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Rigoberta Menchu: Guatemalan Court Ruling on Crimes Against Humanity a 'Historic Event'

Former police head sentenced to 90 years in prison for murder, crimes against humanity during Guatemala's decades-long civil war.

A man holds a sign during a 2008 protest in Guatemala demanding justice for genocide.  Among the men whose faces appear on the sign is Pedro Garcia Arredondo.  (Photo: surizar/flickr/cc)

In a decision human rights activists are welcoming as a victory for justice, a former police chief was sentenced Monday to 90 years in prison for murder and crimes against humanity during Guatemala's decades-long civil war.

In 1980 a group of students and indigenous people occupied the Spanish embassy in Guatemala City to protest their government's brutal actions. A fire broke out in the embassy, and, BBC continues:

[a]ccording to the court, [Pedro] Garcia Arredondo ordered police to seal the embassy and prevent anyone from leaving.

Speaking in court, one witness said Garcia Arredondo had told his men: "No one gets out of there alive!". [...]

The only ones to survive were the Spanish ambassador and activist Gregorio Yuja.

Mr Yuja was abducted from the hospital where he was being treated for burns sustained during the raid and tortured to death.

For his role in the embassy attack, which left 37 people dead, Garcia Arredondo was sentenced to 40 years.

The three-judge tribunal also sentenced him to 50 years for the murder of two students at a mass funeral for the victims of the embassy attack.


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Agence France-Presse reports that protesters outside the court yelled, "Murderer, murderer!"

"It has taken three and a half decades, but justice has finally caught up with Pedro García Arredondo for the Spanish embassy attack," Erika Guevara Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International, said in a media statement. "But these killings are just one example of the many committed by the Guatemalan authorities during the country’s protracted civil war."

"This is a victory for the victims and shows again that Guatemala’s justice system is—when there is no political interference—fully capable of prosecuting the worst human rights violations from the country’s dark past," she stated.

Speaking to Democracy Now! Tuesday, Rigoberta Menchu, whose father was one of the victims of the embassy massacre, called the ruling "a historic event."

"This trial and verdict are huge. We waited 16 years for this verdict to be handed down. The trial went on for 16 years. And this verdict has been issued 36 years after the event itself. So we are deeply moved, and this is a very special moment in our history," she said.

García Arredondo was also sentenced in 2012 to 70 years in prison for his role in the disappearance and torture of university student Enrique Sáenz Calito.

The U.S. role in atrocities committed in the Central American country has been well documented. As the Washington Post reported in 1999: "During the 1960s, the United States was intimately involved in equipping and training Guatemalan security forces that murdered thousands of civilians in the nation's civil war, according to newly declassified U.S. intelligence documents. The documents show, moreover, that the CIA retained close ties to the Guatemalan army in the 1980s, when the army and its paramilitary allies were massacring Indian villagers, and that U.S. officials were aware of the killings at the time."

And as the watchdog organization School of the Americas Watch has noted: "The SOA [currently called the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation], now located at Ft. Benning, GA, played a key role in the training of Guatemalan military personnel and the military intelligence apparatus that orchestrated the genocide campaign against Guatemala’s Mayan civilian population. This “Scorched Earth” policy of kidnappings, torture and murder left 200,000 dead during Guatemala’s 36 year civil war."

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