From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
Accused Killer of Guatemalan Presbyterians Seeks
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 PCUSA.NEWS@pcusa.org Web page: http://www.pcusa.org
Browse month . . .
Browse month (sort by Source) . . .
Advanced Search & Browse . . .