Suspect in Maya Achi Sexual Violence Case Makes Key Admission in US Court

In June, International Justice (IJ) Monitor reported that a Guatemalan man wanted in relation to the mass sexual assault of Maya Achí women in the 1980s, Francisco Cuxum Alvarado, also known as Francisco Cuxun-Alvarado, was detained on April 30 in Waltham, Massachusetts. On Monday, the U.S. Attorney’s Office of Massachusetts issued a press release stating that Cuxum Alvarado pleaded guilty to one count of illegal reentry into the United States.

Cuxum Alvarado faces up to two years in prison, and a sentencing hearing has been scheduled for December. After serving his sentence, Cuxum Alvarado will be removed to Guatemala, where he is accused of crime against humanity in the Maya Achí sexual violence case. In addition, Cuxum Alvarado was named as a suspect in the March 13, 1982 massacre of women and children at Cerro Pacoxom.

A New Chapter for the Maya Achi Case?

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office press release, Cuxum Alvarado admitted to law enforcement to being a member of the Rabinal civil defense patrol. His admission and subsequent conviction potentially open a new chapter in the Maya Achí sexual violence case.

In 2018, the Guatemalan government charged Cuxum Alvarado, along with nine other individuals, with crimes against humanity for their role in mass sexual assault of Maya Achí women in and around Rabinal. According to the Attorney General’s Office, all the men were members of military-controlled militias called the civil defense patrols (PACs).

In the early 1980s, the Guatemalan army carried out a series of attacks against the indigenous Maya Achí people of Rio Negro, in and around the municipality of Rabinal, in the department of Baja Verapaz. During these massacres, the Guatemalan army, assisted by the PACs, forcibly removed the Maya Achí from Rio Negro. In this context, more than 400 Maya Achí people were killed and hundreds more were displaced. In addition to the murders, there were mass sexual assaults carried out against Achí-Mayan women.

The authorities arrested seven men accused in the case. They were unable to locate three of the accused, including Francisco Cuxum Alvarado.

As IJ Monitor reported, in August 2019, the pre-trial judge originally overseeing the evidentiary hearings in the case, Claudette Domínguez, dismissed the charges against the six defendants (one of the accused died of natural causes while in government custody) and ordered their release. In the case of three of the defendants, including Damian Cuxum Alvarado, the brother of Francisco Cuxum Alvarado, Judge Domínguez justified her decision by arguing that the Attorney General’s Office had not proven that they were in fact PAC members. The plaintiffs challenged this argument, saying that the judge did not take into consideration the central evidence in the case: the eyewitness testimony of the women survivors themselves, who directly identify the accused as the perpetrators. The fact that Fransisco Cuxum Alvarado has admitted his membership in the PACs provides new evidence in the case as well as a new defendant.

On September 9, Domínguez was removed from the case after the High Risk Appellate Court granted a recusal motion presented by the plaintiffs questioning the judge’s impartiality. The court transferred the case to Judge Miguel Ángel Gálvez of the pre-trial High Risk Court “B.” Judge Gálvez is widely known as a fair and impartial judge, but, like several other judges in Guatemala, he has faced a series of smear campaigns and intimidation efforts by groups that believe that anti-corruption and accountability efforts in Guatemala have gone too far.

The Trail to the Intellectual Authors

While no senior military officials have been charged in the Maya Achí sexual assault case, the evidence presented by the prosecution points to the criminal responsibility of senior military officials based in Military Zone 21 (MZ21) in Cobán, Alta Verapaz. Between 1981 and 1983, the military detachment of Rabinal, located in the department of Baja Verapaz, was under the jurisdiction of MZ21, in Cobán, Alta Verapaz. After 1983, Military Zone 4 of Salamá was created in Baja Verapaz, and it took over jurisdiction of the Rabinal detachment.

This is the same military base that 585 bodies were exhumed from in 2011 and 2012 and for which eight senior military officials are awaiting trial in the CREOMPAZ case. Among those implicated in the Maya Achí sexual violence case are:

  • Captain José Antonio Solares González, who commanded the troops and the PACs at the Rabinal military detachment. One witness testified that he observed him authorize the mass rape of women from Rio Negro, including two of the survivors in the Maya Achí case. Witnesses also implicate him in several massacres, including the March 13, 1982 Rio Negro massacre, in which more than 170 persons were killed. 
  • Former military official Major Luis Felipe Miranda Trejo, the “S2” military intelligence official in charge of MZ21 between September 1, 1981 and April 30, 1982. Miranda Trejo is one of several officials accused in the CREOMPAZ case who remains a fugitive. He is a member of the Guatemalan Association of Military Veterans (AVEMILGUA) who founded the National Convergence Front (FCN-Nación) that brought current president Jimmy Morales to power.
  • The commander of MZ21 at the time, Colonel Ricardo Méndez Ruíz-Roshmer. The Attorney General’s Office sought the arrest of Méndez Rúiz-Roshmer, who served as Minister of Governance under Efraín Ríos Montt, in relation to the CREOMPAZ case, but he reportedly died five days before the warrant for his arrest was issued on January 6, 2018.
  • The Army Chief of Staff at that time, Benedicto Lucas García, who was convicted in 2018 in the Molina Theissen case and sentenced to 58 years in prison. The judgment in that case established that under his leadership, the army authorized sexual violence against women as part of its counter-insurgency strategy. Lucas García is also awaiting trial in the CREOMPAZ case. 

PACs Identified as Perpetrators in One of Every Four Massacres

In the late 1970s, the Guatemalan army created PACs as a mechanism of social control and to combat the guerrilla. The army appointed local military commissioners to organize and control the PACs, which became a central element of the Guatemala’s counterinsurgency strategy. In rural areas, all men between the ages of 15 and 60 were forced to participate in the PACs. By 1984, there were more than 900,000 members of the civil patrol system. The Recovery of Historical Memory Project at the Human Rights Office of the Archdiocese of Guatemala found that military commissioners and PAC members were identified as perpetrators in one of every four massacres.

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.