Guatemala genocide trial: legal challenges, debates, and attacks on "hairy hippies, foreigners, communists"

Photo: Jaime Reyes, Guatemala. A bus carrying demonstrators from the Ixil area to a pro-Rios Montt march in Guatemala City. The sign reads, “Hairy Hippies and Foreigners, stop making money off the lie of genocide in Nebaj.”

Update, 447pm Guatemala local time: The Constitutional Court has resolved to effectively annul the trial, but it is not yet clear how far back the process has been turned. Prosecution team and victims' rights groups vow to move forward. CALDH: "This is a setback for justice, for the victims, but this is not a defeat."


I've been traveling in Guatemala for the past few weeks, reporting on the genocide trial of former Guatemalan General and dictator Rios Montt, and his then-head of intelligence Jose Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez. Ríos Montt's 1982-1983 regime was supported by the United States; during this era many thousands of non-combatant civilians were killed.

On Friday, a legal power struggle between two judges, initiated by the defense, effectively put the trial on hold. Today, the nation's highest court, the Corte Constitutional, continues to deliberate behind closed doors about whether or not the tribunal may continue. And as the judges review numerous legal appeals, supporters of the Ixil Maya victims (and of the trial itself) and supporters of Rios Montt and the Army (who want the trial to be thrown out) face off in increasingly charged public protests.

As I publish this post, a large assembly of former civil patrollers ("patrulleros," mostly indigenous people who were conscripted by the Army to fight in the counterinsurgency), Army veterans and their families and allies, and Ixil persons transported in from Nebaj, have descended upon Guatemala City in a caravan of buses with provocative banners.

Ricardo Mendez-Ruiz of Guatemalan Foundation Against Terrorism (Fundación Contra El Terrorismo), with Ixil people transported to Guatemala City from Nebaj for a demonstration supporting Rios Montt, and condemning the genocide trial. Photo: skylight.is.

One sign on one of the pro-Ríos Montt buses carrying in protesters from the Ixil area reads, “Hairy Hippies and Foreigners, stop making money off the lie of genocide in Nebaj” (the Ixil area at the center of this tribunal is generally defined as a zone around three villages: Nebaj, Chajul, and Cotzal). Another banner reads, “Don’t shame the Ixiles with this genocide stuff, because it’s a lie.”

The march appears to have been organized by Fundación Contra El Terrorismo. Inviting Facebook fans to join the march, the group warns: “Remember, a genocide conviction won’t just be against Ríos Montt and Rodriguez Sanchez, it will be against you and me, and the entire state of Guatemala. And it will affect you financially—you have to pay victims compensation, which will mostly line pockets of middlemen.”

Get off of Facebook and on to the streets, the group asked its followers. “And don’t complain if your laziness allows communists to decide the future for you."

Fundación Contra El Terrorismo is the same group that recently published a 20-page insert in the Sunday paper which blamed a Marxist conspiracy enabled by the Catholic Church for the "lie" of genocide on trial in the Guatemalan courts. You can read it here.

Ricardo Mendez-Ruiz, the Foundation's director and the son of Rios Montt’s former Minister of Interior, wrote an op-ed in today's El Periodico titled "Mickey Mouse Pressure."

In his op-ed, Mendez personally condemns Nobel Prize laureate Rigoberta Menchu Tum, Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz, and US Ambassador to Guatemala Arnold Chacon, linking them indirectly the to “Marxist-Leninist ideology” that was purportedly at the heart of the internal armed conflict, and threatens still to destroy the country. More directly, the implication is that the US Ambassador, and the country he represents, are manipulating or applying pressure to the justice system to enable the genocide trial. In other words, "Mickey Mouse Pressure."

The US Embassy and a coalition of international aid groups which were recently condemned in media attacks took the unprecedented step of publishing this statement on Friday. The statement emphasizes their respect for Guatemala's sovereignty, and is a move of support toward a fair and functional justice system. These accusations [against us] don't help to confront the real problems Guatemala faces, their message concludes.

The Fundación Contra El Terrorismo's Mendez has been speaking out frequently in domestic media of late. The group's argument is that foreigners and domestic communists funded by foreigners are inciting a revengeful attack on the Guatemalan Army and the state itself through the genocide trial; there was no genocide, they say, and to ask the question is to attack Guatemala and the soldiers who sacrificed their lives fighting the threat of the Soviet- and Cuba-backed international communist conspiracy.

Ricardo Mendez-Ruiz of Guatemalan Foundation Against Terrorism (Fundación Contra El Terrorismo), leading a public protest in Guatemala City for the Ríos Montt genocide trial to be terminated. Photo: skylight.is.

In the Ixil area today, Mayan community organization Comité de Unidad Campesina condemns the pro-Ríos Montt demonstration as, more or less, the result of unfair manipulation and bribery of war victims who are living in poverty. Indigenous leader Miguel Rivera of Nebaj will speak shortly.

And in related news: the National Lawyers Guild of the United States (NLG) wrote to the Constitutional Court of Guatemala to communicate their concern "for the twist that the trial for crimes against humanity have taken." US Ambassador Chacon was cc'd. A copy of their letter is here.

And at Al Jazeera's website, “The long arc of justice in Guatemala” is a comprehensive opinion piece written by NLG delegation member Lauren Carasik.

At riosmontt-trial.org, two thorough and informative posts to read today: one, an overview of the legal challenges and debates at issue. And in this post, news that the UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Mr. Adama Dieng, has urged judicial authorities involved in the Guatemala genocide trial "to conclude the case and bring accountability for the atrocity crimes committed during the internal armed conflict in Guatemala."

Archive: Boing Boing coverage of the Rios Montt genocide trial in Guatemala.

Photo: Fernanda Toledo, Guatemala. A bus carrying demonstrators from the Ixil area to a pro-Rios Montt march in Guatemala City. The sign reads, “Don't shame the Ixiles with this genocide stuff, because it's a lie.”

According to pro-tribunal activists, some Ixiles who were bussed in from Nebaj today came because they were promised a free gift of fertilizer for their crops; when they arrived, they were told they were obligated to participate in the pro-Ríos Montt, anti-tribunal demonstration to receive the gift. Above, one Ixil person carries a sign saying, "I'd rather not receive fertilizer to deny genocide." (Pic: HijosGuatemala via NISGUA)