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News > Guatemala

Guatemala: Ex-Military Convicted for Indigenous People Massacre

  • Survivors of the Rancho Bejuco massacre pose with the portrait of their slain relatives, Aug, 25, 2023.

    Survivors of the Rancho Bejuco massacre pose with the portrait of their slain relatives, Aug, 25, 2023. | Photo: Twitter/@teleSURtv

Published 25 August 2023

"...Ovalle was the only one convicted for the massacre..."

A Guatemalan court convicted retired colonel Juan Ovalle Salazar for crimes against humanity, for his involvement in the massacre perpetrated by the army forces of that Central American country against the Pacoj indigenous village in the area known as Rancho Bejuco, in July 1982.

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Ovalle was the only one convicted for the massacre, as the High Risk Court D acquitted eight others accused of participating in the massacre. They are Mario Elfidio Córdova, Santiago Cojón Galeano, Lázaro Alvarado De Paz, Carlos Sesán Cajbón, Lauro Garrido Córdova, Mario Garrido Córdova, Juan López Sic and Santos Cojón Galeano.

Although Judge Walter Mazariegos made his decision public, the Public Prosecutor's Office (MP) was unable to prove the criminal responsibility of the eight former Civil Self-Defense Patrol members who were allegedly responsible for the murder of 25 people in Rancho Bejuco, and therefore ordered their immediate release.

The court also found that Ovalle Salazar was in charge of the operations when 25 people died, including 17 children and adolescents. The lawyer, Lucía Xiloj, plaintiff in the trial, assured that they will appeal, because they consider that there are sufficient elements to convict the defendants.

According to witnesses, the events occurred on July 29, 1982, when a group of uniformed members of the Civil Self-Defense and military commissioners burst into the Rancho Bejuco hamlet and gathered the Mayan Achi population and then machine-gunned them. In that group, boys, girls, women and men were seen passing by, and in the afternoon of that same day they were killed.

On August 8, 2023, the Mayan Achi women, relatives of the victims, demanded justice for the massacred, stressing that they had come forward to demand justice for the murder committed by the patrolmen in 1982, in retaliation for the men's refusal to join the Civil Self-Defense Patrols (PAC).

Juan Ovalle Salazar, former military commander, was sentenced to 20 years in prison without commutation, accused of being the mastermind of the crime against humanity against the Achí people. Survivors, testify that Ovalle ordered the murder of innocent women and children. #RanchoBejuco

During the internal armed conflict in Guatemala, it is estimated that the army massacred 1,500 indigenous people in northern Guatemala and former dictator Ríos Montt was convicted of genocide in May 2013.

Among the evidence presented by the prosecution are testimonies from survivors showing that the ex-patrol members dug a hole and subsequently killed the women and children, after which they were thrown into the holes; to make sure that the victims were dead, the ex-patrol members threw bombs.

According to Lucia Xiloj regarding the Ovalle Salazar prison. "The families have sought for many years to dignify their victims and this has not been done, even the court in its argumentation questions why they did not leave the hamlet, as if to say that it was their fault that they were murdered".

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