Four retired senior members of the Guatemalan military—including two high-ranking officers previously thought to be untouchable, former Army Chief of Staff Benedicto Lucas García and former chief of military intelligence Manuel Callejas y Callejas—were convicted today in Guatemala of involvement in crimes against humanity. A fifth official was acquitted of all charges. Three of the officials received a sentence of 58 years in prison, while one was sentenced to 33 years.
The five retired military officials faced charges arising from the illegal detention, torture and sexual violation of Emma Molina Theissen, as well as separate charges for aggravated sexual assault. Three of the officials also faced charges for the enforced disappearance of Emma’s 14-year-old brother Marco Antonio in 1981. The five officials were detained on January 6, 2016, and in March 2017, the preliminary judge determined that there was sufficient evidence to send them to trial. The public trial started in Guatemala City on March 1 of this year.
The judges ruled unanimously to convict Lucas García, Callejas y Callejas, Francisco Luis Gordillo Martínez, former infantry colonel and commander of Military Zone No. 17, and Hugo Ramiro Zaldaña Rojas, a former major and then-lieutenant colonel in the Guatemalan army and former intelligence official (S2) of Military Zone No. 17, of crimes against humanity against Emma Molina Theissen. The court sentenced them to 25 years in prison. The court also found the four officials guilty of aggravated sexual violation of Emma, and for this sentenced them to an additional eight years.
The judges found three of the officials—Lucas García, Callejas y Callejas, and Zaldaña Rojas—guilty of the enforced disappearance of Marco Antonio, Emma’s 14-year-old brother. For this, the court sentenced them to 25 years in prison. Presiding Judge Pablo Xitumul noted that enforced disappearance is a crime that continues until the individual is freed. To date, the whereabouts of Marco Antonio remain unknown.
Edilberto Letona Linares, former colonel and deputy commander of Military Zone No. 17, was acquitted of all charges. The court determined he lacked command responsibility and was not a member of military intelligence.
Lucas García also faces charges in the case of enforced disappearance known as the CREOMPAZ case.
High Risk Court C, presided over by Judge Xitumul, scheduled the delivery of the verdict on Tuesday, May 22 at 3:00 PM. However the judges did not appear in the court room until 13 and a half hours later, at 4:30 AM, to deliver the judgment. The judges gave no reason for the delay. The Molina Theissen family was present in the courtroom, accompanied by more than 100 human rights defenders, international observers, along with other friends and allies. US ambassador Luis Arreaga was present during on the afternoon of May 22, as was Guatemalan human rights ombudsman, Jordan Rodas.
A reparations hearing is scheduled for Monday, May 28.
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.