|F. VILLAGRÁN KRAMER (Associated Press/File 1978)|
Francisco Villagrán Kramer; was Guatemalan vice president
NEW YORK - Francisco Villagrán Kramer, a politician and an internationally known legal scholar who went into self-imposed exile in the United States after joining and then defying Guatemala’s right-wing military government, died July 12. He was 84.
His death was announced by Guatemala’s Foreign Ministry, where his son, Francisco Villagrán de León, was until recently ambassador to the United States. Prensa Libre, a newspaper in Guatemala City, said the cause of death was heart failure.
Mr. Villagrán was a left-of-center politician whose act of defiance against the military government he had joined reverberated across the country in the grip of a civil war that stretched from 1960 to 1996.
“Death or exile is the fate of those who fight for justice in Guatemala,’’ he said.
Although he had leftist sympathies, he ran for and won the post of vice president, agreeing to serve under a president, General Romeo Lucas García, who was known for taking a hard line against leftist insurgents. Mr. Villagrán believed that as an insider he might achieve political reforms, his son later wrote.
But in September 1980, after just two years, Mr. Villagrán announced his resignation, accusing the military leaders of covering up assassinations and other crimes. Lucas García’s rule, from 1978 to 1982, is remembered for its brutality, including the massacre of peasant insurgents who were occupying the Spanish Embassy in Guatemala City in January 1980. A police raid left 37 people dead and the building in ruins. Lucas García died in 2006.
Susanne Jonas, a Guatemala scholar who retired from the University of California, Santa Cruz, said that Mr. Villagrán’s decision to serve in Lucas García’s government was more surprising than his resignation and that it had tainted him in the eyes of many former supporters.
“That he would agree to participate in such a government, even for one to two years, was inconsistent with his prior background,’’ she said. “Unfortunately for him, as he was an important intellectual and political figure prior to this, it is probably what will be most remembered about him. He had no more credibility to do anything significant subsequently.’’
After Mr. Villagrán resigned, he lectured and wrote and held a seat in Parliament in the mid-1990s. But in 1997, international human rights organizations helped block a position he coveted, an appointment to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, citing his time as vice president during the military era.
Francisco Villagrán Kramer was born in Guatemala City and received a law degree from the University of San Carlos there, going on to study and lecture in several countries.
He also leaves a daughter, María Eugenia Villagrán de León, president of the Supreme Electoral Court.