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New Identification of Guatemala’s Disappeared

December 13, 2016
"The exhumation of La Verbena cemetery in 2010" -- (c) James Rodríguez,

The exhumation of La Verbena cemetery in 2010 — (c) James Rodríguez,

The Guatemalan Forensic Anthropology Foundation (FAFG) has confirmed the identification of one of the victims associated with the notorious “Death Squad Diary,” or Diario Militar, a Guatemalan military document of the disappeared made public in 1999 by the National Security Archive. FAFG unearthed Juan Ramiro Estuardo Orozco López’s remains during its exhumation of ossuaries containing thousands of unidentified corpses at La Verbena cemetery in Guatemala City, and recently identified him by matching his body’s DNA with his family’s.

The Diario indicates that Orozco López, the second person captured by Guatemalan military intelligence in operations described in the document, was killed in Guatemala City on August 31, 1983, as he tried to flee his attackers. According to his entry, Orozco was an electrical engineer charged with radio interference for the Revolutionary Organization of People in Arms (ORPA), one of four principal insurgent groups that sought to overthrow the Guatemala government during the height of the country’s 36-year armed civil conflict.

"Orozco's entry in the Guatemalan Death Squad Diary" -- Courtesy National Security Archive

Orozco’s entry in the Guatemalan Death Squad Diary
— Courtesy National Security Archive

Although the Diario Militar says he was shot down in the street, his killers disappeared his body, and his family knew nothing of his whereabouts until FAFG’s findings.

As part of its ongoing work to expose human rights violations committed during the conflict, FAFG undertook the exhumation at La Verbena cemetery in 2010 and launched a national campaign called “My Name Is Not John Doe” (Mi Nombre No Es XX) to convince relatives of the disappeared to provide the Foundation with DNA samples.

According to an email from José Suasnavar, FAFG’s deputy director, the exhumation of La Verbena and analysis of the bones is completed, but genetic analysis of some 15,000 DNA samples taken from bodies continues. The cemetery’s mass burying sites contained a mixture of corpses placed there when families were no longer able to pay for their graves, and bodies that were dumped anonymously. “With the identification of these individuals, we are getting closer to a level of the ossuary that may contain a greater quantity of remains buried as XX inside the cemetery,” said Suasnavar.

Orozco now becomes the 8th victim of the brutal campaign to hunt down, secretly imprison, torture, and kill suspected subversives in Guatemala documented by the Diario Militar during 1983-85.  The first victims of the Diario to be identified by FAFG, in November 2011, were Amancio Samuel Villatoro and Sergio Saúl Linares Morales. Their skeletal remains had been exhumed at a former army detachment in Comalapa, Chimaltenango, in 2003. Another four victims, whose remains were found in the same at the same site, were identified in March 2012: Juan de Dios Samayoa Velásquez, Hugo Navarro Mérida, Moisés Saravia López, and a fourth whose identity has not been publicly disclosed.

"Hernández Cusanero's entry in the Guatemalan Death Squad Diary" -- Courtesy National Security Archive

Hernández Cusanero’s entry in the Guatemalan Death Squad Diary
— Courtesy National Security Archive

Along with FAFG’s identification of Orozco, the ID in 2015 of José Zenon Hernández Cusanero – the seventh person among 183 men and women victims of the Military Diary to be restored to his family – affirmed the importance of documents in the fight for justice in Guatemala, denying again the military’s attempt to erase an individual and a history.

In 1999, the Historical Clarification Commission concluded that some 200,000 civilians lost their lives during Guatemala’s civil conflict, among them 40,000 disappeared by state security forces. The National Security Archive continues its forensic archival work to find evidence of the fate and whereabouts of the disappeared, as well as to hold the Guatemalan state responsible for kidnapping and killing them.

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