Burning of the Spanish Embassy
The Burning of the Spanish Embassy (sometimes called the Spanish Embassy Massacre or the Spanish Embassy Fire) refers to the January 31, 1980 occupation of the Spanish Embassy
Diplomatic missions of Spain
This is a list of diplomatic missions of Spain, excluding honorary consulates. Spain has a large global diplomatic presence, with a netwok of 118 embassies.- Europe :** Tirana ** Andorra la Vella ** Vienna...

 in Guatemala City, Guatemala
Guatemala is a country in Central America bordered by Mexico to the north and west, the Pacific Ocean to the southwest, Belize to the northeast, the Caribbean to the east, and Honduras and El Salvador to the southeast...

, by indigenous peasants and their allies and the subsequent police raid that resulted in a fire which destroyed the embassy and left 36 people dead. The incident has been called "the defining event" of the Guatemalan Civil War
Guatemalan Civil War
The Guatemalan Civil War ran from 1960-1996. The thirty-six-year civil war began as a grassroots, popular response to the rightist and military usurpation of civil government , and the President's disrespect for the human and civil rights of the majority of the population...



In January 1980 a group of K'iche' and Ixil
Ixil people
Ixil is the name of a Mayan people in Guatemala. The Ixil live in three municipalities in the Cuchumatanes mountains in the northern part of the department El Quiché...

 peasant farmers organized a march to Guatemala City to protest the kidnapping and murder of peasants in Uspantán
Uspantán is a municipality in the Guatemalan department of El Quiché. It is one of the largest municipalities of El Quiché and stretches from the mountainous highlands in the South to the tropical lowlands in the North. The municipal seat is in Villa de San Miguel Uspantán with a population of 2,800...

 in El Quiché department by elements of the Guatemalan Army. The peasants were joined by members of the Comité de Unidad Campesina (Committee of Peasant Unity) and a radical student organization known as the Robin García Revolutionary Student Front, groups associated with the Ejército Guerrillero de los Pobres (EGP, the Guerrilla Army of the Poor
Guerrilla Army of the Poor
The Guerrilla Army Of The Poor was Guatemalan guerrilla movement, one of the four organizations comprising the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity that negotiated and signed the Peace accords in Guatemala with the Government and the Army of Guatemala.Initially, the guerrilla...

). The protesters were denied a hearing in Congress
Congress of Guatemala
The Congress of the Republic is the unicameral legislature of the Republic of Guatemala.It comprises 158 deputies, who are elected by direct universal suffrage to serve four-year terms . Twenty-nine of these are elected from nationwide lists, with the rest on a district list basis...

 and their legal adviser was assassinated. On January 28, they briefly took over two radio stations.


At 9:30 in the morning on January 31, 1980, the peasants, joined by workers and students, entered the Spanish Embassy in Guatemala City. According to police reports, some of the demonstrators were armed with machetes, pistols and Molotov cocktails.

Spain , officially the Kingdom of Spain languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Spain's official name is as follows:;;;;;;), is a country and member state of the European Union located in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula...

 was considered sympathetic to the indigenous cause, especially after the Guatemalan Army came to be suspected in the murder of Spanish priests in the indigenous regions. Ambassador Máximo Cajal y López had been meeting with former vice president of Guatemala Eduardo Cáceres Lenhoff
Eduardo Cáceres
Eduardo Rafael Cáceres Lehnhoff served as Vice President of Guatemala from 1 July 1970 to 1 July 1974 in the cabinet of Carlos Arana.Died 31 January 1980 in the Burning of the Spanish Embassy in Guatemala-City-References:...

 and former Minister of Foreign Affairs Adolfo Molina Orantes when the group entered the embassy. The protesters announced that they had come to peacefully occupy the embassy and that they would hold a press conference at noon. They presented the ambassador with a letter that read in part, "We ... direct ourselves to you because we know you are honorable people who will tell the truth about the criminal repression suffered by the peasants of Guatemala."

President of Guatemala
The title of President of Guatemala has been the usual title of the leader of Guatemala since 1839, when that title was assumed by Mariano Rivera Paz...

 Fernando Romeo Lucas García
Fernando Romeo Lucas García
Fernando Romeo Lucas García was the 25th President of Guatemala from 1 July 1978 to 23 March 1982...

, Guatemala City police chief Germán Chupina Barahona, and Minister of the Interior Donaldo Álvarez Ruíz met in the National Palace
National Palace (Guatemala)
Known as Palacio Nacional de la Cultura , it is identified as Guatemala City's symbol in its monumental architectural context. It was the most important building in Guatemala and was the headquarters of the President of Guatemala...

. Despite pleas by the Spanish ambassador to negotiate, a decision was taken to forcibly expel the group occupying the embassy. Shortly after noon, and before the protesters could air their grievances, about 50 policemen surrounded the building, proceeding to occupy the first and third floors of the building over the shouts of the ambassador that they were violating international law
Diplomatic immunity
Diplomatic immunity is a form of legal immunity and a policy held between governments that ensures that diplomats are given safe passage and are considered not susceptible to lawsuit or prosecution under the host country's laws...

 in doing so. The peasants barricaded themselves, along with the captive embassy staff and the visiting Guatemalan officials, in the ambassador's office on the second floor.

An order was given to charge the ambassador’s office. Police breached the doors with axes and may have introduced a substance, frequently identified as white phosphorus
White phosphorus (weapon)
White phosphorus is a material made from a common allotrope of the chemical element phosphorus that is used in smoke, tracer, illumination and incendiary munitions. Other common names include WP, and the slang term "Willie Pete," which is dated from its use in Vietnam, and is still sometimes used...

, which in turn ignited Molotov cocktails which had been carried in by the peasant group. Some academics and critics, including David Stoll
David Stoll
David Stoll is an American anthropologist. He received his Bachelor's Degree in Anthropology from the University of Michigan and completed his Master's and Ph.D. at Stanford University. He spent much of the nineteen-eighties and nineties in Latin American countries such as Colombia and Guatemala,...

 and Jorge Palmieri, contend that it was the Molotov cocktails alone that started the blaze. Exactly how the fire started and who is responsible for it has been the subject of considerable polemics. As fire consumed the second floor and the demonstrators and captive staff of the embassy were burned alive, police refused to unblock the door or allow firemen to combat the blaze.

A total of 36 people died in the fire, including former vice president Eduardo Cáceres Lenhoff, former Minister of Foreign Affairs Adolfo Molina Orantes, and activist Vicente Menchú, father of Rigoberta Menchú
Rigoberta Menchú
Rigoberta Menchú Tum is an indigenous Guatemalan, of the K'iche' ethnic group. Menchú has dedicated her life to publicizing the plight of Guatemala's indigenous peoples during and after the Guatemalan Civil War , and to promoting indigenous rights in the country...

, a future politician and Nobel Peace Prize
Nobel Peace Prize
The Nobel Peace Prize is one of the five Nobel Prizes bequeathed by the Swedish industrialist and inventor Alfred Nobel.-Background:According to Nobel's will, the Peace Prize shall be awarded to the person who...

-winner. Spanish Consul Jaime Ruiz del Árbol also died in the fire, along with other Spanish citizens employed by the embassy.

Ambassador Cajal y López survived by escaping through a window. The only other survivor, demonstrator Gregorio Yujá Xona, suffered third-degree burns. Both were sent to Herrera Llerandi Hospital for treatment. On February 1, at 7:30 a.m., the police guard at Herrera Llerandi Hospital was withdrawn. Shortly thereafter a band of twenty armed men, masked with bandanas, entered the hospital and kidnapped Gregorio Yuja Xona. He was taken to an unknown location, tortured, and shot. His body was dumped on the campus of the University of San Carlos.

Aftermath and legacy

The Guatemalan government issued a statement claiming that its forces had entered the embassy at the request of the Spanish Ambassador, and that the occupiers of the embassy, whom they referred to as "terrorists," had "sacrificed the hostages and immolated themselves afterward." Ambassador Cajal denied the claims of the Guatemalan government and Spain immediately terminated diplomatic relations with Guatemala, calling the action a violation of "the most elementary norms of international law." Relations between Spain and Guatemala were not normalized until September 22, 1984.

Hundreds of thousands attended the funeral of the victims, and a new guerilla group was formed commemorating the date, the Frente patriótico 31 de enero (Popular Front of January 31).

In 1999, Rigoberta Menchú
Rigoberta Menchú
Rigoberta Menchú Tum is an indigenous Guatemalan, of the K'iche' ethnic group. Menchú has dedicated her life to publicizing the plight of Guatemala's indigenous peoples during and after the Guatemalan Civil War , and to promoting indigenous rights in the country...

 filed a criminal complaint in Spain accusing former government officials of responsibility for the incident, including former Presidents Romeo Lucas Garcia, Efraín Ríos Montt
Efraín Ríos Montt
José Efraín Ríos Montt is a former de facto President of Guatemala, dictator, army general, and former president of Congress. In the 2003 presidential elections, he unsuccessfully ran as the candidate of the ruling Guatemalan Republican Front .Huehuetenango-born Ríos Montt remains one of the most...

 and Óscar Humberto Mejía Victores
Óscar Humberto Mejía Victores
Óscar Humberto Mejía Victores was the 27th President of Guatemala from 8 August 1983 to 14 January 1986. A member of the military, he was President of Guatemala during a time of increased repression and death squad activity...

. In 2005, a Spanish judge issued an arrest warrant holding former Guatemalan Interior Minister Donaldo Álvarez responsible for the incident. Álvarez was last seen in Mexico, and is considered a fugitive.

On January 30, 2009, the eve of the 29th anniversary of the incident, the Guatemalan government filed 3,350 criminal complaints alleging human rights violations against former soldiers and paramilitaries.http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5jUrwOVEETNFp6M5_FqUbbLqbqrjwD961OJKO1

The names of those who died in the burning of the Spanish embassy are commemorated in Guatemala City's main square, along with other victims of the Guatemalan Civil War.
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