PUBLIC AI Index: AMR 34/019/2002
UA 89/02 Intimidation/fear for safety 22 March 2002
GUATEMALAStaff of AVANCSO, social science research institute
Armed men broke into the offices of the Asociación para el Avance de las Ciencias
Sociales (AVANCSO), Investigation Centre for the Advancement of Social
Sciences, on 20 March. The break-in appears to have been a clear attempt to
intimidate AVANSCO staff, who have investigated areas of military activity,
including human rights violations, that the army would prefer to keep secret.
Amnesty International is concerned for their safety, and is concerned that
this kind of intimidation will prevent them from carrying out their vital
The office caretaker was grabbed by two armed men at 6.30pm, who forced their
way in. They told him clearly that they did not intend to steal anything. A
third man then arrived, and was left to guard the caretaker, while the other
two forced their way into the upstairs offices. They left after half an hour.
The office computer and printer were not touched and nothing was stolen.
AVANCSO had recently put its name to a paid advertisement supporting Mons.
Alvaro Ramazzini, Bishop of San Marcos department. Bishop Ramazzini had received
death threats in early March, apparently because he was involved in a dispute
between peasants and landowners in San Marcos (see UA 67/02, AMR 34/015/2002,
7 March 2002). In the advertisement, AVANCSO made clear its view that the
government should develop a strategy to alleviate rural land disputes.
Anthropologist Myrna Mack, who was working for AVANCSO, was stabbed to death
in 1990, apparently in reprisal for her research into the way the military’s
counter-insurgency campaign had forced peasant farmers to flee their land during
Guatemala's long-term civil conflict. Her findings, that the military was
targeting civilian populations, were made known at a crucial point in the
Guatemalan peace process and were highly damaging to the military and the
Only one person has been convicted for her murder. AVANSCO staff have campaigned
for all those responsible to be brought to justice, and have received death
threats as a result.
In October 2001, AVANCSO investigator Matilde González reported that she was
being followed and that she had received threatening telephone calls. She
believed the Estado Mayor Presidencial (EMP), the Presidential Chiefs of Staff,
to be responsible, in an effort to intimidate her and interfere with her research
into new mechanisms used by the military to manipulate and control local
communities. Her work had revealed military complicity in the mob violence
and lynchings taking place in rural communities throughout Guatemala (see UA
266/01, AMR 34/039/2001, 19 October 2001).
The EMP exists ostensibly to protect the President and Vice President and their
families, but in fact has played a key role in army intelligence operations.
It has frequently been cited as implicated in some of Guatemala's most high
profile human rights abuses, including the murder of Bishop Juan José Gerardi
in 1998. The EMP was to have been disbanded under the 1996 Peace Accords but
this has not yet happened.