This article was originally published by International Justice Monitor and is republished with permission. See the original post here.
Guatemala’s Congress stands poised to amend the National Reconciliation Law of 1996, which excluded amnesty for international crimes including genocide, torture, and crimes against humanity. The proposed legislation would terminate all ongoing grave crimes proceedings, free all military officials and guerrilla leaders already convicted of grave crimes, and extinguish all future investigations into such crimes. Who stands to benefit if such legislation were passed?
Between 2008 and 2018, Guatemalan courts issued 16 verdicts in grave crimes cases, convicting 33 former military officials, military commissioners, and former civil defense patrol members of a litany of grave crimes, including torture, enforced disappearance, extrajudicial execution, aggravated sexual violence, and sexual and domestic slavery. Two officials in two separate cases have been acquitted. Courts also convicted one former guerrilla leader.
Another 14 retired military officials and former military commissioners are in preventive detention awaiting trial (including one who was already convicted last year in the Molina Theissen case). Several who were on trial or were awaiting trial, including former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt, whose 2013 conviction was vacated, died before their trials concluded.
Under the terms of the proposed legislation, all of these former officials would be freed within 24 hours of its promulgation.
This includes a number of senior military officials who retain significant power in present-day Guatemala and who have been linked to organized crime.
Several military officials accused in grave crimes cases who are fugitives also stand to benefit from the proposed amnesty law. Two such officials, accused in the CREOMPAZ case, have reported close ties to Jimmy Morales and his party.
Retired senior military officials, many of whom are members of the Guatemalan Army Veterans Association (Avemilgua), founded FCN-Nación. Senior counterinsurgency officials and military intelligence officials linked to the Cofradía who opposed the peace negotiations founded Avemilgua in 1995.
Avemilgua has actively opposed war crimes prosecutions. During the 2013 genocide trial against Rios Montt and Rodriguez Sanchez, the association launched a political and media campaign denying the genocide and seeking to discredit judges, prosecutors, and witnesses in the trial. Avemilgua also staunchly opposed the creation of CICIG and has continued to be one of the Commission’s most vociferous critics.
The current president of Avemilgua is José Luis Quilo Ayuso, a retired brigadier general who studied at the School of the Americas (SOA). He was based in El Quiché in 1983 and was chief of the Army General Staff in 1994.
According to Guatemalan press reports, Quilo Ayuso is a founding member of FCN-Nación and one of the retired military officials who financed Jimmy Morales’ 2015 electoral campaign. Though Morales repeatedly claimed that FCN-Nación no longer had ties to Avemilgua, Plaza Pública reported that nearly 40 percent of the party’s funding came from five retired military officials, including Edgar Ovalle Maldonado, Alsider Arias Rodríguez, Gregorio López González, and José Luis Quilo Ayuso.
Avemilgua vice-president, retired army general Marco Antonio González Taracena, was among those present in the gallery on January 17, 2019, cheering on Congress to vote in favor of the proposal to impose a blanket amnesty for grave crimes. Taracena is, not surprisingly, also a member of the military old guard. According to the National Security Archive, Taracena was in charge of “The Archive,” an espionage unit of the feared Presidential General Staff, and he served as Minister of Defense in 1995.
The coming days will reveal whether the military old guard has its way.