Judge Miguel Ángel Gálvez of High Risk Court “B” has determined that there is sufficient evidence to initiate a criminal trial against Francisco Cuxum Alvarado, who is accused of crimes against humanity and aggravated sexual assault against Maya Achi women in Rabin in 1981.
According to the Attorney General’s Office, during 1981 the accused was a member of the Civil Defense Patrols (PACs) in the municipality of Rabinal, Baja Verapaz, and was one of several PAC members who engaged in systematic sexual violence against Maya Achi women.
In January, the United States deported Francisco Cuxum Alvarado after his conviction in a U.S. federal court for illegal reentry. He was immediately arrested upon arrival in Guatemala.
International Justice Monitor (IJM) broke the story in October 2019 that, during proceedings in the United States, Cuxum Alvarado admitted to being a member of the Rabinal civil defense patrol (PAC) in 1981. This is critical since his defense attorney has repeatedly claimed that the plaintiffs have failed to demonstrate that Cuxum Alvarado participated in the PAC. Last year, a judge dismissed charges against Cuxum Alvarado’s brother and five other men in the case based on the argument that the plaintiffs had not demonstrated that they were members of the PACs.
During the evidentiary phase hearing held on October 1, the Attorney General’s Office presented its formal accusation against Cuxum Alvarado. Among the evidence presented was the testimony of several women survivors of sexual violence who identify Cuxum Alvarado as one of the perpetrators. Several witnesses who were detained, interrogated and tortured in the Rabinal military detachment also identified him as an active member of the PACs in 1981.
Judge Galvéz’s decision ordering Cuxum Alvarado to trial, delivered in court on October 7, included a detailed history based on the evidence presented by the plaintiffs. This included evidence regarding the creation and operation of the PAC, the nature of the internal armed conflict, and the army’s counterinsurgency strategy, which classified civilian populations as an “internal enemy” and systematically deployed sexual violence against women. Gálvez also read fragments of survivor testimonies and documents presented by the plaintiffs to support his decision to send Cuxum Alvarado to trial.
The judge ruled that the Prosecutor General’s Office (PGN), which is charged with representing the interests of the Guatemalan state in judicial proceedings, rather than individuals who are or were at one time government functionaries, will continue as an accused party in the case. He stated the defendant was a member of the PACs, which were under the responsibility of the Guatemalan Army at the time, making the state potentially liable.
Judge Galvéz stated that the crime of sexual violence is a grave one, even more so when it is committed by members of state institutions. Such crimes are especially difficult to prosecute, he noted, “since many women remain silent in the face of abuses, and when some decide to testify in court, it may bring negative consequences for their families and their communities.”
Judge Galvéz granted the request by the surviving women victims to be considered civil parties (querellantes adhesivos) in the proceedings. On October 13, Judge Gálvez convened another hearing to rule on a defense request for house arrest. The judge denied the request, ordering that Cuxum Alvarado should remain in state custody during the course of the judicial proceedings.
It will be up to the trial court to establish a date for the start of the trial.
Haydeé Valey, a Mayan lawyer who represents the women survivors, told IJ Monitor that she was satisfied with Judge Gálvez’s ruling, “This resolution represents hope that there will be justice for the Maya Achi women who were victims of sexual violence,” she said.
“The Maya Achi women have traveled a long road in their pursuit of justice,” Valey continued. “It has been almost ten years since they filed their complaint before the Attorney General’s Office in Rabinal. The fact that their case is now going to trial opens the possibility for all of Guatemala to understand the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war, mainly against indigenous women. This is an important step for women.”
The National Platform of Organizations of Victims of the Internal Armed Conflict issued a statement of support for the women survivors and applauded the legal decision to move the case to the trial stage.
Other Men Accused of Sexual Violence Against the Maya Achi Women Remain Free
As IJ Monitor reported, six men accused of being members of the PACs and who were arrested for similar charges against the Maya Achi women were freed in 2019 after Judge Claudette Domínguez dismissed the charges against them. The plaintiffs have appealed this decision, but no decision has been made as of this writing.
The plaintiffs successfully recused Domínguez from the case for prejudicial statements during evidentiary hearings and because of concern that she might have an interest in the outcome of the case because her sister is an active-duty military physician. As a result, Judge Gálvez was assigned to the case. If the appeal is successful, he would have the power to issue arrest warrants and determine whether the six men should face trial. An additional two men wanted in this case, including a second brother of Cuxum Alvarado, remain at large.
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.