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In Guatemala, a 25-Year-Old Search for the Truth Is Still Dangerous

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"For 25 years we knew absolutely nothing," said Alejandra García Montenegro, 26, who was a baby when her father, labor leader Fernando García, left for a meeting in February 1984—when Guatemala was under military rule—and never came home. "It was as if the earth had swallowed up my father and he had never existed," she said.

In March, the Guatemalan Government opened the police archive’s doors to the public. The archive, which had been discovered in 2005, contains in chaotic form a detailed history of massive abuses committed during the civil war, in which some 200,000 people were killed. Now, people like Alejandra García Montenegro can search for the truth about their relatives, as the Washington Post article, in italics in this blog post, explains (Anne-Marie O’Connor, “The Emerging Secrets of Guatemala's Disappeared,” Washington Post, April 11, 2009).

But, no matter how many years have passed, they cannot do so without fear.

“People who committed crimes or who collaborated are afraid they will be found out. All of the names are there,” said Sergio Morales, Guatemala's human rights ombudsman.

Morales released a report about the archives on March 24 and announced they would be open to the public. The next morning, kidnappers seized his wife, Gladys Monterroso, at a restaurant.

“It was terrifying. They tortured her, burned her, choked her, drugged her,” he said in an interview at his office.

Learn more about Gladys Monterroso in “Sending a Brutal Message about Human Rights,” by Manuel Roig-Franzia, Washington Post, April 11, 2009.

See also this analysis by the National Security Archive regarding the police archives and Fernando Garcia’s killing, which states that “Declassified documents show U.S. Embassy knew that Guatemalan security forces were behind wave of abductions of students and labor leaders” in Guatemala at that time, according to the nonprofit National Security Archive staff.

Opening up the police archives is only one step… the Guatemalan Defense Ministry must release to the public the military’s archives.

And the Guatemalan government, with U.S. help, must do more to protect the relatives of the victims, human rights defenders, government staff and their families like Mr. Morales and his wife, judges and others who are determined to keep searching for the truth.

And then the wheels of justice for the crimes of the past might finally begin to turn.