WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
18 Aug 2009 | News

Crackdown on Free Expression in Guatemala threatens Publisher of Books on Genocide and Human Rights

A Press Conference will be held in Guatemala City on Wednesday, August 19, 2009 at 10:00AM at the office of:  SEDEM – Asociación para el Estudio y Promoción de la Seguridad en Democracia (Association for the Study and Promotion of Security in Democracy)

6ª. avenida 1-73 zona 1, Guatemala City, Tels. 2220-4998, 2232-2807

Human rights advocates and writers throughout the Americas, including the Writers in Prison Committee of International PEN, are condemning the conviction by a Guatemalan court of independent publisher Raúl Figueroa Sarti.  Figueroa Sarti is currently under house arrest after being sentenced on August 6th to a year in prison and a heavy fine on trumped up copyright-violation charges.  Expressing fear that the loss of his publishing house will “gravely impact” Central American literature, social science, and political commentary, advocates and writers urge the Guatemalan attorney general to reverse the attempt to silence a powerful voice of dissent and ensure the physical safety of Mr. Figueroa.

“Another human rights defender is under attack in Guatemala – this time a defender of the right to ideas, free thought and free expression,” said Kate Doyle, Senior Analyst at the National Security Archive in Washington.  “The outrageous conviction of Figueroa is part of a frightening pattern of harassment and intimidation targeting the publisher.”

Figueroa’s press, F & G Editores, is the leading publisher of books that spark political and social debate in Central America. These include the 12-volume report of the Commission for Historical Clarification (CEH), the Guatemalan truth commission established by the Oslo Accords, as well as a number of other books detailing human rights abuses during the civil war, and in the present day.  These include works by the Myrna Mack Foundation, the Human Rights Office of the Archbishop of Guatemala, the National Union of Guatemalan Women, and the Association for the Study and Promotion of Security in Democracy (SEDEM).

It was this bravery that first introduced Figueroa to his wife, Dr. Victoria Sanford.  An American citizen who is a professor of anthropology at LehmanCollegeGraduateCenter, Sanford has spent decades studying genocide, corruption, and violence against women in Guatemala. They became acquainted in 2003, when Figueroa was the only publisher in Guatemala brave enough to publish one of Sanford’s books, Violencia y Genocidio en Guatemala (Violence and Genocide in Guatemala).  The couple’s professional relationship developed into a personal one, and they were married in 2005.  Sanford lives in New York with the couple’s daughter, Valentina. and CUNY’s

Now Figueroa and F & G Editores are paying the price of bravery: a politically-motivated prosecution on charges of copyright violation.   The charges were brought by government employee and sometime-author and photographer Mardo Arturo Escobar, who accused Figueroa of publishing his photograph as cover art on a 2006 novel without permission.  Though Escobar initially claimed to have learned of the photograph’s use when he saw the book in a shop window, he recanted his charges when faced with evidence that he himself was the one who had initiated the image’s publication. Eventually, he admitted on the record that no crime had taken place, and stipulated for the court that he had given F & G Editores permission to use the image.   

The prosecution was undeterred by that development, however, and pressed on with the case.  Figueroa was convicted on August 6th, and sentenced to one year in prison and a fine of 50,000 quetzales. (Approximately $6,000 U.S. dollars).  Though authorities suspended his prison sentence in exchange for an additional fine of 25 quetzals per day, they have placed him under house arrest.

“This conviction shows the corruption of the judicial system as well as the great fragility of Guatemalan democracy and citizen rights of expression that are easily usurped,” explains Figueroa.  “It reveals the criminalizing strategy used by those who do not care about peace or justice.”

According to the Washington Office on Latin America, “WOLA believes that the exculpatory evidences shows that Mr. Figeroa’s sentence lacks firm legal backing,” states WOLA Senior Associate for Citizen Security Adriana Beltran. “We encourage the corresponding authorities in Guatemala’s Attorney General’s office to support his appeal.”

Figueroa’s family, friends, and colleagues are gravely concerned for his physical safety. According to Francisco Goldman, author of The Art of Political Murder: Who Killed the Bishop?,  “This is clearly a corrupt attempt to silence and break Guatemala’s most courageous editor publisher, cynically disguised as a proper legal proceeding.  In Guatemala, political assassinations – and the sentence against Raúl is a new kind of Guatemalan ‘assassination’ – are often sinister works of theater, with complicit judges playing supporting or even starring roles.” Doyle at the National Security Archive agrees: “Guatemalan authorities must not only reverse this travesty masquerading as a legal decision, but take immediate steps to guarantee Figueroa’s physical security.”

This conviction is a worrying new chapter in Guatemala’s history of repression and violence, in which citizens with the audacity to speak truth to power have been jailed, attacked, or worse.   “Raúl Figueroa Sarti’s persecution by the Guatemalan government speaks not only to the fragility of free expression but also to the power of his work. His many friends and colleagues in the world of publishing are watching this case closely—concerned for his safety and for the health of F&G Editores,” explained Marc Favreau, editorial director of The New Press. 

Sixty-five Central American writers have issued a letter of support, condemning the prosecution as “an attack on F & G Editores” that “would gravely impact the development of Central American presses and, as a result, the creation of literary texts.”  The writers urge the Guatemalan government to reverse the conviction and free Figueroa, so that this episode “will pass on in history only as a failed attempt to violate the liberty of creativity and the expression of thought.”  As well, human rights activists throughout the Americas joined in condemning Figueroa’s prosecution.  Iduvina Hernandez, Director of Guatemalan human rights organization SEDEM (Association for the Study and Promotion of Security in a Democracy), has decried the conviction as a “legal monstrosity,” and called for it to be reversed.  A petition circulated by Human Rights First of Washington and New York has been signed by more than 1,500 advocates, scholars, and writers since August 11.

“We are deeply disturbed by this attempt to jail one of Guatemala’s most courageous publishers on spurious copyright infringement charges,” said Larry Siems, Director of Freedom to Write and International Programs at PEN American Center. “We are shocked by the court’s refusal to examine the full record and recognize exonerating evidence, and fear the proceedings provided a pretext for silencing both Raúl Figueroa Sarti and F & G Editores. We stand with Mr. Figueroa, and call on Guatemalan authorities to move quickly to reverse this terribly flawed conviction.”

Guatemalan novelist Arturo Arias, who won an Academy Award for screenwriting in 1985, concurs:  “Given the nature of impunity, corruption, blackmail, the dark forces operating behind the cloak of democracy and the rule of law continue to exercise their will in Guatemala in a series of bizarre gestures,” he said, adding, “A decade ago, they assassinated a Human Rights Catholic bishop. Today, they attempt to close the only independent press in Guatemala, the most important publishing outlet for the entire Central American region. We have to act before courageous editor Raúl Figueroa Sarti, who has struggled with perseverance, patience, sacrifice and courage to keep Guatemala’s dissident voices in print, pays for his independence and willingness to work on behalf of human rights issues with jail… or worse. Should his efforts be silenced, Guatemala would recede to the ghastly state of affairs of the 1980s.”

Larry Siems, PEN American Center,
212-334-1660 ext. 105,

Dr. Victoria Sanford
Phone:  347-756-1182
Fax: 718-960-8406
Email: victoria.sanford@lehman.cuny.edu



Additional Press Contact Information
Larry Siems, PEN American Center
212-334-1660 ext. 105,

Raul Figueroa Sarti, F&G Editores
(502) 5301-5078


Adriana Beltran, Washington Office on Latin America

Kate Doyle, National Security Archive

Marc Favreau, Editorial Director, The New Press

Iduvina Hernández, Executive Director, SEDEM.
Celular: (502) 5704 7135
Oficina: (502) 22510730, 22204998, 22322807

Victoria Sanford



Arturo Arias

Francisco Goldman


Background on F&G Editores

Since Raul Figueroa Sarti founded F&G Editores in 1996, the press has grown to publish more than 100 books with the F&G seal and another 100 books for NGOs and universities – all of which are distributed by F&G throughout Central America and around the world.  F&G’s work is internationally acclaimed and has won many literary awards. The press publishes fiction, poetry, social science and legal textbooks, and the authors it supports have won numerous national and regional literary awards. F&G Editores has been an invited participant at international book fairs in Mexico, Israel, Spain, the United States, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Honduras, Germany and Argentina, among others.

Additionally, Figueroa and F&G have taken a leading role in publishing books that spark political and social debate. Significant social science texts issued by F&G include:

 • Olvido o memoria, el dilema de la sociedad guatemalteca, de Alfredo Balsells Tojo. (2001)

 • Guatemala, causas y orígenes del enfrentamiento armado interno, fragmento del informe de la CEH, con prólogo de Edelberto Torres-Rivas. (2001, 2006)

 • Violencia y genocidio en Guatemala, de Victoria Sanford. (2003)

 • Conclusiones y recomendaciones, Guatemala Memoria del silencio (2004)

 • Paz Tejada, militar y revolucionario, Carlos Figueroa Ibarra (2004)

 • Guatemala, linaje y racismo, Marta Casaús Arzú (2007)

 • Una familia honorable, Rafael Cuevas Molina (2008)

 • Una guerra sin batallas. Del odio, la violencia y el miedo en el Ixil y el Ixcán, 1972-1983, Roddy Brett (2007)

 • Dinámicas agrarias y reproducción campesina en la globalización: el caso de Alta Verapaz.., Laura Hurtado Paz y Paz (2008)

 • Conflicto armado interno y denegación de justicia, fragmento del informe de la CEH, 2009.

 • Guerrilla: guerra y paz en Centroamérica, Dirk Kruijt (2009)

 • Rescatando nuestra memoria. Represión, Refugio y Recuperación de las Poblaciones Desarraigadas por la Violencia en Guatemala, Jonathan Moller (2009)

 • Genocidio: ¿La máxima expresión del racismo en Guatemala?, Marta Casaús Arzú (2008)

 • Guatemala: del genocidio al feminicidio, Victoria Sanford (2008).

F&G was chosen by the Guatemalan Truth Commission (CEH – Comisión para el Esclarecimiento Histórico) to publish the 12 volume CEH report, which it continues to publish and distribute. US university libraries and European libraries are among F&G’s regular clients. The publishing house also does significant editing and production projects for Human Rights NGOs and universities, including the Equipo de Estudios Comunitarios y Acción Psicosocial de Guatemala (ECAP), Asociación para el Estudio y Promoción de la Seguridad en Democracia (SEDEM), Consorcio Actoras de Cambio: la Lucha de las Mujeres por la Justicia, Unión Nacional de Mujeres de Guatemala (UNAMG), Fundación Myrna Mack, Oficina de Derechos Humanos del Arzobispado de Guatemala (ODHAG), and the Universidad de Landivar.  Many of these publications include significant research projects that have been critical of governmental policy on human rights, the environment, crime, genocide, development in Maya communities, etc.  In addition to editing and production of these publications, F&G distributes them internationally.

Background on Raul Figueroa Sarti

Raul Figueroa Sarti is an independent publisher in Guatemala. His publishing house, F&G Editores, specializes in books about human rights.  On August 6, 2009, he was sentenced to a year in prison and a fine of 50,000 Quetzales ($6078) on a politically motivated, fabricated charge of copyright infringement.

Figueroa has also been active in his profession to promote the growth of the book industry and literacy in Guatemala.  From December of 2006 to April of 2009, he was the elected president of the Book Editors Association of Guatemala (Gremial de Editores de Guatemala) and the Association’s representative in the Chamber of Commerce (Camera de Comercio).  Prior to being president, he was elected member 5 on the Board of Directors of the Gremial and responsible for organizing the 2006 International Book Fair.  He continued to oversee this major book fair in 2007 and 2008.  As an elected representative of Guatemalan editors, he focused on developing better book collections for libraries and schools in Guatemala as well as trainings for librarians and teachers.  Additionally, he played a significant role in efforts to stop the pirating of Guatemalan textbooks.

In addition to his service as president of the Book Editors Association, Figueroa served on the Nacional Book Council  (Consejo Nacional del Libro, January 2007-April 2009); Grand National Campaign for Education (Gran Campaña Nacional por la Educación, January 2007-April 2009); Ibero-American Editors Group (Grupo Iberoamericano de Editores January 2007-April 2009); Central American Chambers of Book Group (Grupo de Cámaras del Libro de Centroamérica, January 2007-April 2009); he was also the representative of the Chamber of Industry (Cámara de Industria) to the National Commission for the Popularization of Science and Technology (Comisión de Popularización del Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología, 2007-2009).