Guatemala Arrests Former Police Chief Linked To Disappearance of Activist

By Benetech, posted on

Benetech Statistician Provided Evidence Used To Convict Officers Under His Command

Analysis of police documents by Benetech scientists provided evidence used to support the arrest of the former chief of the Guatemalan National Police who is accused of complicity in the 1984 disappearance of a union leader. The arrest of Hector Bol de la Cruz, 70, at his home in Jutiapa southwest of Guatemala City on June 9, is the latest step in an ongoing investigation of former police officials accused of disappearing and murdering Edgar Fernando García and other political activists during the country’s 36 years of armed internal conflict. In April, Jorge Humberto Gómez López, a former National Police commander, was also arrested for his alleged role the García case.

Expert testimony by Benetech statistician Daniel Guzmán, based in part on Benetech’s analysis of a random sample of 31.7 million documents in theGuatemalan National Police Archive, provided key evidence in the conviction last year of two former police officers who served under de la Cruz in the Guatemalan National Police. Guzmán determined that documents in the García case were two to four times more likely to be known by senior police officers relative to documents in the Archive more generally. This finding suggests that disappearance is interesting to the senior police leadership and is consistent with the hypothesis that the leadership of the National Police was involved in the planning or direction of García’s disappearance.

Based on Benetech’s analysis, the court ordered Guatemalan prosecutors to investigate García’s disappearance up the chain of command. Bol de la Cruz, who was chief of police between 1983 and 1985, is accused of planning the kidnapping and forced disappearance of García, who was last seen being detained by police officers in Guatemala City in February of 1984. Two former officers, Abraham Lancerio Gómez and Héctor Roderico Ramírez, were each sentenced last year to the maximum term of 40 years in prison for their role in García’s disappearance.

The Guatemalan National Police were disbanded after the country’s 1996 Peace Accords which ended 36 years of conflict. The administration of Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom has pledged to investigate human rights violations committed during this period. The Commission for Historical Clarification (CEH), which investigated a portion of the 200,000 deaths and disappearances that took place during the conflict, estimates that tens of thousands of Guatemalans disappeared during this period. The verdicts against Gómez and Ramírez established forced disappearance as a crime in the Guatemalan judicial system and prompted government prosecutors to investigate higher ranking officers, such as de la Cruz, for their possible role in the case. This was the first prosecution in the Guatemalan judicial system based primarily on archive documents and paved the way for judges to trust these records as evidence in future human rights cases.

About Benetech

Benetech is a nonprofit technology company based in Palo Alto, California. Benetech pursues projects with a strong social rather than financial rate of return on investment, harnessing open source technology to create innovative solutions to challenging social issues. The Benetech Human Rights Program designs and builds information management solutions and conducts statistical analysis on behalf of truth commissions and large human rights projects around the world. The program includes the Benetech Human Rights Data Analysis Group and the Martus project. The Benetech Bookshare service is the world’s largest accessible online library of copyrighted books for people with print disabilities. Benetech’s Miradi software helps environmental conservation groups design, manage, monitor and learn from their projects.