A trial against former guerrilla leader Fermín Felipe Solano Barrillas of the Organización del Pueblo en Armas (Revolutionary Organization of Armed People—ORPA) began on Thursday for the massacre of 22 farmers in the town of El Aguacate, Chimaltenango, in 1998. Captured in May of 2013, Solano is charged with homicide and crimes against humanity. This is the first time that an ex-guerrilla is charged with participation in a massacre during Guatemala’s 1960-1996 civil war.
The charges against Solano were filed by human rights organization Grupo de Apoyo Mutuo (The Mutual Support Group—GAM) on behalf of the victims’ families. Solano is the only one in trial for the massacre, although GAM has requested that authorities continue their investigation to find the role that Pedro Palma Lau, “Commander Pancho,” played in the massacre. Palma is known by human rights activists to have been Solano’s superior.
Until now, attempts to uncover the atrocities from Guatemala’s civil war have focused on the Guatemalan Military. Most recently, former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt was found guilty of genocide of the Maya Ixil people and sentenced to 80 years in prison. The sentence was later annulled by Guatemala’s highest court over claims that Montt’s due process was violated. Rios Montt’s trial is set to continue in January 2015.