Guatemala: Legacy of civil war damages press freedom

A barely concealed battle is brewing in Guatemala over the legacy of the 38-year civil war which ended in 1996. It has affected press freedom, especially journalists who write about human rights abuses during the civil conflict. Recently, three journalists were included in a demand put before the Guatemalan Courts, which charges more than 50 people with human rights abuses, including kidnappings and murders carried out by Guatemalan guerrilla forces during the war.  At least one of those accused was a small child when the incidents occurred.

Coffee baron Theodor Plocharskie, a US citizen and resident of Guatemala, charged Marielos Monzón, a columnist with the daily Prensa Libre; Miguel Ángel Albizures, a columnist with daily El Periodico; and Iduvina Hernández, director of an NGO that promotes democratic change SEDEM; and a columnist for Plaza Pública, with participating in the murders of dozens of victims of the guerrillas during the civil war, including US Ambassador John Gordon Mein, who was killed by guerrillas on 28 August 28 1968, and was the first American ambassador killed while serving office.

It has been speculated that the charges are revenge for legal decisions that have recently gone against military officials— a number have been convicted for involvement in massacres and there has been increasing interest in charging top officials for being the intellectual masterminds of these massacres.The peace accords agreed in 1996 granted amnesty to many who participated in the civil war, but crimes against humanity were not included. A recent court decision sent four military officers to jail for 6060 years for the 1982 massacre of Dos Erres in Peten, in which than 200 villagers were murdered. Two top military officers are charged in another case of genocide, with responsibility in massacres which exterminated the residents several villages belonging to an indigenous group, the Ixil.  All of these charges have been designed to target those further up the chain of command and to charge those responsible for designing a “scorched earth” military policy.

All three journalists included in the demand have been critical of the army and are in support of legal action against those found to be intellectually responsible for the dirty war tactics, which were responsible for the killing and disappearance of 200,000 people.