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:

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:

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, 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)


  1. Waiiit a minute… Just how delusionally hard-right do you have be to think that the Americans are pressuring you into some kind of commie conspiracy? And in Latin America, no less. We only spent how long operating under the ‘better dead than red, especially if I can leave the being dead to people who aren’t really people’ principle…

    1. the author of this article has mischaracterized Mendez-Ruiz’ editorial by saying
      that it links the American ambassador with marxist ideology. in a
      paragraph by itself, the editorial asserts that the Guatemalan justice
      system is being pressured by the foreign diplomatic corps, headed by the
      U.S. ambassador.

      anyway, in third-world countries, the belief that the United States is always manipulating whatever is going on is very common. (and not without reason.) in this case, the thought process might be something like “now that the United States no longer considers Rios-Montt useful, they are throwing him to the Marxist wolves”.

    1.  a lot of people have been deported from the U.S. back to Central America, so the brand has recognition there. for the middle class, eating at an American chain like Taco Bell is a privilege and marker of status.

  2. There’s no question, Xeni: you’re hairier than you used to be.

    (Seriously, best wishes) 

  3. This is maddening.  First the US and other foreign nations do everything they can to get this guy in office and keep him there.   From the Wikipedia article on Rios-Montt: 
    Given Ríos Montt’s staunch anticommunism and ties to the United States, the Reagan administration continued to support the general and his regime, paying a visit to Guatemala City in December 1982.[16] During a meeting with Ríos Montt on December 4, Reagan declared: “President Ríos Montt is a man of great personal integrity and commitment. … I know he wants to improve the quality of life for all Guatemalans and to promote social justice.”1[17]President Ronald Reagan claimed Guatemala’s human rights conditions were improving and used this to justify several major shipments of military hardware to Rios Montt; $4 million in helicopter spare parts and $6.3 million in additional military supplies in 1982 and 1983 respectively. The decision was taken in spite of records concerning human rights violations, by-passing the approval from Congress.[18][19][20][21][22] Meanwhile, a then-secret 1983 CIA cable noted a rise in “suspect right-wing violence” and an increasing number of bodies “appearing in ditches and gullies.”[23] In turn, Guatemala was eager to resurrect the Central American Defense Council, defunct since 1969, to join forces with the right-wing governments of El Salvador and Honduras in retaliations against the leftist Sandinista government of Nicaragua.Like Guatemala’s other suppliers of arms, Israel (which had been supplying arms to Guatemala since 1974) continued its aid provisions. The cooperation didn’t just involve material support, but also included providing intelligence and operational training, carried out both in Israel and in Guatemala. In 1982, Ríos Montt told ABC News that his success was due to the fact that “our soldiers were trained by Israelis.” There was not much outcry in Israel at the time about its involvement in Guatemala, though the support for Ríos Montt was no secret. The Israeli link was not lost on the average Guatemalan: At a cemetery in Chichicastenango, relatives of a man killed by the military told Perera, “In church they tell us that divine justice is on the side of the poor; but the fact of the matter is, it is the military who get the Israeli guns.”[24]Then he goes out of style and now they send out this comuniqué that Xeni linked to above (read all those emblems at the bottom as $-signs) telling Guatemala to  please clean up this stinky mess.    FTFTW.  

    1. Isn’t it at least a good thing that the US is reminding its present and future hatchetmen that it really isn’t a very loyal friend? 

      I’m not optimistic about our becoming more tasteful in buying friends overseas; but if we screw enough of our old dirty jobs buddies over, maybe we’ll have a bit more trouble getting more in the future, which would be an improvement…

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