From the Worldwide Faith News archives


Date 04 May 1996 20:53:42


                          by Alexa Smith 
GUATEMALA CITY--A promise has been secured that a fugitive accused of the 
murders of two Presbyterian human rights workers will be jailed for trial 
"in a relatively short time," according to Guatemala's attorney general 
Ramses Cuestas. 
     The commitment came at the end of a series of PCUSA moderator-led 
meetings with both local and national Guatemalan military leaders and law 
enforcement officials. 
     "I have the formal promise of the minister of defense they will carry 
out the detention of Victor Roman with the cooperation of the army ... in a 
relatively short time," Cuestas told General Assembly Moderator Marj 
Carpenter, Worldwide Ministries Division Central American liaison Julia Ann 
Moffett, Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary dean the Rev. W. 
Eugene March, and Executive Secretary the Rev. Roberto Lopez of the 
National Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Guatemala and other clergy. 
     A warrant was issued a few months ago for Roman, a former military 
commissioner in Guatemala's very rural Chimaltenango region, related to the 
torture  and murder of the Rev. Manuel Saquic.  But he has not yet been 
arrested. A year ago, Roman was charged with the fatal shooting of 
Presbyterian Pascual Serech, but was released on bail.  Both men were vocal 
members of Kaqchiquel Presbytery, which has a record of taking stands for 
human rights in a region populated by many isolated -- and poor -- 
indigenous communities. 
     At least three other Presbyterians have received death threats for 
pressuring the government to investigate and then prosecute these two 
     "We [Presbyterians] are alarmed that we have helped educate [these 
threatened people] ...  and they have been punished for this.  And we are 
especially alarmed that Victor Roman has not been apprehended and held for 
trial," Carpenter told local officers in the Chimaltenango unit of the 
national police. "We just came from Manuel's grave, where we put flowers 
and said a prayer. 
     "But we need more than prayer.  We want to know why he hasn't been 
apprehended," Carpenter said. 
     She reiterated those convictions to Brigadier General Carlos Enrique 
Pineda Carranza, chief of staff for the ministry of defense. 
       A new defense minister, Col. Marco Antonio Gonzalez Taracena, began 
his term just weeks ago when the previous minister resigned after 
accusations were again leveled against the military for a massacre of 
civilians.  Reports say 11 people were killed and 30 others were wounded in 
a community of Guatemalans who returned from Mexico one year ago.  
     Implying that military inaction on the Roman case makes it look like 
the army may be protecting a criminal within its ranks, Carpenter pushed 
the general to release a photograph of Roman to police officers so that a 
"wanted" poster can be circulated throughout the country.  
     The military released a photo that evening, Oct. 18.      Urging the 
authorities not to underestimate her as "another little old church lady," 
Carpenter, a longtime journalist, stressed: "Who I am is not important. 
Who I know is important." She listed former President George Bush as a 
personal friend of 30 years, President Bill Clinton, 54 Presbyterians in 
the U.S. Congress, 13 Presbyterian governors of states, more than 4,000 
reporters among the National Federation of Press Woman and Presbyterians in 
churches in 180 countries in the world. 
     Carpenter told authorities of Presbyterians' 100-year-old ties to 
Guatemala. "I say all this," she said, "because we haven't gotten really 
mad yet.  But we're getting there.  We love Guatemala. The president of 
your country invited Presbyterians to come here and do mission. We came and 
we have worked hard to help the people here," Carpenter said, stressing 
that the Reformed tradition does not encourage people to ignore pain on 
earth in hopes of a blissful afterlife.  "We believe in helping people 
where they are now." 
     Reminding the delegation that Roman's arrest still entitles him to a 
public trial, Cuestas said the legal process has provisions to cancel bail 
for those accused of multiple serious crimes, ensuring detention. 
     But in response to a question of Carpenter's about witness protection, 
Cuestas went on to say that establishing a solid system of protection for 
witnesses and victims is one of the problems with Guatemala's judicial 
     For example, the prime witness in the Serech case was killed in 
August, according to the United Nations Mission to Guatemala (MINUGUA), an 
organization that monitors human rights. 
     When asked how he understood the outcome of the week's meetings, Lopez 
stressed the importance of Presbyterians' connectedness to each other 
throughout the world.  "Now the army knows the Presbyterian church is not 
an orphaned bird, a simple dove," he said. 

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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