By his actions he shall be known
On the stairwells of the hotel, half a dozen journalist colleagues were waiting for the candidate to give him the latest news (or maybe he already knew). Just a while ago, his friend, former intelligence officer Giovanni Pacay Paredes, with whom he had worked in the D-2, had been shot in his office and was pronounced dead. Otto Perez answered questions without signs of fear or wonder or pity or sorrow in his face, and then he left. We were informed that he went to another meeting.
At that moment I understood what he had seemed the first time I had faced him. Back then, arrogantly or naively I asked him if he had killed. Otto Pérez Molina as one could say, inscrutable. If at that moment he felt anger, fear or pity, no emotions were reflected in his face.
If he felt the need to punch a wall, his expression blank, his responses mechanically answered, his tone of voice flat, almost as if it all was alien and distant to him, nothing was allowed to show. Introverted, inexpressive and analytical, nobody except the people very close to him could tell if he felt something, although we could all guess. Or maybe not. As a soldier in wartime, death had always hovered around.
I do not remember at the stairs or a few hours later, when the Patriot Party first suggested that this was a political murder ordered by the National Unity of Hope Party (UNE) run by drug traffickers. When we heard the news we all knew that the campaign would be full of rage, revenge and animosity.
In spheres close to the military in were the candidate spent most of his life, he is described as a man who keeps his distance. "I do not see Otto making friends easily," says someone who thinks he knows him well. His friends are a selected few, a closed circle. He does not approach a person by chance. “If he looks for you there is a reason” says the source. He judges the capability of others, and acts and moves the pieces in accordance with that judgment. He respects hierarchy. He is a good soldier.
Otto Pérez was forged by the army and there is where the explanations for his persona has to be searched for. From this past it can be surmised, stems his air of distance, distrust and calculation. In good measure, his circle of loyalist, as the people who are his enemies and antagonists and his actions, define him.
Scene I. Act I.
According to the book “Imposing Democracy” (Imponiendo la Democracia) by Rachel McCleary, on June 1, 1993, a week after President Jorge Serrano dissolved Congress and the Supreme Court conducive to a coup de état, Colonel Otto Pérez Molina, then director of military intelligence, met at seven am in his office with the seven heads of the intelligence unit. According to the book, many of them knew that subordinate officers disagreed with Serrano and were unhappy with the military high command consisting of Juan Domingo Garcia Samayoa, Roberto Perussina and Francisco Ortega Menaldo. The military high command supported the coup (which was inspired by Fujimori’s auto-coup in Peru) or were waiting to see what happened.
After consulting with the officers, Perez Molina decided that Serrano should resign immediately and with him his vice president, Gustavo Espina Salguero. He sent his men to control the entrance of the National Palace and the central radio station of the National Police. Serrano then said that the military were organizing a coup de état against him. When Otto Perez intelligence officers prevented activists Ninth Montenegro and Rigoberta Menchu to enter the Ministry of Defense, to submit a Multi-Sector Social Forum document calling for the annulment of Serrano’s decision, the Nobel Prize winner Rigoberta Menchu also called the movements of Otto Perez as a coup de état by the military.
The situation was different with other sectors. The organized private sector, the Catholic Church, political parties and some other groups did obtain Pérez Molina's permission to negotiate with the Minister of Defense and later, according to McCleary, they thanked him for having found a solution to the crisis in which the army submitted to civil power.
In that moment, according to researcher and former Minister Edgar Gutierrez: “Otto Pérez Molina openly sided with the National Instance of Consensus. There, Dionisio Gutierrez and Jose Ruben Zamora were the key persons.” More than in any other moment of his career, Otto Pérez managed to secure a set of relationships that were vital for his further political aspirations and the creation of an image of defender of democracy. That was the prevailing interpretation of the conservative –liberal press. For many, Otto Pérez was the image that materialized the future of the new armed forces. This was the beginning of the construction of his public and political figure. The imperfections were polished of later during the three years of the government of Alvaro Arzu, where he became the general of the army to sign the peace accords "for his aura and leadership," according to Edgar Gutierrez.
But it was also there, where he gained an enemy, or the status of enemies was consolidated, according to other versions. A rivalry that helps both to delineate the figure of Otto Perez, to outline decades of struggle for power in the army, an almost legendary antagonism, of his former protector and supporter of the entire class of 73, a feud with a figure of mystery, sordid, which has since been converted in a sense into the epitome of evil, the condensation of capacity of conspiracy, one of the administrators of the dark side a kind of Lex Luthor or perhaps Darth Vader, able to control ab-so-lu-tly ev-ery thi-ng, from the shadows, what happens in the slums and in high places, whether it has to do with smuggling, drug trafficking and government appointees in the administration of Serrano, and more than anywhere in Portillo´s administration, and again in the Colom presidency. One who preceded Pérez Molina in the sadistic direction of intelligence (D-2) in which during the war, through espionage and informants, it was decided who should be killed as subversive or enemy: that figure is General Francisco Ortega Menaldo.
When Otto Pérez facilitated the fall of Serrano and Vice-President Espina, Ortega Menaldo foresaw the movements of Otto Perez, he was shaking the hierarchy and the oldest fruits could fall from the tree. Ortega Menaldo was not mistaken, when Congress appointed the Human Rights Ombudsman, Ramiro de León as President, Ortega Menaldo was sent to the freezer: to Washington DC, the Inter-American Defence Board in the Organization of American States. Perez Molina was sworn in as head of the Estado Mayor Presidential –Presidential Staff (institution in charge of protecting and safeguarding the President and his family) and Mario Merida, his sub-director, took charge as Director of Military Intelligence.
It is unclear whether this was a personal betrayal or a natural end of an increasingly prickly relationship, although previously they had worked together to control Guatemalan customs.
Francisco Beltranena, a civilians specialized in military affairs, close to Otto Perez, argues that even before the Serrano chapter, the ties between the two was more like a hangman's noose then a string of a trailer. When Ortega Menaldo asked for the appointment of Otto Pérez Molina as head of military intelligence, (Otto Pérez was a classic operations officer), the only intention was to discredit, humiliate and expose the lack of knowledge of Otto Pérez in that area of expertise.
Others from civilian and military circles say that Ortega Menaldo put Pérez Molina in charge of the D-2 to clear the table of foreign infiltrators. But Otto Pérez fired the Ortega Menaldo people and replaced them with his own people from the class of 1973, and thereby broke with the Cofradía.
Perez was a member instead of the Sindicato. General Roberto Letona Hora, also of the same class and another prominent member of the group, was involved later in the smuggling of the Moreno group, says a report prepared in 2003 by the Washington Office for Latin America (WOLA), using almost exclusively anonymous sources.
According to the WOLA report, the Cofradía was one of the initiators of the hidden powers in Guatemala: a kind of internal army fraternity comprised of several members of the military intelligence community who were associated with common crime and government corruption in the period of the military dictatorship of Lucas Garcia, July 1978 to March 1982. According to the report, its main leaders were Manuel Callejas y Callejas, former head of the customs agency and Luis Francisco Ortega Menaldo. During the war, members of the Cofradía were among a group of hardliners known as the strategists. "These people adopted a national security strategy that framed the internal conflict within a total polarization (one hundred percent) of the population; you're with us or against us”. Civilians were not considered as neutral in the conflict, but were potential opponents. The officers who were part of the Cofradía sympathized with the thinking of the Taiwanese military, implementing repressive systems of social control and using intelligence to commit brutal acts of violence. "
This organization contrasted, according to WOLA, with another history of occult powers: the Sindicato, a group of soldiers who "advocated a strategy of" stabilization "and" pacification "during the war, rather than a complete victory over the 'subversion ".” The Sindicato members and other 'reformers' within the Guatemalan military, where considered counterinsurgency institutionalists, who believed in the strategy of 30/70 thinking: It focused 70 % of its effects on the recovery of refugees of war through development projects (beans), and 30 % in repressive measures ( bullets) against those who the army saw as 'lost'. "According to WOLA, the Sindicato was a network of loyal military that emerged from the class of 73 of the Polytechnic School. These members developed a loyalty that persists throughout their careers. The persistence of the group in this particular class is largely attributed to the leadership of Otto Pérez Molina. They were heirs of General Hector Gramajo. Pérez Molina, the second in his class behind Letona Hora in the year 69, was perhaps the most beloved.
Scene I. Act II.
He was not yet 32 years old when another coup would change his life. The desk, the corridors of the National Palace, the proximity to the places where decisions were made, the company of President Romeo Lucas, where he served as a member of the personal security of the President since 1978, all that would soon be replaced by mud, dust, sun, a wild beard, the mountain battles and Israeli mortars.
Or was maybe in reality it was not the coup, but what came after 1982. The dissolution of the military junta and the self-appointment of Efrain Rios Montt as President of the Republic. Otto Pérez and part of the class of 73 were suspected of plotting against Rios Montt. They had welcomed the overthrow of Lucas Garcia, but they were apparently upset by Rios Montt´s intention to stay in power.
In a confidential telegram of the Defense Intelligence Agency of the United States reported what the National Security Archive at George Washington sums up as: "Two months after the military coup that brought him to power, General Ríos Montt continues to strengthen his position by removing those officers suspected of involvement in coup plots. The class of 73 of the Military Academy is a group of Guatemalan officers, many of whom came to occupy positions of leadership-particularly consistent in their opposition to Rios Montt. They are united by disagreeing with General Order Number 10, a bulk modification of assignments of those suspected of conspiring against the junta. Rios had ordered the arrest and investigation of three of its most prominent members in order to intimidate them, the captain Mario Lopez-Serrano, Enrique Roberto Letona Hora and Otto Pérez Molina, threatening to expose their acts of corruption if they continue their opposition to his mandate. "
According to an investigation conducted by Rios Montt after he heard rumors of a counter coup, each of the men had invested $ 100 thousand in a private company. Rios Montt had them detained that same night at home. "Because the evidence was largely circumstantial and because Rios Montt believed that his point of view had become clear to the other members of the class of 73, it was decided to release the three officers while the investigation concerning their personal finances was completed," stated the telegram. They were then reassigned to different military zones.
Since then, his enmity with Rios Montt, one of the most loathed personalities in Guatemala, has been notorious. Otto Pérez has not only publicly renounced any association with the Guatemalan Republican Front, RFG, but he also left the government of Oscar Berger, where he served as the Commissioner of Security, with the excuse that the former president and the former dictator had coffee together, and had forged an alliance. Rios Montt, meanwhile, vetoed the long cherished aspirations of Otto Pérez to become the Minister of Defense.
Scene I. Act III.
He had caressed this aspiration in particular since the times of the government of Alvaro Arzu. For an officer who has reached the Estado Mayor Presidencial, Military Chief of Staff of the Presidency, is almost a matter of inertia to become a Minister of Defense and to have the entire army at their disposal. But Arzu had other plans for Otto Pérez Molina and the military. During his government the officers who had been the boots on the ground (infantry) were sent away for the sake of giving a sign of goodwill to the URNG (Guerrilla forces) for the signing of the peace accords. Arzu did not want to have any officers near him that had been involved in violations of human rights during the armed conflict. He surrounded himself with officers of the Air Force and Navy.
Arzu's doubts about Perez Molina were shared by the Defense Intelligence Agency of the United States in a telegram of 1994 with respect to the whole group: "In general, their goals are democratic and can now be the best hope of the army. At the same time, their roots, especially the inner circle, come from within the ranks of the D-2 and its history goes back to the bloodiest days of the early eighties, when the D-2 perpetrated extrajudicial executions. They are progressive officers who grew up with blood on their hands, although we have no direct information to suggest that Colonel Perez has been involved personally in activities of this nature. At the same time, you cannot say with authority that this group of progressive officers is not influenced by its past. "
In 1998, Arzu send him even further away. In a decision that had the signature of General Marco Tulio Espinoza, who was defense minister and head of EMP, Estado Mayor Presidencial, at the time, Arzu sent him to the Interamerican Defense Board in Washington at the OAS.
In 1999, Perez Molina was a Brigadier General. So were Mamerto Hernandez Ponce and Miguel Angel Calderon. But Arzu, allegedly on the advice of Espinoza Hernandez, promoted Major General Calderon to Division General. A rank that by tradition, could only be held by two officers throughout the Army. Thus, Perez Molina was lagging behind in hierarchy, almost out of the arena. It was not difficult to explain. Arzu, another inscrutable character, never liked Perez Molina. It's unclear why.
By seniority, rank and employment grade, Hernandez and Calderon should have been ministers. However, this was not written in stone and a President could choose as Minister an officer who with lesser rank. The problem caused by that maneuver was that it required the immediate retirement or the disposition to be fired by the officers who had a greater rank than the minister.
By November 1999, when the FRG party was emerging as a finalist in the second round of the presidential elections, there was a strong rumor that Perez Molina had been made an important offer to be part of the Portillo administration. But true to his profile, even in Washington, in an unofficial conversation with a journalist, Pérez Molina did not make any statements. But he smiled, a lot, perhaps already thinking he would be minister. Pérez Molina knew the price of speaking too soon.
Before all that, early in his term, President Arzu had made Pérez Molina Inspector General of the army. He provided him with a position that would later become a hub for propaganda in the biography of the retired general. It was this promotion Otto Pérez presented to the sceptics, in his discussions with the left, who almost unanimously accused him of genocide; it would make him the signatory to the Peace Accords.
Scene I. Act IV.
In August 1999, Alfonso Portillo was so confident he would win the elections that he had already chosen a team to take charge of the implementation of the peace agreements. The team included Pérez Molina, whom he profiled as Minister of Defense. The news soon circulated in the army. Perez Molina was still far in Washington, but the prospect of his possible return had many in the military worried. "They knew [Pérez Molina] would present them with the bill” says a close adviser to the military.
On 24 December, in their immediate circle, Portillo continued mentioning Otto Pérez as his Minister of Defense. On December 31, already as president-elect, Portillo allegedly confirmed this to Pérez Molina. By then, the future president had been provided with a list of three names to confirm as defense minister. The shortlist included his favourite and Hernandez and Calderon.
But Portillo´s plan had overlooked one detail: Efrain Rios Montt. General Rios had the impression that Pérez Molina had tried to kill him. Why? In June 1983 several officers of the class of 73, including Pérez Molina, demanded that Rios Montt met a fifteen point plan that he had ignored as head of state when he came to power with the coup of March 1982. Publicly, Rios Montt had shown his was willing, he gladly accepted, but the first thing he did after the officers confronted him was to fire them. Immediately afterwards unknown persons threw a grenade into the house of Rios Montt. Rios Montt was not injured, but he never forgot the aggression and years later he presented Otto Perez with the bill. Perez Molina has always denied responsibility for the attack. Towards the end of 1999, Rios Montt also moved his pieces and expelled some from the chessboard. One of the pieces banished was Pérez Molina. Then, too, began to circulate other names to direct the Ministry of Defense.
In addition to Rios Montt, Pérez Molina had another relevant antibody for the Portillo team: Menaldo Ortega, who apparently could not forgive the firing of the officers of the Cofradía in the D-2 during the Serrano government when Otto Pérez was Director of the D-2. Portillo never admitted that Ortega Menaldo was a major figure in his administration. Ortega Menaldo never had an official job or position. Ortega Menaldo admitted that he knew the President, but also denied any involvement in the Portillo government. Unofficial sources admit the opposite and portray him as an influential figure, which prevented Pérez Molina approach to the circles of power.
Perhaps those are the reasons for what happened on January 2, 2000, twelve days after being sworn in as President, Portillo makes an unexpected treacherous maneuver towards Pérez Molina. Or an anti-Oligarchy movement, according to a political scientist who was close to Portillo at the time. Portillo decides to appoint as Minister of defense Colonel Juan de Dios Estrada Velazquez. And so, with the stroke of a pen, he inadvertently confirms the frailty of the military structure and the dreams of Pérez Molina. "It's like a house of cards," says a source. "Removing a card wrongly placed and everything collapses." And so it was. All the Division and Brigadier Generals, including the signatory of the Peace Accords, Otto Pérez -became available (retired), and the door closed for Perez Molina to lead the army.
Scene II. Act I
On December 29th 1996, President Arzú sent Otto Pérez Molina with a group to Nebaj, Quiche to commemorate the signing of the peace accords. The group was composed by personalities including the ex-Commander of the URNG, Rolando Morán, the Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchú, and the then director of the National Peace Fund, Alvaro Colom. The signing ceremony of the Lasting Peace Accord, was to take place at the same time in Guatemala City.
Nebaj was an emblematic place for the peace accord since, as it had been so for the war that was never called by that name. Nebaj, was one of the three most important populations for the military, in an area called the Ixil Triangle. That area became a strategic location for either victory or the resistance, and it suffered some of the most terrible punishments of the conflict. When he arrived, it was not the first time that Otto Pérez, set foot on that ground. Fourteen years before he had been in those wide and mountainous lands, exiled from the circles of power, under the pseudonym of Major Tito Arias, and he had – based on what he told me four years ago- a mission above all others: to recover the population.
He was there to regain the trust of the population in the Army, an army that had earned everyone’s distrust. The Army had considered that all the indigenous people in the mountains were supporters of the guerrillas, and should therefore be treated like enemies. Otto Perez talked about his mission in 2007 with the US ambassador James Dermhan, according to WikiLeaks. He assured that he arrived in Nebaj to change that idea.
He was promoted to Major on May 3th 1982. Pérez Molina arrived in Nebaj on July of that year and his posting there lasted until April 16th 1983. Officially (according to the National Security Archives) he was in the area barely one year before he was transferred. Since he emerged as a political figure, those ten months and a half have been the target of most of the attacks directed against him.
In the previous elections, while working for elPeriódico, the director asked me to track down information about that unknown fragment in the life of Otto Perez. I called human rights activist in search of specific information or concrete details to gather concrete facts. Nobody had anything. I scored an appointment with an ex-delegate and ex-guerrilla Alba Estela Maldonado, Commander Lola; and five minutes before the meeting she called me without any major explanations to cancel, ad aeternum. I also spoke with father Rosolino, who was the vicar in the Quiché diocese and he told me that in that area, during that time, there were numerous kidnappings and massacres.
“I knew him in Nebaj” he added, according to the notes I took.
I visited Nery Rodenas to the Archbishops Human Rights’ Office, who authored the Interdiocesan Project of Historical Memory Recuperation. ( REHMI by its Spanish acronym). The intention was to cross-check data with the Historical Clarification Committees’ Report. Rodenas told me that they had no concrete data, and in the article that I never published, I wrote: “in the Memory Recuperation Project there is not a single reference to a massacre or crimes committed during this short year in Nebaj’s surroundings, nor in the volumes of the Historical Clarification Committees, nor in the Rigoberta Menchú Foundation.”
I was wrong. This week I went back to revise these reports online. The REHMI notes at least six massacres in Nebaj during this time lapse: the cases 272, 275, 300, 304, 307 and 317 , in the villages of Salquil, Palop, Sumal, Chuatuj, Chortiz, and in Nebaj. (see link below).
The Commission of Historical Clarifications not only tells how the army razed the corn crops and how people were starving to death, exiled in the mountains, but it also tells of the disappearance of 25 people. “In August of 1982, members of the army captured Feliciana Brito Raymundo and 24 other persons. One month later, Feliciana was able to escape. There is no other information about the other victims.”
The search did not last more than three or four days in the capital city. Frankly, when I arrived in Nebaj, I had nothing to speak of. I remained there for two days and I met in a somber little house belonging to Asomovidinq, La Asociación de Movimiento de Víctimas (the Associations for the Movement of Victims), with more than 20 people who wanted to unburden themselves to anybody. They thought that I was going to solve something or apply some curative oil. I listened, and every single one had a terrible story of massacres, or of lost or flayed family members. From the get go they all said that the person responsible was the same one: some called him Tito, others Otto Pérez. But I realized that it only required two or three simple questions about dates or details to disassemble the majority of the narratives. Immediately, many of them recognized that they had never seen him, or that they did not do so until a year later.
“The result of comparing the dates of the crimes with Tito’s command”, I later wrote, “the commander had to have ordered these attacks without any authority or have committed them while not being present.” There were some, amongst those interviewed, who had heard the stories from others, some who had either been prisoners or ex-civil patrolmen (PAC, Patrullas de Autodefensa Civil).
Four testimonies caught my attention (the ages noted are those declared during the time of the interview):
Diego Chávez. 77 years old, was forced to be a civil patrolman. He declared that Tito warned that if someone shot his gun he would be sanctioned. “You do not shoot a bullet just for the fun” “He never gave the order to kill anyone. But if something moved, we had to shoot.”
Cecilia Bacá. She fled with the resistance to the mountain and when she returned she spoke with her cousin Vicente, an ex-army Commander who told her that her father had died by the orders of Tito. “If you had told me something, I would have spoken with the Major, but you fled without saying anything,” her cousin told her.
Juan Chavez. 75 years old. Spent 45 days imprisoned in the camp. “The day I went down to Nebaj, Major Tito was there, calming us down because the army was not going to kill anyone anymore.” Later, during his imprisonment, the Commander would arrive “he would say: that you are going to die. Tomorrow or the day after tomorrow you are going to die”.
Catarina Brito de León. “What I know is that Major Tito who kidnapped people. That is what he did with my husband while he was cutting wood. It was December 18th 1982. The next day I arrived before him at the military base, with 30 other women, and we protested for 30 days”.
In the street, most people did not know who Otto Pérez was, but they spoke of Tito. Some said he had stopped the noise. Others said that he had been a criminal.
The Plan Sofía 82 was not very informative in terms of Otto Pérez, beyond being mentioned once or twice, and from cross-referencing dates I could conclude that he had participated in some bloody combats. On the other hand, I had read fragments of the book by the controversial anthropologist David Stoll, who spoke of Commander Tito.
The references were the two following, and they were quite similar to what I had discovered: 1. “The new Commander was not one of the young officers that had overthrown President Lucas Garcia’s regime, but Major Tito Arias was the epitome of the reformist image. The people of Nebaj confirmed that “the situation had calmed down” under the administration of this sensible officer. Of course, the humanitarian sensibility was relative to the situation: to chasten those who refused to patrol, it became an instituted practice to throw these people into the town’s public washbasin. But, unlike previous commanders, Tito assumed that he was winning the people over. The kidnappings ceased. And, as we shall see further on, one of the rewards for his methods was the sudden arrival of two thousand refugees from an apparent guerrilla stronghold: in the surrounding of the village of Salquil Grande”.
2. “One of the Human Rights Activists happened to be in the town in the early months of 1983, when Major Tito was giving his goodbye speech. The Major said that he knew that many of the people who were listening were still mourning their deceased family members, but that the army had also lost many of its members, and for every dead soldier there was a family in mourning. The visitor was surprised to see that in fact many people in the crowd were crying. Many people in Nebaj considered that, if it was not for Tito, they too would be dead, and they were unsure if his successor would bring back the kidnappings and the massacres.”
A few days ago I wrote to Stoll to ask him what he knew about Tito. He said that he knew little, and explained how he had arrived to his conclusion; he also told me that he had recently heard an incredible detailed story about how he had not stopped his troops from killing a prisoner. He told me that when human rights groups accused him [Otto] of being responsible for massacres in Quiché, they would have to be specific about the dates and locations of the massacres and compare them to his period in Nebaj. “I have no knowledge of him being responsible for the village-style massacres.”
At that time I returned to Guatemala rather disappointed by my lack of proficiency. In an interview in zone 15, that first time that I met him, Tito, Otto, he denied everything except for the practice of throwing those who did not want to patrol into the community’s washbasin.
I was lucky that about a year later, in 2008 or 2009, a documentary fell into my lap, it was called Guatemala: Deadline and seemingly had been lost in some basement for many years. When I saw the date, I knew that Otto Pérez could appear in it, and in the middle of the feature I recognized his voice, his inert gaze and his peculiar nose, he spoke of mortars. Within elPeriódico I distributed five copies, some of them to my bosses, as a curiosity. Then I made two more: I sent one copy to the human rights Ombudsman who I believed would be interested in the research and another to Otto Pérez who, I learned, asked to watch it immediately. I wanted to see how he would react, but above all, I wanted to see if there was something substantial there, for the human rights Ombudsman the opportunity for documenting was there. And Otto Pérez would have the opportunity to defend himself knowing all the evidence that existed, for the sake of fairness.
At that moment I had not paid attention to a scene that later became famous: Major Tito, is in front of four bloody corpses, reading a notebook with semi-marxist slogans. Although Otto Pérez has complained about the work of the press, at the time he did not send any correspondent to document his good work, a pair of American reporters who had wandered into the area documented this. When I realized that that video suggested the Pérez had questioned and tortured to death those four individuals, I contacted Jean Marie Simon and Allan Nairn, the two American journalists who appear in the documentary.
Simon, surprised- did not know that Tito was Otto Pérez, and answered in Spanish:
-We were never able to verify that the Army, meaning Tito, killed the four guerrilla soldiers shown in the documentary. We arrived at the camp just after there was an explosion, which we heard. The official military version was that those four men had committed suicide with a grenade just after they had been taken to a room, and by this avoiding that any information about their guerrilla comrades be extracted from them.
Nairn did not answer me until I tried to contact him again this week. In his first email he referenced a couple of articles that he wrote during that time and a bit later (one of them assured that Otto Pérez, while directing the Presidential Military chief of Staff, was under CIA salary.). In the other article, titled “The Guns of Guatemala: The Merciless Mission of Ríoss Montt’s Army”, reads as follows: “The previous day, in Nebaj, an infantry man who was standing over the bodies of four guerrilla soldiers, executed hours before, showed the interrogation technique he had learned in “Cobra,” a counterinsurgency course taught to the troops. ‘You tie them like this’ he said ‘you tie their hands behind them, you run the rope through here (around the neck) and you tighten it with your boot (on the chest).’ You tie it and make a tourniquet with a stick, and when they are in agony you turn it again and ask again, if they do not respond then you do this again until they speak.’” Afterwards, Nairn wrote me this: “Major Tito was the key commander in a military operation based on civilian massacre.”
In another message, I asked Nairn about the nuances that Simon makes in the video about the lack of certainty that Otto Pérez had tortured the men and the justification about the grenade.
“I guess it's possible –he answered–, though it's a little hard to believe. If that's true it would mean either that the army found their hidden books but didn't find their hidden grenade, or that one of them managed to steal and set off an army grenade without alerting -- or without killing or wounding -- any of the soldiers surrounding them. The official explanation that they all killed themselves instantly with one grenade is contradicted by what the soldiers said privately (which is that they finished them off after the explosion, which wounded some), and is inconsistent with the circumstances (ie. the condition of the bodies, the fairly open place where the explosion purportedly happened, and the known explosive power of a single grenade).
As soon as the explosion occurred Tito immediately ran to the scene. He would have been face to face with the four captives within a minute or so. We weren't allowed in until quite a while later. By that time they were dead and the bodies had been lined up in a row.
Since Monday I have been trying to get in contact with someone in Otto Pérez’s communication team. I have called and written. They did not respond until last Wednesday to say that it would be difficult to find a spot for an interview. I proposed doing so over the telephone: since I did not have many questions. I sent them, yesterday afternoon, all my queries by mail. I wanted to know what they thought of the video. I had still not received this last comment by Nairn. That morning the media representative wrote to me, saying that they had not had time to respond.
A few days ago I asked a consultant of the Partido Patriota who requested to remain anonymous what he thought about this topic. He said: “the documentary is edited. And besides, it is difficult to know which Major they are referring to when talking about the interrogation, because there were two. One of them is now dead.”
-Two? What was the name of the other one?
-I can‘t remember right now. But if I do I will let you know.
I asked Nairn if this was possible. He responded, among other things: “I never heard of another major around Nebaj at that time. It sounds like he's making it up.”
Scene II. Act II
Probably, Otto Pérez Molina is among one of ten Guatemalans who is most often accused of a thousand different things during the last 15 years, serious things mainly.
He has been accused, through the story of a witness who claims having seen him drinking a beer that night near the crime scene, to have participated in the murder of the bishop Juan Gerardi, in 1998. He has been accused of organizing the murder of bus drivers. He is accused of assassinations attempts of Ríos Montt (although he and his family have also been victims of assassinations attempts). He has been accused of stealing the car of drug trafficker Joaquín Guzmán after he was captured. He has been accused of having been in the service of the CIA, and having embezzled - during the last months of Ramiro de León’s presidency- Q19 million ($2.4 million), of having been involved in Devine’s murder. He has been accused, also of drug and contraband trafficking, and many of his relationships with known drug dealers have been pointed out, particularly with the Mendoza family. He has been accused of cashing a check for Future Markets which came from an investment with the Congress were Q 82 million ($10.3 million) were lost, (although he denies it, and the American embassy is still unconvinced by the explanations, although it does not dismiss them either, according to another leaked cable from WikiLeaks). Recently, he has been accused of having crafted the murder of Efraín Bámaca, Commander Everado, while directing Military Intelligence.
11 years ago he left the army. Today, the only case mentioned in the Judicial Branch’s website is that where he the plaintiff not the defendant.
Scene II. Act III
Juan Alberto Fuentes Knight, ex-Finance minister for President Colom, has just published a book, Accountability Report (Rendición de Cuentas). The book assures that the Partido Patriota conditioned certain tax negotiations with the government. In exchange they demanded that “the subject of the death of the guerrilla soldier Efraín Bámaca and the case of the Finance company hired by the Congress would never again be spoken of.”
Scene III. Act I
On February 24th 2001, Pérez Molina created the Partido Patriota. This was the party with which he had hoped to build the consistency of his political figure and pave the way to the Presidency. During this entire decade, the greatest strength the group had was based on its work with Congress. They often presented strong opposition especially during the last four years, the usual blocking of initiatives or negotiations of the governments of Óscar Berger and Álvaro Colom. They supported and frequently proposed security initiatives and the liberalization of the economy, there was also great political theater and posturing of fiscalization with poor results. During the current government, Otto Perez has been outside of Congress and any other political position. He has played a role that is more focused on directing than executing, and he has seen how the national reality has unfolded before him without ever exposing himself. In the meantime, he has been able to create alliances, which have proven key for his election in certain departments.
Possessing great knowledge of the authoritarian tendencies and inclinations towards chiefdoms and “the clients” within national politics, especially in the elections in certain departments of the country, he has known how to attract certain politicians into his party which range from village kings-like figures to crafty, unscrupulous individuals, all of whom are capable of attracting votes. “Firm in the strategy and agile in the tactics,” was repeatedly quoted by his mentor, Héctor Gramajo. Otto Perez has known how to make the requirements to enter the party malleable and therefore ensure his chances of victory. “Firm in the strategy and agile in the tactics,” he has also known how to administer his relationships with the private sector in what he sees to be in his best interest.
Just by studying the second half of Berger’s presidency, an administration of businessmen, several of which are now with him, or who since the Serranazo have wanted him to stay close, they have put their hopes and interests on him. Emmanuel Seidner or Carmen Urízar are two examples of the Berger cabinet. Just by noting that it was him and his party who told Carlos Vielmann, the Interior Minister during Berger, an élite businessman,: “You are carrying out extra judiciary executions. You need to leave the Ministry.” That phrase is a little outside of his mano dura (hard fist) script, but they got rid of Vielmann.
It also suffices just to know that when the Great National Alliance (GANA by its Spanish Accronym) formed the Berger government, the Partido Patriota was a member. The focuse was to create a strong platform in congress to later become the protagonist in the future. For the people within the Partido Patriota, he only asked for three administrative positions, which were always key for the military: Immigration, Customs and Port Authority. For himself, he became head of the Commissioner of Presidential Security, he participated in a lukewarm modernization and a widespread reduction of the army, the alliance with Berger did not last more than half a year.
It was Berger, who assured that when the pact was broken, it was maybe better to have them as opposition that made opposition, and not as allies making opposition.
Scene III. Act II
All the polls, which have surfaced during the last few months, have shown Otto Pérez as the winner in the elections. It is yet to be seen if this will be in the first of the second round of votes. Some believe that the time of the general has arrived. If this is the case, his victory can be the retaliation for 1998, when they sent him to the freezer, or 1999 when they replaced him as the candidate for the Ministry of Defense, and later when he was banished from the political circle.
If this is the case, he will have won two races in one election. They are the first political party to outspend all the others and go way above the legal limit, according to Mirador Electoral. The second would be to achieve what no other military man in the last quarter of the century has achieved, becoming both a Commanding General of the Army and the Republic’s President.
It is difficult to know exactly what Otto thinks, the man with the unperturbed countenance, and inert gaze. It is difficult to foresee what his hypothetical government will be like, in these circumstances, in this incertitude.
Especially, when some consider him as a kind of “Juan Manuel Santos” one who betrays his own kind, the spirit in the armed forces, or his tactical allies; the way that some see the reduction of the army and his little battles with the private sector. But he is bent on seeing himself as a reflection of Uribe.
Especially when he insists on the need of refunding the State yet he opposes tax hikes.
In his past, for better or for worse, Otto Pérez has shown an aspect of himself, which he tends to celebrate: his strong character. There have been grand gestures, intrepid, at times reckless, implacable and imprudent, sometimes –apparently- too much.
Otto Pérez is about to start writing the culmination of his story, the element that may perhaps, retrospectively, help interpret his path, and maybe understand his character. We are near the beginning –so claim the polls- of a government that no other than Otto may truly know what to expect.
He does not seem a fool, as suggested by one of his congressmen in front of the American Embassy. As the ambassador Stephan McFarland wrote: “Pérez Molina is no babe in the woods.”
A few days ago Pérez Molina and his communication team received a request for a short interview for this profile. They argued that they did not have time to do so, and they it would be very difficult for them to find a space in the schedule. It was suggested to do the questions via telephone, and later the questions were sent to them via mail. The publication of this article was postponed to allow for their explanations and comments, and during the last available moments mails were written and there were further attempts to contact them by telephone. In the case that once this profile is published they have a response, Plaza Pública will do its best to include this response in the text.
Julie López, editor of Plaza Pública contributed in reporting and writing of this profile.
pero nos esforzamos por mandarte un resumen semanal. Casi siempre.
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