Logbook purportedly details abuses by Guatemalan military

Human rights groups to release document on 1980s disappearances

May 20, 1999|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

GUATEMALA CITY -- Lucrecia Vasquez wavers from one day to the next about whether her brother is dead or alive.

The last time she saw him was in April 1984, a few months before he was to finish medical school. The phone rang, she recalled, and a moment later Omar Dario Vasquez rushed out the door. He yelled something about a medical emergency and said he would be back soon.

But the 23-year-old was never seen again. And this week, his sister received what may be the first real evidence about his fate. A document that human rights officials said was taken from secret Guatemalan military files says Vasquez was "captured on 7th Avenue, in front of the Hotel Dorado Americana" in Guatemala City. Nine days later, on May 6, the document said, Vasquez was killed.

The document -- a logbook of detainees in a tattered spiral binder -- was to be released today by the National Security Archives, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Washington Office on Latin America and Human Rights Watch.

Investigators of these agencies, who have been studying the document for two months, said they have concluded it describes the activities of a secret Guatemalan military unit that kidnapped, tortured and executed Guatemalan men and women during the early 1980s as part of a violent army campaign against leftists suspected of subversion in Guatemala City.

The deaths and disappearances occurred while Guatemala, a country of 11 million people, was being ravaged by civil war between a right-wing military government, supported by the United States, and leftist guerrillas. The civil war, which ended three years ago, was the longest and bloodiest in Central American history. About 200,000 people were killed.

Human rights advocates in Guatemala and the United States said the new find is the most detailed document about military abuses ever obtained from Guatemalan army sources.

Rights investigators who were members of an independent truth commission, formally known as the Historical Clarification Commission, had appealed unsuccessfully to the Guatemalan military for these kinds of documents during its 16-month investigation of rights abuses.

"It is about the best evidence we have ever gotten about the cold-blooded, deliberate, calculated strategy that the military used to pick people up one by one," said Kate Doyle, a Guatemala expert for the National Security Archives who led an investigation of the document.

"There must be more documents like this," she said. "And now we can press harder for the Guatemalan government to release them."

Doyle refused to reveal the source of the document. She would say only that human rights agencies purchased it for $2,000 from a former low-ranking military officer. Although almost all of the document is typed in shorthand, with no signatures or military seals, the rights investigators said they are confident it is genuine.

Dozens of those listed in the logbook had been reported missing in human rights records and press accounts from the period, Doyle said, and the dates and detention details about many prisoners in the logbook match human rights reports from the period.

After briefly reviewing the document, government officials in Guatemala said they could not dispute that claim without conducting their own investigation. A spokesman for Guatemalan President Alvaro Arzu Irigoyen suggested that the document be turned over to Guatemalan courts established to investigate charges of abuse by the military.

He said the government had never tried to keep documents about military abuses hidden. But he said that such documents are not part of the official military archive.

"I would not say that these kind of documents do not exist," he said. "But they would not be found in an official military archive. It is unfair to accuse the government of trying to hide documents that it does not control."

Former members of the Historical Clarification Commission -- which found the Guatemalan military responsible for 93 percent of all documented human rights violations committed during the war -- said the document confirmed their suspicions that the Guatemalan military kept detailed records of people who were detained, tortured and executed outside the law.

Separated into four main parts, the document contains surveillance studies on suspected subversive organizations, lists of "safe houses" that had been raided and their contents, and organizations described as "facades for the service of subversion," including the Association of University Students, the Democratic Front Against Repression and Amnesty International.

The most chilling section is the chronological logbook of detainees. Numbered one through 183, each entry lists the prisoner's name and alleged pseudonyms, the date and location of capture, the prisoner's affiliations with suspected subversive groups and any suspicious activities -- including travel to Cuba, meetings in homes and participation in demonstrations.

Glued beside each entry is a wallet-size photograph of the detainee, which looks much like those on government-issued identification cards.

At the end of each entry is a line that describes the prisoner's fate. A few dozen of those on the list were released, some on condition that they serve as informants for the military and help turn in their associates. More than 100 people on the list were executed, investigators said. Their deaths were described by the code "300," or the phrase, "He was taken away by Pancho."

Relatives confirmed dates of disappearances and other information in the book.

Shown a page that read "06-05-84: 300" under a photograph of Lesbia Lucrecia Garcia Escobar, her father, Efrain Garcia, 66, made a quick calculation. If she disappeared on April 17, 1984, Garcia said, that meant that she had been kept alive for 20 days.

"During that time, they were torturing her and getting stuff from her," he said without a trace of doubt.

Pub Date: 5/20/99

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