The Miami Herald
September 1, 2009

Guatemala convicts paramilitary in disappearances

Associated Press Writer

A Guatemalan court has convicted and sentenced a former paramilitary to 150 years in prison for the forced disappearance of six people who were abducted and presumably killed during the country's civil war - a landmark ruling hailed by human rights activists Tuesday.

The sentence against Felipe Cusanero represents 25 years for each victim who disappeared between 1982 and 1984 from the village of Choatalum. Cusanero, a local farmer, was part of a network of paramilitaries who gave information about suspected leftists living in their villages to the army during Guatemala's counterinsurgency campaign.

He is the first paramilitary to be tried for a forced disappearance. Candido Noriega, a paramilitary from the Quiche region, was sentenced to 50 years in 1999 for dozens of killings while working for the army in the 1980s. He was not tried for forced disappearances, however.

Former Foreign Relations Minister and human rights activist Edgar Gutierrez said he hopes the case will mark an end to impunity for soldiers and former paramilitaries accused of being behind the disappearance of more than 40,000 people during the 1960-1996 war.

Families of the victims are demanding Cusanero reveal where the bodies were buried.

Nearly 200,000 Guatemalans were killed during the war. A U.N. truth commission in 1999 found 90 percent of the war's atrocities were carried out by former soldiers and paramilitaries.

Carmen Aida Ibarra of the Myrna Mack Foundation said Monday's ruling by a Guatemalan court "is the first time that it has been made clear what happened" to victims of the campaign against leftist.

Cusanero's defense attorney is expected to contest the ruling.