From the Worldwide Faith News archives


Date 05 May 1996 08:38:16


                          by Alexa Smith 
LOUISVILLE, Ky.--Three Presbyterian church leaders in Guatemala have been 
threatened by a death squad for refusing to drop their demand that the 
government investigate and prosecute the killers of two Presbyterian human 
rights workers. 
     Denominational officials and the World Council of Churches are pushing 
the president of Guatemala to protect Lucio Martinez of the Human Rights 
Office of Kaqchiquel Presbytery; Vitalino Similox, executive secretary of 
the Conference of Evangelical Churches of Guatemala (CIEDEG); and Margarita 
Valiente de Similox, president of Kaqchiquel Presbytery in Chimaltenango. 
     "They [the National Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Guatemala 
(NEPCG)] are taking a stance that keeping quiet or leaving the country is 
not for them a faithful path ... and here is our call to be at their side 
too," said Julia Ann Moffett, coordinator for Central America in the 
Worldwide Ministries Division. 
     To date, the second United Church of Canada accompaniment team has 
arrived in Chimaltenango. The Office of Latin America and the Carribbean of 
the National Council of Churches is working to put more North Americans in 
the Chimaltenango region, where at least 20 other church and human rights 
workers have been threatened. 
     "There is an urgent need for accompaniment," said Dennis Smith, 
Presbyterian mission co-worker in Guatemala City, describing the Guatemalan 
countryside as highly militarized still.  "Just be here," he said. 
     "Terror can still be used to silence people. ... It is still possible 
to wreak havoc on a whole pastoral program by physically eliminating a few 
key leaders," Smith told the Presbyterian News Service. 
     A delegation from the General Board of Global Ministries of the United 
Methodist Church of the United States visited Kaqchiquel Presbytery's human 
rights office Aug. 10 and prayed with Martinez and his wife, according to 
the Ecumenical News Service.  The Roman Catholic archdiocese in Guatemala 
City is also advocating for the Presbyterians with government and judicial 
     The death threats came by mail to the presbytery human rights office 
Aug. 8 and told Martinez and the Similox's they had 24 hours to leave the 
country ... or else "you will be corpses."  The letter also turned language 
from a memorial service for the Rev. Manuel Saquic into taunts. 
     Saquic's tortured body was recovered from a shallow grave in June. 
Coordinator for the presbytery's human rights office, Saquic was vocal in 
demanding that the government prosecute those who fatally shot another 
Presbyterian, Pascual Serech, last Aug., as well as those who kidnapped and 
beat Presbyterian Bartolo Solis, another presbytery human rights 
     Though the Guatemalan Embassy to the United States insists that a 
military commissioner, Victor Roman, has been charged with the 
assassination of Serech and is under investigation for the torture and 
killing of Saquic, sources in Guatemala report confusion about whether 
Roman -- an allegedly wealthy man -- is free on bail or whether charges 
have been dropped. 
     Sources here and in Guatemala say another warrant was issued for 
Roman's arrest Aug. 9, related to the murder of Saquic.  It is rumored the 
judge who issued the warrant asked for protection from MINUGUA, the United 
Nations Mission to Guatemala. 
     The threats have come under the signature of "Jaguar Justiciero," or 
Avenging Jaguar -- a name the Congressional Friends of Human Rights 
Monitors in Washington, D.C., believe is used by members of the security 
forces to "inspire terror." 
     Martinez told the Ecumenical News Service that the church's human 
rights work is continuing. "There are lots of violations of human rights of 
the poor," he said.  "It can be as simple as the way indigenous people are 
treated in the bakery.  We're always given yesterday's bread, but if a 
blond person walks in, they get fresh bread.  There are many indigenous 
workers who only get eight quetzales a day [U.S.$1.40, about half the legal 
minimum] on the farms around here. 
     "There are youths recruited by force to serve in the military even 
though that's illegal.  Through helping people understand their rights as 
human beings, we've helped them stand up and learn to defend themselves. 
That's our sin." 
     Pascual, Saquic, Martinez and the Somilox's are all Mayan 
     Baltimore Presbytery executive the Rev. Herb Valentine told the 
Presbyterian News Service Guatemalan Presbyterians are asking "desperately" 
that U.S. Presbyterians be "visible" now. 
     Baltimore Presbytery is in a formal partnership with Kaqchiquel 

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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