Sunday, May 12, 2013

When Former Guatemala President Efrain Ríos Montt Gets Out Of Prison, He'll Be 166 Years Old


Reagan supplied the weapons, Rios Montt used them

We've mentioned Ríos Montt before-- first in 2007, when crooked Illinois Republican Congressman Jerry Weller (now retired) married the former dictator's daughter and absconded to Guatemala with all his loot. More recently we looked at Reactionary Mind author Corey Robin's review of a book by Greg Granlin, Colonial Massacre: Latin America in the Cold War. How, I wondered, could any serious examination of the reactionary mind-- particularly the American reactionary mind-- not deal with the enormity of what was visited (by reactionary minds) on the Mayan native people of Guatemala, the ones whose ancestors had managed to escape being slaughtered in previous centuries by Spanish imperialists? And whose reactionary mind-- albeit an extraordinarily weak one-- would be better to start with than Ronald Reagan's?
On 5 December 1982, Ronald Reagan met the Guatemalan president, Efraín Ríos Montt, in Honduras. It was a useful meeting for Reagan. ‘Well, I learned a lot,’ he told reporters on Air Force One. ‘You’d be surprised. They’re all individual countries.’ It was also a useful meeting for Ríos Montt. Reagan declared him ‘a man of great personal integrity... totally dedicated to democracy’, and claimed that the Guatemalan strongman was getting ‘a bum rap’ from human rights organisations for his military’s campaign against leftist guerrillas. The next day, one of Guatemala’s elite platoons entered a jungle village called Las Dos Erres and killed 162 of its inhabitants, 67 of them children. Soldiers grabbed babies and toddlers by their legs, swung them in the air, and smashed their heads against a wall. Older children and adults were forced to kneel at the edge of a well, where a single blow from a sledgehammer sent them plummeting below. The platoon then raped a selection of women and girls it had saved for last, pummelling their stomachs in order to force the pregnant among them to miscarry. They tossed the women into the well and filled it with dirt, burying an unlucky few alive. The only traces of the bodies later visitors would find were blood on the walls and placentas and umbilical cords on the ground.

Amid the hagiography surrounding Reagan’s death in June, it was probably too much to expect the media to mention his meeting with Ríos Montt. After all, it wasn’t Reykjavik. But Reykjavik’s shadow-- or that cast by Reagan speaking in front of the Berlin Wall-- does not entirely explain the silence about this encounter between presidents. While it’s tempting to ascribe the omission to American amnesia, a more likely cause is the deep misconception about the Cold War under which most Americans labour. To the casual observer, the Cold War was a struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union, fought and won through stylish jousting at Berlin, antiseptic arguments over nuclear stockpiles, and the savvy brinkmanship of American leaders. Latin America seldom figures in popular or even academic discussion of the Cold War, and to the extent that it does, it is Cuba, Chile and Nicaragua rather than Guatemala that earn most of the attention.

But, as Greg Grandin shows in The Last Colonial Massacre, Latin America was as much a battleground of the Cold War as Europe, and Guatemala was its front line. In 1954, the US fought its first major contest against Communism in the Western hemisphere when it overthrew Guatemala’s democratically elected president, Jacobo Arbenz, who had worked closely with the country’s small but influential Communist Party. That coup sent a young Argentinian doctor fleeing to Mexico, where he met Fidel Castro. Five years later, Che Guevara declared that 1954 had taught him the impossibility of peaceful, electoral reform and promised his followers that ‘Cuba will not be Guatemala.’ In 1966, Guatemala was again the pacesetter, this time pioneering the ‘disappearances’ that would come to define the dirty wars of Argentina, Uruguay, Chile and Brazil. In a lightning strike, US-trained security officials captured some thirty leftists, tortured and executed them, and then dropped most of their corpses into the Pacific. Explaining the operation in a classified memo, the CIA wrote: ‘The execution of these persons will not be announced and the Guatemalan government will deny that they were ever taken into custody.’ With the 1996 signing of a peace accord between the Guatemalan military and leftist guerrillas, the Latin American Cold War finally came to an end-- in the same place it had begun-- making Guatemala’s the longest and most lethal of the hemisphere’s civil wars. Some 200,000 men, women and children were dead, virtually all at the hands of the military: more than were killed in Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Brazil, Nicaragua and El Salvador combined, and roughly the same number as were killed in the Balkans. Because the victims were primarily Mayan Indians, Guatemala today has the only military in Latin America deemed by a UN-sponsored truth commission to have committed acts of genocide.

And then there was the report almost exactly a year ago that the ex-Presidente was in custody, along with a This American Life program about one particular Guatemalan massacre. What struck me about it-- aside from the cold blooded and horrific murders of all the women and children-- was the impetus to "let bygones be bygones" and just move on. Oligarchs and ruling elites across the world have seen to it that social orders are organized by, of, and for the one percent. Under those circumstances accountability is almost nonexistent. The U.S. has no moral standing to complain about Syria, I wrote at the time, until Bush and his cronies are hanging or rotting in prison cells. Our entire society is rotting from inside because there is no accountability at the top.

Reagan ally and mass murderer, former Guatemalan dictator José Efraín Ríos Montt, now 85, has finally been arrested. Since he was responsible for the brutal deaths of between a hundred and two hundred thousand innocent Mayan Indians, it's nice he's been indicted and is languishing in his mansion under house arrest. But the drumbeat to let bygones be bygones is already sounding and the current fascist in control of Guatemala, Otto Pérez Molina, is carefully weighing his options.

For those not familiar with Ríos Montt, here's the briefest of summaries: In 1951 he attended the U.S. terrorism school in Georgia, School of the Americas, which indoctrinates budding young Latin American fascists and trains them to keep their countrymen down fight Communism. Three years later he was part of the CIA plot to overthrow populist Guatemalan President Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán. A religionist fanatic and close associate of both Pat Robertson's and Jerry Falwell's, Ríos Montt preached that a true Christian had the Bible in one hand and a machine gun in the other. He soon seized power with the help of the CIA. He immediately targeted labor unions-- literally targeted... and not with Bibles, with the other hand. Tens of thousands of deaths mounted and mounted, mostly of impoverished, maginalized Mayans, and over a million were displaced and forced to live in concentration camps and to work in the fields of Guatemalan land barons, that country's one percent.

This weekend, the American media is reporting-- without much of the grisly background material or the U.S. role-- the guilty verdict in Ríos Montt's genocide trial. I haven't seen many in the mainstream media asking when it will be Dick Cheney's turn or Henry Kissinger's turn.
A Guatemalan court on Friday found Gen. Efraín Ríos Montt, the former dictator who ruled Guatemala during one of the bloodiest periods of its long civil war, guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity.

Judge Yasmín Barrios sentenced General Ríos Montt, 86, to 80 years in prison. His co-defendant, José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez, who served as the director of intelligence under the general, was acquitted of the same two charges.

“We are completely convinced of the intent to destroy the Ixil ethnic group,” Judge Barrios said as she read the hourlong summary of the ruling by the three-judge panel. Over five weeks, the tribunal heard more than 100 witnesses, including psychologists, military experts and Maya Ixil Indian survivors who told how General Ríos Montt’s soldiers had killed their families and wiped out their villages.

The judge said that as the commander in chief of Guatemala’s armed forces, the general knew about the systematic massacres of Ixil villagers living in hillside hamlets in El Quiché department and did nothing to stop them or the aerial bombardment of the refugees who had fled to nearby mountains.

The crowd packed into the courtroom was quiet for much of Judge Barrios’s reading. But cries of “Justicia! Justicia!” erupted when she pronounced the lengthy sentence and ordered General Ríos Montt to begin serving it immediately.

As the general tried to walk out a side door, Judge Barrios shouted at him to stay where he was and called for security forces. An hour after the verdict and sentence were read, General Ríos Montt was escorted from the courtroom by a dozen police officers. He said he was ready to go to prison.

How long he will stay there is less clear than the verdict. His lawyers said they would appeal, and injunctions filed during the case still await rulings.

...For international human rights organizations, the trial took on a significance beyond Guatemala’s own history.

Adama Dieng, the United Nations special adviser on the prevention of genocide, said last month that the case was the first in which a former head of state had been indicted by a national tribunal on charges of genocide.

The “historical precedent,” and especially a guilty verdict, he said, could serve as an example to other countries “that have failed to hold accountable those individuals responsible for serious and massive human rights violations.”
Don't get excited; they're talking about Assad, not Cheney, Bush or Kissinger.

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At 9:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As much as right-wing extremist freaks in and out of government loved to pillory Cuba, and later Venezuela, about their opposition to 100% true-blue Americanism's coercion of the world via bullets and rigged ballots, their love of slander, though real and ardent, itself was a cover for everything else the right-wing extremists freaks in and out of government were doing to the people of Latin America during the right-wing extremist freak reign of 1981 till....well still ongoing. The United States' right-wing agenda regarding its "backyard" was/is so complete and universal that Clinton's and Obama's policies have been largely swept up in the furor to suppress all things democractic in Latin America as much as possible, with the only difference during Democratic administrations being a matter of degree. Regarding Colombia, though, and some other countries, there has been no difference between GOP and Dem administrations. So of course Latin Americans have had to fight back themselves to attain any amount of self-determination and security from The Big Gringo Genocide Machine and have done so admirably especially of late. So yeah, Reagan was and always will be a seditious genocidal maniac.


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