Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 256 | Noviembre 2002



The Myrna Mack Case: An Historic Verdict

On October 3, one of the officers who planned the 1990 assassination of Guatemalan anthropologist Myrna Mack was sentenced to thirty years in prison. For twelve long years, her sister Helen has tenaciously fought for justice and against impunity in this case. What follows is Helen’s powerful testimony during the court trial and her post-verdict commentary. It is preceded by some basic information on the case prepared by the Myrna Mack Foundation.

Helen Mack

Myrna Elizabeth Mack Chang was assassinated on September 11, 1990. She had just left her office at the Association for the Advance of Social Sciences in Guatemala (AVANCSO) when she was attacked and stabbed 27 times by an army special operations officer, Sergeant Major Noel de Jesús Beteta.

Beteta immediately was whisked into hiding then illegally entered the United States. In Guatemala, police investigator José Miguel Mérida Escobar began the work of identifying the motive and the people responsible for the crime, while Myrna Mack’s family began the long search for justice.

It took twelve years, but the three military officers accused of planning and ordering this crime committed as part of the state’s genocidal counterinsurgency campaign were finally tried in Guatemala. Both the trial and the final verdict set important precedents: these are the highest-ranking military officers ever tried in the country and also the first to be tried for masterminding rather than physically committing a crime. Another very important point is that they were held in a civilian jail and tried in a civilian court, despite their numerous efforts to get the case moved to a military court.

After years of systematic efforts to block progress in the case, the trial’s paradigmatic nature was consolidated. Indeed, the case put Guatemala’s justice system to the test throughout the course of the trials against Beteta, who was convicted in 1993, and against the three military officers, teaching us all many important lessons.
The case revealed the clear characteristics of a political crime and a profound human rights violation. It unmasked the workings of counterinsurgency power, the multiple mechanisms that have allowed impunity and the weaknesses and shortcomings in the judicial system. At the same time, however, it taught us ways to confront the problems in the justice system, define basic principles in the fight against impunity and ensure that justice prevails.

Helen Mack’s testimony before the court *

“For twelve years I have clamored for justice in the name of my sister Myrna, her daughter Lucrecia and my family. Today, before this honorable court, I am speaking in her name. I am also speaking in the name of hundreds of thousands of displaced people and refugees and of the many thousands of Guatemalans who, like Myrna, were unjustly hunted, tortured, disappeared and assassinated.

That terrible night of September 11, 1990, marked our lives. We lost the physical presence of a human being deeply beloved by her family and friends. I lost a friend and a sister. Lucrecia lost her mother and has felt the weight of that absence ever since. Myrna’s grandchildren lost the possibility of enjoying their grandmother’s caresses, my father lost his health and my mother has gone through unspeakable suffering.

Myrna was not allowed to continue enjoying this friendship and this love. She was denied the right to live, to continue working and contributing to this country. Guatemala lost a social scientist who exercised her profession with a deep sense of responsibility and ethical convictions. Throughout these many years, I have often asked myself how many more studies she could have carried out as a basis for proposals and recommendations that would have helped improve the country’s situation. She was 40 when she was murdered. As several witnesses have attested, my sister had a deeply social, Christian, humanistic sensibility and a strong sense of responsibility and solidarity; her only desire was to help others. As they have also attested, she was a recognized anthropologist and her dream was to contribute her academic and scientific knowledge to make Guatemala a better country, a worthy home for all Guatemalans. This trial has demonstrated that, in the minds of some people, this was her crime.

I wish Myrna had had the opportunity of a trial like this, with the right to defense, to be presumed innocent, to have the accusations against her proven. Instead, she became the victim of a special intelligence operation, an illegal clandestine activity carried out by the Presidential Security Division of the Presidential General Staff. In place of a fair trial, she was stabbed 27 times in vital parts of her body. We never imagined that this criminal assault, committed under the shadow of night, would be the response of the state, the army and the military intelligence units to my sister’s scientific work.

The people responsible for the crime

Over the course of these years, it was legally proven that Noel de Jesús Beteta Álvarez killed my sister Myrna Elizabeth Mack Chang on September 11, 1990, and that Beteta was a member of the Presidential General Staff’s Security Division. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison for this murder, a verdict upheld on appeal. The final phase of his trial left open the case against those accused today: Edgar Augusto Godoy Gaitán, Juan Valencia Osorio and Juan Guillermo Oliva Carrera. This trial has allowed me to legally prove that the three people accused are ultimately responsible for my sister’s assassination. It has been proven that they designed and ordered a surveillance plan to watch and follow her that culminated in her physical elimination.

A political crime

In her research on the state’s institutional policies regarding internally displaced people, Myrna revealed the cruel reality and inhuman living conditions of hundreds of thousands of displaced peasant farmers living in the mountains and jungle. In her book, she reported that the army was responsible for the massive displacement of the population, which suffered from constant harassment by military patrols and the violence generated during the domestic armed conflict. Myrna identified the main components of the counterinsurgency policy as it applied to the displaced. She framed it in the context of the application of the National Security Doctrine. And highlighting their nature as non-combatant civilians, she presented the testimonies of the victims, who spoke of a precarious life full of persecution and suffering. Through this research, Myrna established the category of ‘internally displaced people’ to differentiate them from the ‘refugees’ who had managed to reach neighboring countries. Myrna recommended that the state’s treatment of the displaced be demilitarized, with the civilian government fully assuming this responsibility.

Bishop Julio Cabrera, a witness in this trial, said that Myrna Mack was killed because the armed forces believed she had authored the statement issued by the displaced Communities in Resistance (CPR) on September 7, 1990, denouncing the military persecution and constant aerial bombing by both land and airborne military units. Bishop Cabrera testified that Myrna had no connection whatever to this public statement, but also explained how her work had an impact on the counterinsurgency policy and the institutional treatment of the country’s internally displaced people.

This impact, and the fact that the army considered her the author of a statement that brought national and international attention to this human drama were the political motives behind the crime, as was fully established in the trial against Noel de Jesús Beteta. This political motive was also established at the very start in the investigative reports drafted by National Police agents José Miguel Mérida Escobar, himself murdered on August 5, 1991, just a few days after ratifying his findings before the court hearing the case; and Julio Pérez Ixcajop, who was forced to flee into exile.

The setting for the crime

President Marco Vinicio Cerezo was in office at the time, as the result of free and democratic elections that put an end to military regimes and de facto governments. Nevertheless, as witness Héctor Rosada testified here, what actually happened was only a change in government, not a transfer of power. The military’s authority over the civilian government remained untouched and the President was subject to the pressures exerted on him by the armed forces.

There were several attempted military coups in 1987 and 1989, two of which amply demonstrated the military insubordination, as both General Héctor Gramajo and Vinicio Cerezo stated before this court. While President Cerezo promoted peace negotiations based on the Esquipulas Accords and made the first contacts with the insurgents, the army continued to boast of military victory over the guerrilla forces. The fighting between the military forces and the guerrillas went on in the country’s rural areas, and civilians continued to fall victim to army operations. The army did not want negotiations; it wanted to annihilate its enemy.

The national setting and our social coexistence were still under the dominion of the counterinsurgency policy and the National Security Doctrine. The thesis of national stability promoted by then Defense Minister Héctor Gramajo had not yet been accepted. In his testimony before this court, the former defense minister explained that there were orthodox hard-line officers who opposed the move toward democracy and continued to uphold the principles of national security. Many people were assassinated during this time, including Michael Devine, Dinorah Pérez, Héctor Oquelí, Gilda Flores, Humberto González Gamarra and Danilo Barillas. The Santiago Atitlán massacre was also committed, along with other acts of violence.

The doctrine that justified the crime

During those years, countries located in the US area of influence adopted its National Security Doctrine to ensure regimes unconditionally aligned with US interests. In the framework of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union, Latin America’s armed forces assumed functions and perceptions dominated by the dogmas, norms, behaviors, systems, procedures, thoughts and ideas that militarily and politically underpinned the anti-Communist struggle and the hemispheric fight against guerrilla movements.

For Guatemala, this meant total militarization, boosting the intelligence apparatus and training programs for security force members. There is no doubt that these were key factors in the configuration of the systematic policy of human rights violations and the implementation of criminal operations. The witness Colonel Clever Alberto Pino Benamú discussed this situation, explaining to this court how armies all over Latin America, including Guatemala, operated in the framework of the National Security Doctrine. This was especially true of their intelligence apparatus and command structures. In the opinion of this military expert, the National Security Doctrine called for the use of violence to win the war. Hence, military officers assumed the leading role in state affairs.

This doctrine became not merely a foreign policy but also a domestic policy in each Latin American country. Colonel Pino Benamú explained how the United States encouraged Latin American armies to wage a merciless counterinsurgency fight, empowering their intelligence apparatuses, providing improved equipment, training and education to their military officers, and encouraging civic action strategies—psychological warfare—and the concept of the enemy within.

It is especially important to note that critical thinking was not a part of the education in this doctrine, applied by Latin America’s armies just as the United States had designed it. In Guatemala’s specific case, as Héctor Gramajo testified, the National Security Doctrine meant control of the population. The goal was to defeat not only the armed insurgency but also any person who could be described as a guerrilla sympathizer or ‘internal enemy.’ The counterinsurgency power derived from the National Security Doctrine subjugated the communities, associations and institutions that should act as guarantors of human rights and freedoms. The current weakness of democratic institutions derives, to a large extent, from this submission to military power.

The enemy within:
The concept that explains the crime

The concept of the ‘enemy within’ or ‘internal enemy’ is an inherent part of the National Security Doctrine and counter-insurgency power, and was applied in all countries in this hemisphere. As Pino Benamú testified, it was enough to be a social science researcher, a university student or teacher, middle class and to use certain phrases thought of as Communist to be considered an enemy within. And according to the National Security Doctrine and counterinsurgency power, any opponent or even person unaligned with the regime’s dictates automatically became such an ‘enemy,’ a non-citizen, a being supposedly conspiring against the state and threatening its security. Myrna Mack was considered an internal enemy. In her academic work, she took the concept of social research to a new level, as she integrated her studies into the intense context of the times. Her work went beyond the kind of simple reports that are guided only by considerations of scientific rigor. She also tried to discover the human face of the conflict.

Now, in 2002, talk of demilitarization does not necessarily bring with it a death sentence. Even so, when social researchers touch on similar issues, academic freedom is often in danger, at risk of being violated. In 1990, such talk should not have meant death either. Nevertheless, the documentary proof and various witness’ testimonies presented before this honorable court indicate with full clarity that the preeminence of the National Security Doctrine and the counterinsurgency strategies at that time meant that carrying out a study like Myrna’s made one an enemy within. And, according to the war manuals, that enemy must be annihilated, as confirmed by the testimonies of witnesses Katherine Doyle and Pino Benamú.
Myrna was considered an enemy within because her work touched a sensitive chord in counterinsurgency policy and brought the human drama of the displaced people into the public light. Although she was not associated with the actions taken by the displaced communities, the army blamed her for their public appearance and their denunciations. The Communities in Resistance spoke out about the situation of internal displacement, demanding their rights and denouncing the terror that was closing in around them.

Thus, the special intelligence operation that culminated in my sister’s assassination responded not only to the impact that her research could have on counterinsurgency and national security, but also responded to a supposed link between Myrna and the actions being taken by the Communities in Resistance. Since Myrna’s work revealed how the army and its various structures promoted criminal behavior, social control and psychological warfare against the uprooted populations, conditions were created for a special intelligence operation to be mounted against her.

The uprooted and displaced

The Historical Clarification Commission, established after the Peace Accords were signed in 1996, found among its conclusions that ‘the unprecedented terror provoked by the massacres and the devastation of entire villages between 1981 and 1983 led to the massive flight of the mostly indigenous population. The forced displacement of the civilian population stands out in the history of the armed conflict because of its massive character and destructive power. It embodies the tearing of the social fabric in its most direct and heartrending form, through the dismemberment of families and communities.’
It is estimated that nearly 1.5 million people were uprooted. Many found refuge in Mexico; several thousand remained in the country. Some came to the cities. The vast majority constantly moved about in the jungle and mountains to elude the army’s persecution and find food, water and shelter. They lived exposed to the elements in conditions that made subsistence very difficult, suffering from malnutrition and severe emotional trauma.

The displaced people, most of whom grouped together in the Communities in Resistance, lived in clandestinity but began to prepare to come out into the light. They sought to be recognized as civilian, non-combatant populations. They wanted to enjoy their civil and political rights, return to their communities of origin and lead a normal life. They demanded an end to the persecution against them and denounced the army’s constant air and land attacks.

Myrna’s work with the displaced

Myrna visited the jungle and the mountains. She saw this suffering face to face, felt it and suffered it. Her anthropological work could not be stripped of this experience and she took on the task of humanizing the conflict.

Her findings demonstrated the infrahuman character of these people’s living conditions. The public began to have access to information that had previously been forbidden. The displaced, for their part, began to visualize the possibility of coming out into the open, of announcing their existence and their suffering to the world. Among the objectives of the military plans and campaigns of that time was keeping the displaced out of public sight.

Myrna’s work and the imminent public appearance of the displaced—while not in themselves connected—motivated the design of the surveillance operations and the planning and execution of the crime. There were no personal motives to kill Myrna. But there were sufficient political motives to silence someone whose scientific research threatened to undermine the plans designed to annihilate this vulnerable population, people who, in the eyes of counterinsurgency power, were the guerrillas’ social base.

An institutional crime
disguised as common crime

Myrna was followed in rural areas and the city. Why wasn’t she assassinated during one of her trips to Quiché or Alta Verapaz? Why didn’t a military unit execute her in one of the country’s rural areas? Why did an intelligence unit in the Presidential General Staff do it? The answers have slowly come to light. Several witnesses, even Noel de Jesús Beteta himself, my sister’s physical killer, have answered these questions. First, the intention was to disguise her murder as a common crime. Furthermore, there were firm links and coordination among all army structures to guarantee an institutional action aimed at defending the doctrine and policies defined to annihilate the enemy: the insurgency and all people and movements suspected of sympathizing and acting as a social base for it.

Myrna was seen as an enemy within and the displaced as a population under guerrilla control or sympathizing with them, and as they were military targets to annihilate. They became targets of the counterinsurgency in ways the military structures deemed fit.
Because the army wanted my sister’s death to appear the result of a common crime, the murder scene had to be far from the areas of armed conflict. It had to be an area where it would be possible to dispel any trace of counterinsurgency. The analysis of the context excluded using any of the various rural structures of the National Defense General Staff’s Military Intelligence Office to execute the plan. The special intelligence operation was instead charged to one of the intelligence structures acting in the capital.

The Presidential General Staff

A certificate on Sergeant Beteta’s experience in the Presidential General Staff, signed by Colonel Rudy Pozuelos, the former head of this military unit, identified the Presidential General Staff’s G-2 Presidential Security Division as the unit where Beteta worked. This documentary proof confirms the testimony of witnesses Héctor Rosada, Katherine Doyle and Clever Pino Benamú that the Presidential General Staff did more than only provide security to the President and his family. It also formed part of the intelligence structure. Hidden behind its formal facade was a unit that, while indeed ensuring the President’s security, also engaged in intelligence work, covert operations and illegal actions associated with state security.

There is nothing unusual in the fact that the armed forces and the perverse minds that identified my sister as an enemy entrusted the task to a unit operating in the capital: officially known as the Presidential Security Division and commonly known as ‘the Archive.’
This unit, as has been established in this trial, was made up of special agents and the people in charge of them reported directly to the head of the Presidential General Staff. Myrna’s physical killer acted under the direct orders of Juan Guillermo Oliva Carrera and Juan Valencia Osorio, who in turn reported directly to Edgar Augusto Godoy Gaitán. This chain of command has been established in this trial, based on the statements of witness Sergio Camargo Muralles and the abundant documentary evidence presented.

US declassified documents

Declassified documents that had been filed in the US State Department and Pentagon link Guatemala’s Presidential General Staff and its Presidential Security Division to the commission of serious political crimes and numerous human rights violations. Witness Katherine Doyle testified that the declassified documents reveal that the Presidential Security Division conducted intelligence and counterinsurgency operations in coordination with the D-2 Military Intelligence Office and other state security forces. Among the crimes attributed to the Presidential Security Division in these documents were kidnappings, torture, forced disappearances and extra-judicial executions.

The declassified documents confirm that the Presidential General Staff used selective violence, especially forced disappearances and executions, and that its Presidential Security Division participated in the disappearance of numerous people between 1981 and 1983, many of whom were handed over to different military units in the capital and rural areas. The proof of the forced disappearance of some of these people is contained in the so-called Military Diary that the US National Security Archive brought to light in 1999, which includes the list of 183 victims disappeared in a six-month period.

An institution with
proven criminal capacity

Doyle also declared that, according to these analyses, the Presidential Security Division had ample operating capacity, with its own death squads, and that one characteristic of its operations was to disguise political crimes as common crimes. Pino Benamú testified that all the intelligence units had their own standardized methods and modes of operation, along with autonomy in managing their budgets and operations. Behind these units’ facade of legality were illegal actions implemented as special covert operations.

Intelligence is a ‘vertebral’ factor in the whole military structure, according to the witness, supporting the idea that every part of the army’s structure has its own intelligence component, linked nationally and internationally to its counterparts. Each has its own hierarchy, doctrine and mission, all of which function in a secret, compartmentalized way. These channels run parallel to the legal, visible command structures and hierarchies.

Although the defense tried to separate the Presidential General Staff from the army, the law establishing the army, the documentary proof, the witnesses and testimonies all show that one is a part of the other. No structure, no intelligence agent, acted on his own. Beteta did not follow or assassinate Myrna because it occurred to him. He was carrying out an order. In Colonel Pino Benamú’s opinion, a Security Division like the Presidential General Staff’s so-called ‘Archive,’ where Myrna Mack’s assassination was designed, was a front organization that hid the true workings of an intelligence unit carrying out illegal operations it termed ‘special intelligence operations.’
The Presidential General Staff conducted a wide range of operations and intelligence actions to fulfill its part in the exercise of counterinsurgency power, which seduced a succession of civilian Presidents. United Nations independent expert for Guatemala Christian Tomuschat described it as a planning center for serious crimes.

Displaced and refugees targeted

With respect to the connection between the Presidential General Staff’s Presidential Security Division and the issue of the displaced, the testimony of witness Carmen Rosa de León is irrefutable: during Vinicio Cerezo’s government, the Presidential General Staff actively participated in institutional policies related to repatriation of refugees and the treatment of internally displaced people. According to this witness, two former Presidential Security Division members, Colonels Julio Roberto Alpírez and Mario Mérida, contacted her to compile information on the work being done with refugees and displaced people, even assigning two people from the Presidential Security Division to maintain constant contact with the Special Commission for the Repatriated Population (CEAR) to monitor information.

But the links between the Presidential General Staff and this issue go far beyond that. The Presidential General Staff had a fund to support CEAR’s work and Colonel Juan Valencia Osorio, one of those accused of ordering Myrna Mack’s assassination, was the Presidential Security Division’s regular contact with the CEAR for managing this fund. This belies the statement of the accused that the Presidential General Staff and its Presidential Security Division had no relation whatsoever to the treatment of the displaced, knew nothing about the issue and never dealt with anything related to it. It has been demonstrated in this trial that the army considered the issue of displaced people and refugees as an internal security matter, and did not support the repatriation and resettlement policies being promoted by the civilian government.

According to witness Héctor Rosada, some military mind made a perverse, malicious association when it placed Myrna in the counterinsurgency spectrum because of her work and particularly because she published her research. As he testified, the September 7, 1990, declaration in which the Communities in Resistance denounced their situation may well have been the decisive event. Rosada emphasized that the displaced were of interest to the army and the Presidential General Staff and that this institution’s work was not limited to the President’s security, as it also carried out political, military and strategic intelligence work and provided analyses and scenarios to the President. It was a ‘communication bridge’ between political and military power, devoting far more attention to these tasks than to those strictly related to presidential security.

A special intelligence operation

This trial has established the characteristics of the Presidential General Staff’s public and covert work along with its dependence on the President, and the coordination mechanisms that existed between it and the National Defense General Staff’s Military Intelligence Office and other army structures. This allows me to conclude that the Presidential General Staff and its Presidential Security Division had an interest in the issue of the displaced, and that they planned, ordered and carried out my sister’s physical elimination through a special intelligence operation as part of a counterinsurgency mission.

According to the findings of the Historical Clarification Commission and the testimony of Pino Benamú, these operations began by updating their information on the victim. To do this surveillance, they followed Myrna in the capital and in Quiché. In carrying out such operations, they took care of the minutest details and ensured that all administrative needs were covered. Finally they consolidated the operation, which involved making the preparations to ensure that the act would not be discovered: hiding it and covering it up, distortion, disinformation, threats, harassment, elimination of witnesses, etc.

Throughout these twelve years, this case has had to confront not only a cover-up, but also the hiding of information requested by judges and prosecutors, threats against the judicial staff, the exile of witnesses and the killing of police investigator Miguel Mérida. This is not to mention the campaigns to discredit Myrna’s family and the people and institutions that have collaborated in the effort to uncover and sanction this crime.

The structure of a command chain

After demonstrating that planning a special intelligence operation involved a meticulous, detailed process with human and material resources, it is hard to believe that it could have been planned and executed on the initiative of a single special agent in the army, without support and supervision from his superior officers.

Witness Pino Benamú confirmed this when asked if an intelligence agent could autonomously plan, prepare and carry out an intelligence operation. He responded that ‘there is no way a single agent can carry out an intelligence operation, since it is a complex operation requiring command, control, and logistical and economic resources. For this reason, an agent could not possibly carry it out, both because of his place in the hierarchy and because of the importance of the operation itself.’ Pino Benamú also explained that ‘an intelligence operation plan is formulated by the operations officer or case officer and then presented to the head officer for the corresponding approval.’ This leads us to believe that when he murdered my sister, Beteta was responding to a chain of command.
This is how the chain of command worked in that case. Valencia Osorio, Oliva Carrera and Beteta formulated the plan in the Presidential Security Division. It was then presented to the head of the Presidential General Staff, in this case Edgar Augusto Godoy, for the corresponding approval.

Oliva Carrera’s responsibility

Noel de Jesús Beteta’s responsibility in my sister’s assassination has been demonstrated and he has been convicted. His guilt was fully established at all levels of the judicial system, and thus is a closed case.

The accused Juan Guillermo Oliva Carrera, who served as assistant head of the Presidential Security Division, is responsible for planning the special intelligence operation, since he was Noel de Jesús Beteta’s immediate superior. I must emphasize that he held intelligence positions from 1982 to 1992. In 1982, he served as the assistant to the intelligence officer in the Gumarcaaj area of operations in the Quiché military zone, when the counterinsurgency strategy was being implemented. In 1983 and 1984 he was the Civilian Affairs and Intelligence Officer in Military Zone Number 20 in Quiché. Later, when Myrna Mack was doing her academic research, he conducted intelligence operations as department assistant in the National Defense General Staff. He returned to Quiché in 1988 to the post of intelligence officer in the Quiché military zone. Later, in 1989 and 1990, he worked as assistant head of the Presidential Security Division.

This officer’s continuous work in intelligence posts in Quiché is clear, and qualifies him as an intelligence specialist. In addition, he carried out these functions in the Quiché area, a region severely affected by the domestic armed conflict and which suffered the most massive population displacement.

This experience, moved to the Presidential General Staff, qualified him to carry out special intelligence operations with the utmost efficiency. In the case of Myrna’s murder, this officer participated in the planning and supervised its execution in his capacity as case officer; he gave specific orders to those in charge of the various tasks included in the plan and assigned Beteta to physically eliminate my sister.

Valencia Osorio’s responsibility

The accused officer Juan Valencia Osorio, head of the Presidential Security Division, has held intelligence posts since 1982 in Military Zone Number 20, the Presidential General Staff and the Guatemalan Air Force’s Tactical Group. Valencia served as company commander in the military zones of San Marcos and Playa Grande.

These posts allow us to conclude that this officer is an intelligence and operations specialist, with an emphasis on intelligence. The experience he accumulated in posts from 1982 to 1988 allowed him to rise to the position of head of the Presidential Security Division.

In that role, Valencia was responsible for planning and supervising the special intelligence operation in the Myrna Mack case, and for submitting the plan that included her physical elimination to his superior officer for approval.

Godoy Gaitán’s responsibility

The curriculum of the accused officer Edgar Augusto Godoy Gaitán reveals his experience in the operations area, as he held command posts in the Jutiapa, Jalapa, Petén and San Marcos military zones as well as posts in the National Defense General Staff. It is particularly worth noting that, after working as Director of Intelligence in the National Defense General Staff from 1986 to 1987, when Myrna Mack began her field work in the conflict areas, specifically in Alta and Baja Verapaz and Quiché, he was made head of the Presidential General Staff from 1988 to 1991. This experience qualified him to supervise and control all kinds of units, especially intelligence units.

In all military organizations and all professional armies it is known that the head is responsible for what is done or not done in the unit under his command. Godoy Gaitán is thus responsible for approving the operating plan that included Myrna’s execution in his capacity as head of the Presidential General Staff and of the General Staff’s chain of command.

The lies of the defense

The three accused have tried to dismiss the political motive and their link to the issue of the displaced and intelligence activities. Here in this court they have made incoherent and incongruous statements, such as the following:
* The Presidential General Staff is not part of the army.

* The Presidential General Staff was not involved in intelligence.

* The Presidential General Staff was not involved in counterinsurgency actions.

* The Presidential General Staff was involved only in ensuring the security of the President of the Republic and his family.

* The Presidential General Staff was not interested in the issue of the displaced.

* The National Security Doctrine implied peace and development.

In an attempt to establish their innocence, they have not hesitated to make false statements. They lied to the point of denying that they are members of the army; they denied important tasks that they carried out when they were on active duty in the Presidential General Staff; and they claimed that the posts they filled in the Presidential General Staff had no military significance. But their lies were uncovered as this honorable court listened to the witnesses and saw the documentary proof.

The Presidential General Staff is part of the army as are the military officers who work in it. This is established in the law governing the army, where it is mentioned among the structures that make up the armed forces. It is so much an intrinsic part of the army that now, to fulfill the commitment to eliminate it, Congress must modify this law, suppressing the part of the article that established it.

In addition, former President Vinicio Cerezo and former National Defense Minister Héctor Gramajo clearly explained that there were consultations between the President and the Defense Minister before the members of this military structure were appointed. As if that were not enough, the President of the Republic, whom the Presidential General Staff serves, is also Commander in Chief of the army, as established in the Constitution and the law governing the army. Administratively, the Presidential General Staff is directly tied to the Defense Ministry, since even its salaries are included in this ministry’s budget, as the accused themselves admitted.

As the witnesses and the documentary evidence demonstrate, the Presidential General Staff carries out assigned tasks that go beyond ensuring the President’s security. It also does political analyses, analyses on the balance of power, reports on media information and various national events. Former President Cerezo spoke about these kinds of activities. The evidence established that even to ensure the President’s security, it must carry out intelligence work. The Presidential General Staff and its G-2 also participated in implementing the National Security Doctrine and the counterinsurgency policy. And given that the displaced were a military target to be annihilated or disassociated from the guerrilla in order to reeducate them, the Presidential General Staff was also involved with them.

The ominous
National Security Doctrine

The National Security Doctrine did not bring peace and development. In Guatemala as in all of Latin America, it brought violence, terror and massive human rights violations. As a result of it, armies seized power, intelligence activities increased, counter-insurgency policies were adopted that defined as an enemy of the state anyone who tried to act freely, communication links and coordination channels were established among intelligence units, and operations adopted the patterns of common crime.

The declassified US documents reveal that, far from encouraging peace and development, this doctrine led to violence and terror, co-opting of state structures and establishment of military regimes. Intelligence sources in Guatemala and the United States have revealed how this doctrine was applied and its dreadful consequences.

A conspiracy unveiled

It is worth mentioning that the material assassin, Noel de Jesús Beteta, has lent himself to the game of the defense, which tried to present him as innocent despite being already sentenced for this crime in 1993. They have mounted a farce before this court in an attempt to continue covering up their atrocious crimes.

It has been proven in this trial that Edgar Augusto Godoy Gaitán, Juan Valencia Osorio and Juan Guillermo Oliva Carrera are guilty of having planned and ordered my sister’s murder. They had political motives, state motives to assassinate her; they had the human and material resources to do it; and above all, they acted in response to a supposed need of the state. The political motive for killing my sister and the whole conspiracy that culminated in her assassination on September 11, 1990 have been established.

We only want justice

Honorable court, I trust you will be able to weigh all that has been presented in this trial. I trust you will establish the difference between truth and lies. For my part, I want to reiterate now the demand that I, along with my family and friends, have been making for twelve years: justice. I am not seeking vengeance or crafting a political plot against a state institution.

For twelve years, we have sought to put an end to the impunity around my sister’s assassination. As a citizen of this country, I am fulfilling my duty to do everything humanly possible to help consolidate the rule of law. I am not seeking vengeance. I am counting on the highest values of justice and this court’s commitment to the law and the principles of the administration of justice.

Myrna’s legacy

Myrna’s legacy—as a daughter, mother and sister—is present in our lives and in our family, in her daughter and grandchildren. Her legacy as an anthropologist is present in the development and evolution of the state’s institutional policy towards internally displaced people. The people have resettled, have found a place in society and, although mired in poverty, without access to basic services or opportunities, they represent a sign of life, one that the victims who survived the persecution and fear can give.

Myrna’s unexpected legacy in the field of justice lies in the example set by this case. Judicially, the political nature of the crime was established in Beteta’s trial, along with the motive related to the academic work she carried out and the participation of state agents in this act of violence. The trial now underway has established precedents in judging high-ranking military officers, judging the people responsible for ordering a crime and judging military officers in a civilian court.

An unprecedented case

This trial is the most worthy vindication of Myrna’s memory. It is a response to the effort to disempower citizens who turn to the courts because we trust the justice system, even while aware of its limitations and problems.

We are trying the policy of terror that has caused so much pain; we are examining an attack against the state from within the state itself, without any need for violent change. We do not want violence, hatred or revenge. We only want justice that will guarantee the end of arbitrariness and impunity.

At the same time, this case has revealed the progress that can be made in the administration of justice as well as the mechanisms of impunity. Guatemalans today are better prepared to undertake the search for justice and the fight against impunity. Myrna’s death has made us live with hope, because her absence has led us to seek justice for her and all others deprived of a fair trial, for those who still suffer shame, and for those who have not yet been born so they may can enjoy it too.”
* Translated and minimally edited by envío

Helen Mack’s post-verdict statement*

“The verdict issued yesterday by the Third Court in the trial of the three military officers accused of having planned and ordered the killing of my sister is an historic event that reflects progress, although minimal and fragmentary, in the administration of justice in Guatemala. I am satisfied with the 30-year sentence issued against Colonel Juan Valencia Osorio, because it was demonstrated beyond a doubt that he was responsible for an institutional crime, a special intelligence operation, that culminated in my sister’s assassination.

Historic magnitude of this verdict

I am not satisfied with the not-guilty verdicts issued in favor of General Edgar Godoy Gaitán and Colonel Juan Guillermo Oliva Carrera. We presented sufficient evidence to prove that they are as responsible as Colonel Juan Valencia Osorio for a crime that could not have been devised by a single person but rather implicates the entire chain of command within their military structure. They participated in an institutional decision and an institutional crime.

The absolution of Godoy and Oliva notwithstanding, the verdict against Colonel Valencia and the fact that we have taken part in a trial such as the one held from September 3 to October 3, 2002, reaffirms my conviction that justice can be attained in Guatemala, even if it involves a sustained struggle of twelve or more years. This verdict confirms the historic magnitude of this trial, because its results are not limited to the conviction or absolution of the accused. Fortunately for all Guatemalans, it represents judicial recognition of the terrible human suffering caused by the National Security Doctrine, the counter-insurgency policy, the concept of ‘the enemy within’ and misuse of the intelligence apparatus.

A moral reparation

Among the things I take from this trial are, first and foremost, the moral reparation to Myrna’s memory and dignity. The court established the institutional and political nature of the crime, the motive related to her scientific work with displaced people in the regions where the conflict was sharpest, and the perverse association made between her research and the demands of the displaced people grouped together in Communities in Resistance.

The court accepted testimonies and other kinds of evidence as proof in establishing all of this. It also accepted the thesis that my sister was killed because she was considered an enemy within, a threat to the state according to the profile defined by the National Security Doctrine. It was proven that there was a plan to spy on and follow her that culminated in her death, a plan that made use of human and material resources from the Presidential General Staff. It was similarly established that the Presidential Security Division was the Presidential General Staff’s G-2 and that Valencia Osorio was also involved in postal espionage in the Post Office.

A country of victims

Through this trial, we have uncovered the criminal practices promoted by the state, with irrefutable evidence of genocide, massacres, extra-judicial executions, torture, forced disappearances, persecutions, uprooting and exile—some of the many forms of repression that turned us into a country of victims.

I am confident that the victims and their families feel represented in what has been attained here and in some way vindicated, because those responsible for Myrna’s assassination were not the only ones judged in the debates surrounding this trial; the criminal behavior of the state and some of its institutions was also judged.

The National Security Doctrine promoted by the United States and its application in Guatemala were judged as well, together with its main components: the ‘enemy within’ concept, counterinsurgency practices, the empowering of the intelligence forces, the extremely inhumane character stamped on the domestic conflicts and the military regimes that operated for decades in virtually all of Latin America.

* Several days after this statement, Helen Mack filed an appeal.

Print text   

Send text

<< Previous   Next >>



The Myrna Mack Case: An Historic Verdict

What Is Good Governance? And How Do We Measure It?

Perverse Political Ambitions Behind Institutional Masks

The Puebla Panama Plan In a Nutshell

The US Power Complex: What’s new

What Lies Ahead for the Xicaques, Kunas, Garífunas and Mayas?
Envío a monthly magazine of analysis on Central America
GüeGüe: Web Hosting and Development