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Members of the archive’s National Advisory Board stand with Ana Carla Ericastilla, director of the General Archives of Central America (front, center), Gustavo Meoño (back, right), representatives from several embassies (back), and National Security Archive’s Kate Doyle at release of the report, "Del Silencio a la Memoria" at the University of San Carlos in Guatemala City, Guatemala on June 7, 2011. [Daniel Hernández-Salazar © 2011]

From Silence to Memory: A Celebration of the Report of the Historical Archives of the National Police

National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 347

Posted - June 9, 2011

For more information contact:
Kate Doyle - 646/670-8841

English / Spanish

The Police Archive’s new Web page was launched with the publication of the report, containing photographs, texts, links, and an electronic portal to submit information requests to the archive directly. http://www.archivohistoricopn.org/

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Guatemala City, Guatemala, June 7, 2011 - This text is a copy of the speech given by Kate Doyle at the ceremony of the presentation of the report, "From Silence to Memory: Revelations of the Historical Archive of the National Police" at the University of San Carlos in Guatemala City, Guatemala.


I’m honored to be here today on behalf of the International Advisory Board of the Project to Recover the Historical Archives of the National Police in order to congratulate the archive’s staff for its tremendous work in rescuing documents that represent a critical aspect of the country’s political and social history and the patrimony of the people of Guatemala. Archives – and in particular the Historical Archive of the National Police (AHPN) – play an indispensible role in the defense of human rights in Guatemala and the struggle against forgetting. The fruits of your labor, including the report being presented here today, are now apparent, both inside and outside the country.

The International Advisory Board  consists of representatives of archives and human rights organizations from diverse countries, and includes Dr. Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, Nobel Peace Prize winner and President of the Provincial Commission for Memory in Argentina; Fina Solá, International Secretary of Archives Without Borders, based in Barcelona; Spain’s renowned expert in archives, Antonio González Quintana; Maripaz Vergara Low, Executive Secretary of the Vicariate of Solidarity in Chile; Dr. Patrick Ball, scientist and statistician from the Benetech Group in California; and your own Arturo Taracena, writer, researcher and doctor of history, a Guatemalan living in Mexico – among others. We form part of a broad international community of experts in the fields of archives and human rights that are firm supporters of the Historic Archive of the National Police, admirers of your achievements, standing with you in solidarity in the fight against impunity.  The Archive, in short, should feel well accompanied.

The title of the AHPN publication is a tribute to the final report of the Commission for Historical Clarification (CEH), “Memory of Silence”: not only in the sense that the commission was able to deliver to the people of Guatemala the results of an unprecedented and powerful investigation, but as an implicit reference to one of the thorniest problems the commission faced – the lack of official information.  Not the lack of testimony from survivors. Not the lack of bones, unearthed in exhumations. Not the lack of publications of human rights organizations, or the decisions of inter-American institutions. Not the lack of press clippings, reports of the church, the family requests or eyewitness testimony. Only the lack of official government information in Guatemala: from the Army and from its accomplice and subordinate institution, the National Police.

In the twelfth and final volume of its report, the CEH published dozens of letters exchanged between the three commissioners and the high command of the country’s security institutions, including the then-Minister of Defense, Héctor Mario Barrios Celada, and Interior Minister Rodolfo Mendoza Rosales. The communications capture the commission’s exasperation and intense frustration in trying to obtain even the most basic documents from the parties to the internal conflict in order to be able to carry out their investigations in a rigorous and balanced way. They also capture the implacable and inevitable response of the officials: No. There were no documents, the documents never existed, they were destroyed, they were lost, or worse, the documents were still classified under the seal of national security.

In one letter to President Alvaro Arzú Irigoyen dated May 24, 1998, the commissioners wrote, “It is difficult to accept that the information does not exist in Government archives. If that were true, then every time we perceived a serious irregularity indicating the State’s responsibility in human rights violations, we would consider it necessary to receive assurances of the investigative measures adopted to determine the precise causes of the loss of historic documents of an official nature. We consider that such measures form part of the Government’s obligation to cooperate with the Commission, as well as the State’s duty to investigate and sanction human rights violations…”

Of course, Guatemala is not the only country in Latin America that suffers from the silence, denial and secrecy of its own institutions in relation to the region’s painful history of repression. Peru, for example, has very similar problems, as the prosecutors named in the Fujimori case discovered. When they requested archives from the armed forces in order to be able to analyze the characteristics of military units involved in massacres, the Army responded that all the relevant documents had been burned. Burned? How were they burned, and when? The prosecutors never received a response – the Army never submitted a copy of an order to burn records nor a list of the archives supposedly destroyed. They did not consider it necessary – as though these were their own documents and not the property of the people of Peru – and they were right. The government of Peru did not demand accountability from the military in the matter.

In its call for the State’s obligation to produce its archives – and in particular in its insistence that the authorities justify any missing information and make an effort to recover it through internal investigations – the CEH anticipated by more than ten years an extraordinary ruling from the Inter-American Court, issued in December of last year. In “Gomes Lund v. Brazil,” the Court resolved that Brazilian authorities had to turn over all official documents to family members of a group of some 60 militants disappeared by security forces during the 1970s in the Araguaia region. The Court emphasized the existence of a “regional consensus about the importance of access to public information.” (§198) The Court affirmed the right to the truth of people affected by atrocities committed during the counterinsurgency campaign against the Araguaia militants. The Court established that “in cases of human rights violations, government authorities cannot hide behind mechanisms such as State secrecy or the confidentiality of the information, or for reasons of public interest or national security, in order to avoid providing information required by judicial or administrative authorities charged with a pending investigation or process. In addition, when an investigation concerns a punishable offense, the decision to qualify information as secret and refuse its disclosure must never depend exclusively on the government organ whose members are implicated in the commission of the crime.” (§202)

Finally, and very important in the case of Guatemala, “In the opinion of this Tribunal, the State cannot seek protection by using the lack of evidence concerning the existence of the documents; on the contrary, it must justify the refusal to provide them, demonstrating that it has taken every measure to confirm that, effectively, the requested information does not exist. It is clearly essential that, in order to guarantee the right to information, the authorities act in good faith and diligently carry out the necessary actions to secure the effectiveness of this right, especially when it involves the truth about serious human rights violations like the forced disappearances and the extrajudicial execution of the present case.” (§211)

For too long the Guatemalan State institutions have been able to use silence, denial, and secrecy to cover up the violations committed by their own agents without fear of sanction. The work of the Historical Archive of the National Police – and in particular the publication of the extraordinary report that we celebrate today – is a direct challenge to this dark legacy.

For Guatemala, the report reveals some ugly truths about the principle institution charged with the protection of citizens’ security. How, for example, the anti-communist functions of the National Security Directorate – established shortly after the installation of the military dictatorship in the 1950s – were granted as powers to investigate, monitor, arrest, interrogate and detain any person under the flimsiest of pretexts.  How the directorate’s functions quickly exceeded in importance and prestige the ordinary anti-crime functions of the police— ultimately infecting the culture of the police. How the National Police were militarized just as quickly, in all aspects: their structure, their ranks, their reporting, and their operations. How they were subordinated to the army. How, in the 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s, the intensity of the social control exercised by the police and the ferocity of their repressive actions, were mirrored negatively by their total incompetence and lack of interest in their supposed main function: to investigate crimes, including the crimes of kidnapping and assassination.

For the United States, the report has lessons of a different nature. Because although some documents located within the AHPN tell of the close relations between the security forces and their North American supporters and sponsors, hundreds of declassified documents from the United States already existed that describe our ignominious history in relation to the National Police. Instead, for us, the report serves as a reminder of the role we played for decades in Guatemala, providing every kind of assistance possible in line with our notorious national security doctrine to the repressive forces in this country.

Of course, you will read the report yourselves; interested people from all over the world will read it: historians, researchers, journalists, specialists, archivists, activists, family, and prosecutors. You will discover the riches that it offers on your own. But I would like to emphasize an aspect of the report that you might miss: that is, the transparency of the archival process that underlies the document.

Read the introduction to see how carefully the mechanisms and research methodology behind the AHPN investigations are explained: the analysis, statistical studies, and internal and external debate about the issue of public access. Read pages 38-39 about “The criteria to record the names that appear in the AHPN documents,”—a profound and serious reflection about the decision to publish without restriction all of the names that appear in the report. It is worth quoting: “The armed internal conflict and repressive practices characterized a recent historic period in Guatemala that affected and continues to affect society enormously. In the face of this reality, the conclusion is inevitable that the political events that took place between 1960 and 1996 form part of the collective history of the Nation. This should be understood in its fullest dimension, so that no one has the right to hide information that comes from the actions by the State and its officials.”

In reference to the legal instruments that guarantee the right to information – such as, for example, Article 24 of the Access to Information Law, which prohibits the withholding as confidential or classified any information that could contribute to the clarification of violations against fundamental human rights – the AHPN chose to include “the first and last names of all actors, active and passive, mentioned in the documents, be they government or public employees (in the case of the National Police and other state entities such as the Army), confidential collaborators, individuals such as victims and their family members, those who file criminal complaints, individuals with police files, and petitioners, among others.”

And read the hundreds of footnotes referring to documents cited in the text – read them and enjoy the links that were incorporated in the digital version of the report so that we can go directly to the scanned image of the document and read it in its entirety, if we want. This is transparency: an obligation for the State authorities, and a valuable tool for civil society.

I am here on behalf of my own archive and NGO, the National Security Archive in Washington, and have visited and worked in several other archives throughout the Americas. Based on that experience, I can say with certainty that there are very few examples of archival institutions that provide indexes, not to mention an investigative report, such as the one we celebrate today. The example of Mexico is sufficient. In 2002, President Vicente Fox took the decision—in the context of the political transition—to order his military, defense, and intelligence institutions to transfer documents related to the so-called “dirty war” (1968-1983) to the Mexican National Archives (Archivo General Nacional – AGN).  I was living in Mexico at that time and it seemed to us a wonderful idea and we congratulated the government. Then we went to the archives to try to actually use the famous documents from the dirty war, and guess what? It was an exercise in complete frustration. Because no one had created an index to the collections, and no one thought to sensitize AGN employees how to manage this special collection, not to mention the researchers – among them family members, sometimes humble, vulnerable or fearful people arriving at the archives for the first time. In the section where the most sensitive documents were stored, records from the Federal Security Directorate (Dirección Federal de Seguridad – DFS)—the Mexican version of the CIA and FBI combined—an official from the very same intelligence agency was placed in charge of providing public access to the intelligence files. Needless to say, after a few months, the public stopped coming to the AGN to consult the “dirty war” documents.

So access to information is much, much more, than announcing the declassification of documents. It means organizing the documents in a way that is clear to ordinary people; it means creating indexes, catalogs and databases – instruments, that is, to render the files readable, comprehensible and searchable. It means preparing and training the staff so they can cater to special users: those same family members, or prosecutors working on criminal cases. In very rare instances does it mean publishing an investigative report such as this one – From Silence to Memory – which offers us indispensable insights into the treasure trove that is the Historical Archive of the National Police. The report will serve as a guide to the collections for researcher for years to come, but also as a history of the security institutions of Guatemala, a deep analysis of the logic of urban counterinsurgency and the instruments of repression, and an assessment of seven specific human rights cases. It is a gift to all of us – to Guatemalan society and to all those interested in history, memory and justice.

Thank you.



From Silence to Memory: Revelations of the Historical Archive of the National Police

Complete Report - (9.61 MB)


The following is a selection of document highlights from the report:

Document 1

(pg. 90 of report)
Fotografía I.1.a
28 October 1981
 “Información confidencial con remisión manuscrita al COCP 1981”

This document illuminates the role of the Joint Operations Center of the National Police (Centro de Operaciones Conjuntas de la Policía – COCP). The command center directed communications between the National Police headquarters (Dirección General – DG) and units in the Military.

The police Joint Operations Center transmitted information from the police investigations unit to the military intelligence command, such as the President’s own intelligence service, the Archivo General y Servicios de Apoyo del EMP. The Archivo was part of the President’s General Staff (EMP) and maintained personal information on civilians since its inception in the 1960s. The intelligence and operational unit was at the heart of the urban terror campaign to kidnap, torture, and disappear suspected subversives during under the governments of Fernando Romero Lucas García (1978-1982), Efraín Rios Montt (1982-1983) and Oscar Mejía Víctores (1983-1985). 

This document was sent to the Archivo to notify its agents of “delinquent subversives,” and gives the exact address of where they could be found. It also describes the weapons maintained by the bodyguard of the local police chief, and of the local chief of transportation.

Document 2
(pg. 93 of report, footnote number 148)
"Nace un nuevo cuerpo",

This internal newsletter, the National Police Review (Revista Policía Nacional),titled “Birth of a new corps” ("Nace un nuevo cuerpo"), reported on the formation of the new "Fifth Corps" of the police, also known as the Special Operations Command (COE - Comando de Operaciones Especiales) or the Reaction and Special Operations Battalion (BROE - Batallón de Reacción y Operaciones Especiales). The unit would go on to become notorious for its brutal countersubversive sweeps aimed at dismantling insurgent networks, and is linked to dozens of documented forced disappearances.

The newsletter contains the follow sections, among others: “National Police Infrastructure”, “Women and Public Security”, the “Sacrifice of Police Work”, “Daily Living of an Agent”, “Anonymous Heroes”, and the importance and origin of “School Security Patrols.”
The newsletter also contains a section titled “Human Rights,” where it states that, “human rights continue to be the first priority when each police officer carries out civil control duties.”

Document 3
(pg. 140 of report)
Fotografía I.25
circa 1981
Ejemplo de nómina de personal 1981

The police documents include personnel lists for all the major police units in the capital as well as in major cities across Guatemala. These lists provide key information for investigators documenting individual responsibility for government-sponsored abuses.

This record, from 1981, lists names of personnel and their positions from January 1, 1980 through December 31, 1980. The director general, German Chupina Barahona is listed as the director general, along with two other senior staff, administrative staff, corps chiefs, and department chiefs.

Document 4
(pg. 341 of report, footnote 106)

Throughout the conflict the Guatemalan government used what it called the “management of information” to identify and destroy networks of guerrillas and suspected subversives in what was known among security officials as the “urban guerrilla war” (guerra de guerillas urbanas). The collecting of first-hand information from captured resistance leaders and militants through interrogation and torture was one of the main methods of “managing” information. The first-hand information enabled the security forces to analyze the infrastructure of the guerrilla movement and quickly move to capture its members.

This document provides instruction to police forces on how to properly conduct an interrogation:

“The captured enemy will talk only if the interrogator is properly prepared to carry out the interrogation. The information that is extracted will serve future operations and correct errors in those operations.”

In order to properly carry out the interrogation, the police official is instructed to personally observe the prisoner, taking notes on clothing, mood, and attitude. The interrogator is instructed to know details of the prisoner’s capture, and how he/she was treated by other officers when they were captured.

The document then continues with a list of questions the interrogator should ask them self while preparing for the interrogation, including:

“a. What appears to be his attitude?  Afraid, calm, willing to cooperate, etc.
b. What can you do to increase or prolong his fear?
c. What can you do to eliminate or alleviate his fear?
d. What documents or effects that the individual was carrying when captured that could be used to help you during questioning?
e. What information is required urgently?”

Document 5
(pg. 404 in report)
Fotografía IV.7
20 September 1978

These pictures are from a confidential report prepared by the Detective Corps in relation to student protests held in solidarity with Nicaragua on September 20, 1978. In the third photograph, the student with the white pants with a cross marked on his leg is Oliverio Castañeda de Leon.

Castañeda, an economics student at San Carlos University, was the Secretary General of the University Student Association and an iconic figure for the democratic and revolutionary left. He was a member of many student groups that were constantly monitored by state security forces because of suspected subversive activities. This set of photographs, only a few from a vast collection, exemplifies the level of control and vigilance with which the National Police monitored student leaders. Two months after this photo was taken, on October 20, 1978, the 23 year-old Castañeda was assassinated just blocks away from the presidential palace after leaving a demonstration in Guatemala City’s central plaza.

Document 6
(pg. 407 in report, footnote number 18)
19 October 1978
Ejército Secreto Anti-Comunista – Boletin No. 3

One day before Oliverio Castañeda de León’s murder, on October 19, his name appeared on the Secret Anti-Communist Army’s "Condemned to Death" list, published in the group’s Bulletin Number Three. Castañeda’s name is underlined in the bulletin, a copy of which was discovered in the AHPN.

Document 7
(pg. 466 in report)
Fotografía IV.13
11 August 1980
“Ficha post mortem de Vicente Hernández Camey”

The large cache of records from the Police Archive’s Identification Bureau (Gabinete de Identificación) was significantly deteriorated when discovered in July 2005. Despite their poor condition, the documents are an essential key to identifying the bodies of the unknown from the conflict.

In February 1969, the National Police implemented the “Henry Fingerprinting System” as part of a cold-war police training program headed by Sergio Roberto Lima Morales, Chief of the Identification Bureau. This system enabled the police to identify cadáveres xx, or “unidentified bodies”. This document displays the product of the “Henry” fingerprinting system, named after a British police inspector who developed his method for criminal investigations in colonial India.

These are the post-mortem fingerprints of Vincente Hernández Camey a member of the Vecinos Mundial, or “Global Neighbors”, a private organization of the indigenous Kaqchiquel community in Chimaltenango. Hernández Camey was forcibly disappeared along with a companion, Roberto Xihuac—also a member of Global Neighbors—on August 7, 1979. Originally, Hernández Camey entered the National Police system as an unidentified body; however, the police were able to positively identify him by using the fingerprinting system.



National Security Archive's Kate Doyle speaks at the ceremony for the release of the report, "From Silence to Memory: Revelations of the Historical Archive of the National Police" in Guatemala City, Guatemala on June 7, 2011. [Daniel Hernández-Salazar © 2011]
Coordinator of the Historical Archives of the National Police (AHPN), Gustavo Meoño, speaks to audience at release of the report, "Del Silencio a la Memoria" at the University of San Carlos in Guatemala City, Guatemala on June 7, 2011. [Daniel Hernández-Salazar © 2011]
Coordinator of the Historical Archives of the National Police (AHPN) Gustavo Meoño, and AHPN Investigator, Velia Muralles recieve the Intstitute for Policy Studies (IPS) Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Special Recognition Award in October 2010 on behalf of the AHPN. Joy Zarembka, interim director of IPS, presents the award. [Photo (c) Intstitute for Policy Studies]
Oliverio Castañeda de Leon, Secretary General of San Carlos University Student Association and iconic figure for democratic and revolutionary left, was assassinated on October 20, 1978. Castañeda had been named by the Secret Anti-Communist Army (ESA) in its "Death List" published in the Guatemalan press on October 19, 1978. AHPN documents about Castañeda are included in the AHPN report on page 397.
A copy of an internal newsletter, The National Police Reivew, is incorporated in the Historical Archives of the National Police (AHPN) report being released today. see page 93 of report, footnote number 148.
Piles of documents at the Historical Archives of the National Police (AHPN) in Guatemala City, Guatemala. [Daniel Hernández-Salazar © 2005]

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