Guatemala’s President Under the Lens

March 22, 2012

In 1992, Guatemalan rebel commander Efraín Bámaca Velásquez of the Revolutionary Organization of the Armed People (ORPA) was captured in a clash with the military and subjected to months of interrogation and torture before being disappeared. Although Guatemalan president Otto Pérez Molina has repeatedly denied any knowledge of Bámaca’s fate, there is extensive evidence that the Intelligence Directorate (D-2)—which Pérez Molina headed at the time—commanded Bámaca’s secret detention, controlled and monitored his torture, and chose when and how he was killed.

Bámaca’s widow, U.S. lawyer Jennifer Harbury, has fought for years to obtain information about her husband’s disappearance and has filed a series of criminal cases against the alleged perpetrators, including Pérez Molina. The evidence she has introduced against the president is culled from witness testimonies, Guatemalan army records, and declassified U.S. documents, including the following:

• A document signed by a group of unidentified Guatemalan military officers and given to the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala describing the presence of Pérez Molina at a meeting of 50 senior army officers on March 12, 1992, the day that Bámaca was captured. The meeting, which took place at the military base where Bámaca was taken after he was detained, was subsequently confirmed in confidential Guatemalan army telegrams submitted as evidence before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in 1998.

• A report from the CIA station in Guatemala dated March 18, 1992, revealing that the ORPA commander was captured in the department of Retalhuleu, alive and in good health. The army planned to hold him secretly to fully exploit the intelligence they would get from him.

• Accounts of former prisoners of the Guatemalan army, submitted to the United Nations, describing Bámaca’s secret detention and torture by intelligence officers acting under orders of the D-2.

• A declassified Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) cable dated November 3, 1994, on the capture, interrogation, torture, and “elimination” of Bámaca. According to the DIA’s source, intelligence specialists sought to move the guerrilla leader to the San Marcos military base for further interrogation, a request that was “approved by the Directorate of Intelligence (D-2) through the Military Intelligence Division (MI), which had responsibility for collecting intelligence on the different guerrilla organizations.”

• In 1995, after news reports identified one of Bámaca’s torturers to be a paid CIA asset inside the Guatemalan army named Colonel Julio Roberto Alpírez, President Bill Clinton ordered a government-wide review of records on U.S. intelligence operations in Guatemala. As a result of the review, the CIA Inspector General issued an extensive report into U.S. support for Guatemalan intelligence, including an examination of the known facts in the Bámaca case. The report cites five separate CIA and U.S. embassy documents confirming that the army moved Bámaca around the country in order to protect the interrogation, until he was transferred to a D-2 installation in Guatemala City. What happened to him after the D-2 took him away is still unknown, though U.S. intelligence documents are clear that he was killed.

Harbury is waging a fierce battle to persuade the Guatemalan Supreme Court to proceed with a case she filed in March 2011 accusing Pérez Molina of her husband’s forced disappearance. Although the Inter-American Court of Human Rights has forcefully ordered Guatemala to reopen investigations into Bámaca’s case, the Court has failed to act.



Kate Doyle is a senior analyst and director of the Guatemala Documentation Project at the National Security Archive. In May she will receive the ALBA/Puffin Foundation Award for Human Rights Activism.





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