Last week, Guatemala’s Attorney General’s Office finalized the presentation of its indictment against three senior military officials for genocide and other grave crimes against the Maya Ixil population during the military government of Romeo Lucas García (1978-1982).
Following the presentation of the indictment, the court gave the defendants an opportunity to respond. Benedicto Lucas García, the former chief of the General Staff of the Guatemalan Army, spoke extensively. He declared his innocence and vehemently denied the army’s involvement in massacres and other human rights violations. Manuel Callejas y Callejas, former chief of military intelligence (G2), and César Octavio Noguera Argueta, former chief of military operations (G3), addressed the court only briefly and also refuted the allegations.
“I Don’t Know Why They Call Me a Genocidaire”
Wearing a jacket made of woven indigenous cloth and accompanied by his wife, Lucas García vigorously defended his record as chief of the Guatemalan army. He boasted about his military training in France and his leadership of the army. Lucas García emphasized his hands-on approach to the counter-insurgency war, stating that he was always “at the scene of the events, supporting the people but not slaughtering villages.” At the same time, he stated that as head of the General Staff of the Guatemalan Army, he played only an advisory role and that orders were handed down from the Minister of Defense, who “forbade me to allow the troops to pass through the villages.”
Lucas García placed himself in the Ixil area but insisted that the army did not commit massacres or human rights violations against the Maya Ixil people. “We respected the indigenous people, especially women. That was a special order of mine,” he said. Lucas García blamed the guerrillas for violence in rural areas. “We didn’t burn ranches, that was what the guerrillas did to force people to go to Mexico to indoctrinate them. They burned their ranches so that they couldn’t come back.”
Lucas García attacked the forensic evidence presented by the prosecution as a “hoax” fabricated to blame him and the army for killings committed by the guerrillas. “There were no massacres, those massacres were fabricated,” he stated emphatically. “I would never have allowed peasants to be killed. I protected them. I protected them and helped them without asking for anything in return.” He noted several times that he saved many people from the guerrilla.
He also asserted that the Catholic Church was a sanctuary for the guerrillas and helped recruit people to fight with them. He has especially harsh words for the Maryknoll, who he called “opprobrious” and the Jesuits, who he accused of fabricating massacres to accuse the army of human rights abuses. The Maryknoll is a name used by different Catholic mission entities.
At one point, he referenced Bishop Juan Gerardi, who was bludgeoned to death two days after presenting the final report of the Inter-Diocese Project for the Recovery of the Historic Memory (REHMI), which he led. Three military officials were convicted of that crime in 2001. Nevertheless, Lucas García said: “We were not the ones who killed Gerardi, it was the [guerrillas] themselves who did it.”
Lucas García went on to criticize Pope Francis, saying that “he has totally gone astray because he is a Jesuit” and suggesting that he is to blame for the wave of protests sweeping Chile and other countries in South America.
He also lambasted government prosecutors and NGOs who “want to compare me to Hitler.”
“There was no genocide in Guatemala,” Lucas García said. “I don’t know why they call me a genocidaire, I love the indigenous race.”
Lucas García: Molina Theissen Case is a “Soap Opera,” CREOMPAZ “a Hoax”
Lucas García referred disparagingly to the CREOMPAZ case, for which he was first arrested in January 2016 on charges of crimes against humanity.
The Forensic Anthropology Foundation of Guatemala (FAFG), in close collaboration with the Attorney General’s Office, exhumed 565 the bodies from 87 clandestine graves located at the site of former Military Zone No. 21 (MZ21) in Cobán, Alta Verapaz between 2011 and 2012; 145 of those have been identified as victims of the armed conflict using DNA and other technologies.
In August 2016, a court determined that there was sufficient evidence to send Lucas García and seven other senior military officials to trial in this case, but the case has been stalled due to a series of legal challenges. “This case is a total farce,” he said, suggesting that the forensic anthropologist in charge of the exhumations, Fredy Peccerelli, is not duly accredited and was “defiling graves” and “should be in jail.”
The majority of the bodies exhumed from MZ21 had bullet wounds and other signs of trauma. Bullets assigned to the army were found among the human remains.
He also referred to the Molina Theissen case, for which he is serving a 58-year prison sentence, as a “soap opera.” He falsely asserted that Marco Antonio Molina Theissen “is very much alive.” Marco Antonio, who was 14 at the time, was forcibly disappeared in October 1981 in reprisal for the escape of his sister, Emma Molina Theissen, from military prison. Lucas García leveled an implicit threat as well, saying that when it is proven that Marco Antonio is alive, “the prosecutors, judges, and civil parties will all go to jail.”
Interlaced throughout his presentation were references to individuals he says he helped or assisted in some way, who then betrayed him. He referred to Pamela Yates, whose interview of Lucas García is among the evidence presented by the prosecutors, and other journalists and researchers who he said interviewed him but “now speak badly of me.”
He also claimed to have saved the father of Judge Pablo Xitumul, who was forcibly disappeared in Rabinal in 1981, “and then he gives me a 58-year sentence.” Judge Xitumul was the presiding judge in the Molina Theissen case.
The plaintiffs and the defense lawyers will present their concluding arguments. Presiding Judge Miguel Angel Galvez will then determine whether there is sufficient evidence to send the case to trial.
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.