A Guatemalan court found Gen. Efraín Ríos Montt, who ruled for 17 months under a military junta during Guatemala’s 36 year civil war, guilty of genocide and “crimes against humanity,” sentencing the 86-year old to 80 years behind bars.
“We are completely convinced of the intent to destroy the Ixil ethnic group,” Judge Barrios said during the ruling, according to the NY Times.
Few dispute the dark criminal reign of Gen. Montt, who was seen internationally at the time as a “pariah” during his reign. Wikipedia summarizes his actions: This government was overthrown in 1982. General Ríos Montt was named President of the military junta, continuing the bloody campaign of torture, forced disappearances, and “scorched earth” warfare.
The international community is celebrating it as the first time a former head of state was held accountable for genocide domestically in his own country, though the prosecution of Fujimori in Peru seems to hold precedent. Groups like George Soros’ Open Society are hailing it a ‘historic verdict’ noting:
“This court in Guatemala has shown that local justice can hold even the most senior political leaders responsible for the gravest international crimes, despite the considerable political challenges that such prosecutions can face.”
As in campaigns against Kony, Sudan and Darfur, it and other Western-backed groups have worked to legitimize the International Criminal Court (ICC) the prosecution of “crimes against humanity,” but often through a very narrow scope. Soros’ efforts have been criticized for attempting to establish global jurisdiction and for focusing on evildoers in certain parts of the world only, even as his International Crisis Group has admittedly been a key instigator in the Arab Spring uprisings that has fomented many dark and bloody actions.
While genocide should certainly be condemned and its purveyors punished, selective hindsight has been used to seek out “justice,” with the role of U.S. foreign policy and western NGOs, favorite dictators, American-trained “death squads” and etc. often overlooked completely.
Such is the case with Gen. Montt, who was on trial with his director of intelligence, José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez, but acquitted on the charges – ostensibly because he was not in command. Few, too, would likely doubt his guilt in contributing to genocide.
The NY Times mentioned Sánchez only once, noting his acquittal.
At the end of the article profiling Gen. Montt, the NY Times make direct mention of the larger blackout on nearly 60 years of covert action in Guatemala, including Reagan-era politics related to the Iran/Contra Scandal:
The involvement of the United States in Guatemala’s politics received scant attention during the trial. The American military had a close relationship with the Guatemalan military well into the 1970s before President Jimmy Carter’s administration cut off aid. When General Ríos Montt seized power in March 1982, President Ronald Reagan’s administration cultivated him as a reliable Central American ally in its battle against Nicaragua’s Sandinista government and Salvadoran guerrillas. Those interests influenced the way American officials treated evidence of the massacres.
What apparently bore no mention was the CIA’s admitted role in ousting Arbenz back in 1954, which was finally partially declassified in 1997.
The clandestine upheaval of Guatemala’s affairs — in the name of fighting Communism but ultimately for U.S. corporate interests and on-going games of geo-political chess – signaled the activation of CIA-initiated coups, assassinations, civil wars, genocides and more that would spread throughout Central and South America, Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe during the latter half of the 20th Century.[pullquote]The U.S. role in bolstering, training and urging on those responsible for this death has been de-emphasized, and that of Gen. Efraín Ríos Montt has been emphasized. Can this case be seen as a sign for hope, or merely of continuing to sweep the larger picture under the rug?[/pullquote]
The notorious Allen Dulles was appointed by President Eisenhower to what would become a ten-year reign at the head of the Central Intelligence Agency in 1953. In his book The Secret Team, Fletcher Prouty documents how Dulles worked with his elite friends to transform the CIA’s original mission of merely gathering and analyzing information into an activated shadow army that would change affairs in locales around the globe.
Guatemala was targeted, in part, to make the nation more compliant to the wishes of United Fruit, a company on which CIA Director Allen Dulles was a board member – case in point of a Banana Republic.
Things were never the same. The puppet leader installed to reverse the land reforms of Arbenz and his predecessor was later assassinated. Through various elected and imposed leaders, Guatemala would see decades of turmoil and bloodshed. The internal pressures for civil war were complicated by U.S. and U.S.S.R. foreign policy interventions.
Incidents like the Iran/Contra Affair involved many Central American nations, including Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, divided between left-leaning guerilla factions and U.S. backed dictators, who received aid through a complicated network of drug smuggling, arms deals and intelligence sharing.
After the 36-year civil war finally ended in Guatemala in 1996, the United Nations sponsored a ‘truth commission’ formally named the Commission for Historical Clarification. It concluded that “government forces and state-sponsored paramilitaries” were behind more than 90 percent of the human rights violations that included widespread death in general, as well as genocide and American-trained “death squads” that carried out a campaign of repression and assassination.
While the U.S. role in bolstering, training and urging on those responsible for this death has been de-emphasized, that of Gen. Efraín Ríos Montt has been emphasized, though his 17 months in power cannot account for all the darkness that has been carried out in Guatemala.
Sadly, in so many cases of genocide in the 20th Century, true justice is never even approached. Can this case be seen as a sign for hope, or merely of continuing to sweep the larger picture under the rug?
Similar injustice has been noted in the widespread crime and punishment of low level, non-violent offenders in U.S. prisons while “big fish” behind the 2008 economic crash, war crimes in Iraq and other parts of the Middle East, etc. are typically beyond the reach of justice.
America’s Criminal Injustice System