Last week, a Guatemalan court indicted Francisco Cuxum Alvarado on charges of crimes against humanity and aggravated sexual assault in a case brought by 36 Maya Achi women.
Judge Miguel Ángel Gálvez of High Risk Court “B” is overseeing the case. The case was turned over to Judge Gálvez after the original pre-trial judge in the case, Claudette Domínguez, was recused by the plaintiffs for lack of impartiality.
Cuxum Alvarado, 64, was deported to Guatemala in January after having been convicted for illegal reentry into the United States in December 2019. He was immediately arrested by authorities.
This indictment reopens the Maya Achi sexual violence case, which hit a major stumbling block last year when Judge Domínguez dismissed the charges against six men who had been arrested and charged in the case and ordered their release. The plaintiffs have challenged this ruling in court and hope to have it overturned. In the meantime, the case against Cuxum Alvarado will proceed to the evidentiary phase, currently scheduled to begin May 19.
The Case Against Cuxum Alvarado
In the first declaration hearing on February 5, Prosecutor Rosa Carolina López presented the charges against Cuxum Alvarado. She stated in 1981 he was a member of the civil defense patrol (PAC) of Xococ in the municipality of Rabinal, Baja Verapaz. The Xococ PAC was under the supervision and command of Military Zone No. 21 in Coban, Alta Verapaz, the same base from which the remains of 565 victims of the armed conflict have been exhumed and for which eight senior military officials are awaiting public trial, pending the resolution of several appeals (See Eight Military Officers to Stand Trial in the CREOMPAZ case.)
The prosecutor argued that PACs, under the command and control of the Guatemalan military, committed systematic violations of international human rights law and humanitarian law against the civilian population. Women detained on suspicion of collaborating with subversive organizations or because their husbands or other family members were considered “enemies of the state” were regularly subjected to individual and collective acts of sexual violence because of their gender.
According to López, in November 1981 Cuxum Alvarado, along with Simeon Enriquez Gomez and his brothers Pedro, Damian, and Gabriel Cuxum Alvarado, all of whom were members of both the Xococ PAC and the army, broke into the home of Margarita Alvarado Enriquez de Xitumul. In her testimony, Alvarado Enríquez noted that her husband had been forcibly disappeared and that the PAC members tried to tie her up after she went to them asking for information about his whereabouts. Cuxum Alvarado and the others came to her home a few days later. Using physical violence and threatening her with a firearm, they individually and collectively sexually assaulted Alvarado Enriquez, even after she told them she was three months pregnant. They also hit her in the stomach repeatedly.
The prosecutor noted that Alvarado Enriquez suffered a miscarriage as a result of this assault and continues to suffer psychological damage. She presented a recording of the 2018 pretrial hearings in which Alvarado Enriquez could be heard sobbing intermittently as she described the abuses. After her testimony, Judge Domínguez is heard aggressively interrogating Alvarado Enriquez, saying: “What is it that you are asking for?” Ms. Alvarado Enriquez answered, “Justice. And I want him to tell the truth about what happened: in 1981 they came to my house to rape me, first the PACs raped me, then the soldiers raped me.”
In the recordings presented by the Attorney General’s Office, Judge Domínguez’s lack of empathy for the victim-survivors was on full display. At one point she asked one of the victims: “Did the Attorney General’s Office pay you to come here to give your testimony?” Such behavior was cited by the victims in their motion to have Judge Domínguez recused from the case.
The Attorney General’s Office noted it would bring other evidence to support its case, including maps to clarify the sequence of events; reports about the role of the PACS in Rabinal between 1980 and 1985; documents regulating the actions of the PACS and their subordination to the Guatemalan army; official documents to confirm the identities of the victims and the accused; and several expert reports.
Lucia Xiloj, Haydee Valey, and Gloria Reyes of the Popular Law Firm of Rabinal, in representation of the victims, indicated their support for the prosecution’s indictment and highlighted the importance of the victims’ testimonies in this case.
Judge Gálvez invited the accused to make a statement, but Cuxum Alvarado said he did not understand what was happening and refused to speak.
Cuxum Alvarado’s defense lawyer claimed a case of mistaken identity, noting that there were at least three other individuals with a similar name. She said that there was no evidence to prove that her client was in Rabinal at the time of the alleged crimes and called on the court to dismiss the charges.
Judge Gálvez ruled that there was sufficient evidence to proceed to the evidentiary phase of the trial. In a subsequent hearing on February 7, Judge Gálvez rejected the defense’s request to allow the conditional release of the accused while the case against him proceeds, given that he had been fugitive from justice and was recently deported from the United States back to Guatemala.
The judge set May 6 as the deadline for submission of the final indictment and scheduled the start of the evidentiary hearings for May 19.
Two others wanted in the Maya Achi sexual violence case are still at large, including one of Cuxum Alvarado’s brother. Another of his brothers, Damian Cuxum Alvarado, was among the six released by Judge Domínguez last August.
Lucía Xiloj noted that Cuxum Alvarado has been accused in a number of other grave crimes cases, including the Rio Negro massacre. She also noted that last December, the Popular Law Firm of Rabinal presented an amicus curiae on behalf of the Maya Achi women to the First High Risk Court, which is charged with resolving the appeals of Judge Domínguez’s decision to dismiss the charges against six men who had been arrested in 2018 but were later released. The amicus curiae, which was prepared by a group of international women’s organization, including Women’s Link Worldwide and several Colombian groups, outlines the international standards that the court should consider in making its final determination.
Last December, the Maya Achi women also filed a complaint against Judge Domínguez for racial discrimination.
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.