Xuncax v. Gramajo – International Human Rights and Solidarity – CCR Docket Fall 1992

While accepting a diploma in June 1991 during commencement ceremonies at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, Guatemalan ex-Defense Minister Hector Gramajo was stopped and served legal papers charging that he designed, ordered, implemented and directed a program of massacres, murders, disappearances, widespread torture, and arbitrary arrest, known throughout Latin America as “the Guatemala Solution.”

As chief military commander of seven western provinces of Guatemala in 1982, Gramajo employed sadistic tactics to eliminate independent social, political, and religious activities and potential opponents of the government. In an interview last year in the journal International Review, Gramajo described the overall plan during this period: We instituted Civil Affairs (in 1982) which provides development for 70  percent of the population while we kill 30 percent.

Eight of the nine plaintiffs in this suit represent tens of thousands of indigenous Guatemalans who were persecuted, often publicly, to discourage opposition movements and to force them to support the military.

For example, in July 1982 plaintiff Juan Doe witnessed a massacre by government soldiers who abducted his father and several other men from their village in one of the areas under Gramajo’s command. Doe watched as soldiers interrogated his father and beat him with rifle butts, burned him  with iron rods and forced him to walk over broken glass. Making their last demands for information about government opponents, soldiers threw Doe’s father and the other prisoners into a flaming pit where they died after several minutes. His son, watching, was unable to scream or cry, for fear that he himself would be shot.

The ninth plaintiff in the lawsuit refused to participate in a cover-up of a later massacre in El Aguacate. His father also refused-and was “disappeared” by the army.  Though  the El Aguacate massacre was investigated and denounced by several international human rights groups, Gramajo conducted a cover-up of the massacre, meeting with survivors and instructing them to “defend the Army” and to state publicly that “guerillas” had committed the murders . Gramajo sent two of the survivors to Washington, D.C. to testify about the massacre before members of Congress, and to attribute responsibility to “guerillas.”

CCR brought this suit under the Filartiga principle (see preceding Docket entry) in the District Court of Massachusetts while Gramajo was living in Cambridge. There is speculation that Gramajo retired in 1990 from his post as Defense Minister in order to run for president in 1995, because the Guatemalan Constitution prohibits military officials from holding political office until they have been out of the armed forces for five years.

Gramajo answered the complaint pro se (acting as his own lawyer) but failed to provide his current address or to send a copy of his reply to plaintiffs’ attorneys. In July 1991 CCR filed a motion requesting both.

The following month, the district court judge ordered Gramajo to comply; his order was published in La Prensa, the largest circulation Guatemalan daily newspaper.

After his graduation, Gramajo returned to Guatemala and continued his refusal to cooperate with the court. Because of Gramajo’s failure to respond, the judge found him in default. This default means that since Gramajo did not challenge the plaintiffs’ assertions, the court will accept them as true.

CCR then submitted extensive documentation in support of plaintiffs’ claim for a multi-million dollar award of damages. This included detailed affidavits about Gramajo’ s egregious conduct, and therapists’ evaluations about on-going harm suffered by victims of torture and exile.

A decision on the default judgment  is pending.

Beth Stephens, Michael Ratner, Jennifer M. Green, Jose Luis Morin, and David Cole, with Harvey Kaplan of Kaplan, O’Sullivan & Friedman; James F. Smith of the University of California Law School at Davis; Todd Howland of EL Rescate Legal Services; and Harold Hongju Koh of the Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic of Yale University