Snapshots

Ríos Montt and the Need for International Accountability for War Crimes in Guatemala

*Mexikaresistance.com Editor’s Note: Fuck Ronald Reagan…

On December 4, 1982, former President Ronald Reagan spoke in Honduras after meeting with Efraín Ríos Montt, the evangelical Guatemalan General who seized power in a military coup a little over 8 months earlier. “I know that President Ríos Montt is a man of great personal integrity and commitment,” said Reagan. “I know he wants to improve the quality of life for all Guatemalans and to promote social justice. My administration will do all it can to support his progressive efforts.”

Two days later the regime that Reagan said was getting a “bum rap” sent a contingent of Kabiles, Guatemala’s notorious special forces unit, to the department of Peten. There they entered the village of Dos Erres, where they tortured the men, raped the women, took hammers to the children, and in the end murdered as many as 250 people. Afterwards they burnt the village to the ground as part of Rios Montt’s “scorched earth” campaign against the country’s Mayan population.

Thirty years later Ríos Montt may finally face justice. On January 28, 2013 a Guatemalan judge ruled that the former head of state accused of responsibility for “1,771 deaths, 1,400 human rights violations and the displacement of 29,000 indigenous Guatemalans” would be tried for genocide in a domestic court. This precedent-setting decision was lauded internationally by human rights activists and NGOs.

“Until recently, the idea of a Guatemalan general being tried for these heinous crimes seemed utterly impossible,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “The fact that a judge has ordered the trial of a former head of state is a remarkable development in a country where impunity for past atrocities has long been the norm.”

The Association for Justice and Reconciliation and the Center for Human Rights Legal Action issued a joint statement on the day of the decision, also emphasizing the significance of the trial.

“This event represents the path walked by thousands of victims of genocide. It allows for the path of memory, truth and justice to continue, which offers a solid foundation for the construction of a more just country,” the statement noted. “We are hopeful that this case will continue on its course according to law and that soon there will be a final judgment against those who ordered genocide in Guatemala.”

However, in order for justice to overcome impunity in Guatemala there needs to be an international component.

The cozy relationship between Ríos Montt and the Reagan administration needs to be dug up from the graveyards of history, much like the bodies that are still being dug up from mass graves in Guatemala.

The US media should use this case as an opportunity to act like the forensic anthropologists in Guatemala to sort through Washington’s skeletons when it comes to the history of foreign policy in Guatemala. This could be done very simply by sifting through declassified documents, old press articles, and other past reports to accurately retell the story of modern US-Guatemalan relations and Washington’s role in aiding and abetting what the United Nations declared a genocide, a genocide in which over 200,000 mostly Mayan Guatemalans were killed and tens of thousands tortured, disappeared, raped and displaced.

READ THE ENTIRE ARTICLE HERE: Ríos Montt and the Need for International Accountability for War Crimes in Guatemala.

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