U.S. State Department Geographic Bureaus: Latin America Bureau

U.S. Department of State
96/05/03 Guatemala Human Rights Violations


State Department Documents
Human Rights Violations in Guatemala
1984 - 1995


1. Document review categories
2. Notes on FOIA exemptions
3. Letters from SSCI and President Clinton


During the past year, increasing concern about human rights violations against American citizens and others in Guatemala has stimulated strong Congressional, media and public interest.

In letters received from February to April 1995, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) requested the Department's records on the deaths of Michael DeVine, Efrain Bamaca Velasquez, Jack Shelton, Nicholas Blake and Griffin Davis, the abuse of Sister Dianna Ortiz and the reported role of Guatemalan military Colonel Julio Roberto Alpirez in the deaths of Messrs. DeVine and Bamaca. The Chairman of the SSCI also communicated his concern about these human rights violations to the President, who replied to the Chairman in a letter dated June 22, 1995. See addendum 3 for these letters.

On March 30, 1995, the President directed the Intelligence Oversight Board (IOB) to conduct a government-wide review concerning the Bamaca case and other cases involving human rights abuses against American citizens in Guatemala from 1984. In conjunction with this investigation, the Inspectors General at the Justice and State Departments, CIA and the Pentagon conducted inquiries into the allegations publicized in the media and reflected in the Congressional requests. The President has stated that once the IOB's review is completed all appropriate information will be released to the public.

In early April 1995, the Department, among other agencies, took immediate action to compile and reserve all materials relating to specified subjects and categories of human rights abuses in Guatemala between 1984 and 1995, and made them available to the Department's Office of the Inspector General (OIG) to facilitate the OIG's review and report to the IOB. These materials were thereafter made available for ongoing internal Department review as well as for continuing review by the IOB, eventual transmittal to the SSCI, and, as appropriate, for general public access. In conjunction with these efforts, the Department established a special task force to review the pertinent Department records on Guatemala.


The Department retrieved and reviewed 6,350 relevant documents from its files. These documents consisted of material generated by or received by the Department. Not included were documents in the Department's custody or control generated by another Executive Branch agency or originally received by such an agency from any source other than the Department of State. Additionally, Congressional letters to the Department transmitting letters from constituents were not reviewed unless they were from human rights victims, their families or close associates.

Although the review was performed in order to release as much information to the public as possible, the Department was not in a position to release a small quantity of materials:

-- because of the strictures of statutes, e.g., documents dealing with the issuance or refusal of visas to individuals;

-- because the material was so sensitive that it had to be withheld from the public since it remains currently and properly classified in accordance with the provisions of the President's Executive Order on Classified National Security Information, e.g., protection of intelligence sources or methods or confidential exchanges with foreign government officials;

-- because of the requirement to protect the privacy of individuals;

-- and because of the need to protect the deliberative process of the Executive Branch.

No information was withheld to avoid embarrassment to the Department.

At the end of the process, the Department had two sets of documents, together known as the "Guatemala Collection." One set consisted of materials releasable to the public (the "public set" for short). The second set consisted of materials restricted to those with proper security clearances, need to know, and/or eligibility under the Privacy Act (the "restricted set" for short); about one third of the restricted material is classified; most of the rest is restricted from the public because of Privacy Act concerns.

The public set consists of 4,727 documents released in full, plus another 1,120 documents judged releasable with some excisions (for a total of 5,847 documents, or just under 92 percent of the total number of relevant documents). The restricted set consists of 503 documents denied in full (just over 8 percent of the total). The restricted set also contains the complete texts of the 1,120 partially released documents, with those portions excised from the public set noted, along with the reasons for the excisions.

Because the review resembled a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) case, each released or declassified document bears stamps identical to those used in FOIA cases. The stamps indicate, usually at the top of the page, whether the document has been released or declassified in full or in part. Documents withheld in part have stamps indicating "Released in Part" or "Declassified in Part" and identifying the applicable FOIA exemption(s). Unclassified documents released in full bear only "Released" and "Declassified" stamps. Released "Limited Official Use" documents bear "Decontrolled" stamps. Addendum 2 to this preface contains additional explanatory notes about categories of exemptions.

The hand-written numbers visible at the top right corner of a document were placed there in the early stages of document collection for this Special Project, and were for the internal use of the Office of Freedom of Information, Privacy and Classification Review (FPC). Documents were retrieved from multiple sources each involving a different numbering system. Subsequent internal processing of the documents has rendered those numbers meaningless to the reader.


Three complete sets of the Guatemala Collection, including public and restricted materials, have been delivered to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and the House International Affairs Committee. In keeping with the President's and the Secretary of State's interest in providing the public with a full accounting of U.S. Government involvement in Guatemala, the public set is available to the press, visitors and researchers in Room 1239, the FOIA Reading Room, at the Department of State. The public set will also be available at the National Archives. As a courtesy, individual victims or their families received pertinent portions of the public set.


Because the documents were originally collected as part of the Inspector General's investigation for the Intelligence Oversight Board, they date from January 1984, the earliest date within the IOB's review, and proceed through March 1995 when document collection began.

During this period, the Guatemalan Government and Army were fighting a guerrilla army conducting an entrenched insurgency in remote areas of the country. In the context of this war, the human rights situation was a serious problem as chronicled in detail in the State Department's annual Human Rights Reports to Congress. Officially perpetrated violence generated major tensions in U.S.-Guatemalan relations and led the United States Government to suspend military aid more than once.

Also during this period, the State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs issued regular travel advisories warning U.S. citizens of the dangers of travelling in Guatemala. Nevertheless, as the "Guatemala Collection" shows, tourists, journalists, missionaries, a Peace Corps volunteer, and other U.S. citizens became victims of violence, some of it perpetrated by official members of the Guatemalan security forces, some by criminals, others unknown; in only one case have culprits been tried and punished.

The "Guatemala Collection" largely documents the work of consular and other Embassy officers attending to the needs of U.S. citizens in distress and their families. These officials worked in a violent and polarized political environment, when relations with the host government were often strained. These pages document the many representations made at various levels to the Government of Guatemala to obtain information and to encourage law enforcement investigations into human rights abuses. In some cases cooperation was excellent; in others, U.S. officials went to extraordinary lengths to elicit information from uncooperative Guatemalan authorities. This included using the threat of suspending U.S. foreign assistance, and the actual ending of some types of such assistance to bring pressure to bear in specific cases.

To facilitate the reader's research into a specific topic, the documents are segregated into 20 review categories listed in addendum 1. What follows is a brief summary of the kinds of documents to be found in each category. Since a given document may have dealt with more than one of the categories, a copy will be found in each pertinent segment. The first 18 categories are organized alphabetically according to documents relating to a specific name. Category 19 contains documents relating to other U.S. citizen victims of human rights violations during the period; category 20 contains documents dealing with human rights violations against non-U.S. citizens.

1. Colonel Julio Roberto Alpirez: a Guatemalan Army officer suspected of covering up the Michael DeVine murder (category 5) and of being involved in the interrogation and suspected murder of Efrain Bamaca (category 2). In this category are Embassy reporting cables on many aspects of the DeVine case, as well as internal Embassy memoranda. Included are State Department briefing memoranda, demarche instruction cables and talking points, updates and chronologies in the case, and analyses of the political, military, and human rights situations in Guatemala. Following allegations that Alpirez was a CIA source who may have been involved in the Bamaca case, cables were sent between the Embassy and the Department clarifying information and establishing Department positions for response to the requests for information from the Congress, the press and the public. Many of the documents are copies of press reports and congressional correspondence. Because this category contains extensive intelligence information of recent origin, a number of the documents have been withheld from the public on national security grounds.

2. Efrain Bamaca Velasquez: a Guatemalan guerrilla leader captured by the Guatemalan Army in 1992 and presumably killed. U.S. citizen Jennifer Harbury later identified Mr. Bamaca as her husband. The documents in this category record the U.S. Government's response to Ms. Harbury's attempts to ascertain the fate of Mr. Bamaca. Many of the documents are the same ones found in category 1. Many are cables, memoranda, e-mails, and other records of U.S. officials' meetings with Ms. Harbury. Discussions held with the Guatemalan Government to obtain more information about Mr. Bamaca are also extensively documented. Included are case summaries, chronologies, press reports, documents generated by "Coalition Missing" (a U.S. Human Rights organization representing U.S. victims of Guatemalan violence), and general analyses of events in Guatemala.

3 and 4. Nicholas Blake and Griffith Davis: U.S. citizen journalist and photographer, respectively, who were murdered by paramilitary forces in a conflictive zone in 1985. This category documents the intense efforts of the Embassy to find out what happened to Messrs. Blake and Davis. Included are many consular cables and memoranda explaining actions proposed and taken, as well as correspondence with the families. Also included are press reports and documentation of efforts to exhume the bodies and of meetings with Guatemalans. The category contains extensive legal papers regarding the families' suit against the Government of Guatemala in the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

5. Michael DeVine: a U.S. citizen resident of Guatemala murdered by Guatemalan Army troops in June 1990. The Michael DeVine murder and the subsequent investigation generated a large number of consular cables. These are followed by briefing memoranda, demarche cables, talking points, analyses, memoranda of conversation and other documents detailing the United States government's efforts to discover the facts of the case and bring the perpetrators to justice. Cables reporting on the progress of criminal proceedings against those charged with the murder are also included.

6. John Gauker: a U.S. citizen who died with four other Americans (categories 7, 10, 12, 16) in a 1976 plane crash which some suspect was caused by Guatemalan Army small arms fire. Because the Guatemala collection begins with documents generated in January 1984, the original consular and other documents from the time of the crash are not included. The categories include some short case summaries, letters from family members, Coalition Missing documents and congressional correspondence.

7. Ann Louise Kerndt: see Category 6.

8. Meredith Larson: a U.S. citizen Peace Brigade member who was stabbed in December 1989. She recovered from her wounds. The assault on Ms. Larson and events associated with it are documented in consular cables. High-level representations made by the Embassy to the Government of Guatemala regarding the case are also recorded. The category includes Coalition Missing documents, memoranda recording meetings with Coalition Missing members, correspondence with Ms. Larson, press reports, and congressional correspondence.

9. Brother James "Santiago" Miller: a U.S. citizen missionary shot to death in February 1982 in Huehuetenango. Because Brother Miller was killed prior to the January 1984 beginning date for the "Guatemala Collection," Embassy documentation of the case is not included. This category contains a 1984 State Department decision memorandum in which the Miller case is mentioned, calling for a continuance of security assistance despite Guatemala's poor human rights record. Also included are congressional correspondence, a memorandum of a panel discussion on the U.S. role in Guatemala, and Coalition Missing documents.

10. Michael Okada: see category 6.

11. Sister Dianna Ortiz: a U.S. citizen nun who reported that she was abducted, raped and tortured by Guatemalan Army personnel in November 1989. The documents in this category contain Embassy cables, memoranda and letters indicating efforts to determine exactly what happened to Sister Ortiz. The documents also show the many difficulties faced by U.S. officials as they attempted to offer assistance to Sister Ortiz and to elucidate what happened in this case. Included are congressional correspondence, press reports, press guidance, and Coalition Missing documents.

12. Selwyn Puig: see category 6.

13. Fr. Stanley Rother: a U.S. citizen priest shot to death in July 1981 in Santiago Atitlan, which precedes the date of documents included in this release. This category contains many of the same documents found in case 9. Also included are congressional correspondence, press reports, memoranda documenting consular activity, and several memoranda of conversation.

14. Jack Shelton: a U.S. citizen who disappeared in Guatemala in 1981. The case includes consular cables dating from 1984 and after which document efforts to discover what happened to Mr. Shelton, along with responses to congressional interest letters. The 1984 Human Rights Report is among the documents, as are press guidance, diplomatic notes requesting information from the Government of Guatemala, and case summaries. The petition before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in the case of Nicholas Blake is also included.

15. Peter Tiscione: a U.S. citizen tourist who was found dead in his hotel room in Guatemala City in September 1992. Consular activity regarding the death of Mr. Tiscione is documented in this category. Also included are Department of State memoranda.

16. William Woods: see category 6.

17. Peter Harper Wolfe: a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer who was shot to death in Guatemala City in October 1984. Cables regarding the death of Mr. Wolfe and documenting discussions with Guatemalan officials are included in this category. Because Mr. Wolfe was associated with the U.S. Government, this case was not treated in consular channels. Cables and memoranda discuss the disposition of the accused murderer and his subsequent death in a motorcycle accident. There are also diplomatic notes, autopsy results, case summaries, and a letter from Mr. Wolfe's brother.

18. Josh Zinner: a U.S. citizen Peace Brigade member who was abducted and released in 1990. This category includes Embassy cables as well as Coalition Missing documents and memoranda reporting on State Department meetings with Coalition Missing representatives.

19. Other U.S. citizen victims of human rights violations in Guatemala: 1984 - 1995. The category is comprised of: general Embassy cables on the human rights situation, Department of State memoranda, congressional correspondence, Embassy reports on the Catholic Church, case summaries, reports on harassment and intimidation (including death threats) against U.S. citizens. Also included are press guidance, human rights reports, press articles, cables on refugees, updates, and documents from Coalition Missing and other human rights groups.

20. Other non-U.S. citizen victims of human rights violations in Guatemala: 1984 - 1995. This category is similar to category 19 and contains many of the same documents. It also contains cables, memoranda and press articles concerning specific human rights violations.



1. Colonel Julio Roberto Alpirez

2. Efrain Bamaca Velasquez

3. Nicholas Blake

4. Griffith Davis (aka Griffin Davis)

5. Michael DeVine

6. Missionary John Gauker

7. Ann Louise Kerndt

8. Meredith Larson

9. Brother James "Santiago" Miller

10. Missionary Michael Okada

11. Sister Dianna Ortiz

12. Selwyn Puig

13. Fr. Stanley Rother

14. Jack Shelton

15. Peter Tiscione

16. Fr. William Woods

17. Peter Harper Wolfe

18. Josh Zinner

19. Human rights violations in Guatemala since January 1, 1984 against U.S. nationals other than those specified above.

20. Human rights violations in Guatemala since January 1, 1984 against non-U.S. nationals other than those specified above.



The review process resulted in decisions that some of the information collected as responsive to the requests of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence could not be released to the general public. The reader will note spaces where lines and paragraphs, even pages, are missing from a document. A Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) exemption code will be noted next to the missing information. The reader should understand that some information may not be classified but must be withheld nonetheless, e.g., because of the privacy rights of an individual. Following is a brief explanation of the FOIA exemption codes used for this special document review.

1. (B)(1) Material not released as sensitive and properly classified:

(b) -Foreign government information
(c) -Intelligence activities
(d) -Foreign relations and activities,
including confidential sources

2. (B)(3) Material not released due to the provisions of existing statutes:

Immigration and Nationality Act
Foreign Service Act
Central Intelligence Agency Act
National Security Act
National Security Agency Act

3. (B)(5) Material not released to protect the deliberative process of the Executive Branch

4. (B)(6) Material not released to protect the personal privacy of an individual

5. (B)(7) Material not released to prevent harm to specific aspects of law enforcement proceedings


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