Guatemala: Rios Montt supporters protest; court considers reparations for genocide victims

Photo: James Rodriguez/ View his full photo-essay here.

[Guatemala City] On Friday, a court in Guatemala convicted former US-backed military dictator Rios Montt of genocide and crimes against humanity, in an historic trial: this was the first time a domestic court in any nation has convicted a former head of state for these crimes.

His co-defendant Jose Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez, the head of the G-2 intelligence division under Rios Montt's 17-month regime, was absolved of all charges.

The court's full decision is due to be released today.

The powerful and conservative Guatemalan business lobby CACIF says the trial should be annulled, the judge fired, and that the verdict is dangerous for stability in Guatemala. The US Embassy in Guatemala, which has been targeted as an enemy of the Guatemalan people in a series of publications by pro-Rios Montt groups, released a statement over the weekend urging Guatemalan society to respect the verdict in the Montt trial.

Brigadier General José Efraín Rios Montt (center, in headphones) awaits the verdict of his trial on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity. Photo:

On Saturday, a group of military supporters gathered outside Guatemala City's Matamoros prison where the 86-year-old general spent his first night, in a demonstration of support for Rios Montt and the Guatemalan Army. By various estimates, there were between 30 and 50 pro-Rios Montt demonstrators present. The Associated Press erroneously reported "at least 500."

Today, the court of Judge Yassmin Barrios has just reconvened to begin a debate over the highly controversial discussion of reparations to the Ixil victims in this case. Who should pay for the theft of land, destruction of entire communities, murder, torture, forced displacement, and rape, the court will ask: The estate of Rios Montt? The government of Guatemala? And will the state issue a formal apology?

On Friday night, after the verdict, President Otto Perez Molina (who was once an Army commander in the Ixil region under Rios Montt) gave an interview on CNN en Español. The interviewer asked the Guatemalan President about his possible culpability for similar crimes. The transmission signal was cut. From El Periodico, a newspaper in Guatemala:

The interview became more uncomfortable for Perez when the interviewer questioned him about documentary American journalist Allan Nairn, in September 1982, where he declares that "all families are with the guerrillas."

At that time, the signal from Guatemala was cut and the corner had to take a break. After re-establish communication, the president said that the protected witness who identified as responsible for the massacres in Nebaj is false.

And below, one of many memes making the rounds on the Guatemalan internet. This one, created by people who believe the President's role should be questioned. He is immune from prosecution under Guatemalan law while he holds office.

Follow proceedings and analysis of the legal battle under way to overturn the conviction and annul the trial: NISGUA, Plaza Publica, and the OSJI's trial monitoring account are good places to start. You can follow them and others on this Twitter list. The site is the best source I've found for legal analysis.

Guatemala coverage archives
Rios Montt found guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity
1983 "MacNeil/Lehrer Report" on debate over military aid
1982 MacNeil/Lehrer on reports Ríos Montt committed atrocities
• "I am innocent," Ríos Montt tells court in genocide trial
Ríos Montt trial enters final phase, 75 years sought
The science behind historic genocide trial of General Ríos Montt: PBS NewsHour video report
Guatemalan Government declares State of Siege after Mining Protests: PBS NewsHour video report
PBS NewsHour reporter's notebook: Guatemala—Why We Cannot Turn Away
Waiting. Snapshots from Ríos Montt genocide trial courtroom


  1. Here’s hoping the verdict, and the rule of law, stand in this case.

    Nitpick: Wasn’t Saddam convicted in an Iraqi court of genocide over the nerve gas attacks that wiped out about 5,000 Kurds?  (Or was it the genocide of the Marsh Arabs?) I know that there were so many capital crimes to charge him with that they quit after the first three or four but I can’t quite remember if any of the genocide charges made the cut.

      1. Well, it’s all a muddle.  A trial for Crimes Against Humanity and Genocide w.r.t. the 100,000 or so Kurds that he killed with nerve gas and so on ran for several months in an Iraqi court.  It was all rendered moot when he exhausted his death penalty appeals from a previous trial for Crimes Against Humanity for killing about 150 Shia villagers and was hung before the second trail could resume.

        Anyway, it was nothing of the stature of this Guatemalan trial which represents a big step forward no matter how you count it.

        BTW – Thank you so much for your coverage of genocide: both here and w.r.t. Tibet.  Genocide is the 21st century’s dirty little secret and favourite pastime of governments of every stripe around the world.  Survivors of these campaigns wash up here in Toronto all the time (I know three) and their voices are seldom, if ever, heard.  Your articles give such survivors voice and it takes real courage to do so;  let alone be there on the spot for a trial such as the one in Guatemalan.

        1. Genocide  is by no means a 21st Century invention. It’s literally older than history. If you meant that secret genocide is new, well, no, it’s not new either. But I think most people are aware that genocide goes on. Don’t confuse apathy, or a simple sense of powerlessness, for obliviousness.

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