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Army occupation of Río Azul model village, Nebaj, Quiché. Photograph courtesy of Jean-Marie Simon, Guatemala: Eternal Spring, Eternal Tyranny.

Operation Sofia: Documenting Genocide in Guatemala

National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 297

Posted - December 2, 2009

For more information contact:
Kate Doyle - kadoyle@gwu.edu

English / Spanish / French

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Guatemala Documentation Project

In the news

"El Ejército de Ríos Montt mató a más de 200.000 civiles en Guatemala entre 1978 y 1983"
By Antonio Rubio
El Mundo (Spain)
December 2, 2009

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December 2, 2009, Washington, DC - The Guatemalan army, under the direction of military ruler Efraín Ríos Montt, carried out a deliberate counterinsurgency campaign in the summer of 1982 aimed at massacring thousands of indigenous peasants, according to a comprehensive set of internal records presented as evidence to the Spanish National Court and posted today by the National Security Archive on its Web site. The files on “Operation Sofia” detail official responsibility for what the 1999 UN-sponsored Historical Clarification Commission determined were “acts of genocide against groups of Mayan people.”

The National Security Archive’s Kate Doyle presented the documentation as evidence in the international genocide case, which is under investigation by Judge Santiago Pedraz in Madrid. Ms. Doyle testified today before Judge Pedraz on the authenticity of the documents, which were obtained from military intelligence sources in Guatemala. Earlier this year, Defense Minister Gen. Abraham Valenzuela González claimed that the military could not locate the documents or turn them over to a judge in Guatemala, as ordered by the Guatemalan Constitutional Court in 2008.

After months of analysis, which included evaluations of letterheads and signatures on the documents and comparisons to other available military records, Doyle said, “we have determined that these records were created by military officials during the regime of Efraín Ríos Montt to plan and implement a ‘scorched earth’ policy on Mayan communities in El Quiché. The documents record the military’s genocidal assault against indigenous populations in Guatemala.”

The Archive’s Guatemala project has a long track record of obtaining and authenticating internal records on Guatemalan repression. In 1999, Ms. Doyle obtained a “death squad diary”—a logbook of kidnappings, secret detentions, torture, disappearances and executions between 1983 and 1985 kept by the feared “Archivo,” a secret intelligence unit controlled by President Oscar Humberto Mejía Víctores. Although the military claimed the document was a fabrication, a team of experts led by Doyle was able to establish its authenticity. The logbook has been accepted as official, authentic evidence by the Inter-American Human Rights Commission.

The appearance of the original “Operation Sofía” documents provides the first public glimpse into secret military files on the counterinsurgency campaign that resulted in massacres of tens of thousands of unarmed Mayan civilians during the early 1980s, and displaced hundreds of thousands more as they fled the Army’s attacks on their communities. The records contain explicit references to the killing of unarmed men, women and children, the burning of homes, destruction of crops, slaughter of animals and indiscriminate aerial bombing of refugees trying to escape the violence.

Among the 359 pages of original planning documents, directives, telegrams, maps, and hand-written patrol reports is the initial order to launch the operation issued on July 8, 1982, by Army Chief of Staff Héctor Mario López Fuentes. The records make clear that "Operation Sofía" was executed as part of the military strategy of Guatemala’s de facto president, Gen. Efraín Ríos Montt, under the command and control of the country’s senior military officers, including then Vice Minister of Defense Gen. Mejía Víctores. Both men are defendants in the international genocide case in front of the Spanish Court.

In 1999, the UN-sponsored Historical Clarification Commission concluded that the Guatemalan Army had committed “massacres, human rights violations, and other atrocities” against Mayan communities that “illustrated a government policy of genocide.” Due to military stonewalling, which included refusing to turn over internal records, the Commission based its findings almost exclusively on testimony from witnesses and perpetrators, human rights reports, and data from exhumations. The Commission also drew on declassified U.S. government documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act and provided by the National Security Archive.

The posting today includes an analysis by Kate Doyle of the Operation Sofia documents, as well as photographs from the Ixil region taken in 1982 by photojournalist and human rights advocate, Jean-Marie Simon.



Document 1
July 8 – August 20, 1982
Operación Sofía
Guatemalan Armed Forces

Complete report - Low resolution - (18 MB) | High resolution - (70 MB)

Report in sections - Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

The Operation Sofía archive is a bound collection of 359 pages of documents sent to and from the Army General Staff (Estado Mayor General del Ejército - EMGE), the Commander of the Guatemalan Airborne Troops – who planned and ran the operation – the Commander of the special counterinsurgency Task Force “Gumarcaj,” the Commander of the Huehuetenango Military Zone, and the commanding officers of the Army battalions, companies and patrol units assigned to carry out the offensive.

Document 2 - Excerpt from an analysis of the Operation Sofía documents by Kate Doyle


Refugees being brought into town on trucks following army sweeps into mountainsides, Nebaj, Quiche. Photograph courtesy of Jean-Marie Simon, Guatemala: Eternal Spring, Eternal Tyranny.

Interrogation of woman and child, suspected subversives, at army garrison, Chajul, Quiché. Photograph courtesy of Jean-Marie Simon, Guatemala: Eternal Spring, Eternal Tyranny.

Ixil refugee and children in the New Life refugee camp, partly financed by U.S. evangelical groups, near Nebaj, Quiché. Photograph courtesy of Jean-Marie Simon, Guatemala: Eternal Spring, Eternal Tyranny.

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