Rios Montt’s Chief of Operations, Fugitive since 2011, Arrested While Voting

In the midst of Guatemala’s controversial and highly uncertain general elections, a senior military official and former Minister of Defense who authorities sought to arrest in 2011 in the Maya Ixil genocide case was arrested and taken into custody.

The official, retired General Luis Enrique Mendoza García, was captured when he went to cast his vote in the general elections on Sunday. He was arrested in front of a school, which was serving as a polling station, in Unión Barrios, located in Salamá, Baja Verapaz.

Mendoza García served as Chief of Operations (G3) of the General Staff of the Guatemalan Army from April 1982 to July 1983, when Ríos Montt was de facto president. During this period, he was in charge of counterinsurgency military operations at the national level.

It is alleged that Mendoza García is responsible for the implementation of Plan Victoria 82, which served as basis of the army’s counterinsurgency strategy. He is also attributed with carrying out Plan Sofia, which is specific to the Maya Ixil region and resulted in the massacre of thousands of civilians.

The retired military officer has been a fugitive since 2011 after the Attorney General’s Office issued arrest warrants against members of Ríos Montt’s military high command. Mendoza García managed to escape when the authorities tried to arrest him at his home and for the past several years has been evading justice.  

Last September, High Risk Court “B” issued a sentence in the Maya Ixil Genocide case, in the case against Chief of Military Intelligence (G2) of the General Staff of the Guatemalan Army during the Ríos Montt government. The court determined unanimously that the Guatemalan Army committed genocide against the Mayan Ixil between 1982 and 1983. Mendoza García was in charge of military operations in that region during those years.

The retired general will face charges of genocide and crimes against humanity committed during his period as Chief of Operations of the Guatemalan Army.

All in the Family

The retired general has family connections to Estuardo Galdamez, a member of Congress who ran a failed campaign for the presidency as a representative of the ruling FCN-Nación party. In 1996, Galdamez married Mendoza García’s daughter, Barbara Elizabeth Mendoza Rodríguez, with whom he has three children.

Galdámez is one of the leaders of the so-called “pact of the corrupt,” which refers to a bloc of Congress members who have made common cause in an effort to pass a series of regressive laws.

Galdámez was also one of the leading advocates of legislative proposal 5377, which seeks to modify the Law of Reconciliation National and impose a general amnesty for all those accused of war crimes and other crimes against humanity. As presidential candidate, he promised to eliminate the Constitutional Court, which has been a strong line of defense against the regressive laws he has championed.

For now, the amnesty bill has been put on hold because the Inter-American Court ordered the State of Guatemala to cease consideration of the bill, which it stated violates victims’ rights and the Inter-American Convention of Human Rights. However, the bill has not been withdrawn, and observers believe it is possible that the now lame-duck Congress, which remains in power until January 11, 2020, could seek to pass it in the coming weeks or months.

Survivors Hope for Justice

The Association for Justice and Reconciliation (AJR), a survivors’ organization uniting survivors of genocide from several regions of the country, expressed its satisfaction at Mendoza García’s arrest. On Twitter, the AJR reiterated its demand for justice and called on judicial authorities to ensure an impartial judicial process. 

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.