Conflicts & War

Justice comes 39 years later for three Guatemalan social leaders

By José Carlos Móvil

Guatemala City, Feb 24 (EFE).- Former Guatemalan military commissioner José Manuel Castañeda Aparicio was found guilty Thursday of the forced disappearance of three social leaders during the country’s internal armed conflict, and sentenced to 45 years in prison.

The unanimous sentence against the former soldier comes 39 years after the disappearance of Rodolfo López Quej, 22, his brother Francisco Guerrero López, 18 and their cousin, Jacobo López Ac, 42, between Jan. 25-26, 1983.

The disappearances took place in the municipality of Tactic, Alta Verapaz, some 150 kilometers north of Guatemala City, during the conflict (1960-1996).

Castañeda Aparicio was present in the Guatemala City court when it sentenced him to 45 years in prison. It also ordered that more military chiefs be investigated.

López Quej, Guerrero López and López Ac were “taken from their homes” on that day by more than “25 people wearing balaclavas and weapons” under the command of “the military commissioners Baltazar Milián and José Manuel Castañeda Aparicio,” according to the indictment.

The three men were “social leaders who worked to improve the living conditions” of their community in Tactic, according to the non-governmental organization Center for Human Rights Legal Action (Caldh).

López Quej and Guerrero López are still missing, while the remains of López Ac were found during 2016 “in a grave of the clandestine cemetery” of the former “Military Zone No 21” in Alta Verapaz, along with 565 other disappeared persons, according to Caldh.

Humanitarian organization Grupo de Apoyo Mutuo, which was started during the conflict, said the verdict was “satisfactory” but “four decades late.”

The three forced disappearances occurred during one of the bloodiest periods of the conflict in Guatemala, which left 200,000 people dead and another 45,000 unaccounted for, more than 90 percent at the hands of the State, according to reports from international organizations. EFE


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