“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Guatemala City, Guatemala, Guatemala

Fire at the Spanish Embassy in Guatemala

Incendio de la Embajada de España en Guatemala

Fire at the Spanish Embassy in Guatemala Marker image. Click for full size.
By Jo Solorzano, December 19.2014
1. Fire at the Spanish Embassy in Guatemala Marker
Quede escrita aqui la palabra de
los conciudadanos perseguidos y
masacrados por
los cuerpos represivos del estado
por hacer oir la voz de los
pueblos del Quiche

Programa Nacional de Resarcimiento
31 de enero de 1980
31 de enero de 2005

English translation:
Let it be written here the word of
those fellow citizens persecuted and
massacred here by
the repressive actors of the State
for making the voice of the Quiche people heard

National Compensation Program of Guatemala
January 31, 1980
January 31, 2005

Erected 2005 by National Compensation Program of Guatemala.
Location. 14° 36.24′ N, 90° 31.178′ W. Marker is in Guatemala City, Guatemala. Marker can be reached from 10a Calle just east of 10a Calle and 6a Avenida, Zone 9. Click for map. The marker is embedded into the sidewalk to the north of a Reformador Bank at 10a Calle and 6a Avenida "A".
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla (approx. 0.6 kilometers away); The Ceiba, Guatemala's National Tree (approx. 0.7 kilometers away); Israel and Guatemala Monument
Wide view of the Fire at the Spanish Embassy in Guatemala Marker image. Click for full size.
By J. Makali Bruton, December 19, 2014
2. Wide view of the Fire at the Spanish Embassy in Guatemala Marker
The marker is embedded into the sidewalk near the large tree seen in the bank parking lot.
(approx. 0.8 kilometers away); José Maria Reina Barrios (approx. 0.8 kilometers away); Miguel Garcia Granados (approx. 1.1 kilometers away); Miltary Academy of Guatemala (approx. 1.2 kilometers away); Carlos Merida (approx. 1.3 kilometers away); Assassination of Dr. Alberto Fuentes Mohr (approx. 1.3 kilometers away). Click for a list of all markers in Guatemala City.
Regarding Fire at the Spanish Embassy in Guatemala. On January 31, 1980, indigenous representatives of Maya organizations accompanied by university students peacefully entered the Spanish Embassy. Their main goal was to bring urgent attention to the atrocities that the Guatemalan military had committed in their communities. In early December 1979, the country's army executed peasant farmers in Northern El Quiche. This event, known as the Massacre in Chajul, fueled community leaders to take a collective stance against the years of threats and violations of human rights. The representatives traveled to Guatemala City where they attempted to create awareness of this situation. Their voiced concerns fell on deaf ears. Their visits to the
Guatemala newspaper photo of the aftermath of the fire. image. Click for full size.
January 31, 1980
3. Guatemala newspaper photo of the aftermath of the fire.
Office of American States, the national congress, and local press offices, were ignored. The group knew they needed to bring attention to their efforts. Of all the Embassies in the city, the Spanish Embassy had fewer security barriers.

At 11:00 A.M., the group entered the Embassy without the use of aggressive force. Within minutes, large numbers of security forces, at least 300 heavily armed men including municipal police, Detective Corps (“la judicial”), G2 (army intelligence), Pelotón Modelo (anti-riot), and the SWAT-inspired Commando Seis of the National Police, began to amass around 11:45, quickly surrounding the building and cordoning off the area to vehicular traffic. They left the journalists and crowding bystanders alone, surprising journalists who remembered how restricted their movements had been at previous embassy occupations. Almost immediately, the security forces forced the key from an Embassy office worker returning from running errands and entered through the front door. One group of security forces approached the building from the rear and climbed onto the balcony and roof. According to the Ambassador, within fifteen minutes, this security force advance had forced the occupiers to move everyone upstairs, climbing a staircase which opened onto a small foyer. The foyer had a door to every other room on the second floor: (clockwise from the
Another Spanish Embassy Fire marker image. Click for full size.
By J. Makali Bruton, August 1, 2015
4. Another Spanish Embassy Fire marker
This additional marker can be found at the Guatemalan General Cemetery and translated into English reads: "Heroes and martyrs of January 31st, 1980, Spanish Embassy, Martyrs of January 31, 1980 live and will live always in the memory of the organized peoples. On January 31 we commemorate our fallen companions at the Spanish Embassy, Felipe Antonio Garcia Pac, Salomon Tavico Zapeta, Mateo Sic Chen, Jose Angel Xona Gomez, Maria Ramirez Anay (2), Juan Tomas Cux, Mateo Sen, Francisco Tum Castro, Mateo Lopen Calvo, Juan Us Chic, Juan Jose Yos, Luis Antonio Ramirez Paz, Leopoldo Pineda, Gregorio Yuja Zona, Vicente Menchu, Gaspar Vivi, Gabino Moran Chupe, Maria Ramirez Anay, Regina Pol Cuy, Maria Pinula Lux, Victor Gomez Zacarias, Juan Chic Hernandez, Francisco Chen, Juan Lopez Yac, Trinidad Gomez Hernandez, Edgar Rodolfo Negreros,Sonia Magali Welches Valdez Heroes and Martyrs of January 31 present in the struggle! Peasant Unity Committee (CUC), Labor and Popular Accion Union (UASP).
stairwell) the waiting room, the Chancellor’s office, a bathroom, the Ambassador’s office, and a secretary’s office. The large balcony, about 2/3 the size of the second floor, was accessible through a door in the waiting room. A metal grate door guarded the top of the stairwell, which the occupiers locked behind them. Shortly after the arrival of the security forces, then, the occupiers and the hostages found themselves separated from the advancing agents only by this metal grate door. Once locked upstairs, there was a flurry of activity. Increasingly anxious, occupiers and hostages made telephone calls and used megaphones demanding the police back down. Security forces allowed reporters inside to talk to the hostages through the metal grate separating the two opposing groups. While huddled around the top of the stairwell, the Ambassador and the other prominent hostages kept asking for a responsible intermediary; the police only shrugged their shoulders, indicating they were “merely underlings” following orders. No one who claimed any authority appeared.

Knowing the potential for escalating violence, the Spanish ambassador called the Ministry of Foreign Relations to request the immediate withdrawal of the national police from the offices. He too was ignored. Guatemalan authorities violated the Vienna Convention which prohibits entering an embassy, without approval from the Chief of Mission, and placing the lives of embassy personnel at risk within a diplomatic office.

An explosion occurred followed by a fire killing ten hostages and twenty seven occupiers. The police refused to unblock the doors or allow firefighters to enter. Spanish consul Jaime Ruiz Arvore, former Guatemalan vice president Eduardo Cáceres Lehnhoff (1970-74) and former Guatemalan foreign relations minister Adolfo Molina were in a diplomatic meeting that same morning. All of them died along with the protesters. One protester survived the fire, but he was kidnapped and murdered by armed men after being hospitalized. The only other survivor was Spanish ambassador Máximo Cajal y López.

There have been many debates regarding the events that led to the fire that day. Some claim security forces started the fire, and others blame the students accompanying the indigenous delegation, whose molotov cocktails exploded while inside. Compounding the confusion is the fact that there was no physical evidence because Guatemalan authorities never conducted the autopsies required by law in violent or accidental deaths.

On January 30th, the Spanish ambassador had traveled to El Quiche to meet with Spanish clergy. The army's repression in the area had threatened the ministry and lives of local priests, the Ambassador visited and offered support to help them leave the country. Because of this visit, some have accused the ambassador as having planned this event along with the indigenous community leaders. The Spanish government condemned the behavior of the Guatemalan authorities requesting an official investigation of the event. The country's UN sponsored truth commission, the Comisión para el Esclarecimiento Histórico (CEH) considers that the occupants had the sole intention of publicly denouncing the violations of their community's human rights. Their resolution called the occupiers’ deaths “the grandest demonstration of her children’s sacrifice for the Nation.” Following the lead of a 1998 Congressional resolution, Guatemala’s two major post-war truth commissions, the CEH and the Recovery of Historical Memory Project prepared by the Guatemalan Archdiocese’s Human Rights Office (REHMI), has devoted considerable attention to the tragedy in their 1999 reports, with the CEH commemorating the occupiers as “martyrs for peace,” exactly the opposite of the military’s “psychopathic terrorists.”

The CEH formally recognizes that "a group of peasant farmers brought the suffering, needs, and petitions of people living in poverty and extreme poverty, the majority of the Guatemalan population, to a debate by taking the Spanish Embassy whose only goal was to bring awareness to this situation… and that historical memory is part of a social culture, the same that should become an inspiration of reconciliation and peace, so that these acts shall never be repeated in Guatemalan society."

Source: Memory of Silence: The Guatemalan Truth Commission Report 1999
Categories. Notable Events
Credits. This page originally submitted on , by J. Makali Bruton of San Salvador, El Salvador. This page has been viewed 425 times since then and 96 times this year. Photos:   1, 2, 3, 4. submitted on , by J. Makali Bruton of San Salvador, El Salvador. • Andrew Ruppenstein was the editor who published this page. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016.
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