A national tribunal recently convicted Efrain Ríos Montt, the former dictator of Guatemala, for crimes of genocide committed during his reign from 1982 to 1983. This was the first time a head of state has been convicted of genocide in a national court. Yet recent events changed the tone. As of May 20th 2013 the top court of Guatemala overturned this conviction, citing irregularities in the trial. A new trial may happen, but for those who suffered on the orders of Rios Montt, a faint glimpse of justice was taken away. Furthermore many perpetrators in Guatemala, and those who aided them in the United States, still walk free. This just shows that the peoples struggles must continue on until victory.
The specifics of the crimes Rios Montt was convicted of were 15 massacres against the Mayan Ixil people that resulted in 1,771 murdered. The court found that 5.5 percent of the Ixil people were annihilated in the 36 year long civil war, showing that genocide happened and was the intent. Rios Montt received 50 years for the conviction of genocide and 30 years for crimes against humanity, for a total of 80 years in prison.
In reading the verdict, Judge Jazmin Barrios, one of the three judges on the tribunal, stated: “We are convinced that the acts the Ixil suffered constitute the crime of genocide,” adding that Ríos Montt, “had knowledge of what was happening and did nothing to stop it”. Barrios also stated, “The Ixils were considered public enemies of the state and were also victims of racism, considered an inferior race” and “The violent acts against the Ixils were not spontaneous. They were planned beforehand.”
The civil war in Guatemala lasted from 1960 to 1996, but the 17 month reign of Rios Montt was the bloodiest of this time. Rios Montt came to power in a military coup in March 1982. His military conducted scorched earth offensives against the masses of Guatemala. Thousands were systematically massacred, whole villages were burned, many were subjected to torture and rape. Throughout this time Rios Montt was supported by the United States, which was heavily involved in Central America at the time in order to roll back progressive governments and social movements here. He was showered with military aid and training from the U.S. and from the government of Israel. Ronald Reagan, president of the U.S. at the time, said Rios Montt was “a man of great personal integrity . . . totally dedicated to democracy,” and claimed he was getting a “bum rap” from human rights groups.
Rios Montt’s career was intertwined with that of U.S. foreign policy. In 1951 he was a graduate of the School of the Americas, the notorious military training academy for client militaries in Latin America. The SOA graduated many perpetrators of atrocities throughout the Latin America. After the CIA-orchestrated coup against Arbenz in 1954, Rios Montt gradually rose through the ranks of the Guatemalan military. He became an evangelical Christian in 1970’s. Christian evangelism was promoted as a low-intensity warfare tactic by the U.S. and Guatemalan elites to counter the liberation theology of sections of the Catholic Church that upheld social activism of the poor. Evangelism promoted individualism and acceptance of the status quo. Rios Montt was a perfect representative of the right wing Guatemalan elite that would become a compliant lackey to the imperialists war against leftist movements in the region.
The civil war ended in 1996 with peace accords signed by the government and the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity (URNG), the leftist umbrella organization that led the peoples struggle. The aftermath of the war left 200,000 dead and 45,000 disappeared. 83 percent of the victims were Mayan and 17 percent were ladino. A UN truth commission found that during the 36 year civil war 93 percent of all human rights violations were conducted by state forces and their paramilitary death squads, stating: “agents of the state committed acts of genocide against groups of Mayan people”.
The URNG laid down their weapons and became a political party competing in elections. Rios Montt also formed a right wing party, but was barred in 2003 from running for president. He was later elected to the congress, and while in office had immunity from prosecution. That immunity expired in 2012 when he left congress, and steps were taken to bring him to trial.
What happened in Guatemala and other countries of Central America was not only the result of the oligarchies there but aided and abetted by the United States. In their war on communism around the world, which was really a war against a more just economic global order, the U.S. supported some of the most inhumane state forces that recklessly killed poor peoples all in the name of “freedom.” The people of Guatemala have long suffered from the yankees interfering in their country. The Amerikan imperialists and their Guatemalan lackeys have gotten away with their injustices. Also in the Rios Montt trial, former intelligence chief José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez was a co-defendant and was cleared of the same charges and let free. The current president of Guatemala, Otto Perez Molina, is also implicated in committing atrocities during the civil war, yet enjoys immunity while he is in office. Not to mention the many lower level participants in the army and death squads, and those Amerikan officials who aided them.
Along with these crimes and atrocities, the everyday life of the Guatemalan people is constantly attacked by this capitalist-imperialist system. Over 75 percent of the population lives in poverty, and 58 percent live in extreme poverty. The social indicators caused by this poverty continually push the people down. These conditions are what led to the masses taking up arms to bring about a better system, and are what lead them still today to struggle in different ways.
The struggle of the oppressed and exploited of the world, the struggle of the proletariat, will not obtain justice through the current system that benefits the bourgeoisie. Tactical struggles still must be waged through their courts and other bourgeois institutions available. But the beginning of a just society will be accomplished through the end of the system that brings about the injustice. The peoples struggles will bring it about, and they will continue until victory.