Category Archives: Guatemala

A populist, nationalist neophyte rises in the Americas


A popular figure from television and a neophyte to national politics rides a wave of populist protest against corruption, incompetence and the status quo to the top of the polls. First, he co-opts the nationalist message of conservatives, rattles against the supposed wrongs of neighboring countries and aligns himself with some of the country’s most reactionary forces. He then faces off against a former first lady, whose social democratic credentials are  overshadowed by suspicions and whispers of corruption and foul play. Easily, that man wins the presidency, making easy work of both the country’s conservative movement and the former first lady. guatemala flag icon

Sound familiar?

It’s not the United States and it’s not Donald Trump, now the presumptive presidential nominee of the Republican Party.

It’s Jimmy Morales, the populist comedian who won an overwhelming victory in last September’s presidential election in Guatemala.

But you might be excused for confusing the two.

For much of the last 11 months, as Trump has come to dominate American politics, the most immediate comparison in international politics has been former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. It’s true that there are many similarities — both are wealthy, older- than-average figures and both are right-wing populists with a penchant for blunt talk who rose to prominence as political outsiders.

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RELATED: Why Trump isn’t quite an American Berlusconi

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But unlike Berlusconi, who owns much of the private Italian media, Trump doesn’t actually control any of the American media. What’s more important, though, is that Trump has done so well in presidential politics in spite of his wealth and business prowess. Michael Bloomberg and dozens of other businessmen are far wealthier and far more powerful, but they’re not presumptive nominees of a major U.S. political party.  Trump won the Republican nomination without deploying significant personal wealth and, indeed, he won with just a fraction of the amounts spent by competing Republican campaigns and their various super PACs.

Rather, Trump’s political success is due to his amazing abilities for self-promotion and self-branding, honed after decades of selling the ‘Trump’ brand and after 14 seasons starring in the reality television series The Apprentice. At this point, Trump-as-presidential-nominee owes his success to media personality, not any particular real estate canny.

That’s exactly the same skill set that Morales used in his spectacular run to the presidency in Guatemala last autumn. It’s also nearly the same platform — a lot of populist slogans heavy on identity, nationalism and throw-the-bums-out rhetoric, but light on actual policy details.  Continue reading A populist, nationalist neophyte rises in the Americas

Morales easily wins Guatemala’s presidency


As expected, former comic actor Jimmy Morales won Guatemala’s presidential runoff Sunday, besting former first lady Sandra Torres by a margin of more than two-to-one.guatemala flag icon

Riding a wave of widespread popular discontent with a political elite widely seen as corrupt — including former vice president Roxana Baldetti and former president Otto Pérez Molina, both of whom are in jail pending corruption charges — Morales easily captured the presidency with over 67% of the vote.


RELATED: Polls give Morales a lock on Guatemala’s presidential runoff


That was the easy part.

As a political neophyte, Morales will have a steep learning curve in office, especially if he wants to carry forward the agenda of electoral and political reforms that can could make Guatemala’s government more permanently transparent and accountable.


Though he ran under the banner of a small conservative party founded a few years ago by retired conservative generals, the Frente de Convergencia Nacional (FCN, National Convergence Front), it holds just 11 seats in Guatemala’s unicameral Congreso (Congress). That means that Morales is going to have to build a congressional majority nearly from scratch. The good news is that Guatemala’s political parties are so personality-driven that the collapse of Pérez Molina, Torres and former presidential frontrunner Manuel Baldizón means there will be ample room for legislators to join the Morales bandwagon. The bad news is that many of those legislators are part of Guatemala’s corruption problem, and they have no incentive to enact reforms that will make graft even more difficult and establish roadblocks to the political financing they will need to further their own political careers.

Meanwhile, Morales’s landslide obscures the fact that a lot of Guatemalans — even those who voted for him — are worried about the right-wing flavor of his campaign. Though Morales attracted a broad coalition of voters who are eager to flush the corrupt political elite out of power, there’s far more hesitation about Morales himself.

A socially conservative evangelical, Morales is anti-abortion, anti-LGBT rights and he has the support of much of the military elite, through the FCN and otherwise. He’s argued for the outright annexation of Belize, for example, and he’s otherwise embraced nationalist positions. Other critics point out that many of his skits, over a long career in television, are rooted in racial and ethnic stereotypes, which could breed distrust among indigenous Mayan and other communities that have often been mistreated by Guatemala’s military and democratic governments alike.

Polls give Morales a lock on Guatemala’s presidential runoff

Jimmy Morales, a former comic actor and a populist, anti-corruption candidate, should easily become Guatemala's next president. (Facebook)
Jimmy Morales, a former comic actor and a populist, anti-corruption candidate, should easily become Guatemala’s next president. (Facebook)

He is in many ways an accidental man of the moment, the man standing on stage who can most credibly claim, as his slogan goes, that he is ni corrupto ni ladrón — ‘neither corrupt nor a thief.’guatemala flag icon

Jimmy Morales, the 46-year-old former comedian, who just a few years ago graced shampoo bottles across Guatemala in an afro wig and blackface, is now the overwhelming favorite to win the country’s presidential runoff on Sunday, October 25, with one recent poll for the Prensa Libre giving him 67.9% of the vote to just 32.1% for the former first lady, center-left Sandra Torres. Other polls show similar gaps in Morales’s favor.


RELATED: Torres edges Baldizón into Guatemalan runoff with Morales

RELATED: The contour of Guatemala’s new Congress is very conservative


Barring a complete change of heart, Morales will become Guatemala’s next president.

So who is he and what does he believe? How did a comic actor wind up leading Central America’s largest economy? Most importantly, what will his election mean for Guatemala’s future? Continue reading Polls give Morales a lock on Guatemala’s presidential runoff

The contour of Guatemala’s new Congress? Very conservative.


Even before the final, official vote count is announced in Guatemala’s presidential election, we already know the results of the other major election that took place on September 6  — for the 158 members of the Guatemala Congreso.guatemala flag icon

Notwithstanding the triumph of comedian and anti-politician Jimmy Morales in the first round of the presidential election, if Morales wins the scheduled October 25 runoff, he will face an immediately hostile and divided Congress.

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RELATED: Torres edges Baldizón into Guatemalan runoff with Morales

RELATED: Guatemala lifts Pérez Molina’s immunity six days before vote to replace him

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Though social democratic candidate and former first lady Sandra Torres appears to have bested conservative candidate Manuel Baldizón, a wealthy businessman and the 2011 presidential runner-up, it’s Baldizón’s party, Libertad Democrática Renovada (LIDER, Renewed Democratic Liberty), that won the greatest number of seats in the Congress.

Though LIDER won just 19% of the vote nationwide, it is entitled to 44 seats, making it the largest party in the next Guatemalan Congress. Moreover, despite the resignation and arrest of president Otto Pérez Molina just days before the election, his conservative Partido Patriota (PP, Patriotic Party), which has often partnered with LIDER over the Pérez Molina administration’s past four years, won about 9.5% of the vote and another 17 seats.


The Unidad Nacional de la Esperanza (UNE, National Unity of Hope), a party founded by Torres’s husband — technically former husband –Álvaro Colom, who preceded Pérez Molina as president, won nearly 15% of the vote, entitling it to the second-largest bloc of seats with 36. Todos, a centrist splinter group from the UNE founded three years ago by Felipe Alejos, won 16 seats in the Congress.

Morales’s own movement, the nationalist Frente de Convergencia Nacional (FCN, National Convergence Front), won just 11 seats and, nationally, just 8.76% of the parliamentary vote.

No other party managed to win more than seven seats in the Congress, though the Encuentro por Guatemala, a leftist party formed by Rigoberta Menchú, the K’iche’ Mayan activist and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, to defend the interests of Guatemala’s indigenous population (and sometimes, however baffling, a political ally of the hard-right followers of Efraín Ríos Montt, who is facing charges of genocide for his role in massacres against indigenous Mayans in the early 1980s) won seven seats.

Since the end of Guatemala’s civil war and the country’s return to democracy, despite its corruption and imperfections, political parties are organized more around personalities and patronage networks than ideologies.

Though both the Guatemalan and international press have focused on the photo-finish race for the presidency, there are two important lessons in the congressional election results.

First, with such a divided Congress, Guatemala’s next president will not command a majority. Pérez Molina benefited from a casual alliance with LIDER, a symbiotic arrangement that gave Pérez Molina a working congressional majority (including, until two weeks ago, a bulwark against stripping him of presidential immunity) and Baldizón a patina of ‘inevitability’ to succeed Pérez Molina (though that obviously backfired given the tens of thousands of Guatemalans protesting politics as usual).

But the winner of the runoff will have to build a multi-party coalition to govern effectively. That’s especially true if he or she hopes to enact campaign finance reforms to reduce the role of corruption in politics from illicit contributions by business interests and drug traffickers alike. Morales has so far refused to make any electoral deals with either the UNE and LIDER, and that’s probably good politics. But he will nevertheless need to build a majority if he wants to accomplish anything if he wins the October runoff.

The second lesson is that the old guard is alive and well in Guatemalan politics. The FCN’s fifth-place finish indicates that Morales may well have trouble mobilizing an effective national campaign in the runoff. That’s true if, as now seems likely, his opponent will be Torres, but it will be even more so if, somehow, Baldizón manages to claw his way into the second round. LIDER, the UNE and the Patriotic Party together hold 97 seats, a supermajority of entrenched political elites who could effectively block reform.

For now, with just over 99% of all votes counted, Torres leads Baldizón by a margin of 19.79% to 19.64% (Morales won 23.85%) — that amounts to just 5,958 votes. Baldizón  is already arguing that the vote is fraudulent, and there’s no sign that he will easily concede defeat. So it may be days, or even weeks, before it’s clear who Morales will face in the runoff. Even if he doesn’t make it to the runoff, Baldizón’s party will still be a force to be reckoned with in the years ahead.

Torres edges Baldizón into Guatemalan runoff with Morales


It was already tumultuous and historic week in Guatemala.guatemala flag icon

The country’s congress, after months of protest, stripped a sitting president of his immunity from prosecution. That president, Otto Pérez Molina, subsequently resigned, and officials then arrested and imprisoned him on corruption charges in relation to a scandal that’s already swept up more than a dozen ministers and Pérez Molina’s former vice president, who resigned in July.

Nevertheless, Guatemalans went to the polls on Sunday to choose both a new president and the entire 158-member Congreso, among other local municipality offices. Unsurprisingly, none of the presidential candidates won an absolute majority, so Guatemalans will vote again in an October 25 runoff.

guatemala 2015

One of the candidates in that runoff will be independent candidate Jimmy Morales (pictured above), the leader of the previously little-known Frente de Convergencia Nacional (FCN, National Convergence Front). A comedian, Morales is a political neophyte whose campaign has railed against Guatemala’s political elite, a call that’s resonated as this week’s crisis hit its crescendo.

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RELATED: Yes, progress in Central America, but don’t call it a ‘spring’

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Sounding an anti-corruption note tempered by social conservatism and nationalist tones, Morales has the populist momentum heading into the runoff because he’s a newcomer viewed as unsullied by the sordid taint of corruption that infects more established politicians, including his two main rivals. Continue reading Torres edges Baldizón into Guatemalan runoff with Morales

Yes, progress in Central America, but don’t call it ‘spring’


Photo credit to AFP.

I write for The National Interest on Friday that, despite the progress among civil society groups in Guatemala and Honduras and the resignation of Guatemala’s president Otto Pérez Molina under a cloud of corruption charges, it’s too simplistic to refer to a ‘Central American spring’:honduras flag iconguatemala flag icon

[T]he region’s democracy didn’t suddenly spring into existence in 2015. As the former Soviet Union and the Middle East have so painfully shown us, we should by now be wary of mad-libs punditry that falsely declares a rainbow’s worth of color revolutions, always overeager to set calendars to springtime. The full story of Central American governance today is one of gradual change and the development of mature political institutions only in fits and starts – it was only in 2009 that a military coup ousted Honduras’s left-wing president Manuel Zelaya. After nearly two centuries of war, imperialism and autocracy, Central America’s countries have enjoyed relative peace, democracy and full sovereignty only for the last quarter-century.

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RELATED: Guatemala lifts Pérez Molina’s immunity
six days before vote to replace him

RELATED: Three days before elections, Pérez Molina resigns
after arrest warrant issued

RELATED: Unaccompanied minors?
Blame a century of US Central American policy

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Moreover, I argue that policymakers might be too optimistic that the current victory for civil society institutions will translate into ever-stronger gains for Guatemala: Continue reading Yes, progress in Central America, but don’t call it ‘spring’

Three days before elections, Pérez Molina resigns after arrest warrant issued


Within 48 hours of the decision of Guatemala’s Congress to lift president Otto Pérez Molina’s immunity form prosecution, the former army general met with charges of bribery and tax evasion and was warned not to leave the country. Early Thursday morning, he resigned the presidency — the first time that judicial pressure against corruption has forced out a Guatemalan president.guatemala flag icon

It’s the second time that a judicial process has attempted to hold a top official accountable in recent years. In 2013, a tribunal convicted Efraín Ríos Montt, the country’s military leader from 1982 to 1983, of genocide and crimes of humanity for his role in the massacre of at least 10,000 Ixil Mayans. Though Guatemala’s constitutional court eventually overturned the conviction, the 89-year-old Ríos Montt will undergo a retrial, though his attorneys argue he is mentally unfit for any trial or sentence.

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RELATED: Guatemala lifts Pérez Molina’s immunity
six days before vote to replace him

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The new acting president is Alejandro Maldonado, the 79-year-old who took over as vice president when Roxana Baldetti resigned (and she is now also facing trial for corruption charges). Maldonado is a former foreign minister, former ambassador to the United Nations and to Mexico, and he briefly served as the president of Guatemala’s constitutional court. It will be Maldonado who hands over power to the winner of Guatemala’s election this autumn.

Amid the high-stake drama, Guatemala’s presidential candidates are positioning for the general election set to take place this Sunday, September 6. After months of protests, Pérez Molina’s resignation seems most likely to benefit the independent candidacy of Jimmy Morales, a political neophyte and comedian who has run an anti-corruption campaign mixed with elements of social conservatism, populism and nationalism, though he has not been incredibly forthcoming about policy proposals. Some polls this week showed Morales overtaking frontrunner Manuel Baldizón. Like Pérez Molina, Baldizón is a longtime politician of the Guatemalan right, and Baldizón’s party, Libertad Democrática Renovada (LIDER, Renewed Democratic Liberty), is rumored to have financing ties to drug cartels and other corrupt elements within the country. Baldizón, the runner-up in the 2011 election, is running on the slogan, ‘Le toca,’ which translates to ‘His turn.’

Sandra Torres, the former first lady and Álvaro Colom’s ex-wife, is running as the candidate of the center-left Unidad Nacional de la Esperanza (UNE, National Unity of Hope). Zury Ríos, the daughter of the former military dictator, is running as the candidate of the right-wing Frente Republicano Guatemalteco (FRG, Guatemalan Republican Front).

If, as expected, no candidate wins an outright majority, the top two candidate will compete in an October 25 runoff. Voters will also elect the 158 members of the Guatemalan Congress on Sunday, which could give LIDER a firm hold on the legislative branch — even if an anti-corruption wave pushes Baldizón into second or third place on the presidential ballot.

Guatemala lifts Pérez Molina’s immunity six days before vote to replace him

gcityPhoto credit to Quetzalvision.

Six days before Guatemalans go to the polls to choose a successor to president Otto Pérez Molina, the country’s congress voted to strip the term-limited incumbent of his immunity, opening the way for what might become the first prosecution of a Guatemalan president on corruption charges in Guatemala.guatemala flag icon

The vote today in Guatemala’s Congress was historic, and it will make Sunday’s unpredictable general election even more difficult to forecast. But it wasn’t exactly a bombshell, even though it seems like a key turning point in the gradual maturation of Central American democracy and law.

When Pérez Molina, a retired army general, took office, he quickly found himself on Washington’s bad side when he argued for drug legalization as a solution to the decades-long failures of the US-led war on drugs. At home, however, he was regarded as a tough-on-crime conservative whose military background might help police efforts to reduce drug- and gang-related violence, despite murmurs about his role in various human rights abuses during Guatemala’s sprawling decades-long civil war that reached a gruesome nadir in the early 1980s.


During his presidency, however, Guatemalans became increasingly angry over the corruption that, at best, took place on Pérez Molina’s watch and that, at worst, directly implicates Pérez Molina (pictured above). So far, 14 ministers have resigned as a result of a wide-ranging customs fraud scheme, referred to as La Línea, including seven ministers in August alone and finance minister Dorval Carías last week. Roxana Baldetti, Guatemala’s first female vice president, resigned in May and is now in prison pending trial on corruption charges. Pérez Molina continues to deny any wrongdoing on his part, and he defiantly refused to resign just last week in a press conference, buttressed perhaps with the support of Guatemala’s wealthiest businessman, telecom magnate Mario López Estrada.

Since a United Nations report first revealed the customs scandal in April, however, many Guatemalans have grown skeptical of Pérez Molina’s claims of innocence and, though he survived a congressional vote to remove his immunity last month, prosecutors later announced that they believed Pérez Molina is implicated in the customs scandal. Today’s congressional decision will allow prosecutors to move forward with tax evasion, money laundering or other corruption charges, and it makes it much less likely that Pérez Molina will survive in office until January, when Guatemala’s next president will assume power. Notably, even members of the conservative Partido Patriota (PP, Patriot Party) that Pérez Molina founded in 2001 supported the decision to lift his immunity, the recommendation of a congressional committee examining the scandal.

Corruption is rampant in the region, but voters are increasingly engaged and have started pushing back against the perception of widespread graft. Protesters in Honduras this summer are demanding accountability from officials, and in last year’s Costa Rican election, outgoing president Laura Chinchilla’s administration was seen as so scandal–plagued that her party’s candidate, San Jose mayor Johnny Araya, withdrew from a runoff rather than face a shellacking from his rival, the soft-spoken diplomat and political neophyte Luis Guillermo Solís.

So where does that leave the Guatemalan presidential election? Continue reading Guatemala lifts Pérez Molina’s immunity six days before vote to replace him

Unaccompanied minors? Blame a century of US Central American policy.


At a panel discussion at the Woodrow Wilson International Center with three Central American  foreign ministers, moderator Steve Inskeep, the host of NPR’s Morning Edition, began the hourlong talk with a simple question about the rise of unaccompanied minors to the United States:  USflaghonduras flag iconel salvadorguatemala flag icon

Who is to blame?

Speaking to an overflow crowd in Washington, DC yesterday, the three foreign ministers — Honduras’s Mireya Agüero, Guatemala’s Fernando Carrera and El Salvador’s Hugo Martínez — shared a half-dozen or more credible reasons for the phenomenon, which has resulted in a wave of 57,000 minors from the three countries coming to the United States since the beginning of 2014.

Borders that remain too porous and governments unwilling or unable to devote more funds to secure them.

The fearsome sway of street gangs that recruit young kids into a self-perpetuating cycle of violence and illegality, leaving the three Central American countries with some of the highest homicide rates in the world.

Coyotes that, unable to persuade Mexicans to cross the border, have now turned their sights to Central Americans.

Governments that lack the resources to provide the kind of health care, education and legal institutions that could form the backbone of viable middle-class prosperity, leaving growing numbers of Central Americans looking to the United States for a better life.

Lectures from US presidents and policymakers that go unmatched with the kind of financial assistance to build truly pluralistic democratic societies.

Today, with US president Barack Obama holding an unprecedented four-way meeting with the presidents of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, US policy in Central America is making more headlines than at any time since perhaps the Cold War, and it’s the latest round in a polarizing debate over immigration to the United States, with the Obama administration now seeking $3.7 billion in funds from the US Congress to help stem the illegal flow of Central Americans across the border, often at great risk, especially among women and children.

Obviously, like any social phenomenon, the reasons for the influx of unaccompanied minors are complex, and they involve the economics of drug trafficking, the social dynamics of poverty and urban gang violence, and a lack of opportunities for growing populations aspiring to middle-class prosperity. It’s not an impossible dream because countries like Belize, Panamá and Costa Rica are largely achieving it throughout Central America.

Even more complex are the underlying conditions in the three countries that form the background to the current migration crisis, and the roots of those conditions go back decades, with plenty of US interference in the region.

Conservatives rail against Obama’s steps to provide a smoother path to citizenship for the children of migrants who have lived virtually their whole lives in the United States, and even Honduran president Juan Orlando Hernández yesterday blamed the ‘ambiguity’ of the US immigration reform debate for the surge in child migration. Texas governor Rick Perry last month blamed the Obama administration’s ‘failure of diplomacy,’ and has made a show of sending 1,000 National Guard troops to the Texan border. Liberals, meanwhile, argue that former US president George W. Bush failed to enact comprehensive immigration reform when he had the ability to do so a decade ago.

Certainly, there’s plenty of blame among both Republican and Democratic governments in the past two decades.

But so much of the current debate in the United States overlooks the background of how Central America — and especially Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador — came to be countries of such violence, corruption, insecurity and relative poverty. It also overlooks a significant US role in the region that’s often been marked by dishonorable intentions that has its roots in early 20th century American imperialism, the brutality of zero-sum Cold War realpolitik, and the insanity of a ‘drug war’ policy that almost every major US policymaker agrees has been a failure and that, to this day, incorporates a significant US military presence. Continue reading Unaccompanied minors? Blame a century of US Central American policy.

Ríos Montt found guilty of genocide, crimes against humanity, sentenced to 80 years


It’s hard to know exactly what to think, but I certainly didn’t expect former Guatemalan president Efraín Ríos Montt to be treated so harshly by a tribunal in his own country.guatemala flag icon

Tonight brings word that Ríos Montt, at age 86, has been convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity, with a sentence of 80 years in total — it’s the first time a country has ever tried or convicted a former leader for genocide.

It’s a breathtaking victory for human rights — even by the grueling standards of the Cold War, the terror that Ríos Montt wreaked on the indigenous inhabitants of Guatemala’s highlands was inexcusable.  The death of up to 10,000 Guatemalans during a reign of 17 months is really quite something and, though justice has come 30 years after Ríos Montt left office, the fact of the matter is that justice has now come to a country that spend far too much of the Cold War impoverished and embattled in civil war.

It’s also a somber verdict for the United States and the administration of former U.S. president Ronald Reagan, which horrifically supported Ríos Montt with vigor, in part because of his ties to evangelical Christians, and his ties to the Republican establishment in the United States continue to this day — his daughter, Zury Ríos Montt, is married to former Illinois Republican congressman Jerry Weller.  There are, of course, poor marks for every U.S. presidential administration, but the wanton disregard for human rights during the early 1980s sets the Reagan administration’s support for Ríos Montt aside as a particularly egregious oversight in an era of bipartisan disregard for sovereignty throughout Latin America.

Though I doubt it will make top headlines in the United States, any U.S. citizen on the left or the right should be horrified by what Ríos Montt and his administration perpetrated, and even more horrified that the United States so breezily facilitated it.

I don’t mean to be unduly partisan — you can lay any number of tragedies in foreign lands at the feet of many U.S. presidents, Democrat and Republican.  For Guatemala, though, the involvement of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency in overthrowing the leftist, though duly elected, Guatemalan president Jacobo Árbenz in 1954 was a catalyst for the civil war and turmoil that the country would face for the next four decades.  Though it happened on the watch of U.S. president Dwight Eisenhower and U.S. secretary of state John Foster Dulles, the uprooting of developing nations during the Cold War, especially in Latin America, was a bipartisan venture.

But as I wrote in February, the Ríos Montt administration escalated what had already been by that point three decades of civil war: Continue reading Ríos Montt found guilty of genocide, crimes against humanity, sentenced to 80 years

Former Guatemalan dictator Ríos Montt to be tried for genocide


Central America was a rough neighborhood during the Cold War.guatemala flag icon

And Guatemala, with a civil war that essentially began with the overthrow of elected president Jacobo Árbenz Guzmán (with U.S. support) in 1954, and ended only with a peace treaty in 1996, was particularly rough.

Even in that context, however, the reign of Efraín Ríos Montt in the early 1980s, again backed by the United States, was a particularly brutal one.

Ríos Montt, however, this week became the first ever head of state to be tried for genocide in the Western Hemisphere, when a Guatemalan judge ruled that the trial will go forward — authorities charged Ríos Montt in early 2012 with genocide and crimes against humanity for, particularly, 1,771 deaths of indigenous Ixil Mayans during his 17-month reign, but really over 10,000 deaths in 1982 attributed to Ríos Montt’s regime — it’s a trial that could bring about a greater awareness of the atrocities committed not only in Guatemala, but throughout Central America during the Cold War, as well as the complicity of the United States in some of the most brutal events in Latin American history in the 20th century.

Ríos Montt, now aged 86, continues to argue for amnesty under the basis of a 1996 amnesty, but his lawyers have been accused of using legal tactics to bring about additional delays in the case.

Under international law, crimes against humanity and genocide have been considered to be exempt from national amnesty statutes, and indeed, even under Guatemala’s 1996 national conciliation law, genocide, torture and forced disappearances are expressly exempt from amnesty.

Today, the misty mountain air of Lake Atitlán in the Guatemalan highlands is best known for tourism rather than terror (pictured above).  Towns like Huehuetenango and Santiago Atitlán, in 2013, are better known as a source of fair-trade coffee than as a site of genocide.

But 30 years ago, the Guatemalan highlands saw some of the worst atrocities of the Guatemalan civil war.  Continue reading Former Guatemalan dictator Ríos Montt to be tried for genocide