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Thursday, October 20, 2016

In a courtroom in Guatemala City, a gray-haired man sits passively through the trial of the century for the Central American country.

At 86, the former dictator Gen. Efrain Rios Montt has escaped this criminal scrutiny for decades. Now, along with another notorious general, Jose Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez, he stands accused of genocide and crimes against humanity. Specifically, of orchestrating the murder of nearly 1,800 indigenous people and the forced displacement of 29,000 more. The tallies are an astounding amount of suffering for his 17-month reign in the early 1980s.

Since mid-March, dozens of Ixil people, indigenous Mayans, have taken the witness stand to describe the Guatemalan military’s campaign of extermination against them. They tell of watching families burned alive as their homes were torched, of beheadings and body parts thrown into rivers. Women were raped before being shot to death, and toddlers were hacked up with machetes.

Survivors describe hiding, starving in the mountains, fearful even to light a cooking fire, lest they alert paramilitary government troops who chased after them.

Most North Americans are unaware of the trial, and of the man at the center of it. Sadly, that’s not surprising. Most of us were oblivious when the atrocities occurred. And we remain unmoved by the fact that U.S. military shipments helped Rios Montt inflict his scorched earth campaign.

The U.S. provided aid to the Guatemalan military during periods of the country’s 36-year civil war, in which at least 200,000 people died and more than 45,000 disappeared before peace accords were signed in 1996.

A United Nations truth commission found that the Guatemalan military committed 90 percent of the atrocities, largely targeting the indigenous.

In 1982, President Ronald Reagan met with Rios Montt, praising his efforts as a heroic fight against Marxist guerrillas.

President Bill Clinton would later apologize for the U.S. role.

Rios Montt studied at the infamous School of the Americas in Georgia, the alma mater of many Latin American military leaders who went on to distinguish themselves with horrific acts of brutality.

How did Rios Montt for so long escape trial for his alleged atrocities? Ousted by a coup, he ran for Guatemala’s Congress. He only recently lost his immunity when his term ended. His trial is expected to continue into April.

All of this might seem like distant proceedings except that Guatemala’s indigenous are also part of more recent U.S. headlines.

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Copyright 2013 The National Memo
  • Sand_Cat

    Maybe you didn’t know and “remain unmoved,” but speak for yourself. A lot of us cheered when Pinochet (Chile) was charged, even if he weaseled out: too sick to do the time, but not the crimes. Even if they throw the book at these scum, it won’t even begin to balance the scales of justice. And the real villains – the American regimes that bought and paid for all this, and don’t try to claim they didn’t know – will never pay in any way. Ronnie Reagan, the enabler of these particular atrocities, has been sainted by the right, is obviously admired by President Obama, and has a gigantic aircraft carrier and 90% of the Federal buildings in the US (no, I didn’t verify that figure) named in his “honor.”

  • Sadly, our long history of interventionism in Latin America, the overt support we have given the tinpot dictators that ruled that part of the world for decades, and the exploitation of natural resources by U.S. corporations (oil industry, United Fruit, etc), make us complicit in the excesses and crimes committed by the tyrants that ruled Latin America with an iron hand until a few years ago. The emergence of socialist leaders in Central and South America is, in part, caused by our policies and our failure to influence change, justice, and more equitable distribution of wealth, and democracy in that part of the world.

    • RobertCHastings

      Unfortunately, it isn’t just Latin America. From Turkey to South Africa we can find instances of our intrusion, in many instances to gain alliances for the Cold War.

  • Allan Richardson

    I remember political news from my childhood (the Suez Canal crisis and presidential election in 1956 are the earliest), and I was 11 when Fidel Castro toured the U.S. to promote his “democratic” revolt against Batista. We made the mistake of thinking he was a would-be democratic ruler, which turned out wrong, and ever since then, until the fall of the Soviet Union (and even now in GOP Fantasyland), our policy has been based upon “Commie bad, anti-Commie good” black and white thinking. We have backed brutal dictators rather than democratic uprisings because our thinking was, if they claim that whomever they are brutalizing is Communist, they must be “good” guys. Batista himself was an example: the Tampa Cuban exiles knew better, that he was a pawn of the Mafia in the U.S. who kept the resorts profitable, and later the Miami Cubans (members of the upper professional class) told us Batista had been a good guy, because he was good to THEM. The Vietnam war was based on that kind of faulty thinking: South Vietnam was a dictatorship through most of its short history, but as someone in our government once said (I forgot the source of this quote), “they may be SOB’s, but they’re OUR SOB’s.”

    In Central America, every force of decency EXCEPT the U.S. government was against these dictators, but all they had to do was paint all their enemies as Communists, and they got the blank check. Conservatives did, and some still do, approach DOMESTIC policy the same way (MLK said all races were equal; Marx said all races were equal; therefore the civil rights advocates like MLK are all communists, therefore upholding segregation is fighting communism, was the “reasoning”). A sad joke of the 1980’s was, what is black and white and red all over? The answer was a Guatemalan nun, since these supposedly “good” guys were killling even Catholic protestors wholesale.

    An archeologist on cable TV claims (plausibly, but I am not certain) that the Mayans had outposts in Georgia before Columbus. If true, it is sadly ironic that the Mayans and Aztecs in Georgia now are being treated with such callous cruelty.

    • Sand_Cat

      Regrettably, I believe the quote about SOBs is from FDR.

  • m8lsem

    Ah, once again the invisible Native Americans are the playthings of violent Euros, and our own government ignores the doing of what it itself did, not so many years ago. At last things are exposed to view, and one man may suffer sanctions for what hundreds did rather willingly, it seems at his command.

    • jointerjohn

      There are schools and parks all across the United States named in honor of men who participated in the genocide of Native Americans. Everyone wants to think they sprang exclusively from saints and heroes. None of us have.

  • Pamby50

    Our country has been propping up dictators for decades. Now that the people are throwing these dictators out or having them brought up on charges of crimes against humanity, we now feel like we can stand up with them. Social Media has helped but it will be a long time before these countries find their footings.

  • Sand_Cat

    Unfortunately, there is nothing that can be done that will compensate on even a small scale for what this person did – and was he even one of the worst – and all of his enablers and henchmen in Washington will never pay any price.