Manuel Benedicto Lucas García – CREOMPAZ case and Molina Theissen case

27.04.2016 ( Last modified: 16.08.2018 )
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Manuel Benedicto Lucas García was born on 24 August 1932 in San Juan Chamelco, Guatemala. He received training at the French military academy of St Cyr. He was the head of the Army High Command. He is the brother of Fernándo Romeo Lucas García who was president of Guatemala from 1 July 1978 until 23 March 1982 when he was overthrown in a military coup led by General Efraín Rios Montt.

On 31 January 1980, Lucas García allegedly ordered – along with his brother – the attack and arson of the Spanish embassy then occupied by a group of indigenous. This attack caused the death of 36 indigenous persons and two Guatemalans farmers including the father of Rigoberta Menchú, the 1992 Nobel Peace Prize winner. Spanish ambassador Maximo Cajal was severely injured.


During the 1980s, the “Military Zone 21” was a secret center for illegal detentions, torture, extrajudicial killings, forced disappearance, and rape. In 2012, mass graves containing hundreds of bodies of indigenous men, women, and children from different Mayan ethnic groups – including Achí, Q’eqchi’, Pomochí, Ixil, and Kiché – were uncovered at Military Zone 21, which is now the site of a training center for U.N. peacekeepers known by the Spanish acronym CREOMPAZ. Over 550 skeletons have been exhumed, and at least 128 of the victims have been identified using DNA testing.

On 6 January 2016, Guatemalan authorities arrested 14 former high-ranking military officers in connection with the CREOMPAZ case for crimes committed at Military Zone 21 between 1981 and 1988.


During the Guatemalan civil war, the Molina Theissen family was actively opposed to military rule and was viewed as subversive by the security forces. Carlos Augusto Molina Palma – the father of the victims in the Molina Theissen case – was arrested and physically abused on numerous occasions between 1955 and 1960, and was exiled from Guatemala by the military regime. His teenage daughter, Emma Guadalupe Molina Theissen, was a member of the « Juventud Patriótica del Trabajo » (Patriotic Worker Youth), which was connected to the Guatemalan Labour Party. Military authorities arrested Emma and her boyfriend on 19 March 1976; Emma was raped and tortured while she was being detained, and her boyfriend was later murdered. On 27 September 1981, Emma was again arrested, raped, and tortured by the military. She was illegally detained for nine days, but she escaped from the Manuel Lisandro Barillas military base in Quetzaltenango on 5 October 1981.

On 6 October 1981, a day after Emma’s escape, three armed individuals dressed in civilian clothing came to the Molina Theissen family home in Guatemala City. Two of the individuals entered the home, beat Emma’s mother, and took her 14-year-old brother, Marco Antonio Molina Theissen, away in an official vehicle. Marco Antonio was never seen again. According to the Commission for Historical Clarification – Guatemala’s truth commission – the armed individuals were members of the military intelligence section and took Marco Antonio as retaliation for Emma’s escape and the family’s dissidence.



legal procedure


On 6 January 2016, Guatemalan authorities arrested 14 former high-ranking military officers in connection with the CREOMPAZ case for crimes committed at Military Zone 21 between 1981 and 1988.

Due to insufficient evidence, three of the defendants– Carlos Humberto Rodríguez LópezÉdgar Rolando Hernández Méndez, and Pablo Roberto Saucedo Mérida – were dismissed from the case during preliminary hearings before High Risk Tribunal “A”.

On 18 January 2016, the remaining 11 accused, including Lucas Garcia, were indicted and ordered to be held in pre-trial detention.

Government prosecutors charge retired General Lucas García with responsibility, as the head of the army, for the conversion of the MZ21 military base into a centre of detention, torture, sexual violence, extrajudicial execution, and clandestine burials.

He is further accused of being responsible for the design and implementation of a counterinsurgency strategy based on the extermination of the civilian population, in the context of which officers and soldiers committed crimes.

At the same time Lucas García is charged with 14 counts of enforced disappearance, which correspond to 14 individuals who were detained in MZ21 and forcibly disappeared, and who were exhumed, more than 30 years later, from the former military base and positively identified by FAFG investigators using DNA testing.

On 7 June 2016, the Tribunal ruled that eight of the remaining ten defendants would proceed to trial for the CREOMPAZ case.

The Attorney-General’s Office appealed the Tribunal’s ruling on a number of grounds, including the Tribunal’s failure to consider accusations of sexual violence and its refusal to characterize forced disappearance as a war crime in addition to a crime against humanity. A victims’ organization also appealed the Tribunal’s refusal to grant it civil party status. The case is suspended pending review of the appeals by the High Risk Court of Appeals.


In December 1999, Rigoberta Menchú and a group of Spanish and Guatemalan non-governmental organizations filed a lawsuit in the Spanish National Court against eight senior Guatemalan government officials. The complaint accused the defendants of terrorism, genocide, and systematic torture.

On 25 February 2003, the Supreme Court of Spain found that only cases with a close tie to Spain could proceed. That decision was overturned on 26 September 2005 by the Spanish Constitutional Court, which notably established that Spanish Courts have jurisdiction over crimes of international importance – including torture, crimes against humanity and genocide – without a nexus to Spain being required.

In July 2006 Spanish Investigative Judge Santiago Pedraz issued international arrest warrants and extradition requests against eight suspects including Manuel Benedicto Lucas Garcia, former chief of staff of the army during the presidency of his brother Romeo Lucas (1978-1982). These arrest warrants were initially accepted by Guatemala’s Constitutional Court. However, in 2007, the Court reversed its previous decision and considered the arrest warrants and extradition requests to be invalid. In response, Judge Pedraz invited witnesses to travel to Madrid to present evidence on the case.


In 2004, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights found the State of Guatemala responsible for the disappearance of Marco Antonio and ordered the investigation, prosecution, and punishment of those responsible.

In August 2016, the Guatemalan Attorney General’s Office charged Lucas Garcia for the crimes against humanity of illegal capture, detention, sexual violence and torture of Emma Guadalupe Molina Theissen and for the crime against humanity of enforced disappearance of her 14-year-old brother, Marco Antonio Molina Theissen.

Lucas García is charged for his role in designing the military’s counterinsurgency strategy, which included arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance, torture, and sexual violence especially against female detainees.

On 1 March 2018, the trial of Lucas Garcia and four other retired senior military officers began in the High Risk Court “C” in Guatemala City.

The mother of Emma and Marco Antonio, Emma Theissen Alvarez de Molina, is a civil party to the proceedings. Lucas García was prosecuted as an alleged intellectual author of these crimes. He denied the allegations against him in both the Molina Theissen and in the CREOMPAZ case.

On 23 May 2018, Callejas y CallejasFrancisco Luis Gordillo Martínez, Lucas Garcia and Zaldaña Rojas have been convicted of crimes against humanity. They were also found guilty of aggravated sexual abuse against Emma Guadalupe Molina Theissen.

Zaldaña Rojas, Benedicto Lucas García, Manuel Antonio Callejas y Callejas were also found guilty of the forced disappearance of Marco Antonio Theissen and sentenced to 58 years’ jail by the court for high-risk crimes in Guatemala City.



THE CIVIL WAR (1960-1996)

Between 1960 and 1996, Guatemala was embroiled in a civil war that resulted in 250 000 victims (deaths and disappearances). The war ended following a peace signing on 29 December 1996.

The civil war, which would last for 36 years, began in 1960 when young defiant officials and countrymen revolted against the dictatorial regime. Until 1982, there were a series of military or pro military governments.

In 1978, General Fernándo Romeo Lucas García became the president of Guatemala. It was during his presidency that the first large-scale massacre against the Mayan population took place.

In 1982, General Efraín Ríos Montt took control following a coup d’état. He set up Civil Defense Patrols (PAC) made up of 900 000 militia who the army had recruited by force to fight against the guerrilla. He intensified the scorched earth policy, tortures and enforced disappearances. More than 45 000 people fled to Mexico where they stayed in refugee camps in Chiapas and Tabasco. In response, 6000 soldiers from the four main guerrilla groups (EGP, ORPA, FAR and PGT) unified to form the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity (URNG). From this point onwards, the conflict truly became a civil war.

Ríos Montt’s brief presidency (from 1982 to 1983) is considered to be the most violent period of the conflict. During this period, 440 Mayan villages were completely destroyed and 200 000 Mayan people were killed in attacks of extreme cruelty (such as; amputation, impalement and torture). Although the (left-wing) guerrilla forces and the (right-wing) death squads had committed summary executions, forced disappearances and had tortured civilians, the majority of human rights violations (93%) were committed by the Guatemalan army and by the PACs that it controlled.

In 1986, free elections were at last organised and were won by Vinicio Cerezo Arévalo of the Christian Democratic Party. It was not until 1996, however, that a peace agreement was signed between the government and the guerrilla, putting an end to a conflict that had lasted for 36 years.


In June 1994, the Oslo Accords ordered the creation of a truth commission called the Guatemalan “Commission for Historical Clarification”; its aim was to investigate human rights violations in relation to the armed conflict and to prepare a report covering these violations and their causes. The Commission also aimed to establish specific recommendations to “encourage national peace and harmony in Guatemala”. After having listened to thousands of accounts and having unearthed several clandestine burial sites, the Commission published a final report in February 1999, titled “Silent memories”.

In its report, the CEH accounted for 200 000 deaths, 50 000 disappearances, one million internally displaced refugees and more than 600 devastated communities. The majority of crimes (91%) were committed during the regimes of General Romes Lucas García (1978-1982) and General Efraín Ríos Montt (1982-1983).

The facts established by this report have been used on a number of occasions during the trials of perpetrators of human rights violations, particularly that of Felipe Cusanero Coj. A former paramilitary officer, he was the first person to be tried for the forced disappearances of civilians during the civil war.

The CEH was supported by another report, “Never again”, published on 24 April 1998 as part of the inter-diocese Recovery of Historical Memory project (REMHI).


On 12 December 2006, an agreement signed between the United Nations and the Guatemalan government established the CICIG. It is an independent body that aims to assist the Guatemalan office of the prosecutor, the national police and other institutions involved in the investigation of sensitive cases, as well as working to dismantle illegal security groups. The CICIG has the right to initiate investigations proprio motu.

The CICIG’s investigations have led to the issuance of 18 arrest warrants, notably for Javier Figueroa and Erwin Sperisen.


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