International Justice

CJ354 Endicott College

Justice and Politics in Guatemala

I recently read an article by Kate Doyle from the North American Congress on Latin America called “Justice in Guatemala.” Doyle discusses the indictment of former Guatemalan president Efrain Rios Montt for genocide and crimes against humanity in January 2012. Rios Montt enjoyed political immunity as a senator up until recently, but he now faces a criminal trial for his role in the Guatemalan civil war. Specifically, he has been indicted for events between 1981 and 1983, when he was President; the Commission for Historical Clarification (CEH) in Guatemala ruled that between 1981 and 1983, the state committed genocide against indigenous Mayan communities.

While the human rights community praises Rios Montt’s indictment, Doyle points that newly elected Guatemalan President and former military leader Otto Perez Molina was one of Rios Montt’s field commanders between 1981 and 1983. He was also the chief of the training center for the Kaibiles, the terrifying counter-insurgency unit of the Guatemalan military that the CEH called “a killing machine” in its final report. Doyle writes of Perez Molina, “his election has dismayed human rights advocates who hold him responsible for the same genocidal crimes […] that will be debated in the coming Rios Montt trial.” It is noteworthy that Perez Molina has recently enlisted the Kaibiles to combat narco-trafficking in Guatemala, since Doyle writes that there are “well-documented links between former Kaibiles and some of the region’s leading [drug] cartels.”

In their final report, the CEH recommended that those responsible be brought to justice, “paying particular attention to those who instigated and promoted these crimes.” Since the final report was presented, however, very few perpetrators have been brought to trial and even fewer have been convicted.  Now, I wonder which former military officer’s fate is a better indication of what’s next for Guatemala: Rios Montt’s indictment for genocide, or Perez Molina’s sweeping victory into presidential power?


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