Guatemala: After high court collapses genocide case, trial may have to restart

Ríos Montt's attorney, Francisco García Gudiel. Photo: El Periodico, Guatemala. "They must restart the trial," he told the paper today.

In Guatemala today, confusion and concern around what will become of the historic trial that found former US-backed military dictator Ríos Montt guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity. Just 10 days after that trial ended in an 80-year prison sentence for the former general, the nation's Constitutional Court this week overturned the trial and threw out the verdict. Background here and documents here, in previous Boing Boing posts.

Ríos Montt's attorney Francisco García Gudiel (whom critics in Guatemala sometimes refer to as an "abogangster") says the trial must restart: "You have to cancel the whole process and begin a new trial with new judges."

Without saying it, they threw out everything," plaintiff and human rights attorney Hector Reyes told Reuters. "There is no appeals process for their decision."

Reyes is a lawyer with CALDH (Center for Legal Action on Human Rights), the organization that represented Maya Ixil victims in the case. From Elisabeth Malkin's report in the New York Times:

Calling the constitutional court's ruling "eminently illegal," he said that the repeated delays caused by endless appeals "are part of the impunity in Guatemala."

Moisés Galindo, part of the defense team representing General Ríos Montt, agreed that a new trial would probably be necessary. "For all practical effects, the Constitutional Court is saying the debate has to begin again in front of new judges," he said.

CALDH is organizing a series of events in Guatemala City today and tomorrow, to include a march down the "Path of Impunity" which leads from the Corte Suprema de Justicia (where the genocide trial and conviction took place) to the Constitutional Court (which effectively annulled the case this week). Shown here (click to enlarge), a flyer from CALDH circulating on Facebook.

Related reading: Elisabeth Malkin's NYT report on the United States' role in Guatemala's genocide. She read this previous Boing Boing post, and references its contents in the story:

Back in 1983, Elliott Abrams, the assistant secretary of state for human rights under President Ronald Reagan, once suggested that General Ríos Montt's rule had "brought considerable progress" on human rights.

Mr. Abrams was defending the Reagan administration's request to lift a five-year embargo on military aid to Guatemala. Brushing off concern from human rights groups about the rising scale of the massacres in Mayan villages, Mr. Abrams declared that "the amount of killing of innocent civilians is being reduced step by step."

Speaking on "The MacNeil-Lehrer Report," he argued, "We think that kind of progress needs to be rewarded and encouraged."

That archival "The MacNeil-Lehrer Report" video is embedded below.

Also in el Periodico today, another bizarre op-ed by Foundation Against Terrorism director Ricardo Méndez Ruiz. During the trial, his organization published 20-page paid ad campaigns in the Sunday paper describing the trial as a neo-Marxist conspiracy enabled by the Catholic Church, and describing international observers, journalists, and human rights advocates as "enemies of the motherland." His Foundation is closely tied with the extremely conservative military/industrial oligarchy that runs Guatemala. As strange as this narrative may read to outsiders, it's taken very seriously within Guatemala:

The Communists tried to seize power by executive force, and failed, then tried to take over the Legislature with their votes, and failed, then tried to infiltrate the judiciary with their operatives, and they succeeded. The evidence is in the sentence for a genocide that never happened.