Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 237 | Abril 2001



Arduous Efforts for Institutionality

President Portillo’s attitudes undermine his credibility every day. And "hidden powers" in the country continue weighing in heavily. Nonetheless, people have not stopped resisting all this. They are still fighting for legality and institutionality.

Juan Hernández Pico, SJ

March was chock full of events that revealed the depth and seriousness of the crises of Guatemala’s political institutions and most important economic forces.

A chain of serious events

After six months, the Supreme Court of Justice finally ruled to strip 24 Guatemalan Republican Front (FRG) Congress members of their parliamentary immunity so that the Public Ministry can investigate their alleged crimes in the "Boozegate" scandal and the criminal courts can hear the case. Meanwhile, the Constitutional Court provisionally accepted an appeal against a newly reformed article of Congress’ internal regulations that rules out indictment as cause for the five accused legislators on Congress’ executive committee to give up their seats; it must now settle the issue. For their parts, the President and Vice President of the Republic asked Congress to stand by their indicted colleagues.
With greater transparency but uneven impartiality and wisdom, the new justices of the Constitutional Court were elected; they will sit for a five-year term. On another front, the Superintendence of Banks intervened in the Banco Promotor and Banco Metropolitano, whose largest stockholder is a friend of President Portillo’s who bankrolled his campaign, house and car. In what was likely a related event, the finance minister resigned and will be replaced by the current minister of the economy.

The justice of the peace in the community of Senahú, Alta Verapaz, was lynched; women are still being killed and banks and armored vehicles are still being assaulted all over the country. Presumably in response, the third director of the National Civil Police in the 14 months that Portillo has been in office resigned his post. Finally, after intimidation and attacks on judges in various courts, the oral arguments began in the trial on the assassination of Bishop Juan Gerardi. envío will be covering the events of this trial in detail in future issues.

Supreme Court’s historic decision

Following an 11-hour debate on March 5, the Supreme Court of Justice voted 12 to 1 to support the indictment of 24 congressional representatives from the ruling FRG, including retired General Efraín Ríos Montt, who heads both the Congress and the party. The nay-voting justice had been elected recently by Congress to cover a vacancy and is presumed to have FRG sympathies. This decision, which was announced to the waiting press at around midnight, concludes the first chapter of the crisis known as "Boozegate," unleashed by the clandestine altering of the tax law on alcoholic beverages last year.

During the morning of the debate, groups from the Citizen’s Movement organized a sit-in on the steps of the court building. It was the first time that several opposition legislators had been seen joining a civic act of this kind, and indicated the degree to which discussion is muzzled in the parliament. A huge cardboard turtle symbolizing the speed of justice was offered to a court official who in the name of the justices asked the demonstrators to lower the volume of their music. In the afternoon, the debate continued undisturbed.
It was leaked that the issue impeding a rapid conclusion was whether to include the powerful Ríos Montt in the indictment. There was no question regarding the other 23 legislators since their signatures were on the amendment to modify the law, which was never submitted to a plenary vote in Congress. General Ríos Montt had opened the session the day the law was passed in its original form, then withdrew ten minutes later and did not return the rest of the day; the approved law was altered that same night. The justice who voted against the majority resolution argued that there was no proof that the general had knowledge of, participated in, influenced or was in any other way linked to the commission of the crime. In the end, the Supreme Court included him because, as president of Congress, he signed the distorted law that was published in the official gazette.
It was not that court’s task to decide the culpability of the indicted, only to investigate the circumstances in which the alleged crimes were committed and the legislators’ possible participation. Now that they have been stripped of their immunity, the Congress members will be tried for the crimes of material falsification (2-6 years in prison), ideological falsification (2-6), violating the Constitution (3-10), abuse of authority (1-3), failure to fulfill duties (1-3) and concealing and destroying evidence (1-3). The sentences could be consecutive, which would give a total of 10-31 years in prison, but they are all also subject to parole. The 24 legislators, up to that fateful day "citizens beyond all suspicion," were suddenly defined as "honorable suspects."

If they had any ethics…

This whole issue could have been dealt with much faster and easier had these members of Congress had the ethical responsibility and honor that is supposed to be a requisite for representing the people in parliament. It would have sufficed for them to provisionally withdraw from Congress, leaving their seats to their alternates and requesting that the process move ahead with all deliberate speed. And if they knew that what they did could not be legally defended and were aware that they had abused their authority, they should have resigned in full, leaving their seats permanently to their alternatives. Among numerous legislators and ministers of state who have done that in the oldest Western democracies and Japan, one example is former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, reelected numerous times by the people, who resigned when it was discovered that he had illegally rerouted funds into his party’s election campaign chest. In Latin America, Venezuelan President Carlos Andrés Pérez, Brazil’s Fernando Color de Mello and Peru’s Alberto Fujimori all had to do it, although they first disrupted their countries by obstinately and irresponsibly clinging to their posts even after strongly founded suspicions emerged.

The Guatemalan legislators suspected of crime do not appear bent by the weight of ethical responsibility. Ríos Montt already announced months ago that he was not going to repeat the Quixotic move of abandoning his post, as he did when accused in 1994. Now, following the Supreme Court decision, he stated that, as a legislative body, "we are very pleased" by the resolution, because it highlighted two issues: independence of the branches of state and strengthening of democracy. "If we lied, if we committed an abuse and an imprudence, we will have to go to jail," he declared, then immediately added, in answer to a question: "Why do you say that I am implicated? They implicated me, but I’m not implicated; those are two different things."
This posture of "respect for the law" was undercut a long time ago, ever since 1973 when, as head of the Joint Chiefs, Ríos Montt forcefully repressed a rebellion by the indigenous community of Santa María, Jalapa, over land problems, with no dialogue whatever. He did nothing to restore his image by accepting an ambassadorial post in 1974 from the same government that fraudulently unseated him after his electoral victory. Then there was the 1982-83 period, when he became de facto head of state following a coup, and set up tribunals with special powers in which, against all law, the prisoners could not see those judging them. At that same time, he co-governed with the "bullets and beans" strategy—which many believe he helped design—involving the brutal massacre of defenseless civilian communities whose only "crime," as has been repeatedly proven, was to live in an area in which the guerrilla army moved.
A person’s background normally plays a role in judging that person’s alleged participation in a crime. A man whose concept of legality could even accept, much less possibly order the cold-blooded and oftentimes terrifyingly cruel murder of so many Guatemalans would think nothing of lending his signature to the alteration of a tax law made by representatives from his party.

It was just a "mistake" and they’re "politicizing" the case

Leonel Soto Arango, vice president of Congress at the time the law was altered and now spokesperson-secretary of its executive committee, complained to the press the day after the Supreme Court decision that one newspaper had abused freedom of expression by publishing 35 front-page articles on the case, thus converting it from "a judicial to a political" case. "Why is that an abuse?" shot back the journalist, to which Soto Arango responded, "It has scaled up a problem that is not of national importance and does not affect national interests. It makes us believe that there is some group interested in creating a political problem when it was nothing more than a mistake." His answer made the lack of ethical sensitivity in the exercise of power patently clear. In a country overwhelmed by corruption and impunity, this legislator believes that altering a law under cover of night and then, instead of submitting its modification to the others who had voted on it earlier that same day, sending it straight off to the official gazette is only a "mistake."
The honorable representative went on to deny that there had even been any alteration, then said, "In any case, neither the state nor the citizenry was affected by honoring what was discussed in the Fiscal Pact." With these words, he got to one of the core points of the issue: in the discussions over actions to follow up on the Fiscal Pact, the monopoly beer and liquor producers made their pressure felt to modify the law. In "gross" terms, the law’s alteration would have reduced tax collection on these products by over US$12 million. In most "advanced" countries, some of the highest taxes are those applied to liquor and tobacco.
The legislators involved in this scandal may soon have to face trial, depending on whether the Public Ministry impartially and rapidly investigates the circumstances in which the alleged crimes were committed. It has already named a special prosecutor, and the judge who will head up the process has already been picked electronically, without the Supreme Court’s intervention. The elected judge declared that his court has the capacity to handle the process and will not accept any kind of pressure.

A strange and unconstitutional visit

Faced with the imminent probability of a Supreme Court decision opposing its defense, the FRG bench began to legislate with casuistic reasoning in favor of its leaders in Congress. It had earlier agreed with the other benches on the need to fully rewrite the law regulating the congressional system, but on February 27 it introduced an amendment to that law eliminating indictment as cause for having to vacate a congressional directorate post. The obvious objective was to protect the five accused deputies currently on the board, including Ríos Montt. The opposition fought for 10 hours to postpone the vote, in hopes that the Court would announce its decision to uphold the indictment first. Finally the FRG majority imposed the vote and pushed the amendment through. When the court decision came a week later, the accused clung to their posts "legally" despite the clamor from many civil society organizations and figures that they resign. The Constitutional Court had to hear the case following a complex legal battle.

In the midst of this crisis, an unexpected event occurred on March 22. The police surrounded the Congress building, prohibiting entry to anyone other than administrative or legislative personnel. Board spokesperson Soto Arango reported that the goal was to avoid the occupation of Congress and protect it for a presidential visit. The Citizen’s Movement thus could not deliver its requesting the resignation of the board members "sheltered by the amendment." At midday the President and Vice President of the Republic arrived at the Congress and called a press conference together with Ríos Montt. The latter opened the congressional session saying once again, "We are not violating any law. We are subject to the provisions of Congress’ Internal Law and are acting in accord with the constitutional rule of law." He did not speak again during the conference.

"My visit here," said President Portillo, "is to show my solidarity to the president of Congress, the executive committee and the representatives of our party’s bench for what they are going through…. We have nothing to get alarmed about. What we are seeing is nothing other than the consolidation of the rule of law and of democracy." Portillo’s visit and his words signaled the lack of independence of the branches of state and constituted a public break with the Constitutional Court. They also contradicted the Constitution itself, which forbids the President and Vice President from favoring any specific political party. When asked if his visit violated the Constitution or not, Portillo responded, "Let the courts decide, not me."
The President’s visit to Congress muddled things even more and was a self-inflicted wound to the already shaky credibility of both Portillo and his Vice President. On March 23, Concepción Mazariegos, the president of the Constitutional Court, was attacked in her own home and shot several times despite the security measures in the condominium where she lives. President Portillo was in Mexico at the time, visiting his oldest daughter, and did not return immediately. Shockingly, he did not send his Vice President to pay a solidarity visit to the head of the court, but simply his spokesperson. Those who attacked Mazariegos’ residence evidently did so to intimidate her, assuming that the executive’s solidarity visit to Congress’ president and board members had made clear what side they were on. In the violently symbolic language of bullets, they were only underscoring the partiality, taking advantage of the confusion in the country introduced by a governing clique riddled with imprudence at the highest levels.

Constitutional Court’s good record

The attack on the Constitutional Court’s outgoing president highlighted what was at stake in the election of its new bench. Any analysis of the court’s actions over these past ten years of democratic transition makes it easy to conclude that this supreme institution of the rule of law in Guatemala has become increasingly important.

The Supreme Electoral Tribunal, the Office of Human Rights Ombudsperson and the Constitutional Court were the state institutions that dared to stand up against the "Serranazo"—the aborted self-coup attempt of President Serrano in May 1993, which appeared to have the army’s blessings. In an unprecedented show of independence, the Constitutional Court refused to accept Serrano’s decree to suspend it and instead took the initiative to declare all his actions unconstitutional and annul them, and even declare that he had forfeited the right to his post. Admittedly, the context for all of this was the unequivocal and extremely effective rejection of the coup attempt by the United States and the rest of the international community. This does not diminish the court’s valor, however, above all when contrasted with the Supreme Court, which accepted its own dissolution and permitted the inauguration of a new court full of Serrano appointees, while its deposed president felt compelled to leave the country.

Election of new justices

The Pro-Justice Movement, headed by Helen Mack, Ana María de Klein, Eleonora Muralles and others, wanted the candidates for the new Constitutional Court to be made public before the election so that civil society could support those with the greatest honor, professionalism and political impartiality and lobby against the more doubtful ones. It also wanted to ensure that the whole process would be institutionally transparent, to help dissipate any shadow of corruption. The fear was that the government and the FRG wanted a partisan court precisely so it would stop exercising the important control over the state for which it is responsible.
It took all of March to elect the members of the new court since each of its five members and respective alternate was chosen by a different institution. First to register its vote was the Assembly of Guatemala’s College of Lawyers and Notaries. Their choice was Deputy Ombudsman General Juan Francisco Flores, who was also dean of the National University of San Carlos’ Law School. As his alternate they opted for Carlos Enrique Luna, who had worked in the Supreme Electoral Tribunal and the Property Registry and had been dean of Landívar University Law School. The Pro-Justice Movement was pleased to see that Enrique Franco, a loyal FRG partisan, had lost despite a strong vote-getting campaign.

Next came the High Council of the University of San Carlos, whose choice of Cipriano Soto Tobar, in contrast, was a blow to the Pro-Justice Movement. Former dean of the USAC Law School and currently director of its law office, Soto Tobar had been charged with selling exams and social service certificates, but evidence has been hard to come by since no one wants to step forward to provide their own ill-gotten degree.

Next in line was the Supreme Court of Justice. Again to the satisfaction of the Pro-Justice Movement, diplomat Rodolfo Rohrman won by 9 votes to 4 and his alternate, former Minister of Government Carlos Reynos, won by 8 to 5.

Then came the Congress, that is to say the FRG and the three parties that support it with their one representative each—including Social Christian Vinicio Cerezo, Guatemala’s first civilian President to preside over the "democratic transition." The majority opposition bloc (PAN, Unionists, Alvaro Colóm’s National Unity of Hope and the leftwing ANN coalition) did not participate in the election to signal their rejection of the indicted executive committee members’ refusal to resign. The majority bloc elected Nery Dighero, the little-known judge of a small civilian court, with Francisco Palomo, one of the lawyers defending the 24 FRG legislators, as alternate.
Finally, President Portillo himself, after consulting his ministers, elected former judge Guillermo Ruiz Wong, who had served as minister of government for the first seven months of Portillo’s term. As his alternate, Portillo tapped Romeo Alvarado Polanco, former USAC dean of Law and a justice of the Supreme Court at the time it caved in to Serrano’s self-coup.
Some simple arithmetic, which of course cannot tell everything, suggests that two of the full justices could be relatively more independent (Rohrmoser and Flores) and three less so (Soto, Ruiz and Dighero). Among the alternates, the equation could be reversed, with three more independent (Luna, Melgar and Reynoso) and two less so (Palomo and Alvarado). Palomo has stated that he will excuse himself from hearing the cases in which the FRG is involved.
The Pro-Justice Movement feels satisfied at having achieved its objectives of putting the spotlight on the candidates, presenting their curricula vitae and demanding transparency in the election. At the same time, despite putting up a good fight, it obviously did not see the victory it wanted in the justices elected. It does not consider its efforts wasted, however, and sees its future role as continuing to monitor the institutions, particularly the Constitutional Court.

The "twin banks" of the President’s friend

Almost as important as the legal and judicial events surrounding Congress and the judicial branch was the intervention in March of the Banco Promotor and the Banco Metropolitano, called "twin banks" because the majority stockholder in both is Francisco Alvarado MacDonald, President Portillo’s friend and financier. Apparently these banks had been experiencing similar problems to those that led to their intervention in 1998, during the government of Alvaro Arzú. Letting them continue to spend state money, which is really taxpayers’ money, has only allowed the problem to gain quite sizable dimensions for a budget and international reserves fund as small as Guatemala’s.
The state’s Banco de Guatemala (Banguat) had loaned the twin banks some $30 million between February 1999 and January 2000, and $55 million more just between January and March of that year. At the same time, various state institutions deposited nearly $10 million in the two floundering banks since January of last year and the vice minister of the treasury illegally contracted two trust funds worth $25 million with them (only the minister is empowered to enter into such a contract). Among the deposits were $18 million by President Portillo himself, as well as sums from the Public Ministry, the Guatemalan Social Security Institute, the Social Investment Fund, the Superintendence of Tax Administration and even the Institute of Municipal Promotion. Despite so much evidence, the comptrollers of the financial system still waited a full year before deciding on the intervention.

"A bill had to be paid"

According to the newspaper Siglo XXI, Comptroller of the Republic Marco Tulio Abadío stated that the delay in intervening was because "a bill had to be paid." Might he have been referring to Alvarado MacDonald’s disbursements for Portillo’s electoral campaign? The comptroller also said that it was no great problem that the President invested in the two banks, that it was all a senseless political scandal and that no one would have said anything if he had invested in the Banco Industrial or Granai & Townson, for example. The only tiny differences were that the owners of these banks are not friends of President Portillo and their banks are experiencing no problems of any kind.

The Monetary Board defined the causes that triggered the decision to intervene in the twin banks as "grave administrative and financial irregularities." The most important problem seems to be that Alvarado MacDonald loaned the funds that the Banco de Guatemala provided to prop up his mismanaged banks to other businesses of his. In the process, he cut some fat deals for himself, among them the purchase of several Mercedes Benz vehicle and parts import and distribution companies. The interveners are accusing him of "a swindle via accounting information." The two banks exceeded their limits with what are called "overdrafts," huge-volume loans without secure guarantees, but repayment periods sometimes as short as only 24 hours. They also went overboard with "linked" loans, those made to their own stockholders or their businesses. As a consequence, both banks watched their portfolios collapse, forcing them to renegotiate, prorate and refinance the same credits again and again, thus throwing away their own profits. The final straw was that they repeatedly fell short of the reserves legally required to be deposited with Banguat.
The president of both Banguat and the Monetary Board, who ordered the intervention based on the report of the Superintendence of Banks, clarified various points in a press interview. First, he said that he had reported the decision to intervene to President Portillo, who respected the Monetary Board’s independence. He also revealed that the banks had endangered the stability of the state-run National Mortgage Credit Company, which had "bailed them out" with $20 million only days before the intervention, and that they never complied with the restructuring programs Banguat imposed as a condition for its aid loans. He further confirmed press information, particularly an investigation by Siglo XXI, documenting that 90% of their loan portfolio was linked, "which means that the public’s resources and the $10 million that the state put into these entities were loaned to their own administrators and shareholders."

A very costly bailout

The Monetary Board’s solution has been very controversial. Many people say that the intervention is, at bottom, a prize to the scheming bankers, that it would have been far better to defend the account-holders over the course of the bankruptcy. Others, including experts such as economist Pablo Rodas, stressed the effect this pseudo-financed intervention will have on the inflation rate, since the $115 million the state injected to rescue the banks right as they were intervened so they could respond to the account-holders is un-backed money. In addition, Banguat lost its capacity to manage the exchange rate, monetary and credit policies. "It would have been healthier had the money come from taxes," which is at least real money.
The Public Ministry had moved quickly in the earlier intervention of the Banco Empresarial, two of whose owners or directors are now in prison. In the twin banks case, the only legal disposition so far is an order to prevent those who could possibly be accused from leaving the country. Among them are Alvarado MacDonald, his two sons (both officials in the presidential offices), his brother and Rodolfo Neutze Aycinena, a man whose family surnames are very well known in Guatemala and El Salvador.
Prensa Libre reported that the Banguat president and the Superintendent of Banks had met in the Presidential House on March 1 with Francisco Alvarado MacDonald and his two sons; the son of Guatemala’s Vice President, who represents Congress on the Monetary Fund; and the ministers of finance and the economy. The aim was to find a way out of the banking crisis and the conclusion was that the intervention was inevitable. The next day, immediately following the intervention, President Portillo declared that they were all "clean-up actions." It became evident yet again that the media in Guatemala are doing notable investigative journalism work, making it difficult to lie to the public.

"The gap between rich and poor is obscene"

Following the March 1 meeting, Finance Minister Manuel Maza Castellanos presented his resignation and was quickly replaced by Minister of the Economy Eduardo Weymann. Maza, a public official since the times of Ríos Montt, has been linked to retired generals such as Callejas, who exercised proverbial domain of very questionable honesty over Guatemala’s customs system. It would surprise no one if he were to be found among the "hidden powers" that really run Guatemala if a real in-depth investigation could be carried out. It is also quite likely that he has been responsible for the poor official handling of the Fiscal Pact, together with the decisions or at least suggestions to place state funds in the twin banks. It is evident that their intervention undermined his power.
Eduardo Weymann is a respected economist who has been credited with the best efforts of President Portillo’s fight against the monopolies, although regrettably they have not been carried through to their conclusion. Interviewed by Siglo XXI about the reduction of import duties hours before he took over the Ministry of Finance, Weymann said his objective was "to force the monopolies and oligopolies to compete." He expressed his conviction that he had "a popular mandate," adding that "people are tired of the monopolies that have made the state their servant and have weakened it." He noted that "the ministry is 56 years old, and 51 ministers have passed through it, because when there was a fight among economic powers, the minister was always the one asked to take the fall." And this was how he characterized current reality and his own goals: "Previously, ministers went to the businesses leaders’ offices to see what they were doing; today they come to us to ask how to adjust to our decisions. We aren’t at the service of anybody." He indicated that he had no evidence to accuse the business sector of being behind the rumors of a coup that have circulated in recent months, but he does not discard the idea because "it is logical in an anti-competitive and anti-taxpaying country." Finally, he insisted that consumers must be protected. "Income distribution," he added, "is a very pointed pyramid in Guatemala and the gap between rich and poor is grotesque, obscene, I would say. An oligarchy exists here that has turned this country into something worse than a farm." These are very unusual words for a minister in Guatemala.

A new alliance movement

The shaking up of President Portillo’s Cabinet would not necessarily be a bad thing for his team if only he would decide to govern without owing anything to anyone other than the Guatemalan people. Meanwhile, an alliance is being born of the Citizens’ Movement, human rights and other grassroots groups, the business umbrella organization CACIF and opposition legislators in Congress.
The prime objective is to get the FRG bench in Congress to submit to the law and admit the need to discuss its positions with others. The alliance’s goals and actions recall those of the national consensus body that took shape during the "Serranazo," but did not form a lasting organization, partly because CACIF lost interest in it. It is important to keep in mind that the spark that ignited the crisis around the alteration of the Alcoholic Beverages Law was that the monopolies demanded lower taxes on beer and liquors and CACIF threatened to pull out of discussions on the Fiscal Pact. This position should not mean excluding businesspeople from the new alliance and dialogue, but it showed mean taking things seriously, being aware of differences and being willing to negotiate without illusions but with clearly articulated priorities so that in the end the participants don’t just end up negotiating about nothing.

Oral arguments begin in the Gerardi assassination case

The oral arguments in the trial regarding the assassination of Bishop Juan Gerardi finally began on March 23. Priest Mario Orantes is accused of murder and retired Colonel Byron Disraeli Lima Estrada, director of Military Intelligence in the eighties, is accused of extra-judicial execution, together with his son, Captain Byron Miguel Lima Oliva of the Presidential High Command, and military specialist Obdulio Villanueva, President Arzú’s former bodyguard. The bishop’s cook, Margarita López, is accused of covering up the crime.

Various judges assigned to this case have resigned after receiving threats. Prosecuting attorney Ardón was so criticized for his partiality in not wanting to investigate political motives for the crime that he too had to resign. His successor, Galindo, made a lot of progress in looking into the political motives, but ended up having to go into exile following threats against his life.
Six of the beggars who slept in the San Sebastián Park across from Gerardi’s home, where the crime was committed, have been killed. A seventh, key witness Rubén Chanax Chontay, went into exile in the United States after leaving his declaration as advance evidence.

Various courts have had to hear claims for protection, rejections of judges and prosecuting attorneys and another series of procedures that often were only attempts to drag out the process, which the courts have rejected as "frivolous and impertinent."
In an interview that appeared in the March 11 issue of El Periódico, Lima Oliva declared that he would do everything possible to keep the oral arguments from coinciding with the third anniversary of Monsignor Gerardi’s assassination, on April 26. It seems that it will be inevitable, because there is little likelihood that they could wrap up before May. Lima Oliva let it be known that he believes himself to be a scapegoat and at times seemed to be quite clearly blaming the Army for it.

Intimidation, threats and resistance

Three judges sit on the Third Sentencing Court: Amanda Guzmán, Iris Jazmín Barrios and court president Eduardo Cojulún. Judge Barrios’ curriculum includes sentencing five members of a kidnapping ring to death for kidnapping and murder, giving prison terms to high-level officials in Ramiro de León’s government for murdering a university student, and handling the case against three top military officers accused of masterminding the assassination of Myrna Mack. The night of March 19, two athletic youths with shaved heads broke into the garden of her house, but fled when a police radio-patrol car cruised by her house. Two evenings later, at dinnertime, someone threw two grenades into her backyard, terrifying her family. "I am indignant because these intimidating measures continue to be used in Guatemala when all they do is push us back into a culture of violence," said Barrios, who confirmed that she will stay on the Gerardi case as long as the authorities can guarantee her physical safety and that of her family. For his part, Judge Cojulún received an anonymous note saying: "I told the Lord: I will return and take you with me so you can be where I am." Prosecutor Leopoldo Zeissig has also received numerous death threats. The Association of Judges and Magistrates suspended its labors, trials included, for 20 minutes on March 23 and its members dressed in mourning in solidarity with their threatened colleagues.
Over a hundred people have been called as witnesses in the trial. They include former President Arzú, former Defense Minister Espinoza, Arzú’s Presidential High Command chief General Rudy Pozuelos, Myrna Mack’s sister Helen, former chancellor of the archiepiscopal curia Monsignor Efraín Hernández and his niece Lucía Escobar—the latter two accused by the military prisoners of having participated in the crime.

The weight of a legacy

Respected Guatemalan sociologist Edelberto Torres Rivas correctly completed the analysis of the chain of critical events in March when he said that "people’s common sense leads them to believe that all the situations that have unfolded in recent days are part of a single problem—President Portillo’s bad government—but in reality some problems are inherited." What part is legacy, and how much weight does it still exert? "Recent governments come from very conservative sectors, with a limited vision, and that is why democracy isn’t making any progress."

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