Guilty as Charged

Interesting things are happening in Guatemala. Despite the election of Otto Perez Molina, installed as president just a couple of weeks ago, the Guatemalan judiciary proved its bravery and independence two days ago by indicting former General and one-time de facto president Ephraín Ríos Montt on charges of genocide. Ríos Montt was Otto Perez Molina's boss in the grim dark 1980s, when something like 200,000 Mayan Indian highland peasants were massacred by the dictadura. Perez Molina's election, on a campaign to restore security in a country that suffers from Juarez-like rates of murder and impunity, was generally seen as a setback to the cause of justice for the victims of the genocide. He is a genocide-denier and a former military man.

But on the same day that Perez Molina was sworn into office, Ríos Montt, leader of the junta in the bloodiest days of 1982 and 1983, ended his twelve-year term as a congressman, and with it ended his legislative immunity from prosecution. With pre-emptive bluster, he promptly announced that he was prepared to present himself before the courts, should they require his testimony. The courts, and specifically a heroic judge, Carol Patricia Flores Blanco, took him up on his offer. Flores Blanco decided two days ago that there is sufficient evidence to merit a trial, and Ríos Montt is now under house arrest. Impunity and corruption reign in Guatemala, and we may be some distance from seeing Ríos Montt rotting in prison, but that he went directly from a seat in Congress to home-bound defendant is, in the context of the country, extraordinarily significant. The Mayan majority, ostracized, marginalized and disenfranchised since the arrival of the Spanish conquest, may finally get some justice.

For background on the genocide and on Ríos Montt I highly recommend you seek out and see Pamela Yates' latest film, Granito, which among other things presents evidence of his guilt, in footage she shot in Guatemala thirty years ago. I'm very proud that I got the chance to work on this film. I'll be even happier if Ríos Montt goes to jail in any part because of it.

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