El Periódico: “The graves that have been discovered in Cobán are part of a cemetery”

Via El Periódico, see original article in Spanish for photos and diagrams. See also ACOGUATE’s interview with Aura Elena Farfán, president of the human rights organization FAMDEGUA, which has coordinated the exhumations alongside the FAFG.

Officials responsible for the military base during the 1980s agree that the bones that have been uncovered belong to inhabitants of a village located inside the military zone.

Carolina Gamazo

The military officials at the head of various sections of Military Zone 21 in Cobán, Alta Verapaz, during the 1980s share the same version of what happened: the bones found here by the Guatemalan Forensic Anthropology Foundation (FAFG) are part of the cemetery of the village Cicoyou, a plantation located inside the base.

The skeletons that have been exhumed now number 316, according to the latest statistics from the FAFG, which has spent 5 months in the headquarters of the Regional Command for Peace-Keeping Operations Training (CREOMPAZ). The majority were found in common graves, with remnants of rope tied to their necks or ankles. Several were buried with tourniquets. In site number 5 (where 20 graves are yet to be exhumed) dismembered body parts were found.

According to testimony collected by the Human Rights Office of the Public Prosecutor’s Ministry, and and interview with [massacre survivor] Juan Osorio Chen, these skeletons belong to people accused of being guerrilla—or with supposed information implicating them—who were captured and transported to the base to obtain information. This task was directed by the Intelligence Section (S2) which worked inside the military zone.

I am not the Colonel, my name is Jorge…

El Periodico attempted to interview General Luis Felipe Miranda Trejo and Colonel César Augusto Cabrera Mejía, who according to declassified documents obtained by the National Security Archive (NSA), directed the Intelligence Section (S2) of the Cobán military base during 1982 and 1983.

Cabrera Mejía was at Military Zone 21 between 1982 and 1983, where he occupied the positions of Intelligence Officer (S2), Personnel (S1), and Logistics (S4). He was also chief of the General Staff of National Defense (1989-1990) and Director of Intelligence (D2) (1990-1991), and he passed through most of the country’s military bases.

Today, Cabrera directs the security company Grupo Elite, whose headquarters is located in Zone 5 [of Guatemala City]. A day prior to visiting in order to carry out an interview, the company’s secretary confirmed that the Colonel is at the office every day from 8 AM.

El Periódico arrived at 9 o’clock. “Is César Cabrera here? César Augusto Cabrera?” “Yes, he is coming downstairs now,” replied the secretary. Then she notified by telephone, “Colonel? They are waiting for you downstairs.” A man with glasses and silver hair descended the stairs. After ascending to his office, he was asked about the skeletons discovered in the Cobán military base.

The interviewee began to breathe deeply. “I am not that person”. “The secretary called you by your name, you came down to greet us”. He continued breathing in a nervous manner. “It’s not me… my name is Jorge”. “But it is true that the secretary called you Colonel and you came down to meet us”. “He is not here, so I met you.” “And what is your last name?” After several seconds of hesitation, he replied, “Sandoval”.

Upon leaving, he made all of the employees in the exit of the building come inside, while at the same time sending two security agents to follow the journalists to their vehicle. The following answer was given to future phone calls: “He is never here, he doesn’t come in often”. “May I speak with Mr. Sandoval?” “I don’t know who that is.”

“A too-sensitive topic”

One of the officers who agreed to talk was Edgar Justino Ovalle Maldonado, who served as Operations Officer (S3) in the Cobán military base during 3 months in 1983. Ovalle, a lawyer and currently the deputy secretary for the [political party] National Convergence Front (FCN), spoke via telephone, claiming that it was a topic that was “too sensitive” to agree to a personal interview.

“The FAFG has now exhumed 250 skeletons in the base…”. “As I understand they are the cemeteries of two villages: Cicoyouito I and Chicoyouito II”, replied Ovalle. “But the skeletons were found with rope, tourniquets”. “I don’t know anything about that. I think it would be best if the Defense Ministry addressed that. I have nothing to tell you in that respect. I was Operations Officer during three months, I was in charge of training and then I went to Venezuela,” he concluded.

“I stayed far away”

Coronel Arturo Guillermo De la Cruz Gelpke occupied the post of commander in charge of Military Zone 21 in 1978. “El Canche” De la Cruz was also Vice-Minister of Defense in 1988 and Congressional deputy for the National Advancement Party (PAN) from 1996 until 2004. De la Cruz spends his years of old age on a plantation in the capital of Alta Verapaz [Cobán].

“I would like to ask you about the skeletons found in the Cobán military base”. “They are from the cemetery of a village which is inside the zone”. “And how is it possible that they had their hands tied, tourniquets, rope around the neck?”. “Ahhh. I was not in contact with that because I stayed far away. No, I didn’t know”. “They found a grave with the remains of women and children from Rabinal”. “I didn’t know. No, no”.

“There will be blood”

Ricardo Méndez Ruiz Valdés was contacted to request an interview with his father, Colonel Ricardo Méndez Ruiz, who was commander of the base from 1978 until 1982. He indicated that his father would not talk, but added that he knew several officers who were under his command in Cobán, including General Luis Felipe Miranda Trejo, current President of the Military Veterans Association of Guatemala (AVEMILGUA). He added that he would ask if one of them was willing to speak about the topic.

Méndez Ruiz junior, who last November denounced members of the guerrilla for his kidnapping in 1982, reiterated that the skeletons that have been discovered were from the cemetery of the village Chicoyouito and stated that this was an ambush against the military, by the Public Prosecutor’s Ministry as well as the FAFG and media.

He called later to conclude that no one would talk. Méndez Ruiz requested that the theme be dropped, explaining that it is “dangerous ground”. “I told them the same thing that I told my papa. Don’t talk, don’t talk because it is ill-intentioned. Do me a favor, tell what I have said to you, my way of thinking, which is the thinking of the military veterans, I believe. There will be blood again in Guatemala, and you will see it coming, we are going to kill ourselves here,” concluded Méndez.

Rony Urízar, spokesperson for the Defense Ministry, reiterated that the Army cannot offer official statements regarding “a process of such magnitude”.

Individual burials

José Suasnávar, Executive Subdirector of the FAFG, rejected that the skeletons are part of a cemetery, He said that in cemeteries bodies are buried in individual graves “in a resting position. The body completely extended, placed on its back, legs extended, arms on the stomach, chest, or sides”. The bodies in the base were discovered in common graves, with signs of torture or immobility.

About cascadiasolidaria

Human rights and solidarity activist from Cascadia, North America, writing about issues of justice and security in Guatemala and Central America from a perspective of solidarity with human rights and social movements.
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One Response to El Periódico: “The graves that have been discovered in Cobán are part of a cemetery”

  1. Pingback: Guatemala News Update: June 9-13 | Guatemala Human Rights Updates

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