From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Accused Killer of Guatemalan Presbyterians Seeks

Date 04 May 1996 16:06:14


96108   Accused Killer of Guatemalan Presbyterians Seeks  
    Passport; Seven Mayan Presbyterians Get New Death Threats 
                          by Alexa Smith 
LOUISVILLE, Ky.--A fugitive accused of killing two Guatemalan Presbyterians 
reportedly tried to get a passport to leave Guatemala within days of seven 
Presbyterians receiving renewed death threats. 
     The threats came again from Jaguar Justiciero, a death squad that some 
speculate has ties to Victor Roman, the alleged murderer. 
     Since recipients of the threats included members of Guatemala's 
Congress who part are of a newly formed progressive party called the New 
Guatemala Democratic Front, the Sisterhood of Mayan Presbyteries believes 
that "poor pastors" are in grave danger. 
     Kaqchiquel Presbytery members threatened include pastors Lucio 
Martinez and Victor Tuctuc; presbytery moderator Margarita de Similox and 
Maximiliano Solis, who testified last month before the Inter-American 
Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States and who 
met with national religious leaders and members of Congress through the 
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Washington Office; Juan Garcia, who took over 
the human rights work of murdered pastor Manuel Saquic; the Rev. Vitalino 
Similox, executive secretary of the Conference of Evangelical Churches of 
Guatemala; and Eliseo Calel, a young elder. 
     Most of those threatened are reportedly now in hiding with their 
     "They're saying [the Presbyterians] are guerrillas ... so that is on 
the police record," says former moderator and Baltimore Presbytery 
executive the Rev. Herb Valentine.  "If they turn up dead, that's the 
excuse. They're trying to establish these people as guerrillas by 
     Baltimore Presbytery has a partnership agreement with Kaqchiquel 
Presbytery.  Eleven U.S.  Presbyterians from Maryland are in Guatemala now 
seeking to better understand the problems there and to organize a program 
to sell Guatemalan crafts in the U.S., with the program's first sales set 
for the upcoming General Assembly.   
     "What it boils down to," said Valentine of the continuing threats, "is 
that Roman is being protected.  And they [the death squad] are trying to 
intimidate these people to take the heat off Roman. 
     "It's brute intimidation." 
     That assessment is shared by Anne Manuel of Human Rights Americas, an 
organization based in Washington, D.C.  Intimidation, she says, is nothing 
new and neither is watching both the military and the police completely 
ignore arrest warrants.  What is revelatory here is that a former military 
commissioner like Roman apparently feels enough pressure to "make himself 
scarce," as Manuel said. 
     "Undoubtedly he has good ties to people in the armed forces, whether 
it is in Chimaltenango or in Guatemala City," she said, alluding to Roman's 
years reporting to the Chimaltenango military base commander -- who then 
reports to higher-ups within the Ministry of Defense.  "And those 
benefactors could easily arrange for him to get [a passport] or false 
     Whether Roman actually obtained a passport is unknown.  No passport 
photos or documents for Roman or his son turned up during an investigation 
last week of Guatemala City's immigration offices. But Fernando Penados of 
the Office of Human Rights of the Archbishop of Guatemala concedes that it 
is also possible that false documents were used or that all the records 
were not turned over. 
     "It's hard to find out if he already left the country," said Penados. 
"We're trying to investigate but we don't know yet." 
     Roman's son was reported to be seeking a passport as well.  Two of his 
sons are also tied to the Guatemalan military, though reports vary as to 
their exact jobs. 
     Penados told the Presbyterian News Service that Roman has "friends" at 
the Chimaltenango military base and that he was reportedly seen there in 
mid-December, even though a warrant was issued for his arrest.  Penados 
said members of the military hierarchy have told the archbishop's office, 
however, that a legitimate search is under way for Roman.               
     Michael Willis of the Center for Human Rights Legal Action (CHRLA) in 
Washington, D.C., says such a search is more complicated than it sounds -- 
that factions within the military's own chain of command can and do 
obstruct orders coming from another quarter because of old loyalties or 
simple disagreement.  Such internal turmoil became apparent last year when 
a local military base commander encouraged the kidnapping of several 
international human rights activists and then the military leadership in 
Guatemala City demanded their release. 
     Willis also reminded U.S. observers not to overlook the impact of the 
recent dismissal of some military and police leaders by the newly elected 
government -- and how that plays into the latest round of death threats. 
"While that's positive structurally, it's also creating a backlash. ... 
Disgruntled members are [expressing] discontent over the changes with 
harrassment, with acts of violence against the population," Willis told the 
Presbyterian News Service. 
     Those changes in command run up against an old history.  For instance, 
though the previous government eliminated local military commissioners as a 
job category, many human rights workers are skeptical.  "The behavior 
doesn't necessarily change much," Willis said, pointing out that military 
commissioners like Roman were able to amass enormous economic and political 
power in isolated rural communities like Chimaltenango.  And their civil 
patrols -- called now by a different name --  still exist and still 
threaten and intimidate. 
     But the most blatant affront to reform in Guatemala is crimes 
committed by  members of the military that go unpunished. So those who do 
violence are undeterred -- whether the actual crimes are authorized higher 
up or not, or are just ignored by the military hierarchy.  Journalists 
continue to be threatened, as well as judges. 
     "It's really typical in Guatemala that someone like Victor Roman would 
not have trouble with the law whatsoever," Manuel said.  But she was 
adamant that the past six years have brought some changes: More witnesses 
to human rights abuses are coming forward, more human rights organizations 
are pushing for prosecution of offenders and the United Nations is 
monitoring some cases. 
     "[The international attention] has created a certain embarrassment 
factor for the government. They look foolish if they don't arrest an 
ex-military commissioner who is wanted for two murders," said Manuel.  "It 
makes the government as a whole look impotent."      
     When asked to speculate about Roman's whereabouts, Manuel immediately 
pointed out the ironies that surround his case.  "If Victor Roman goes to 
the U.S., it could be a bad move," she said, pointing out that previously 
the accused killer of a Guatemalan anthropologist was extradited from 
     "If he stays in Guatemala and sort of goes into hiding," she 
continued, "it could probably be pretty easy for him to continue to elude 
     The Campaign for Peace and Life in Guatemala, a coalition of groups, 
is currently developing paid ads for Guatemalan newspapers and radio 
stations demanding the arrest of Roman.  The organization is seeking 
donations and the signatures of denominations and churches.  U.S. 
Representative Constance Morella (R-Md.) is circulating a letter to the 
government of Guatemala among Congressional members for signature.  The 
letter demands concrete action about the Presbyterian cases, and at press 
time 30 members of Congress have signed it. 

For more information contact Presbyterian News Service
  Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Louisville, KY 40202
  phone 502-569-5504            fax 502-569-8073  
  E-mail   Web page: 


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