Shock and outrage erupted in a courtroom in Guatemala City on April 18 as a recused “appeals” judge suspended the genocide trial of Efrain Rios Montt. The former general had come to power through a military coup in 1982. He and his head of intelligence, Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez, were finally charged with mass murders that took place during the dictatorship and went on trial a year ago.
However, Judge Carol Patricia Flores has now vacated all the proceedings since the beginning of the trial. In the courtroom, relatives of Rios Montt’s victims wept and shouted that Flores was “a sold-out judge.” (Guardian, April 19)
Rios Montt was accused of overseeing the deaths of 1,771 Indigenous Mayan Ixils during his bloody 17-month rule. The general was one of the worst of a long line of U.S.-supported Guatemalan dictators who have killed up to 200,000 Guatemalans since the early 1960s, mostly Indigenous people, in order to suppress a guerrilla struggle there.
However, dozens of heroic witnesses came forward to testify about the terrible atrocities committed by the CIA-directed Guatemalan military during the Rios Montt regime.
“I saw them kill an old woman and officers cut off her head,” said Julio Velasco Raymundo, 40, who witnessed one massacre as a child. “Those officers played with the old woman’s head like it was a soccer ball.” (Huffington Post, April 5)
Just two weeks earlier Hugo Reyes, a soldier who had been a mechanic in the military during the Rios Montt regime, testified that the current Guatemalan president, Otto Perez Molina, then a major, had ordered soldiers to burn and pillage villages. “The soldiers, on orders from Major ‘Tito Arias,’ better known as Otto Perez Molina, coordinated the burning and looting, in order to later execute people,” Reyes told the court by video link.
Investigative journalist Allan Nairn was set to testify at the trial about Gen. Perez Molina’s participation in massacres while he was on the CIA payroll. Nairn states that it was intimidation from Molina and the Guatemalan oligarchy and military, as well as their U.S. big-business masters, that no doubt forced the suspension of the Rios Montt trial.
The trial suspension has caused an international hue and cry. “This is a blow to the numerous victims of the atrocities committed during Guatemala’s civil war, who have been waiting for more than 30 years for justice to be done,” Martin Nesirky, spokesperson for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, said on April 19. (un.org/sg/spokesperson)
Despite this attack on justice, the brave people of Guatemala are not backing down. On April 20, the three judges who had been conducting the Rios Montt trial announced that it would continue despite Judge Flores’ ruling. They and the trial prosecutors have appealed to the country’s Constitutional Court to reverse the Flores ruling. This prompted a thunderous ovation from the crowd in the courtroom, with shouts of “Justice! Justice!” (LA Times, April 19)
The many atrocities described at the Rios Montt trial can also be laid at the doorstep of the U.S. government, corporations, the Pentagon and, of course, the CIA. They too should face people’s justice for their crimes around the world.