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F.R. Lucas Garcia, 81; Brutal Ex-Ruler of Guatemala

From Times Wire Reports

Former Guatemalan President Fernando Romeo Lucas Garcia, whose brutal rule was marked by human rights abuses -- including the alleged massacres of indigenous peoples and the killings of political opponents -- and rampant corruption, has died. He was 81.

Lucas Garcia, who reportedly suffered from diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease and had been incapacitated, died of respiratory failure Saturday at a hospital in Puerto la Cruz, Venezuela, about 150 miles east of the capital of Caracas, said family friend Eduardo Vallejas.

An army general, Lucas Garcia served as president of Guatemala from July 1978 until March 1982, when he was overthrown by junior army officers. During his regime hundreds suspected of sympathizing with guerrillas, as well as the opposition Christian Democrats, were subject to human rights abuses. Hundreds of suspected leftists including priests, students and union leaders were reportedly killed by paramilitary death squads during Lucas Garcia’s rule.

In 2000, human rights leaders in Guatemala City filed a criminal complaint against Lucas Garcia saying his administration had carried out several massacres in the states of Rabinal, Baja Verapaz and Quiche. More than 150 peasants were allegedly killed.

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In the major crisis of Lucas Garcia’s tenure, peasant, labor and student activists took over the Spanish Embassy in Guatemala City in January 1980 to protest his rule. Police raided the building in an attack that left 37 dead, including Vicente Menchu, father of Rigoberta Menchu, the Indian rights activist who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992.

Lucas Garcia, who had lived in Venezuela since the 1980s, was briefly placed under house arrest in 2005 after a Spanish judge issued a warrant for his arrest for rights abuses committed during his administration.

Spain wanted to try him for his role in the 1980 police raid. But in June 2005, Venezuela’s Supreme Court ruled that the Madrid government did not provide enough evidence for his extradition and lifted the house arrest.

Eduardo de Leon, director of the Rigoberta Menchu Foundation -- which sought to make Lucas Garcia stand trial for the deaths -- said he regretted that the former leader died before facing justice.

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“Death came and saved him from facing judgment,” De Leon said. “Still, we hope that the trial could go forward and that he could be judged, even posthumously.”

Born in San Juan Chamelco, Guatemala, on July 4, 1924, Lucas Garcia joined the country’s military service in 1947. He graduated from the National Military Academy in 1949 and rose steadily through the ranks. He served as the nation’s defense minister before his election as president.

He is survived by his Venezuelan wife, Elsa Cirigliano, and two children.


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