Boing Boing 

Guatemala: Genocide trial starts then stops; State of Siege near US/Canadian mine continues

Photo: James Rodriguez, a US-Mexican documentary photographer based in Guatemala since 2006, traveled to the State of Siege zone to document the conditions last week in Jalapa and Santa Rosa Guatemala.

A brief update from Guatemala:

The tribunal of General Jose Efrain Rios Montt, who ruled Guatemala from 1982-1983, and Jose Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez, his former chief of military intelligence, reconvened this morning after a 5-day suspension. The defendants are on trial in Guatemala City for genocide and crimes against humanity. As Jo-Marie Burt at the OSIJ's riosmontt-trial.org blog explained in their most recent analysis, "Responding to the most recent ruling by the Court of Appeals will likely be the first order of business."

I am publishing this post from inside the courtroom, which was less than half full today—there was much confusion over the last 48 hours about whether the trial could be suspended entirely. Rios Montt and Rodriguez Sanchez showed up this morning without attorney Garcia Gudiel, who literally called in sick. Judge Yassmin Barrios briefly responseded to an array of recent court rulings, said "There is no annulment of the trial," then suspended the trial for the day. She indicated to Rios Montt that if Gudiel remains unavailable, he may call back his previous defense team, who walked out of the courtroom in protest on Apr 19.

No one is entirely sure what will happen tomorrow.

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Guatemala: "An attempt to decimate the future," Ixil testimony at genocide trial

Skylight Pictures, the team behind "Granito: How to Nail a Dictator," and "When the Mountains Tremble," have been here in Guatemala observing and documenting the historic genocide trial against former dictator General Jose Efraín Rios Montt.

Here is Episode #10 of their ongoing series of web updates from the trial, "An Attempt to Decimate the Future." In this episode, a Maya Ixil woman testifies before the court about sexual violence she survived. In the audience, women cover their heads in solidarity. The woman displaying this incredible act of courage was one of 98 Ixil survivors, men and women, who testified as criminal witnesses in the trial. Proceedings are due to resume tomorrow after several weeks of legal wrangling between lawyers for the defense and various Guatemalan courts.

View more of Skylight's "Dictator in the Dock" series here.

Below, two additional recent episodes from the series.

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Guatemala: Rios Montt genocide trial resumes amid legal uncertainty, polarized political climate

Ixil witnesses inside the courtroom, Tue. Apr. 30, 2013. At center, Maria Sajiq of Nebaj, Quiché, Guatemala. Ms. Sajiq was among the survivors Miles O'Brien and I interviewed in Nebaj recently, for a forthcoming PBS NewsHour report. (Photo: Xeni Jardin)

I am blogging from inside the Supreme Court of Guatemala, where Judge Jazmin Barrios has just re-started the genocide trial of Efrain Rios Montt and Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez after a two-week suspension, during which a series of obscure legal battles took place.

As Amy Ross at the OSIJ's riosmontt-trial.org blog accurately explains, the historic trial reconvenes "in an environment of complex legal challenges, powerful political forces, and intense emotions."

Listen to a live audio stream of today's proceedings here.

My live-tweets from the courtroom are below.

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Guatemala: Genocide trial may soon restart; Obama to meet with Central American leaders

PHOTO: James Rodríguez/mimundo.org. "Protest demanding continuation of Genocide trial aganst Rios Montt."

A brief Saturday update from Guatemala, where the genocide trial of former US-backed military dictator Rios Montt and his head of military intelligence Rodriguez Sanchez has been on hold after a series of legal actions involving various Guatemalan courts.

In case you're just catching up: here's the previous installment in our series about a march Friday that honored slain bishop and human rights defender Juan Gerardi.

The sense here today is that the trial could possibly reconvene next week, following Friday's hearing by Judge Carol Patricia Flores involving one set of disputed procedural details. But whether or when the trial will resume is not clear just yet.

Independent Guatemalan online news organization Plaza Publica has an explainer of Friday's proceedings here (Spanish).

And from the Open Society Justice Initiative's riosmontt-trial.org update (English):

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Guatemala: March for assassinated priest, and justice, as genocide trial remains in limbo

    In Guatemala City today, a demonstration to honor Monsignor Juan José Gerardi Conedera, and to call for the genocide trial of Rios Montt to continue. Image: NISGUA.

    Today here in Guatemala, demonstrators marched through the streets of the capital to honor the life of Bishop Juan Gerardi, a Catholic priest and human rights champion. He was beaten to death 15 years ago today, two days after releasing a report about victims of the country's 36-year internal armed conflict. Gerardi has become even more of a hero since what the faithful describe as "his martyrdom."

    In the past few weeks of my travels here in Guatemala, I have visited a number of Catholic churches; his name and his image appear often, with great reverence. At the central church in Nebaj, part of the Ixil Maya area at the center of the historic Rios Montt genocide trial, I snapped this photo of Gerardi's inclusion in a memorial to civilian victims of the armed conflict.

    In the central church of Nebaj, Quiché, Guatemala, Bishop Juan Gerardi is honored in a memorial to civilian victims of the internal armed conflict. Image: Xeni Jardin.

    The 15th anniversary of Bishop Gerardi's death comes at a time when Guatemala is once again experiencing a wave of polarizing rhetoric around human rights and post-armed-conflict justice issues—rhetoric that includes damning words for the Catholic church.

    One example: "The Farce of Genocide," a recent paid campaign in a major Guatemalan newspaper by Guatemala's "Foundation Against Terrorism" (Fundación Contra El Terrorismo; blog, Facebook). The group was founded by Ricardo Méndez Ruíz, whose father was a military officer and minister of the interior under Rios Montt. The 20-page newspaper insert warned of an "International Marxist Conspiracy" transmitted through the Catholic Church; it included archival photographs said to be proof of "[Catholic] nuns manipulating indigenous people against" the US-backed former military dictator at the center of the current genocide trial.

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Guatemala: "A Trial of Two Languages," video update from the Rios Montt genocide tribunal

From "Granito: Every Memory Matters" (GMEM), a project inspired by the creation of the film "Granito de Arena," here are the latest in a series of video updates from the Rios Montt genocide trial in Guatemala.

This video, according to Granito director and online media project co-creator Pamela Yates, "captures that extraordinary moment when Judge Barrios ruled to continue the trial."

Above, in English; below, in Spanish.

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Guatemala: court begins to untangle genocide trial standstill

Miguel Salay and Mariano Castillo have a solid update up for CNN.com on the confusing status of the genocide trial currently on hold here in Guatemala:
A week ago, the genocide trial of former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt appeared headed to a historic conclusion. Today, it is at a standstill, the result of procedural missteps that have cast uncertainty over the process. The country's Constitutional Court on Tuesday began to answer some of the legal questions that are holding up the trial. But the biggest one -- whether the trial proceedings will be annulled -- remains to be clarified.

Read the rest at CNN.com.

And more in our Boing Boing archives of my trial coverage from Guatemala.

Guatemala video snapshot: Youth protest in Supreme Court during genocide trial

A little iPhone video snapshot I shot during the trial in Guatemala of US-backed military dictator Rios Montt and his then-intelligence chief, Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez.

Ríos Montt and Rodriguez Sanchez are accused of being responsible for the Guatemalan Army's mass killings of more than 1,700 Ixil Maya civilians, systematic rape, and forced displacement.

On April 18, just after the court adjourned, I was walking out of the Supreme Court building when I heard a group shouting "Justice! Justice!"—I walked into the center of the building and saw this group of young people holding signs that said, "So that history will never repeat," and "We young people deserve to know the truth."

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Guatemala: Nobel laureates issue joint statement for genocide trial against Rios Montt to proceed

Nobel Peace laureates including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Jose Ramos Horta, Jody Williams and Rigoberta Menchú Tum, today issued a joint statement "calling on past and present Guatemalan authorities to 'respect a legitimate, independent and transparent judicial process' in the trial of former president General Efraín Ríos Montt." Here's the statement, in Spanish. Here are the archives for Boing Boing's coverage of the case.

Guatemala: Confusion follows Constitutional Court rulings; will Montt genocide trial proceed?

Photo: mimundo.org/James Rodriguez. Ixil Maya women demonstrate in support of the continuation of the trial, outside the Supreme Court of Guatemala.

A quick update from Guatemala, where I've been covering the historic tribunal of Jose Efrain Rios Montt, US-backed military dictator of Guatemala during 1982 and 1983, and Jose Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez, his then chief of military intelligence. They are on trial in Guatemala City for genocide and crimes against humanity, over charges their regime systematically massacred the country’s indigenous population, and caused mass forced displacement.

This is the first time in modern history that a former head of state has been prosecuted for genocide in a national, as opposed to an international, court.

Last week, the historic trial in the nation's Supreme Court was put on hold when a lower court judge effectively upheld an appeal by the defense to block the trial on procedural grounds. Confusion, concern, and protests by both sides followed.

Yesterday, the nation's Constitutional Court issued a series of provisional rulings that seemed to only deepen that confusion. Today, an appeals court hearing is being held unexpectedly moved to the Guatemalan Supreme Court due to large public turnout, says NISGUA. "Defense lawyers are present without Rios Montt and Rodriguez Sanchez. FAMDEGUA (Asociación de Familiares de Desaparecidos de Guatemala) joins prosecution team in this hearing to resolve appeal."

The case is in limbo while various court authorities and legal teams battle it out. For a breakdown of the legal details:

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Guatemala genocide trial status in limbo as legal power struggle continues

VIDEO: Relatives of people killed during Guatemala's armed conflict hold up a banner with the names of the dead, during a protest on April 22, 2013 outside the Constitutional Court in Guatemala City. (Xeni Jardin for Boing Boing)

Kate Doyle of the National Security Archive and the Open Society Justice Initiative's riosmontt-trial.org has the most accurate summary I've found of today's confusing and widely mis-reported legal developments in the Guatemala genocide trial of General Rios Montt and former head of intelligence Jose Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez:

Today the Constitutional Court sowed chaos and confusion in a trial that last Friday (April 19) was probably two or three days away from its conclusion. The only steps remaining were hearing the testimony of whatever remaining witnesses the defense could muster, and hearing the closing arguments of prosecution and defense lawyers.

It is impossible to summarize accurately what happened without having access to the Constitutional Court (CC) decision. (It should be available tonight.) The first press conference held by the CC today was so incoherent that the press complained and they had to convene a second one. Two important things will happen tomorrow that will help clarify matters: CALDH will hold a press conference at 10am to explain how they plan to respond to the latest developments, and the Attorney General’s office will make some kind of statement to the same effect.

Meanwhile what I understand from reading the press, Twitter posts, messages from the new OSJI monitor Lisa Laplante, and emails from some of the stakeholders is the following:

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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.”

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Guatemala: Montt Genocide Trial fate rests with Constitutional Court; remains in limbo (photos, video)


Outside Constitutional Court, Guatemala City, a banner displays the names of civilians disappeared or assassinated during Guatemala's 36-yr civil war. Photo: Xeni Jardin


Julia Cortez, former president of the plaintiff organization AJR (Association for Justice and Reconciliation) celebrates Judge Barrios' declaration that no one person has the right to annul the trial. Photo: MiMundo.org.

I've been traveling in Guatemala for the past few weeks, reporting on the genocide 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.

James Rodriguez, a photojournalist in Guatemala, has been covering the trial and all of the activity that surrounds it. Above and below, two images from a photo essay he published about demonstrations that took place here on Friday:

Despite the trial’s suspension ordered by High Risk Court Judge Carol Flores on the previous day, Judge Jazmin Barrios reconvened the trial on the 21st day to decide on a course of action. Judge Barrios ruled that Judge Flores’ annulment is illegal and will be asking the Constitutional Court, Guatemala’s highest judicial body, to rule on the fate of the genocide trial. Afterwards, a protest march walked from the Supreme Court of Justice to the Constitutional Court.

According to the prosecution team, no trial can be suspended for more than 10 business days. Hence, they expect the CC, highest court in the land, to rule by May 2nd.

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Guatemala: "Dictator in the Dock," video updates from Rios Montt genocide trial

Skylight Films, the team behind "Granito" and "When the Mountains Tremble," have been filming the trial of General Efraín Rios Montt since day one, and they're posting video updates from here in Guatemala City.

"We want the world to be present during this important time in Guatemalan history," they say. Above and below, the first three episodes of their "Dictator in the Dock" series: ANTICIPANDO LA JUSTICIA, UNSPEAKABLE CRUELTY, and ORDER IN THE COURT.

Also, check out their "Granito Memoria" online testimony project, gathering the stories of armed conflict survivors.

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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.

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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.

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Guatemala: In 1982, ex-dictator Rios Montt told this documentary filmmaker, "I Control the Army"

As I've been blogging here on Boing Boing this week, former Guatemalan Army general and de facto dictator Efraín Rios Montt and ex-military intelligence chief Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez are on trial over charges of genocide.

A Guatemalan judge ruled in January that Ríos Montt must stand trial; his lawyer said his defense would be that he wasn't personally on the battlefield and couldn't control what happened there. I've been listening in to the trial via a live audio stream, and their cross-questioning of Ixil Maya witnesses suggests that this remains their plan.

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Guatemala genocide trial continues; watch or listen live

Nicolas Brito Bernal, the first witness in the genocide trial. Photo: Aida Noriega; via @PzPenVivo.

Efrain Ríos Montt, the former de facto dictator of Guatemala, is in court today for the third day of his trial on charges of genocide against some 2,000 Ixil Maya during the country's 36-year civil war. Listen here, or watch here. I also created this Twitter list so you can follow the accounts of people live-tweeting from the courtroom (or listening to the audio/video stream, where dialogue is in Spanish and Ixil Maya only).

As you can see for yourself on the video stream, the ex-general is sitting and listening in the courtroom while prosecution witnesses, Ixil Maya victims, recount in gruesome detail the atrocities they survived under his regime.

As I type this blog post, an Ixil woman, Cecilia Sánchez Sánchez, is breaking down in tears as she retells the story of how on one day in 1982, her husband, two sons, and baby were murdered, her home burned, and "flying instruments" (helicopters) swarmed overhead, dropping bombs on the villagers.

Did you ever see your husband again, the interrogator asks her. "No, I only went to carry away his bones."

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Guatemala: Audio and video livestreams of genocide trial for ex-dictator Montt

Rios Montt. Photo: James Rodriguez.

As noted in previous Boing Boing posts, former Guatemalan dictator Efraín Rios Montt is on trial in Guatemala City this week, three decades after the army he presided over massacred Ixil Maya villages in the Central American country's highlands. Former G2 commander Jose Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez is his co-defendant.

Ríos Montt, 86, was trained at the notorious US Army School of the Americas and was celebrated and supported by the Reagan administration as a law-and-order tough guy who promised to bring an end to "indiscriminate violence."

Under his regime, the country entered a new phase of bloodbath; the scope of which Guatemala had never before known. And at last, with this tribunal, a legacy of impunity and silence is challenged. Whether the outcome amounts to justice will be a matter of debate for generations to come. But one of the most notorious mass murderers in Guatemalan history is finally on trial.

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