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Guatemala police convicted in disappearance with evidence from rediscovered archive

A Guatemalan judge on Thursday sentenced former National Police (NP) officers Hector Roderico Ramirez Rios and Abraham Lancerio Gomez to 40 years in prison for the 1984 forced disappearance of Fernando Garcia, based on evidence found in an abandoned NP archive discovered in 2005 [ReVista article]. In February, Garcia, a student and union leader, was shot and taken to a police hospital never to be seen again. The case was brought to trial 26 years later after new evidence was uncovered in an abandoned NP archive found in a former munitions dump in Guatemala City in 2005. Students and labor activists were frequently targeted throughout Guatemala's 36-year civil war [GlobalSecurity backgrounder] from 1960-1996, killing an estimated 200,000 unarmed civilians and disappearing another 40,000. The UN-sponsored Commission for Historical Clarification found the government was responsible for 93 percent of the crimes and rebuked the government for denying the existence of official records of the conflict. Ramirez Rios and Gomez are the first to be tried and convicted [Reuters report] based on information recovered from the NP archive. Although the officers were not convicted on all the charges brought, rights activists hope this case will serve as a catalyst for more investigations [El Periodico report, in Spanish].

Guatemala's government has been plagued with accusations of corruption and impunity for government officials, including law enforcement. In August, the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) [official website, in Spanish] announced that it had issued arrest warrants for former government officials including those for former interior minister Carlos Vielmann, former police director Erwin Sperissen and former prison director Alejandro Giammettei in relation to the extrajudicial killing of several inmates [JURIST report]. In June, the Guatemalan Constitutional Court removed Attorney General Conrado Reyes from power [JURIST report]. Reyes was appointed to the position by Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom, but he came under close scrutiny when the former head of the CICIG, Carlos Castresana, resigned accusing Reyes of having ties to organized crime [JURIST report]. In March, Guatemalan authorities arrested two high-ranking police officials leading the country's war on drugs on charges of corruption and drug trafficking in connection with a drug-related shoot-out [AP report] last year between drug traffickers and a gang of police accused of stealing large quantities of cocaine for profit. In January, Guatemalan authorities issued an arrest warrant [JURIST report] for former president Alfonso Portillo [CIDOB profile, in Spanish], after the US government requested his extradition to face charges of money laundering.

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