Mercury Rising 鳯女

Politics, life, and other things that matter

To great surprise: Rios Montt convicted of genocide. History is made.

Posted by Charles II on May 10, 2013

Just about a month ago, the genocidal president of Guatemala, Otto Pérez Molina shut down the trial of the man who at that time was ordering the genocide done, Rios Montt. Now, via Meteor Blades at DK, some good news. Mike McDonald of Reuters reports that the trial concluded, and Rios Montt was convicted:

A Guatemalan court on Friday found former dictator Efrain Rios Montt guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity during the bloodiest phase of the country’s 36-year civil war.

He was sentenced to 50 years in prison on the genocide charge and 30 years for crimes against humanity. It was the first time a former head of state had been found guilty of genocide in his or her own country.

Rios Montt, 86, took power after a coup in 1982….

Prosecutors say Rios Montt turned a blind eye [actually, they said he designed the program] as soldiers used rape, torture and arson to try to rid Guatemala of leftist rebels during his 1982-1983 rule, the most violent period of a 1960-1996 civil war in which as many as 250,000 people died.

When our leaders say that can’t get things done, remember that the judge and prosecutor in this case have been constantly threatened. That’s what political courage looks like.

Rios Montt will probably never face actual punishment. He is 86, he has powerful friends at higher levels in the court system (not to mention Guatemala’s president), and it’s not clear that the American government is on the side of justice. After all, the genocide could not have taken place without the active help of Ronald Reagan.

But history has been made. For the first time, a mass murderer has been tried by the population he abused. Caps off to the brave people who used peaceful means to end and finally discredit Rios Montt’s violent reign.
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The inestimable Robert Parry reminds us that this makes Ronald Reagan an accessory to mass murder:

U.S. intelligence officers in the region also kept the Reagan administration abreast of the expanding slaughter. For instance, according to one “secret” cable from April 1981 — and declassified in the 1990s — the CIA was confirming Guatemalan government massacres even as Reagan was moving to loosen the military aid ban.

On April 17, 1981, a CIA cable described an army massacre at Cocob, near Nebaj in the Ixil Indian territory, because the population was believed to support leftist guerrillas. A CIA source reported that “the social population appeared to fully support the guerrillas” and “the soldiers were forced to fire at anything that moved.”

Despite these atrocities, Reagan dispatched Walters in May 1981 to tell the Guatemalan leaders that the new U.S. administration wanted to lift the human rights embargoes on military equipment that Carter and Congress had imposed.

What the documents from the Reagan Library make clear is that the administration was not simply struggling ineffectively to rein in these massacres – as the U.S. press corps typically reported – but was fully onboard with the slaughter of people who were part of the guerrillas’ “civilian support mechanisms.”

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3 Responses to “To great surprise: Rios Montt convicted of genocide. History is made.”

  1. Thanks for this, Charles. Good to know that Fascism doesn’t win in the long run.

    • Charles II said

      It’s not over yet, PW.

      I’d be surprised to see him be punished. But what’s hopeful is that Guatemalans are losing their fear, or at least acting like it.

      There are always bad people. But what makes the difference between a noble era and a disgraceful one is the good people who stand up.

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