Hector Gramajo

Master's in Public Administration (Mason Fellowship), Kennedy School of Government, 1991

Massacres, Torture, and Command Responsibility

Hector Gramajo Morales held a number of senior positions in the Guatemalan military and was Minister of Defense from 1987 to 1990. From 1982 to 1983 -- while Gramajo was ‎Army Vice Chief of Staff and director of the Army General Staff -- the Guatemalan military killed 75,000 people and destroyed some 440 villages in a massive counterinsurgency campaign directed primarily against the country's Mayan inhabitants.

Gramajo studied at the infamous "School of the Americas" (renamed the
Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation) at Fort Benning, Georgia in 1967, where the US government trained generations of Latin American military officers later associated with human rights abuses and dictatorships.

Apologists for the U.S.-backed genocidal dictatorship in Guatemala considered Gramajo a "moderating force" who scaled back the level of atrocities and supported a transition to civilian rule. As Gramajo infamously remarked in an interview while at Harvard:
"We have created a more humanitarian, less costly strategy, to be more compatible with the democratic system ... which provides development for 70 percent of the population while we kill 30 percent. Before, the strategy was to kill 100 percent." [1]
Or, as one U.S. government official put it: "Gramajo understands how we function. He's testified in front of Congress. He speaks good English." [2]

After stepping down as defense minister, Gramajo went to study at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government on a yearlong Mason fellowship while preparing to return home and launch a presidential campaign. He also gave a public address at the Kennedy School's Institute of Politics.

In June 1991, while heading to his commencement ceremony in academic robes, Gramajo was handed court papers informing him that he was being sued by eight Guatemalans for abuses perpetrated against them or their family members by forces under his command. Soon thereafter, the suit was combined with one brought by Sister Dianna Ortiz, an American nun who had been raped and tortured by Gramajo's forces filed a similar lawsuit. Both cases were filed under the Alien Tort Statute, which allows lawsuits in U.S. courts for some human rights violations committed abroad.

Gramajo did not contest the lawsuit and eventually left the United States. In April 1995, a federal judge in Boston ruled against him and awarded $47.5 million in damages to the plaintiffs.
Gramajo's bid for the presidency later that year failed. Gramajo never paid the award, nor did he ever return to the US, which revoked his entry visa.

On 12 March, 2004, Hector Gramajo died after being attacked on his farm by a swarm of "Africanized" bees.

[1] Jennifer Schirmer, "The Guatemalan military project: an interview with Gen. Hector Gramajo," Harvard International Review, Vol. 13, Issue 3 (Spring 1991).

[2] Michael Massing, "
A Harvard Man's Crimson Record: Why Is a Ruthless Guatemalan General Getting a JFK School Degree?" Washington Post, 2 June 1991.