“I’m telling you the truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God”

For years, Alfred Kaltschmitt has written op-eds for Guatemala’s most conservative newspaper. He is also a journalism professor at the Panamerican University. Kaltschmitt was also the executive director of the Foundation to Help the Indigenous Nation (known by its Spanish acronym FUNDAPI). Testifying as a witness for General Efrain Rios Montt’s defense, he speaks about the support the army gave rural indigenous communities during the 1960–1996 civil war. (Plaza Pública, 25/04/2013)

Adapted by: Romina Ruiz-Goiriena

Photo by Sandra Sebastián

He sits toward the front of the gallery. His back turned to the audience. You can’t see his white-bearded face. And dark thick glasses cover the crow’s feet that surrounded his pale blue eyes. You can’t stare at him directly in the face because of the courtroom’s setup, but under his composed demeanor sits a proud man. When asked, if there was any agreement between the State and his organization he replies, “Yes, from the anthropologist to anyone who was present at the time received assistance from the army. We worked together and shared resources. The war had devastated the economy.”

Some say justice is blind. It can also sometimes be deaf. The acoustics in the courtroom make it almost impossible for the public to hear the back-and-forth between the prosecution, the defense and the judge.

Alfred Antonio Kaltschmitt is cool, calm, and collected. He is renown in the Central American nation for his opinion columns and syndicated TV show. He’s known for his professor role. He is less known for his work as the executive director of the Foundation to Help the Indigenous Nation (known by its Spanish acronym FUNDAPI), office to which he was appointed briefly after Rios Montt became de facto head of state in March 1982.

In the judge’s preliminary questions to establish Kaltscmitt’s identity for the record, the 69-year-old Costa Rican journalist says he knows the accused because of their notoriety but not personally. He assures the tribunal that he himself witnessed events in the Ixil region. At that time, counterinsurgent guerillas had blocked all the roads making it impossible to travel by land. He said, “I travelled by air to not be caught in in violent crossfire.”

Kaltschmitt worked in the Ak’Tumbal refugee camp back in 1982 after Rios Montt decreed an amnesty for all those who had belong to Marxist guerillas. “These militants would arrive to the camp where they were given medical assistance, food and shelter,” he pointed out.

The expert witness continued to describe his duties. He explained how members of his organization studied the geographical location and its needs, mostly water. Kaltschmitt explained how his organization built the necessary infrastructure and helped those displaced by war return home.

Kaltschmitt, goes on; “There was insitutional cooperation throughout. Halfway through, the state changed its policies. Instead of a confrontation and war they looked to forgiveness, amnesty, reconciliation and the relocation of the Ixilpopulation.” He goes on to speak of the astounding number of displaced people, 25,000 in just one of his counts. He speaks fondly of the de facto’s government’s “food for work program.”

Defense attorneys then begin to examine Kalschmitt. He describes FUNDAPI’s tasks to the T. He describes how they were welcomed in villages. Cornejo, speaks for the defense and asks Kaltschmitt to explain how the army gave assistance to refugees in the mountains.

There’s also cross-examination.

The public ministry asks Kaltschmitt to explain the recruitment of women and children in forced labor camps, the massacres, rapes and to proove that the government directed plans (Sofia ’82, Firmeza ’82 and ’83) did not seek to exterminate the Ixil people.

And of course, there are also recurring themesneed to ventthe prosecutionin the trial: thePACs, the possible recruitmentof childrenand women inthese, the massacres, the prosecution called concentration camps, prove that Victoria plans, Firmness and Sofia are not inventions and served as a road map for state purposes, show that there was an intention to exterminate the people Ixil.

Kaltschmitt replies that it was in part to these refugee camps that the army was able to protect indigenous civilians.

“And what do you have to say about the role the army played?,” asks the prosecutor.

“I’m telling you the truth and nothing but the truth, as God is my witness. The army cooperated and used air transportation because the roads were taken by the guerillas. It was the best time for the army, they were fixing the Ixil people…all of those who wer sick and tired of the war,” Kaltschmitt exclaimed.

Kaltschmitt denies that genocide took place in Guatemala’s 36-year-civil war. They weren’t forced labor camps, Kaltschmitt says, “people could leave whenever they wanted to.”

He goes further to explain that people were displaced because of their affiliations to counterinsurgent groups. “They followed Ho Chi Minh’s Vietnamese model and saught to indoctrinate men, women and small children especially.”

But there’s some background to keep in mind about FUNDAPI. According to Guatecompras, Mario Rene Bolanos Duarte was the legal representative of the organization. He was elected into congress under Rios Montt’s ultraconservative Guatemalan Republican Front (FRG) party. Bolanos later switched to the National Unity of Hope (UNE) party in 1982. Kaltschmitt took over the organization’s helm.

According to him, he was forced to change the name of the organization because the guerillas were after him,”the guerrillas said thathe was involvedwithU.S. imperialism, that I was bearded, half hippie,I was doingthings with the theCIA.”

“I am deeply concerned when I see the history and how history can be distorted, but here I am to tell the truth,” he exclaimed.

He then cites anthropologist David Stoll.

But wait, why would he name Stoll in the middle of his testimony? Stoll is the author of a book that attempts to taint the credibility of 1992 Nobel peace prize winner Rigoberta Menchu. Stoll authored a narrative that attempted to shed light on the real life story of Menchu and her community. All the while, Menchu sits in the back of the courtroom and listens.

Stoll also authored a book about FUNDAPI’s relationship to Rios’ government and the American evengelical churches.

And the interrogation resumes:

-“Did you belong to the government?” asks one of the victims’ lawyers.

-“Negative,” Kaltschmitt replies.

-“Are you in favor of the accused?”

-“No, the only thing I have done has state the truth,” Kaltschmitt fires back.

There’s an air of arrogance in his tone.

The victims’ lawyer continues, “have you systematically denied genocide took place in your op-eds?”

-“I have said that genocide did not occur in the same way (former vice president) Eduardo Stein and (former secretary of private affairs for the president) Gustavo Porras have.”

Kaltschmitt is referring to the paid political advertisements that had been launched earlier that morning.

-“Were you aware these camps were a part of plan Victoria ’82?”

-“That is not something I am sure of, but I can say that these camps helped a very needed sector of society,” he replied.

-“Was the so-called amnesty used as a strategy to concentrare the population and later exterminate them?”

-“Of course not!” Kaltschmitt exalts himself. “Repeat what you have just said sir, so that everyone can hear you and bear witness. Those are lies and God is my witness.”

-“Were you aware of massacres that took place in the Ixil triangle?”

-“I was not privy to that information,” Kaltschmitt says resuming his composure. “I am aware of massacres carried out by counterinsurgent guerillas. For example, the massacre carried out in Atzul, there are witnesses. Take note.”

An hour has passed and it is up to the prosecutors to cross-examine Kaltschmitt.

-“Could you explain to the court how the “Rifles and Beans” program became “Roof, Tortillas and Work” in army plan Firmeness ’83,” asks assitant prosecutor Hilda Pineda.

-“Objection,” defense lawyer Cornejo interjects. “The question is irrelevant to the witness’ expertise.”

Barrios order the public ministry to reword its question.

-Pineda asks, “Mr. Kaltschmitt ,are you aware of any strategic counterinsurgency subversive plans?”

-“It could never be subversive, because the army was not subversive,” Kaltschmitt says attempting to reposition the prosecutor’s question.

-“Are you aware of such extreme measures taking place,” insists the prosecutor.

Cornejo interjects. The judge asks Kaltschmitt to clarify.

-I already explained that such a plan cannot be subversive. The only subversive plan I know of is the other one.”

Close to where Kaltschmitt is sitting is a copy of Firmeness ’83. Thumbing through, one arrives at a striking passage.

“The Department of the ArmyInformation andDisclosurewill be responsible forpsychological operationsexecutedin refugee camps, displaced persons and prisoners of war. We have a mission to guide the population to organize themseves in passive resistance communities.… Control and management for groups of displaced people is essential.”

Kaltschmitt tells the prosecutors they should read Tuesday’s paid ad. Then he says, “I wrote it.”

No further questions.

For a moment, there is a gaping silence.

Written by

Periodista/editora (Guatemala). Cofundadora @AgenciaOcote. Investigación y narrativa, DDHH, justicia, memoria, ambiente, violencia, seguridad, política, medios.

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