(ht2 Memory in Latin America) By Danilo Valladares (IPS) – Human rights groups are worried that the declassification of military archives dating from Guatemala’s 1960-1996 civil war, which left more than 200,000 victims, by a special commission will not go far enough in terms of clarifying the atrocities.
In March 2009, centre-left President Álvaro Colom established the Military Archive Declassification Commission, made up of three representatives of the Defence Ministry, one delegate from the Presidential Human Rights Commission, and three representatives of presidential secretariats.
According to the agreement that gave rise to the commission, its mandate is to sort out and file military documents on national security affairs involving the 1954 to 1996 period. (In 1954, a coup d’etat organised by the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) overthrew democratically elected President Jacobo Arbenz, ushering in decades of military dictatorship.)
The agreement also gave Colom the authority to decide not to declassify documents “that qualify as pertaining to national security in the president’s judgment.”
Other countries in Latin America have also begun to take steps to declassify military records to shed light on human rights abuses committed during periods of dictatorship.
In early January, Argentine President Cristina Fernández ordered the military to declassify all documents related to that country’s 1976-1983 dictatorship, stating in a decree that “such information cannot continue to be kept inaccessible under the argument that it would threaten national security.”
Guatemala’s Military Archive Declassification Commission had a Jan. 12 deadline for completing its work, but Colom extended it until June 2010.
In the meantime, human rights groups’ doubts and scepticism with regard to the possibility of real progress are growing, because virtually nothing has come out about the Commission’s work.
They also point to precedents indicating that the archives could be manipulated in order to hinder the investigation of massacres and other human rights abuses committed in the decades in question, and thus stand in the way of eventual reparations for survivors and victims’ families and the possibility of bringing the perpetrators to justice.