Guatemala’s Rios Montt found guilty of genocide
(AWTWNS 13 May 2013)

This AWTWNS news packet for the week of 13 May 2013 contains one article. It may be reproduced or used in any way, in whole or in part, as long as it is credited.

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Guatemala’s Rios Montt found guilty of genocide

13 May 2013. A World to Win News Service. On 10 May, U.S.-backed strongman General Efrain Rios Montt, president of Guatemala for 17 months in 1982-1983, was convicted and sentenced to 80 years in prison for genocide and crimes against humanity for his role in the slaughter of 1,771 Mayan Ixil people. Over several weeks of the trial, 100 survivors bravely gave bone-chilling testimony about the killings. Rios Montt’s short rule was one of the bloodiest chapters in the 36 years of civil war and the various forms of butchery (rape, bullets to the head in front of family members, ripping the hearts out of small children, burning people alive) that killed 200,000 indigenous people.

The guilty verdict was greeted with applause and overflowing emotion by the people who packed the courtroom. Among them were survivors who fearlessly persisted through decades to bring these crimes to trial and testified to the brutal and inhuman violence inflicted on the local population in the country’s northwest Ixil highlands. It is thought that Rios Montt’s victims number in the tens of thousands, but the precision in the number 1,771 victims is because the prosecutors have the names of each of these victims. The bones of most of them have also been unearthed from mass graves.

The case was unique in that it was the first time a former head of state has been tried in the national court in the country where the crimes were committed instead of by an international tribunal.

After the sentencing, an unexpected move occurred when the judge instructed prosecutors to launch an immediate investigation of “all others” connected to the crimes. A former military mechanic testified that ”Major Tito Arias” ordered soldiers to loot and burn a village. In 2000, Guatemala’s current president Otto Perez Molina inadvertently revealed to a Guatemalan newspaper that he was ”Major Tito Arias”. This admission now places Perez Molina among the ”all others” implicated. Despite his temporary legal immunity as president, his victims say they will persist in demanding the opening of a criminal investigation. He may in the future face charges along with other top military officials.

Right after the Rios Montt trial, a CNN journalist confronted Perez Molina with his role in the massacres. He initially refused to answer but, in an effort to justify his acts, said the women, children and complete families aided and were the support base for the guerillas.

The American freelance investigative journalist Alan Nairn conducted a filmed interview with “Major Tito Arias”, then a field commander and head of intelligence under the Rios Montt regime, in September 1982. In the footage the commander explains how the fight against the insurgency depended on military helicopters and machine guns received from the U.S. and mortars and ammunition from Israel.

The following is from Nairn’s 1982 film interview with Perez Molina, alias Major Tito Arias, conducted in the Ixil zone in the area surrounding the town of Nebaj.
Allan Nairn: The United States is considering giving military help here in the form of helicopters. What is the importance of helicopters for all of you?
Perez Molina: A helicopter is an apparatus that’s become of great importance not only here in Guatemala but also in other countries where they’ve had problems of a counterinsurgency.
AN: Like in Vietnam?
PM: In Vietnam, for example, the helicopter was an apparatus that was used a lot.
AN: Can you also use it in combat?
PM: Yes, of course. The helicopters that are military types, they are equipped to support operations in the field. They have machine guns and rocket launchers.
AN: What type of mortars are you guys using?
PM: There’s various types of mortars. We have small mortars and the mortars Tampella.
AN: Tampella.
PM: Yes, it’s a mortar that’s 60 millimetres.
AN: Is it very powerful? Does it have a lot of force to destroy things?
PM: Yes, it’s a weapon that’s very effective. It’s very useful, and it has a very good result in our operation in defence of the country.
AN: Is it against a person or…?
PM: Yes, it’s an anti-personnel weapon.
AN: Do you have one here?
PM: It’s light and easy to transport, as well.
AN: So, it’s very light, and you can use it with your hand.
PM: Exactly, with the hand.
AN: Where did you get them?
PM: These, we got from Israel.
AN: And where do you get the ammunition?
PM: That’s also from Israel.

From the same film, Nairn’s interview with a soldier speaking dispassionately:
Allan Nairn: And how many did you kill?
Guatemalan soldier: We killed the majority. There is nothing else to do than kill them.
AN: So you killed them at once?
GS: Yes. If they do not want to do the right things, there is nothing more to do than bomb the houses.
AN: Bomb? With what?
GS: Well, with grenades or collective bombs.
AN: What is a collective bomb?
GS: They are like cannons.
AN: Do you use helicopters?
GS: Yes.
AN: What is the largest amount of people you have killed at once?
GS: Well, really, in Solola, around 500 people.
AN: And how do they react when you arrive?
GS: Who?
AN: The people from the small villages.
GS: When the army arrives, they flee from their houses. And so, as they flee to the mountains, the army is forced to kill them.
AN: And in which small village did the army do that kind of thing?
GS: That happened a lot of times.
AN: Specifically, could you give me some examples where these things happened?
GS: In Salquil, Sumal Chiquito, Sumal Grande, Acul.

In the film the soldier explained that often they would kill about a third of a town’s population. Another third they would capture and forcibly resettle in army camps. And the rest would flee into the mountains where the military would pursue them, dropping U.S. 50-kilogram bombs and firing U.S.-supplied heavy-caliber machine-guns from American Huey and Bell helicopters.

Tensions have been very high inside and outside the courtroom. On the streets, spirited demonstrations took place in support of justice for the indigenous Mayans. Demonstrations in support of Rios Montt have also taken place. In the courtroom, there have been many legal challenges, sharp differences between the different levels of judges, defence lawyers stomping out in protest, all in an effort to keep the trial from taking place. When one judge moved to end the trial the sister of a victim began to scream ”Injustice! Rios Montt is a murderer!” When the police came to remove her, her supporters sarcastically called out ”Why don’t you shoot her?” At one point in the trial, one of Rios Montt’s lawyers screamed at Judge Jazmin Barrios, the main judge who has been trying to keep the trial on track, ”I will not rest until you are in prison.”

In two areas of the country there are disputes between the local people and the government concerning international companies. At the Canadian-owned Escobal Mine, 70 kilometres east of the capital, a protest turned violent in early May. One policeman was killed, several police cars burned and several demonstrators where injured by rubber bullets. Having garnered the necessary permits, the mine was about to open. The local Xinca ethnic group argue that the mine operations will irreversibly contaminate their water sources. Perez Molina says there are “other interests” mixed in with the civilian population, and he called in the army to stop what he called kidnappings and destruction of government property, blaming the Mexican-based Zeta drug cartel.

The Minister of the Interior went furtherm claiming that the imposed state of siege had nothing to do with the mine and that the government was not criminalising the protests. In Santa Cruz, 200 residents took control of an army barracks after finding the bullet-riddled body of one of the leaders of the protests against the construction of a hydroelectric plant by a Spanish company. In this case, the President flooded the area with several hundred soldiers and police and claimed that those who participated in the takeover of the barracks could be linked to drug traffickers. Residents say it reminds them of the repression of the 1980s. With Guatemala under the spotlight due to the Rios Montt trial, the state of siege has been lifted.

In 1954 the CIA toppled the government of Jacobo Arbenz. The United Fruit Company, an American corporation that was one of the biggest landholders in Guatemala at the time, lobbied the CIA to remove Arbenz from power because he was giving fallow land to the peasants. The U.S. claimed he was a threaten to the security of the Western hemisphere. Only the year before, the CIA had ousted Iranian Prime Minister Mossadegh. Since then Guatemala has been ruled by a long succession of mainly military regimes.

Switching from general to president of Guatemala in 1982, the born-again Christian Rios Montt had more than one “god” on his side. American president Ronald Reagan praised him as ”a man of great personal integrity and commitment. His country is confronting a brutal challenge from guerrillas armed and supported by others outside Guatemala. I have assured the President of the United States is committed to support his efforts to restore democracy and to address the root causes of this violent insurgency. I know he wants to improve the quality of life for all Guatemalans and to promote social justice. My administration will do all it can to support his progressive efforts.”

Reagan’s government gave Rios Montt $10.5 million worth of helicopters, $3.2 million in military trucks and Jeeps, $36 million worth of tanks and $2 million for the covert program ”Operation Ashes” a scorched-earth campaign run by G-2, the Intelligence Section of the Guatemalan Army, to annihilate the support base of guerrillas fighting for their land. Taking further Judge Barrios’ court instruction to investigate ”all others” connected, you could say that Ronald Reagan fits in that category. He was an accessory to this genocide. He aided, abetted, covered up and encouraged it before, during and after Rios Montt was president of Guatemala. Reagan was an even bigger criminal as he committed these same crimes in El Salvador, Nicaragua and Honduras, to mention only some of his crimes in the Americas alone.

Israel pursues U.S. interests

Israel has had a warm relationship with Guatemala since its inception. The Guatemalan ambassador to the UN and a member of the UN Special Committee on Palestine Jorge Garcia Granados supported the Zionist cause and called on the government to support the creation of the Israeli state in 1948. To the present day, Guatemala votes in favour of Israel on important UN resolutions. Both governments are united in their special interest in counter-insurgency. Israeli military assistance took on increased importance in 1977 when then-U.S. president Jimmy Carter tried to publicly distance the U.S. from Guatemala’s open brutality.

While the U.S. does not dictate policies to Israel, Israel often pursues policies that serve American interests and objectives especially when it is difficult politically for the U.S. to do so. As a former head of the Knesset foreign relations committee said, when asked about the Israeli-Guatemalan relationship: ”Israel is a pariah state. When people ask us for something, we cannot afford to ask questions about ideology. The only type of regime that Israel would not aid would be one that is anti-American. Also, if we can aid a country that it may be inconvenient for the U.S. to help, we would be cutting off our nose to spite our face not to.” (See the May-June 1986 issue of Middle East Report,, for detailed research on Israel’s role in Guatemala).

A secondary aspect for Israel’s interest in Guatemala has been economic – the need for external markets for weapons and foreign weapons production. The export of arms has helped sustain production in Israel at full capacity, facilitating strategic planning and stockpiling, assuring supplies when needed, and permitting scarce resources to be spent on science, technology, research and development to maintain Israel’s qualitative edge militarily. Weapons transfers represent a fifth of Israel’s industrial exports and one tenth of all exports. By 1983 factories were set up for munitions production in Guatemala. Technical support has also been given to Guatemala. Israel set up a computer centre in Guatemala City to register and monitor the country’s inhabitants. Some researchers claim the centre and its data bank were linked to the U.S. Army’s Southern Command then located at Fort Gulick in the Panama Canal Zone.

It is also said that in the summer of 1981, sophisticated Argentine computer analysis methods (using Israeli hardware) played a crucial role in the detection and raiding of 27 guerrilla safe houses in Guatemala City. Amnesty International says this computer system was an integral part of terrorizing Guatemalans.Israel also exported retired military officers to Guatemala. Many were experts in the “art” of repression and collective punishment. (May-June 1986, Israel’s influence in Guatemala can even be seen through the proliferation around the country of gas stations and convenience stores with Israel-friendly Hebrew names like “Adonai” and “Shalom”.

But U.S. advisers still played a major role in the “pacification” of the Guatemalan countryside. The objective was total control of the civilian population without disrupting the holdings of the large landowners. People were removed to “model” villages where they would eventually be turned into a labour force for industrial production. Villagers were forced to participate in patrols to suppress and inform on others who had revolutionary inclinations.

One can only wonder where this condemning evidence will lead or why these legal proceedings are taking place now when these criminals are already old. Only a few such criminals have actually been sent to prison. Does it only happen after the U.S. decides these mass murders are no longer useful for continued American domination? Several brutal strongmen come to mind, like Chile’s Pinochet, the Shah of Iran and Mubarak in Egypt, to name only a few.

What happened in Guatemala was not that people were caught in a crossfire between two sides. It was not “collateral damage”. It was a systematic murder of a people – genocide. The guilty verdict for Rios Montt is definitely welcome.

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