EspañolOn October 1, the trial of National Police Chief Pedro Garcia Arredondo began in Guatemala City. Arredondo is charged with “massacre” and the “burning” of the Spanish Embassy on January 31, 1980.
As expected, the trial has become a media spectacle, with a stellar performance by lead actress and Guatemalan writer Rigoberta Menchú Tum. Thanks to her theatrical and literary talents, Menchú was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992.
First, let’s summarize the facts for readers who are not fully aware of what happened on January 31, 1980. During a year marked by internal conflict between Marxist guerrilla and government forces, a group of about 30 “peaceful” farmers and students from the department of Quiché armed themselves with machetes and Molotov cocktails and stormed the Spanish Embassy in Guatemala City to “alert the world of the atrocities being committed throughout the country.”
These guerrilla, all representatives of the United Farmers Committee (CUC) and at the command of Vicente Menchú, father of Guatemala’s most famous actress, very “peacefully” took everyone at the embassy hostage.
By coincidence — too much for my taste — several important Guatemalan politicians were meeting with Spanish Ambassador Maximo Cajal at the time. Among those present were former president Eduardo Caceres Lehnoff, former chancellor Adolfo Molina Orantes, and lawyer Mario Aguirre Godoy, all of whom were summoned to the embassy by Cajal at that date and time.
Also coincidentally, Ambassador Cajal had visited the department of Quiché a few days prior to the meeting where he met with CUC guerrilla and guerrilla commander Gustavo Meono, who is now “coincidentally” in charge of the National Civil Police Archive.
On the day of the event, January 31, Cajal’s secretary repeatedly called the three Guatemalan politicians to remind them of the meeting and to make sure that they would arrive on time. Upon taking their hostages, the “peaceful” farmers threatened them and barricaded themselves in the embassy.
In Guatemala, as in any other part of the world, those who kidnap and commit mass murder are considered terrorists. By allowing the terrorists access to the building, Ambassador Cajal became one of them, and violated Article 41 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations
At the same time, Cajal prevented the Guatemalan police from entering the embassy to free the hostages. There are witnesses who were present at the embassy at the time of the kidnapping that saw this all happen.
After receiving phone calls from hostages within the embassy asking for help, the Guatemalan police ignored Cajal’s order to stand down and attempted to enter the building. The riot police advanced, broke down the ambassador’s office door, where the terrorists armed with Molotov cocktails held their hostages, and opened fire.
The bombs went off, causing a fire that left 37 people dead. Only two people survived who were in the room, including Ambassador Cajal — much too coincidental for my taste. The other survivor was one of the farmers, who two days later was kidnapped from a hospital and murdered by unknown assailants.
I recommend that readers consider the words of veteran journalist and former Guatemalan diplomat Jorge Palmieri and his serious analysis of the events. Palmieri’s opinion is not based solely on the press coverage at the time, both Guatemalan and Spanish, but also his own observations as a witness to the events at the Spanish Embassy.
Of course, the Guatemalan guerrilla have always insisted that the state’s security forces are to blame for what happened. It was clear, however, that at some point after losing their armed conflict, the terrorists would change their weapons and tactics and seek revenge some other way.
Following the signing of the Peace Agreement in 1996, Rigoberta Menchú attempted unsuccessfully to take revenge through European courts. However, her appeals were rejected. With the opening of this latest trial in Guatemala, former guerrilla fighters once again demonstrate their unwillingness to accept the truth and show they want nothing more than to cause further misery in their own country.
The pathetic images of Rigoberta Menchú’s crocodile tears may convince an ignorant and naive audience, but in truth her only objective is to seek out guerrilla vengeance.