the organizational structure of the PGT, about the identities of other party members, and the location of the party’s safe houses. Robles affirmed that the objective of such interrogations is to obtain intelligence and that interrogation sessions were overseen by the S2 intelligence official, which in turn corresponds to orders emitted by the G2, that is, the Section of Military Intelligence of the Army Chief of Staff. At the time of Emma’s detention, the S2 intelligence official was Zaldaña Rojas, the head of the G2 was Callejas y Callejas.

The defense counsel for Callejas y Callejas petitioned the court to allow Gustavo Adolfo Díaz López, a retired military officer and author of several books about the internal armed conflict in Guatemala, to assist in the cross-examination of General Robles, which the court allowed. He then petitioned the court to allow his client to cross-examine Robles directly, but the court rejected that request. Throughout the questioning by Díaz López, Judge Xitumul admonished him for making leading statements

In response to questions posed by Díaz Lopez, Robles affirmed that the French doctrine of counterinsurgency, perfected in Algeria, was used throughout Latin America but that later the Doctrine of National Security, promoted by the United States, became the principal framework for counterinsurgency operations.

Robles also said, “The professionalism of the army is not measured by how many people it kills, but rather by its ability of its leaders to apply military doctrine…. Good military leaders cannot say that they did not use the military manuals. If they did not use them at some point, they would not be applying the military doctrine.”

Notably, in his statement before the court on March 6, Lucas García told the court that he did not agree with military manuals and did not use them.

When asked whether the individuals who raided the Molina Theissen family home on October 6, 1981, in which Marco Antonio Molina Theissen was forcibly disappeared, were subversives, Robles stated emphatically, no. He said that the methods used in the raid of the Molina Theissen family home correspond to military intelligence. When asked by defense counsel if he was present at the time, the expert stated, “I do not need to be there to know how military intelligence operates.”

Lucas Cerna also sought to discredit the military manuals and plans by questioning the dates of their publication. The expert witness clarified that military manuals are not orders but guidelines that establish the theory and doctrine of the art of war.

Protected witness: I saw Emma Molina Theissen in a military vehicle in Quetzaltenango

In the afternoon session, the protected witness “G” gave his testimony via videoconference. He was wearing a hat, glasses, and a fake beard to conceal his identity. Witness “G” testified that Emma was one of the heads of the Western Regional Committee of Patriotic Worker Youth (JPT) and was traveling to Quetzaltenango from Guatemala City for a meeting on the anniversary of the Guatemalan Workers’ Party (PGT).

He confirmed that she was carrying documents that were to be shared with other members of the JPT. He stated that they grew alarmed when she did not arrive on the evening of September 27, 1981, as scheduled.

Witness “G” told the court that several days later, he saw Emma Molina Theissen being driven around the city of Quetzaltenango in a white Bronco, accompanied by members of military intelligence. These vehicles were infamous and widely feared during the 1980s, he stated, because they were frequently used by the G2.

He also testified that several members of the PGT were transferred to Quetzaltenango to organize a rescue operation to secure Emma’s release from military detention. This was not required because she escaped from Military Zone No. 17 on October 5, 1981, which he said was possible because a party being held on the base that day distracted the military personnel.

The next trial session took place on Monday, March 19.

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). Paulo Estrada is a human rights activist, archaeology student at San Carlos University, and civil party in the Military Diary case.