Guatemala made a new breakthrough Tuesday in the decades-old struggle for justice for historical crimes against humanity, including systematic rape, as a court indicted former military chief of staff Manuel Benedicto Lucas Garcia and four other high-ranking officials on a number of crimes linked to the 1981 kidnapping and disappearance of 14-year-old boy Marco Antonio Molina Theissen, including the torture and rape of his sister Emma Guadeloupe.
In the presence of Marco Antonio and Emma Guadeloupe’s mother, Emma Theissen de Molina, in the criminal court, Judge Victor Herrera Rios announced that all five former top military men were involved in crimes against humanity, forced disappearance, and aggravated rape.
Lucas Garcia, the brother of former dictator Romero Lucas Garcia and the four others accused — former commanders Francisco Luis Gordillo and Edilberto Letona and former military intelligence agents Hugo Ramiro Zaldaña and Manuel Antonio Callejas — have been in pre-trial detention since being arrested in January.
Initially, only four were linked to the case. Lucas Garcia — currently facing prosecution along with several other former military officers for the disappearance of at least 558 civilians between 1981 and 1988 — was added when additional charges were announced in August for charges related to his role overseeing counterinsurgency strategy at the time that Emma Guadeloupe was detained and Marco Antonio was disappeared.
In Tuesday’s hearing, the judge established that Lucas Garcia’s role as military chief of staff from 1978 to 1982 held him responsible for the actions of the military brigade under his command in Quetzaltenango, where Molina Theissen was kidnapped in 1981. In that year, Gordilla and Letona were first and second in command, respectively, of the Quetzaltenango army unit, while Zaldaña was the intelligence official to the chief of staff and Callejas was in charge of intelligence at the Quetzaltenango base.
The indictments in the Molina Theissen case are a step toward clarifying the historical truth in brutal crimes carried out at the hands of the military during Guatemala’s bloody 36-year civil war.
Guatemala Seeks to Turn the Page
In 1981, Emma Guadeloupe, a young activist at the time with the Patriotic Worker Youth, was detained at a military checkpoint for being in possession of items deemed political propaganda. She had previously been detained, tortured and raped by the military officials five years earlier in an incident that saw her boyfriend and two other students killed at the hands of the army.
Intelligence agent Zaldaña, one of the five indicted, was in charge of the checkpoint where Emma Guadeloupe was arrested in 1981. The young leftist — following in the footsteps of other dissidents in her family targeted for speaking out against the military regime — was locked up at the military base in Quetzaltenango.
She managed to run away from the military base nine days later, but the army swiftly retaliated. Just days after her escape, suspected military intelligence agents dressed in plain clothes stormed the Thiessen Molina home, beating the mother and kidnapping 14-year-old Marco Antonio. The family never saw him again.
According to the Washington Office on Latin America, the Molina Theissen family’s attorney has warned that the high-ranking positions of the accused — along with the fact that some of them have been implicated in organized crime operations — raises a risk of witness intimidation and other forms of obstruction of justice in the case, leading him to urge authorities to deny the accused alternative measures.
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights found the Guatemalan state guilty in the Molina Theissen disappearance in 2004, opening the door to a decade-long investigation in hopes of prosecuting the masterminds behind the heinous crimes.
Earlier this year, a landmark sexual slavery trial in Guatemala sentenced two former soldiers to 120 and 240 years in jail and established that rape was systematically used by the military as a weapon of war under the dictatorships. It was the first case of wartime sexual abuse prosecuted in the Central American country, raising hopes among human rights defenders that it could set a precedent for other cases of systematic rape.
The five accused will continue to be held in preventative detention.