Genocide Trial Update:
On the evening of May 20th, the historic May 10th ruling that convicted former General Efraín Ríos Montt of genocide was overturned. The Constitutional Court met to rule on a constitutional challenged raised by Ríos Montt’s defense attorneys at the very end of the trial. The 3-2 ruling in favor of the challenge sets the case back to April 19th, at which point all testimonies had been heard. However, while the annulment does not include the testimonies, it remains unclear whether the trial will be reconvened or repeated altogether.
Challenges to the conviction do not come as a surprise. Since the trial’s conclusion, business and hard-line military supporters have issued numerous statements calling for its annulment. The Coordinating Committee of Agricultural, Commercial, and Industrial Finance (CACIF) stated in a press release that the trial was illegal, that “justice had been prey to ideological conflict,” and the conviction of genocide was “an opinion of the court that we did not share.” Ríos Montt supporters have organized demonstrations protesting his conviction. Moreover, presidential spokesman Francisco Cuevas criticized the international community for “driving the polarization” of Guatemalans following the trial. He also claimed that foreign interference from NGOs in the trial court proceedings ultimately influenced the landmark genocide verdict.
Meanwhile, international coverage of Ríos Montt’s conviction has generally been favorable. The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Huffington Post all provide solid historical background to the case. CNN and Aljazeera offer film coverage. A Huffington Post blogger explicitly implicated US involvement, particularly Ronald Reagan’s role. BBC and the Wall Street Journal also covered the trial.
Before Monday’s ruling, Ríos Montt was held in an army medical center, to which he was transferred after fainting on the way to a hearing regarding victim reparations. At the hearing, Judge Barrios ruled that heads of government, Congress and the judiciary, as well as interior ministers of defense must ask forgiveness of the Maya Ixil population. The court also ordered the government to establish schools on human rights within military and police academies. Pérez Molína continues to deny that the genocide occurred, but is willing to apologize for wartime atrocities.
The Public Prosecutor’s Office is also investigating 263 former guerillas for crimes against humanity, including inquisitions into accusations of terrorism, murder, forced disappearance, genocide, and torture.
Update on Conflict in San Rafael las Flores:
President Pérez Molína ended the “state of seige” declared in San Rafael las Flores and put in place a “state of prevention,” which restores basic rights of the residents but restricts the right to strike, the movement of legal weapons, and public demonstrations. Military and police presence ostensibly remains “exactly the same,” according to Pérez Molína. The president’s decision came after a number of jurists and constitutional lawyers pointed out the illegality of continuing the state of siege. Additionally, the Guatemalan Indigenous and Campesino Union Movement (MSICG) presented two legal actions before the Constitutional Court alleging the siege’s unconstitutionality and dictatorial nature.
Investigations into the conflict found that the chief of private security of the controversial San Rafael mine, Alberto Rotondo, explicitly gave the order to kill the protesters, clean the crime scene, and alter the police report. Residents of San Rafael have also denounced Mayor Leonel Morales, who has shown intent to implement a military outpost there. Morales had staff collect signatures for a pro-military petition only in areas where it had significant approval, while ignoring all surrounding villages that opposed it.
During the state of siege, numerous community leaders and mine opponents were arrested. Sixteen arrests occurred in Santa Rosa and Jalapa alone. Indigenous leader Guillermo Carrera Alvizures was arrested on counts of kidnapping, conspiracy, unlawful assembly, and aggravated robbery. Community members call for his liberation, claiming that leaders are being unjustly criminalized.