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Guatemala—Rios Montt genocide trial, Day 20. Will case be thrown out by Constitutional Court?

Rios Montt, moments after his attorneys walked out in protest today, seated alone w/co-defendant Sanchez. Photo: @xeni.

I am blogging from inside the Guatemalan Supreme Court in Guatemala City this morning, on day 20 of the trial of former Guatemalan General and genocide and de factor 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.


UPDATE, 9:48am Guatemala time: Attorneys for Rios Montt just walked out of the courtroom in protest; they'd demanded the trial to be canceled. Ríos Montt's supporters stand and cheer. Judge Jazmin Barrios yells "Stop! Stop!" after them; demands that security follow defense lawyers and bring them back to the courtroom; her order met with massive screams and cheers and applause throughout courtroom. Ríos Montt speaks for the first time: I'm trying to call my attorneys, but they aren't answering. I have another lawyer, but he's busy with another case. Co-defendant Sanchez tells judge he lacks funds to hire a new lawyer. Barrios offers to provide them with public defenders. Follow this Twitter list for live tweets from the courtroom.


Today, the defense renewed their demands that the trial be shut down and annulled. Supreme Court Judge Jazmin Barrios has denied their request. Judge Carol Patricia Flores will convene the Constitutional Court of Guatemala at 2pm to consider suspending the trial, as the defense have demanded.

It's not clear what will happen today, but it seems the trial will likely come to some form of closure today or tomorrow.

Rios Montt's fate now essentially rests in the hands of 2 female judges. As one reporter said, “One gets the sense the shit is about to hit the fan.”

My report from Tuesday's proceedings is here; my post from Wednesday is here.

From a recap by Kate Doyle at www.riosmontt-trial.org:

Wednesday, April 17, was a chaotic and tense day in the courtroom. Judge Yassmin Barrios began by observing that once again only two defense witnesses were present to testify before the tribunal, while some ten witnesses remained to be heard. The judge ordered Ríos Montt’s counsel, Marco Antonio Cornejo, to leave the room and personally call each of them on the phone to advise them that they were legally required to attend. Before permitting Cornejo to exit, she called the first witness present, Gustavo Porras, into the chamber and asked him to take his place in the witness chair facing the tribunal. Porras and the entire courtroom of several hundred spectators then waited in silence until the lawyer returned some 15 minutes later.
Things became more dramatic as the day went on.

Read the rest

Guatemala: Rios Montt genocide trial, day 18. "If I can't control the Army, then what am I doing here?"

Rios Montt listens to a prosecution witness, during the tribunal.

I am blogging from inside the Supreme Court in Guatemala City, where the trial of former Guatemalan Army General and US-backed dictator Guatemalan José Efrain Rios Montt and his then chief of intelligence Jose Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez has reconvened for the 18th day. Here's a good recap of Monday's proceedings, and here's another.

For the past two weeks, I have been here in Guatemala with Miles O'Brien, observing the trial in court and interviewing people involved in the story for a forthcoming report on PBS NewsHour. We have interviewed Rios Montt's daughter, Zury Rios, who is her father's most diligent defender. We have interviewed scientists whose work is entered as evidence in the trial. We traveled to the Ixil area where the conflict at the center of this trial took place, and we interviewed Ixil Maya survivors about their experiences in the US-backed counterinsurgency attacks. We interviewed government officials who worked closely with Ríos Montt, who believe that what happened was not genocide, but the unfortunate collateral damage of a just war against "International Communism."

As covered in previous Boing Boing posts, the past few weeks of the trial have included personal testimonies from dozens of Ixil Maya survivors of mass killings, rapes, torture, forced adoption, and displacement. More than two dozen forensic anthropologists from the Forensic Anthropology Foundation of Guatemala (FAFG) have testified about human remains exhumed and analyzed from mass graves. Many other expert witnesses, or "peritos," have testified: among them, Patrick Ball of hrdag.org, who analyzed data of deaths during the armed conflict, to help judges make their decision about whether the mass killings constituted a focused attack by the Guatemalan Army, led by Ríos Montt, against the Ixil Maya ethnic group.

In other words: Was this genocide?

Not according to "The Foundation Against Terrorism," which published a 20-page paid newspaper supplement over the weekend here in Guatemala. "The Farce of Genocide in Guatemala: a conspiracy perpetrated by the Marxists with the Catholic Church." It's an interesting read.

The 18th day of the tribunal began this morning with defense witnesses for Ríos Montt and Sanchez.

Read the rest

NYT op-ed: "On the Brink of Justice in Guatemala"

Anita Isaacs, in a NYT op-ed: "I have spent the past 15 years researching and writing about postwar justice in Guatemala. I am encouraged that, a decade and a half after peace accords ended 36 years of civil war, Guatemala is being given a chance to show the world how much progress it has made in building democracy. The trial gives the Guatemalan state a chance to prove that it can uphold the rule of law and grant its indigenous Mayan people, who suffered greatly under Mr. Ríos Montt, the same respectful treatment, freedoms and rights the rest of its citizens enjoy." [NYTimes.com] Xeni

Guatemala genocide trial: Day 6. "If I die, the story of what I lived will never be forgotten"

Photo: NISGUA. A witness testifies in the trial of Rios Montt, with aid of court-appointed Nebaj Ixil interpreter.

As Emi McLean writes on the Open Society Justice Initiative's blog about the genocide trial in Guatemala, "Semana Santa (or Holy Week) seemed to slow down Guatemala City everywhere but in Judge Jazmin Barrios’s courtroom on Monday."

And the trial continues at breakneck speed. The prosecution of Jose Efraín Rios Montt, the Army general who ruled Guatemala from 1982-1983, and his then-chief of military intelligence Jose Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez, re-opens for the 6th day today in Guatemala City. The charges of genocide and crimes against humanity they face are based on evidence of systematic massacres of Mayan citizens by Guatemalan troops and paramilitary forces during a most bloody phase of the country's 36-year civil war. The US government provided assistance to Ríos Montt and other Guatemalan military dictators that followed in that era, in the form of funding, training, military and CIA personnel, and weapons that were used against the indigenous population.

Watch live video from the courtroom here; listen to audio here. A Twitter list with accounts who are live-tweeting the trial is here.

On Monday, March 25, the court heard 13 witnesses for the prosecution recount horrifying accounts of atrocities they witnessed and survived, committed by soldiers under Ríos Montt's command.

Read the rest

Is increased biofuel demand in the US causing more poor in Central America to starve?

Richard Perry/The New York Times

A worthy and overlooked story in the NYT by Elizabeth Rosenthal about a new economic riptide hitting Central America, a result of America's changing corn policy. The US is now using 40% of our own corn crop to produce biofuel, and tortilla prices have doubled in Guatemala, which now imports about half of its corn.

"Recent laws in the United States and Europe that mandate the increasing use of biofuel in cars have had far-flung ripple effects, economists say, as land once devoted to growing food for humans is now sometimes more profitably used for churning out vehicle fuel."

Read the rest, and check out Richard Perry's photo slideshow.

Mayan Oxlajuj Baktun: "End of an Era, More of the Same," photo essay by James Rodriguez

James Rodriguez, a brave and talented photojournalist in Guatemala, has a striking photo-essay up on his blog.

On this occasion I share a photo essay documenting events in the Guatemalan northern city of Huehuetenango during the much-awaited end of the Mayan Oxlajuj Baktun. These provide a clear reflection of the divisions and challenges faced by Mayan communities today. The media exploited erroneous apocalyptic rumors, the government and business sectors viewed it as an opportunity to gain economically through tourism, and progressive groups seized the opportunity “to strengthen ancestral wisdom and never-ending search for balance” while vindicating what seem never-ending struggles for justice, inclusion, and self-determination.

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Guatemala: Former police chief convicted in 1980s disappearance

Justice at last, in one case from the US-backed 36-year civil war in Guatemala where some of the "harsh techniques" our military now uses in Iraq and Afghanistan and Gitmo were first perfected.

Three decades after Pedro Garcia Arredondo ordered the torture and "disappearance" of an agronomy student, the former chief detective of Guatemala's now-defunct National Police has been convicted and sentenced to 70 years in prison. From Amnesty International today:

Witnesses testified how [Édgar Enrique Sáenz Calito] was taken to “the little room” (“el cuartito”) where the Sixth Command typically interrogated guerrilla suspects.

The victim’s wife Violeta Ramírez Estrada told the court how she visited her husband in a prison hospital following his arrest and he bore signs of having been tortured – he had been subjected to beatings, water-boarding and cigarette burns, and electric shocks had been applied to his genitals.


(via @wolfe321)