Guatemala: Rios Montt genocide trial, Day 19

Former General and dictator Rios Montt, in a crush of reporters in the Guatemalan Supreme Court. Photo: @xeni.

I am blogging from inside the Guatemalan Supreme Court in Guatemala City this morning, on day 19 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. Montt's 1982-1983 regime was supported by the United States; during this era many thousands of non-combatant civilians were killed.

My report from yesterday's proceedings is here.

An excellent report from Kate Doyle is here at, a project of the Open Society Justice Initiative.

The court adjourned at mid-day yesterday, as Judge Jazmin Barrios scolded Ríos Montt's defense team for effectively delaying the judicial process by failing to have defense witnesses present.

This early closure of the trial followed a dramatic moment: the court played series of interviews with Ríos Montt and two senior Army figures, filmed in 1982 by American documentary filmmaker Pamela Yates (Granito, When the Mountains Tremble). The silent, 86 year old Ríos Montt leaned back in his chair and looked up at the younger version of himself at the height of his physical and political vigor; it was a surreal scene, here in the courtroom.

On screen, the former President spoke of being in control of the Army; here in court, his defenders have argued that he did not, and could therefore not be held responsible for atrocities that may have been committed by the Army during his rule. Ríos Montt's own words seemed to contradict that argument.

This trial is unprecedented: it is the first time any former head of state has been tried in a domestic court for genocide and crimes against humanity. Some of Ríos Montt's supporters argue that if he is being brought to trial, so should the American lawmakers who provided him with funds, military training, weapons, and helicopters under former US president Ronald Reagan.

They have a point.

Here's a Twitter list of observers who have been diligently live-tweeting from the trial. Among them: NISGUA Guate (Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala), Plaza Publica, and Rios Montt Trial (a project of the Open Society Initiative).

Many observers in Guatemala who are anti-Ríos Montt, pro-civilian-victims are tweeting with the hashtag #SiHuboGenocidio. A quick search of that hashtag is an interesting glimpse into one element of the Guatemalan zeitgeist.