UNTIL the last week in May the world had once again forgotten
Guatemala, precisely as its military rulers wished.
During the 1980s, when El Salvador's brutal civil war and United
States relations with Nicaragua's Sandinista government seemed to
dominate hemispheric relations, Guatemala's army quietly massacred
tens of thousands of civilians whose loyalties to an oppressive
status quo were suspect.
Yet, when former President Jorge Serrano Elias failed in his
"self coup" attempt and the Guatemalan Congress named former human
rights prosecutor Ramiro de Leon Carpio as president last month,
Guatemala and its fragile transition to democracy were once again
in the international spotlight.
President de Leon, a man with a brave record on human rights,
has pledged to strengthen the rule of law and safeguard human
rights in Guatemala. While we laud his pledge, we urge that he be
judged by his performance with respect to three critical cases that
have made a mockery out of Guatemala's supposed transition to
The first case, the murder of Myrna Mack Chang, a prominent
Guatemalan anthropologist who was stabbed 27 times in front of her
downtown office in September 1990, is the best known proof that
high-ranking military officers routinely get away with murder in
Although an enlisted man has been convicted of her murder, he
did not plan the crime. He took orders from senior officers.
De Leon must reopen the investigation into the men most likely
behind the crimes - high-ranking officers in the elite presidential
guard - something that the Serrano government cravenly refused to
The second case, concerning Judge Roberto Lemus Garza, a
Guatemalan judge who was forced to flee to the US because of his
efforts to investigate human rights abuses (using techniques
learned in a US-sponsored judicial training program), illustrates
that no amount of training and foreign aid will allow Guatemala to
achieve democracy until its rulers summon the political will to
protect those who seek to enforce the rule of law.
Mr. Lemus, a distinguished human rights scholar, continued to be
the target of public attacks by the former minister of defense -
the same man who backed the Serrano coup attempt - even while in
De Leon should publicly apologize to Lemus for his ordeal and
seek to provide him with guarantees of safety so that it would be
safe for him to return to his position as a judge in Guatemala. …