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Archive for Guatemala

Newsline: Guatemala Ex-Police on Trial in 1980 Embassy Fire

A former police officer went on trial Wednesday charged in the deaths of 37 people more than three decades ago when the Spanish Embassy burned down during this Central American nation’s bloody civil conflict. Pedro Garcia Arredondo, the 69-year-old former special investigations chief for the Sixth Commando of the National Police, is accused of homicide and crimes against humanity for allegedly ordering officers to keep anyone from leaving the diplomatic mission as it burned on Jan. 31, 1980. Protesters from Indian, student, peasant, labor and other groups had taken over the embassy to call attention to massacres during the 1960-96 civil war. Police surrounded and sealed the facility. When the fire broke out, Arredondo “ordered police agents under his command to destroy windows with the only intention of causing the death of those inside because they were considered internal enemies,” prosecutor Hilda Pineda said. “The people inside were screaming in pain because they were burning.” Arredondo declined to testify but proclaimed his innocence in brief remarks. Former Spanish Ambassador Maximo Cajal y Lopez, who survived the fire, died earlier this year. However, he left testimony that will be presented at the trial along with the accounts of at least 23 other witnesses.



Newsline: Switzerland’s Guatemala embassy saved, Chicago consulate shut

Parliament has supported a counterproposal to maintain the Swiss embassy in Guatemala, but the Senate refused to give the thumbs-up to a call by the Swiss Club in Chicago to maintain the consulate general there. Following a short debate on Thursday, the Senate unanimously decided to snub plans by the foreign ministry to close the Swiss representation to Guatemala City and move all its services to Costa Rica’s capital, San José. Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter said the cabinet was taking note of the parliamentary decision, but he pointed out that Switzerland’s diplomatic network had to cut spending by CHF30 million ($31.7 million) under a programme approved by parliament. He said it was not easy to balance financial constraints and growing demands for a greater visibility of Switzerland around the world. Switzerland opened new diplomatic representations recently in Qatar, Myanmar and India. As a result it had to reassess the situation from a financial point of view. That’s why the cabinet wanted to close the embassy to Guatemala and set up a diplomatic hub for the whole central American region in Costa Rica, according to Burkhalter. The Senate on Thursday refused to join the House of Representatives, which sought to overturn a cabinet decision about the planned closure of the consulate general in Chicago. The professional consulate will now be replaced by an honorary consulate on the shores of Lake Michigan.


Newsline: Guatemala charges former police official Spanish embassy fire

A Guatemalan judge has ordered a former national police official to stand trial in the deaths of 37 people killed by a fire at the Spanish Embassy in Guatemala in 1980. Indian demonstrators had taken over the embassy to call attention to rights abuses during Guatemala’s 1960-1996 civil war. Security forces attacked and set fire to the embassy. The charges claim former police official Pedro Garcia Arredondo refused requests by the Spanish ambassador to withdraw police from the embassy and allow firefighters in to extinguish the blaze. Among those killed in the fire was the father of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Rigoberta Menchu.


Newsline: Maya Artifacts Returned to Guatemalan Embassy

Federal authorities are returning eight ceramic artifacts to the people of Guatemala that were illegally exported. The Maya artifacts that date from 600 to 900 AD were returned during a repatriation ceremony at the Guatemalan Embassy on Friday. Two artifacts were recovered during an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement of items being auctioned in Massachusetts last year. Six more of the returned artifacts were seized by Customs and Border Protection at Houston Intercontinental Airport in 2009 when a passenger declared figurines he said he bought while touring Maya ruins in Guatemala, thinking it was legal.


Newsline: US Embassy in Guatemala criticizes president’s proposal to legalize drugs

The U.S. Embassy in Guatemala is criticizing President Otto Perez Molina’s proposal to legalize drugs in Central America. The embassy says Washington opposes such measures because “the evidence shows our shared drug problem is a threat to public health and safety.” An embassy statement on Sunday said that legalizing drugs wouldn’t stop transnational gangs. Perez Molina on Saturday said he will propose legalizing drugs in Central America in an upcoming meeting with the region’s leaders.


Newsline: Taiwan diplomat narrowly escapes being taken hostage

An official with Taiwan’s embassy in Guatemala was taken hostage at gunpoint in the country’s capital but managed to escape after drawing out the situation and getting help from local police, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA). Lin Shyo-shiun, deputy director of Taiwan’s Technical Liaison Office in Guatemala, was abducted by a group of armed youths while he was driving to work. But he was later freed after police chased the kidnappers to an area just outside Guatemala City. MOFA spokesman James Chang said at a press briefing that the incident was a random kidnapping case and that Lin was not hurt and appeared to be in good condition. An spokesman from Taiwan’s embassy in Guatemala, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Central News Agency by phone that Lin helped his cause by not upsetting the armed men. According to the spokesman and details released by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the two kidnappers sat in the front seat and ordered Lin to sit in the back, setting off the car’s alarm. Fearing that the noise would irritate the gunmen and make them trigger-happy, Lin offered to move behind the wheel so he could silence the alarm. Just as the men were changing positions in the vehicle, a police car passed by. The officers were alerted by the strange movement in Lin’s car and ordered it to pull over, according to the spokesman, who did not specify if there was a chase as reported. Fearing that if the police discovered they had interrupted a kidnapping, a gunfight would be unavoidable, Lin told the police that the two men were his friends, according to the spokesman. The police remained suspicious, however, and asked the three men to step out of the car. The police searched them and found that all was clear — the gunmen having left their guns in the car — but Lin whispered to the police that he was kidnapped, leading them to arrest the kidnappers and allow him to escape. Sun Ta-cheng, Taiwan’s ambassador to Guatemala, expressed admiration for Lin’s poise in dealing with the situation, which could have ended up in disaster, the embassy spokesman said. According to the AFP report, the two men arrested were Jorge Isaac Garcia, 27, and Nestor Juarez Perez, 24, and two pistols were confiscated at the scene.