Molina Theissen Trial Moves into Closing Arguments

The Molina Theissen trial continued on Wednesday, May 9, with the presentation of one defense witness, one expert report on sexual violence, and several documents. After the defense renounced several witnesses, the evidentiary phase of the proceedings concluded, and on Thursday, the court moved to hear closing arguments.

The proceedings began on May 9 with the defense presenting expert witness Edwin Salazar, a physician and surgeon, to testify about the sexual violence committed against women in military bases. The defense attorneys asked the expert witness to review the declaration of Emma Molina Theissen. He stated that in his opinion, “this story is not credible.”

The civil party lawyers asked the witness if he had previously evaluated victims of sexual violence in military bases, to which he answered he was indifferent to the location where the violation had taken place. Though the witness stated that the clinical history of the victim is important prior to conducting an evaluation, he said that he never reviewed Emma’s case file nor had he evaluated her personally. The witness affirmed that an individual who has endured this type of sexual violation suffers its effects for the rest of his or her life.

The Attorney General’s office read parts of the report on sexual violence presented by gender violence expert Sonja Perkic. “Emma was a victim of systematic sexual violence which was a selective practice used against party militants, as was evidenced during her first capture [in 1976] by the national police, which operated in coordination with the Army.”

Perkic’s report affirms that “violence and sexual torture were part of the systematic practices of interrogation conducted in military institutions and are described in the plans and the manuals of the Army.” And: “From Benedicto Lucas Garcia to the members of the military brigade in Quetzaltenango, they were aware of the detention, torture, and interrogation of Emma Guadalupe Molina Theissen.”

Erick de León of the Attorney General’s office presented official documents listing the ranks and positions of the defendants as well as the preliminary trial testimony of Emma Álvarez de Theissen, among others. He also presented several documents extracted from the home of Gordillo Martínez on the day of his arrest on January 6, 2016.

The representative of the Prosecutor General Office (PGN) presented the sentence of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in the Molina Theissen case, with particular emphasis on the reparations ordered by the court. As noted in a previous International Justice Monitor report, the Court ordered the state of Guatemala to search for the remains of Marco Antonio and to return them to the family, which has not been completed.

Concluding Arguments

With all the witness testimony and documentary evidence presented, the court moved to hear closing arguments on Thursday, May 10. For the first time in the trial, Emma Molina Theissen was present in the courtroom gallery. Several representatives of international organizations were also present, including Tomás Pallás, the representative of the European Union to Guatemala, and Liliana Valina, representative of the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The court called on the defendants to give a final statement. Hugo Zaldaña Rojas stated that he would like to address the court but requested that he not have to answer questions. Manuel Callejas y Callejas also addressed the court. Benedicto Lucas Garcia participated in the proceedings via videoconference due to health issues.

Zaldaña Rojas, former “S-2” intelligence official of the Military Zone No. 17 (MZ17) in 1981, who faces charges of crimes against humanity, enforced disappearance, and aggravated sexual assault, began his statement by asserting his innocence, stating that the facts of the case “are nonexistent.”  “The crimes that I am accused of do not exist. The [Molina Theissen] family clique knew what they were involved in,” he said.

He also referred to the fact that early in these proceedings, the mother of Marco Antonio, Emma Theissen Álvarez de Molina, identified him as one of the men who kidnapped her son in 1981. “How is it possible that Emma Molina identifies me after so much time?” he asked. “It is implausible.” He also questioned Emma’s testimony, stating that her claims of being raped and persecuted are the result of paranoia and mental illness. The court called on the defendant to be respectful.

He continued by attacking the peace accords, which she stated “were not legal” because they were signed by people using pseudonyms, an apparent reference to guerrilla leaders. He also stated that trials such as this one were an effort by people and NGOs to obtain monetary reparations. The tribunal again chastised the defendant, saying he should focus his comments on the crimes of which he stands accused.

The defendant presented a report of the detectives’ section dated 1976, which states that Julio Cesar del Valle and Emma Molina Theissen were captured carrying high caliber weapons. He said that contrary to what her sister said in court, Emma, who was accused of homicide, was freed not because of lack of evidence, but because she was a minor. “We had to combat the Communist threat,” he stated, “and things have not changed, the actors are the same, though the scenario is distinct.”

He denied that Guatemala was at war; it was rather an armed insurrection. He added, “No subversive was ever handed over to the Judiciary, because no subversive was ever captured.”

Zaldaña told the court that an intelligence official takes specific information and transforms it into intelligence. “With my uniform and my boots and my convictions, I did what I had to do and I fulfilled my mission.” He did not refer further to the crimes of which he stands accused except to deny their existence.

De León asked the defendant the name of the S1 intelligence official. He did identify Gordillo and Letona Linares in their respective positions in MZ17.

Breaking his earlier silence, Callejas y Callejas, former head of military intelligence (G2), who faces charges of crimes against humanity, enforced disappearance, and aggravated sexual assault, also made a brief statement to the court.

He stated that he had three superiors in the General Staff of the Army of Guatemala: Generals Angel Aníbal Guevara Rodriguez, René Mendoza Palomo, and Benedicto Lucas Garcia. He stated that when Lucas Garcia took over as army chief of staff, “he did what was needed at that moment.” Like Zaldaña, he stated that the concept of “internal armed conflict” was the result of a “manipulation” of the peace accords. In fact, he said, what really happened was an armed aggression against the state of Guatemala by subversive groups.

Callejas y Callejas continued, criticizing the Attorney General’s Office for the raid it conducted on his home the day of his arrest on January 6, 2016, in which several documents were seized, some of which have been introduced as evidence in these proceedings. Several of these documents contained information about guerrilla organizations, including the names, dates, positions within the organizations, and maps. He stated that he was using these documents to write his memoirs.

The defendant was asked to review one of those documents, in which the ambassador of the United States discusses the relationship between drug trafficking and the Guatemalan military. In 2003, the United States canceled Callejas’s visa to the United States presumably due to his links with drug trafficking.

The court adjourned the proceedings for the day. Concluding arguments will continue on Monday, May 14.

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.