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Guatemala, genocide and the hope for justice

Please read the following opinion piece published by El Faro following the first day of the historic trial of Efrain Rios Montt, the former dictator of Guatemala. The piece was written by Victoria Sanford, of the Centre for Human Rights and Peace Studies in New York.


By Victoria Sanford

ublicado on february 3, 2013

On the first day of the historic genocide trial against former dictator José Efraín Ríos Montt and his chief of military intelligence (G-2) General Jose Rodriguez Sanchez, the prosecutor took about four hours to read the names of the Ixil Maya 1771 were victims of massacres in Guatemala about 15 during the regime of Rios Montt (March 1982 to August 1983). In reading through the list, Rodriguez Sanchez asked to be excused for feeling dizzy. Families of victims and domestic and international observers stayed to listen and honor the memory of the victims.

That the names of the victims come into the official record of the Court is a big step for justice in Guatemala. And the delivery by the Attorney General of a thousand forms of evidence, 68 witnesses and 165 expert witnesses on the same day as the courageous decision of Judge Miguel Ángel Gálvez carrying both former military trial for genocide and other crimes against humanity, will be part of a long process of struggle for justice in Guatemala.

The quantity and quality of the evidence presented reflect the hard work and dedication to the truth and justice of a diverse group of victims and human rights defenders from the time of the massacres 30 years ago. While the complainants in the process, the Legal Action Center and the Association for Justice and Repair-handed hundred other evidence, the defense lawyers of Sánchez Rodríguez Ríos Montt and seven experts proposed, two consultants, 14 papers and 17 witnesses, most of them military.

In connection with the genocide in Guatemala, the army has always taken the position of denying their own actions. When we started the exhumation of the mass graves of victims of the massacres in 1993, the army said the victims were guerrillas or guerrilla casualties or civilians killed in the crossfire. In 1999, when the Commission for Historical Clarification Milil reported 200 dead, 50,000 missing, 626 massacres, displaced 1.5 million people and 150,000 refugees in Mexico, a military official expressed to me: "Both sides made mistakes" or "both sides committed excesses. " The problem for the military then was that the army CEH attributed 93% of the violence, and 3% to the guerrillas.

Through analysis of a pattern of massacres in Quiché and Baja Verapaz during the last twelve months the Lucas Garcia regime (March 1981 to March 1982) and the first twelve months of the reign of terror of Rios Montt (March 1982 to March 1983), showed that: (1) the massacres were not acts of army officers out of control, (2) the massacres were a strategic campaign of the Army as an institution, (3) not only continued Rios Montt's campaign massacres initiated by Lucas Garcia, but systematized campaign of massacres, and (4) that this campaign of massacres, initiated by Lucas Garcia and sustained and intensified by Rios Montt, was the first Army genocidal campaign.

On June 9, 1982, Gen. Efrain Rios Montt also announced an impending siege that took effect on July 1, 1982. This included Siege "amnesty to the rebels," but the key points were the start of "a vast counteroffensive" against the entire population and "the imposition of states of emergency in the departments of San Marcos, Quiché, Huehuetenango and Chimaltenango. "

On August 18, 1982, Gen. Efrain Rios Montt told a group of eight politicians: "We declare the state of siege in order to legally kill." Even more clearly, when asked about his "scorched earth campaign" Rios Montt said: "We have a policy of scorched earth policy communists have destroyed".

Today, advocates of genocide are arguing that the former dictator was not informed of the massacres committed by the army. But during his administration, the then General Rios Montt spoke of "removing the water from the fish", being the Mayan guerrillas water and fish. With this expression it is clear that the general distinction between the guerrillas (fish) and Maya (water). If he really meant "wipe communists" and "delete subversion", the fish, but the water would end. If he could not distinguish between Maya and guerrillas, then the metaphor would be meaningless. Ríos Montt, as Lucas Garcia before him, wanted to eliminate the Maya. Massacres were a genocidal campaign, begun under Lucas Garcia and Rios Montt continued under that tried to destroy the Maya being Maya. Seven months after Rios Montt took power, a maya survivor said after the massacres "all that was left was silence."

Amnesty International issued a report condemning the massacres of peasants "Indians" that were more than 2,600 documented deaths, "many of them women and children," during the first six months of Rios Montt regime. Even with incomplete information, and in 1982 it was clear to observers of Human Rights, that "Indians" Guatemalans were the subject of a campaign of terror by the military.

In a database that I developed to compare the numbers of massacres under the regimes of Generals Lucas Garcia and Rios Montt, I found that it did not matter if it went up or down the number of massacres, and that the massacres were so massive that the total Victims in Chimaltenango, Quiché, Alta Verapaz and Baja Verapaz was higher in all months of the dictatorship of General Rios Montt. After the coup of General Rios Montt on March 23, 1982, there were 85 massacres in Quiche department that took the lives of 3,180 victims in the next 12 months.

At 3.180 victims of massacres of General Rios Montt in Quiché, add that during his first 12 months in office were the next victims of massacres in other departments: in Chimaltenango, 710, in Alta Verapaz, 1.033, and only in the municipality in Rabinal, Baja Verapaz, 500. That is, not counting the other victims of massacres in other parts of the country and of the victims of disappearances and extrajudicial execution, we can attribute to General Efrain Rios Montt, only in the first 12 months of his rule, the responsibility of having massacred 5.423 Achi, Kekchi, Quiche and Cakchiquel.

During that period, General Efrain Rios Montt had command responsibility, had control de jure and de facto government and the military. His own public speeches show that he knew of the existence of these massacres and not banned, not prevented nor punished. As the person in the country with the greatest responsibility in the military command, General Efrain Rios Montt, either as the mastermind, but if it were only for not acting to prohibit, prevent and punish, as head of state, gave green light to the massacres and genocide.

The defense has expressed opposition to that as part of the 14 tests are accepted, among them are military plans submitted by the prosecution, according to them for not being authentic. It also opposes declaring some experts, including leading analyst Hector Rosada, who participated in the peace negotiations representing the government.

The defense may question the other 986/2 test, experts, documents, etc.. But will have to face the testimonies of survivors. This judgment breaks the wall of impunity precisely because the victims have the opportunity to denounce the violence of genocide perpetrators directly and to the world.Each debate will be a new opportunity for Guatemalan society can be reconciled with his own story: that if there was genocide, yes there was intent to commit genocide and Rios Montt did have command responsibility. And not only Guatemalan society which has to be reconciled. Also President Otto Perez Molina has to reconcile with his role in the genocide as commander in Nebaj.Everyone should think about how long it would read not only the names of the more than 5,000 victims of Rios Montt, but the names of the 200,000 victims of the conflict.

The author directs the Center for Human Rights and Peace Studies in New York, and is the author of La Masacre de Panzos.


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