Thursday, March 21, 2013

Guatemala: Witnesses Recall Horror and Heartache at Rios Montt Trial

Indigenous survivors of Guatemala’s civil war spoke at the genocide trial against former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt and spoke about abuses committed by the military three decades ago.

57-year-old Miguel C. Sánchez told the court on Thursday that troops in 1982 marched into the town of Trapichitos, murdered villagers including children, and burned down their houses.

“They tied him by his hands and fight and then dragged him away,” said Jacinto Brito who recalled the killing of his father.  “They also took away another four people.  The soldiers came in all directions.  Surely the government ordered them to do this,” added Brito who spoke this morning.

“They came and they massacred my mother, my brother and my brother-in-law. They burned homes," said 45-year-old Tomas Chavez who took the witness stand on Wednesday.

At least 150 members of the indigenous Ixil will testify over the next ten days against Rios Montt and ex-military intelligence chief José Rodríguez who are accused of crimes against humanity and genocide.  These eyewitnesses were determined to speak at the Guatemala City court even though some of them couldn’t speak Spanish and required translators.  In Brito’s case, a translator was provided due to his illiteracy and special headphones were used since he’s partially deaf.

Human rights prosecutors at the trial that started on Tuesday will attempt to prove that Rios Montt and Rodríguez masterminded the murders of 1771 Ixil people during the ex-strongman’s seventeen-month period as de facto president.  The pair is believed to have planned a “scorched earth” offensive aimed at eliminating suspected Marxist insurgents and their alleged collaborators. 

The defense team, who had filed numerous appeals in order to stall proceedings, alleged that Rios Montt was not in charge of battlefield operations. 

The trial has divided Guatemalans with supporters of the former dictator such as former general-turned-President Otto Perez Molina arguing that no genocide occurred in the country.  Yet for some victims of Guatemala’s civil war, the trial is a necessary end to years of impunity enjoyed by Rios Montt:

For decades, Rios Montt, avoided prosecution for atrocities committed during his 1982-1983 rule in a particularly bloody phase of the country's long civil war, protected as a congressman by a law that grants immunity to public officials...
"Justice has arrived," 51-year-old Ana Ical, whose brother disappeared in 1983, told Reuters. "It's late justice... but we are finally breaking the culture of fear and repression and intimidation that we all had to live through."
An estimated 200,000 people died and 45,000 disappeared during Guatemala's 36-year civil war that ended with peace agreements in 1996.

A U.N.-backed truth commission report released after the 1996 peace talks concluded that the army and paramilitary groups were responsible for more than 90% of the hundreds of massacres carried out during the war.

Video Source– YouTube via AFP

Online Sources – El Universal (Colombia), Reuters, El Diario/La Prensa,

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