News: News Archives
AAAS Staff Member Serves on Delegation
to Observe Murder Trial in Guatemala
A delegation of U.S. scientists investigating violent threats against the academic community in Guatemala presented their findings at a press conference in Guatemala today. The delegation conducted numerous interviews with scholars and Guatemalan government officials to evaluate attacks against research institutions, including social science think tanks, teams of forensic anthropologists and other scientists investigating human rights violations. "We are deeply troubled-attacks on Guatemalan scientific work continue, and threats to scientists lives are credible, while government officials claim to be powerless," said delegation member Patrick Ball, Deputy Director of AAAS's Science and Human Rights Program.
The delegation's visit coincided with the beginning of the trial of three military officers accused of masterminding the murder of Guatemalan anthropologist Myrna Mack. Twelve years after her brutal death, the case is finally moving toward a conclusive finding on the alleged involvement of senior commanders in the Guatemalan Army. For three years, Mack had documented mass killings and forcible removals of Mayan communities. Many believed that the Guatemalan Army was responsible for the violence, and later research verified Mack's analysis. On September 11, 1990 Myrna Mack was stabbed 27 times outside of her office in Guatemala City.
"For eleven years before the attacks on the US, 9-11 meant for many of us another kind of political violencethe murder of Myrna Mack. We are here to urge the Guatemalan government both to do justice in the Mack case and to stop the ongoing violence against our colleagues Matilde Gonzales, Clara Arenas, and Orlando Blanco," said delegation member Professor Carol Smith, Chair of the Department of Anthropology at the University of California-Davis and member of the Latin American Studies Association (LASA).
As the Mack case has come to trial, new threats against social scientists have emerged. In the past six months, the Guatemalan Association for the Advancement of Social Science (AVANCSO) and the International Center for Human Rights Research (CIIDH) have suffered anonymous threats against their researchers and searches and thefts from their facilities. Anthropologists working with the Center for Forensic Anthropology and Applied Sciences (CAFCA) and the Foundation for Forensic Anthropology (FAFG) have received repeated death threats this year. "The continuation of their work under threats against their lives is impressive evidences of the importance of scientific investigation during this crucial period," said delegation member Professor June Nash from the Department of Anthropology, City University of New York, representing the American Anthropological Association (AAA).
As an anthropologist, Mack studied people from Guatemala's indigenous Mayan communities affected by the civil war. The Guatemalan army saw these displaced persons as guerrilla collaborators, and responded to their efforts to live outside of military control with bombing campaigns and forced political re-education of those they could capture. In 1990, the refugees published a statement to the press protesting the bombings and requesting their human rights to live, travel and resettle in peace. Four days later, Mack was assassinated.
In addition to Dr. Nash (representing the AAA), Dr. Smith (representing LASA) and Dr. Ball (representing AAAS), the delegation included Dr. Amy Ross (Department of Geography, University of Georgia, representing the American Association of Geographers), Dr. Charles Hale (Department of Anthropology, University of Texas-Austin, also representing LASA), and Dr. Beatriz Manz (Department of Anthropology, University of California-Berkeley, represnting the Guatemala Scholars Network). The delegation was sponsored by the Latin American Studies Association.
"Mack was a scientist, doing science in service of human rights, and she was killed for it," says Ball. "Now we hear about a new wave of assaults on scientists and scientific work. We in the scientific community must respond to situations like this; or the entire scientific enterprise will be in jeopardy."
11 September 2002