Genocide trial begins in Guatemala, for US-trained former dictator Rios Montt

Efraín Ríos Montt. Photo: James Rodriguez.

José Efraín Ríos Montt, a former de facto dictator of Guatemala who trained at the U.S. Army School of the Americas, is on trial for genocide.

Photojournalist James Rodriguez covered the first day of this historic trial against Ríos Montt and former Intelligence Director José Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez, who are charged with genocide and crimes against humanity during Guatemala's 36-year civil war. The Ixil ethnic group of the country's Mayan population were one of the army's primary targets during the conflict, which left some 200,000 dead and tens of thousands "disappeared."

It's a shame none of the American forces that trained Ríos Montt and his regime, and helped prop them up to power, will ever be brought to justice. Once upon a time, he was our guy.

Ríos Montt's defense team has "rejected charges he allowed the slaughter of civilians in Guatemala's civil war, as his country became the world's first to prosecute an ex-head of state for genocide and crimes against humanity." [Reuters]

View photos from day 1 of the trial, by James Rodriguez. []

Maya women attending Ríos Montt's trial. Photo: James Rodriguez.

In the New York Times' piece on the beginning of this historic trial 30 years after Ríos Montt's crimes, survivor Tiburcio Utuy says he thought he saw fear cross Ríos Montt's face during an earlier court ruling. “He won’t suffer the same way we suffered — but he will be scared. And maybe he will spend a little bit of time in prison."

The Washington Post reports that "Moments before the trial began, Rios Montt’s legal team quit and was replaced by a new attorney, who filed a series of unsuccessful motions attempting to block the trial on procedural grounds."

NPR's Carrie Kahn is covering the trial from Guatemala City. Listen to her report on the dramatic testimony given yesterday in court, by victims and their families.


  1. Montt, Noriega, Hussein…please: someone list the foreign leaders that the US has trained and installed that HAVEN’T been despotic…

    1. Unfortunately, that is a short list.  Between the US and the Brits, quite a few “unsavory” types have been given their own keys to their respective un-earned kingdoms

    2. Well, in the early 60s the US spent a lot of money to get Diefenbaker defeated by Pearson (successfully) here in Canada. 

      It is necessary to be a lot sneakier when messing with your so-called ‘allies’, but it does happen.

      That said, let Montt rot, the murderous monster.

    3. So… if I wanted to become an Evil Overlord, what school should I apply to exactly? I assume there must be one in the US, and it seems to be pretty effective in producing dictators (to the point that I more or less assume that any dictator is a US schooled one). I’ve got lots of qualifications, I’ve even read the Evil Overlord List (although my Evol Plan checking 5yo is now 9… but I hope that doesn’t disqualify me)!

      1. Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation

        Better known during its glory days as the “School of the Americas” (or the ‘School of Assassins’ in honor of some of its illustrious alumni).

  2. Whatever it takes to get that smirk off his face.  I remember seeing a documentary about genocide where this guy was confronted.  He never stopped acting innocent and smiling.



    The Reagan Administration indicated today that it hoped to establish a ”closer, more collaborative” relationship with the conservative military regime that seized power in Guatemala last month. Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Inter-American Affairs, Stephen W. Bosworth, said the March 23 coup that ousted the hard-line Government of President Romeo Lucas Garcia ”may have ended the political paralysis which had gripped the country.” Mr. Bosworth said that the new junta, headed by Gen. Efrain Rios Montt, had adopted concrete measures against corruption and that indiscriminate violence ”has been brought virtually to an end.”

    “Indiscriminate violence ‘has been brought virtually to an end.”

    1. By definition, genocide is not indiscriminate violence. Rather, it is specifically discriminate violence with the aim of extirpating some specific group.

      1. The article was correct then. Indiscriminate violence abruptly ended. And just as abruptly it was replaced with very discriminate violence.

  4. It’s really a great day when a monster like this is actually held to account for the atrocities he committed. Guatemala has a long way to go in establishing a peaceful civil society, but this is a huge step forward, and some measure of vindication for the thousands of Guatemalans whose lives were torn apart by ERM.

  5. It all really started when the democratic government of Guatemala was overthrown at the behest of US company, United Fruit in 1954. United Fruit was of course well versed in getting the US government to do its bidding.

    In 1928, Colombian United Fruit workers went on strike and the US government actually threatened to invade unless the Colombian government ended the strike. Many strikers died when the Colombian army was sent in. Just Google “Banana massacre”.

    When you think of dictators in Central and South America, you probably think of Castro (and if you are stupid and easily brainwashed, you probably think of Chavez too), but actually most dictators in the region have been right wing and either installed or at least backed by the US.

    1. The United Fruit case in 1954 also famous as the first time a PR company – Edward Bernays’ – was employed to persuade US citizens to meddle in the affairs of another country on behalf of a corporation, a model of ‘engineering consent’ which we still rely on.

      Watch the fascinating Adam Curtis BBC doc on the subject, CENTURY OF THE SELF.

      Now I feel inspired to read Bernays’ essay, THE ENGINEERING OF CONSENT
      also available on

  6. I don’t believe there was a state sponsored genocide in Guatemala. I’m not denying the fact that both parties in this war commited atrocities and the massacre of civilian population. For these war crimes to be considered genocide proof must be presented that this people where killed just because they where of Quiche Ixil origin and that it was state policy at the time. This is not the case.

  7. I was in Guatemala in the early 80’s. In Guatemala City there was a curfew at night; you could smell fear, slice it with a knife. Real Danger. People disappeared. Several were taken in daytime from the hotel where I was staying, not to be seen again. A public shooting in the street, with nearby pedestrians continuing on, no one stopped. Thickened blood from that murder still in the street days later with bloody shoe tracks radiating outward.

    Nebaj had many widows and children, surrounded by drunk, arrogant soldiers. A dull plodding in the face of extreme danger. Many homes with large black bows over the doorway, to show mourning. Men had been taken for execution in retaliation for a recent army ambush.

    Jean-Marie Simon’s book, Guatemala  –  Eternal Spring – Eternal Tyranny, has images that convey a horror almost impossible to imagine. I was stopped from taking photographs by soldiers. Hers must be seen…

  8. And many citizens of ‘Merika still can’t grasp why people in other countries hate us for bringing them freedom.

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