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Ríos Montt to Appear Before Guatemalan Court

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Interesting news out of Guatemala today. Efraín Ríos Montt, the former genocidal president and darling of right-wing America, will be forced to appear before a Guatemalan court, a move that could lead to charges of genocide.

It’s difficult to overstate how deep the United States is in the long-term destablization of Guatemala. The CIA-approved coup of Jacobo Arbenz in 1954 began a long process of undermining the small nation, even today. You could certainly also argue that the Arbenz episode is merely a flash point in a relationship of exploitation that began with the banana companies in the late 19th century and goes on today. During the 80s, Reagan’s support of right-wing leaders in Central America, especially the evangelical Ríos Montt, is well-known. The genocide charge is appropriate, as during his rule, indigenous villages were eliminated under the general premise that Mayans were communists. During his year in power, nearly 600 villages were destroyed and thousands of indigenous Guatemalans killed.

Said Ronald Reagan about Ríos Montt: “President Ríos Montt is a man of great personal integrity and commitment. … I know he wants to improve the quality of life for all Guatemalans and to promote social justice.”

And it’s not as if Ríos Montt’s actions led the American right to reject the man after the fact. In fact, his daughter, a right-wing Guatemalan politician and defender of her father’s actions, is married to former Illinois Republican congressman Jerry Weller,.

Today, Guatemala faces a new period of instability due to the expansion of drug gangs from Mexico and El Salvador into their country and its unfortunately convenient stop on the drug highway to the United States. Whereas thirty years ago, people wanted to dismantle the police force because of its horrifying repression, today people are putting hope in the police as the one thing that could stand in the way of a new generation of shocking violence.

Forcing Ríos Montt to face trial for his crimes is not going to solve any of Guatemala’s enormous problems, but it might at least force the defenders of violence in that nation to think twice about their actions.

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  • Name

    I remember I first found out who Ríos Montt was when I was about 13 years old. He was featured in these cards. Here’s what his card had to say about him:

    “A Christian has to walk around with his Bible and his machine gun,” said born-again General Efrain Rios Mont, military ruler of Guatemala from March 1982 to August 1983. Rios Mont was one in a long series of dictators who ran Guatemala after the Dulles brothers and United Fruit, backed by the CIA, decided that elected President Jacob Arbenz held the country “in the grip of a Russian-controlled dictatorship” and overthrew the country’s constitutional democracy in 1954. The succession of corrupt military dictators ruled Guatemala for over 30 years, one anti-communist tyrant after another receiving U.S. support, aid, and training.
    After the 1982 coup that brought Rios Mont to power, U.S. Ambassador Frederic C. Chapin said Guatemala “has come out of the darkness and into the light.” President Reagan claimed Mont was given “a bum rap” by human rights groups, and that he was cleaning up problems inherited from his predecessor, General Romeo Lucas Garcia. Ironically, Garcia had given $500,000 to Reagan’s 1980 campaign, and his henchman, Mario Sandoval Alarcon, the “Godfather” of Central American death squads, was a guest at Reagan’s first inaugural celebration. Sandoval proudly calls his National Liberation Movement “the party of organized violence.”
    Mont simply moved Garcia’s dirty war from urban centers to the countryside “where the spirit of the Lord” guided him against “communist subversives”, mostly indigenous Indians. As many as 10,000 Indians were killed and over 100,000 fled to Mexico as a result of Mont’s “Christian” campaign.

    • Name

      Corroboration of the allegation that Garcia helped finance Reagan’s 1980 Presidential campaign:

      When the Reagan Administration took office it was determined to do everything it could for Guatemala. It had promised as much during the election campaign. Never had Ronald Reagan seen a rightist dictatorship he didn’t like; during his 1980 campaign he met with a representative of the right-wing business lobby Los Amigos del Pais, and, referring to the Carter Administration’s aid cutoff, told him, “Don’t give up. Stay there and fight. I’ll help you as soon as I get in.”

      The Guatemalan far-right apparently helped Reagan get in.

      Guatemalan business leaders reportedly pumped large illegal contributions into the Reagan campaign coffers. Their tentacles reached right into the core of the new administration through the lobbying activities of the Hannaford-Deaver law firm of White House troika member Michael Deaver. Within three days of the Republican victory on 7 November 1980, Hannaford-Deaver were busy arranging a Capitol Hill briefing for Amigos del Pais.

      Another account:

      The group that Deaver represented in Guatemala, the Amigos del Pais (Friends of the Country), is not known to have included Mario Sandoval Alarcon personally. But ten to fifteen of its members were accused by former Guatemalan Vice-President Villagran Kramer on the BBC of being “directly linked with organized terror.” One such person, not named by Villagran, was the Texas lawyer John Trotter, the owner of the Coca-Cola bottling plant in Guatemala City. Coca-Cola agreed in 1980 to terminate Trotter’s franchise, after the Atlantic Monthly reported that several workers and trade union leaders trying to organize his plant had been murdered by death squads.

      One year earlier, in 1979, Trotter had traveled to Washington as part of a five-man public relations mission from the Amigos. At least two members of that mission, Roberto Alejos Arzu and Manuel F. Ayau, are known to have met Ronald Reagan. (Reagan later described Ayau as “one of the few people…who understands what is going on down there.”)

      Roberto Alejos Arzu, the head of Deaver’s Amigos and the principal organizer of Guatemala’s “Reagan for President” bandwagon, was an old CIA contact; in 1960 his plantation had been used to train Cuban exiles for the Bay of Pigs invasion. Before the 1980 election Alejos complained that “most of the elements in the State Department are probably proCommunist…Either Mr. Carter is a totally incapable president or he is definitely a pro-communist element.” (In 1954, Alejos’ friend Sandoval had been one of the CIA’s leading political proteges in its overthrow of Guatemala’s President Arbenz.)

      When asked by the BBC how ten million dollars from Guatemala could have reached the Reagan campaign, Villagran named no names: “The only way that I can feel it would get there would be that some North American residing in Guatemala, living in Guatemala, would more or less be requesting money over there or accepting contributions and then transmitting them to his Republican Party as contributions of his own.”

      Trotter was the only U.S. businessman in Guatemala whom Alan Nairn could find in the list of Reagan donors disclosed to the Federal Election Commission. Others, who said specifically that they had contributed, were not so listed. Nairn heard from one businessman who had been solicited that “explicit instructions were given repeatedly: ‘Do not give to Mr. Reagan’s campaign directly.’ Monies were instead to be directed to an undisclosed committee in California.”

      Trotter admitted in 1980 that he was actively fundraising in this period in Guatemala. The money he spoke of, half a million dollars, was however not directly for the Reagan campaign, but for a documentary film in support of Reagan’s Latin American policies, being made by one of the groups supporting Reagan, the American Security Council (ASC). The film argued that the survival of the United States depended on defeat of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua: “Tomorrow: Honduras…Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, Mexico…the United States.”

      Deaver’s Amigos and Trotter were in extended contact with the ASC over this project. In December 1979, and again in 1980, the ASC sent retired Army General John Singlaub to meet Guatemalan President Lucas Garcia and other officials. According to one of Singlaub’s 1979 contacts, the clear message was that ” Mr. Reagan recognizes that a good deal of dirty work has to be done.” On his return to the United States, according to Pearce, Singlaub called for “sympathetic understanding of the death squads. ” In 1980 Singlaub returned to Guatemala with another apologist for death squads, General Gordon Sumner of the Council for InterAmerican Security. Again the message to Lucas was that “help was on the way in the form of Ronald Reagan.”

      Jenny Pearce has noted that Singlaub’s first ASC visit to Guatemalan President Lucas took place shortly after Lucas’s meeting with Guatemalan businessmen, where he is “alleged to have raised half a million dollars in contributions to the [Reagan] campaign.” Since the 1984 Congressional cutoff of aid to the contras, Singlaub, as world chairman of the World Anti-Communist League, has been the most visible source of private support to the contras. He did this in liaison with both William Casey of the CIA and Col. Oliver North of the National Security Council staff.

      Make of it what you will.

      • Name

        “A Christian has to walk around with his Bible and his machine gun” is a cold-blooded, scary thing to say. But in my opinion, General Maximiliano Hernandez Martinez of El Salvador (an occultist, Fascist, and mass murdering fiend) said something even more chilling: “It is a greater crime to kill an ant than a man, for when a man dies he becomes reincarnated, while an ant dies forever.”

        America has made itself some unpleasant friends in its day- a not-so-fond tradition that continues to the present. (Cf. Karimov, Islam; Mubarak, Hosni; the House of Saud; etc., etc., etc.)

    • hylen

      I had the same set! It was awesome. As in, awesomely depressing.

      • Name

        Very educational for the young, though.

  • Gah. “Rios Montt” gives me the same kind of chill as “Pol Pot.” This news could make me as overly optimistic as Erik.

  • Stag Party Palin

    it might at least force the defenders of violence in that nation to think twice about their actions.

    I want some of whatever you’re smoking.

    • I let my optimism get the best of me again. It’s my grand weakness.

      • cpinva

        no, it won’t:

        but it might at least force the defenders of violence in that nation to think twice about their actions.

        any more than the death penalty acts as a deterrant to others. the only thing these people will think about, if they think at all, is that those scummy, commie/liberal/hippies are vilifying a good, christian man, who was forced to destroy all those villages (and the people living in them) in order to save them.

        damn hippies!

  • CashandCable

    Unfortunately, Guatemala just elected military godfather Otto Perez Molina as president on a “mano dura” platform that threatens to strengthen the military’s hand for the purpose/pretext of fighting drug traffickers. One step forward, two steps back.

    • Anonymous

      You can find video on YouTube from 83-84 with

      -Then-Major Perez Molina happily replying to the question “Where have you [the army] killed the most people?” by talking about the 300 they’d killed in Solola
      -Also, talking about his israeli mortars’ effectiveness against personell. In a guerrilla conflict, of course, distance weapons like mortars are indiscriminate killers.
      -Also, a subordinate with his foot on a mutilated corpse saying “We brought the prisoners to the Major, but they wouldn’t talk, not when we asked nicely, and not when we didn’t.”

      Perez Molina was also seen with two other top brass in a corner bar suspiciously close at the time of the murder of Bishop Juan Gerardi, 3 days after the latter produced the most comprehensive report on war crimes in the country.

      The president’s power to affect the composition of Guatemala’s top courts in the short term is probably greater than it is in the US. So with a genocidal president, the chances of other genocidal ex-presidents getting judged fairly is not too great.

      • Anonymous

        By the way… the bar where Perez Molina was seen, and the park where Gerardi was killed, are both about 10 blocks from where I’m sitting this instant. And I have close relations involved in prosecuting the case you’re talking about, and other close relations facing a court case for guerrilla activity (kidnapping; some of the (purely non-monetary) demands were met and the prisoner was released).

        • CashandCable

          Damn…I read “The Art of Political Murder” over the holidays and was totally blown away. Is there anything else in the English language that you’d recommend?

  • This headline should read “Rios Montt ORDERED to Appear Before Guatemalan Court.”

    We’ll see.

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