Home / Robert Farley / Foreign Entanglements: Efrain Rios Montt

Foreign Entanglements: Efrain Rios Montt


On this week’s episode of Foreign Entanglements, long-time friend of the blog Colin Snider and I talk about the conviction of Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt:

See also Corey Robin’s review of “The Last Colonial Massacre.”

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  • Sir Informant Toe!

    Wait. Is this not about anagrams?

  • Taco Bell

    I think we should speak English, this is America isn’t it?

  • Regular LGM commenter in Guatemala

    OK, listening and taking notes and responding

    How did this trial happen?

    Colin’s response is pretty good, but I want to reemphasize how much this was not a national decision that “OK it’s time to have a genocide trial”. This was due to a small group of committed lawyers being very patient and strategic, and the other side making several tactical errors. The guatemalan justice system is remarkable for the heterogeneity and autonomy of judges. In the past this has often served the goals of impunity; in this case, it served the other side (so far; but it’s not over yet).

    Best case for Rios Montt is a lifetime of legal hassles

    Not actually true. I’d say that’s the most likely case, but it is also quite possible that this conviction could be thrown out entirely, in what would essentially constitute a coup within the judicial branch.

    institutions continuous since before civil war

    Seems like a very strange way of looking at it. The 1954 coup (PBSUCCESS) was a pretty strong break. Though Arbenz is remembered for his attempts at land reform, plenty of documents with the details of that went down the memory hole at that time. So yes, oligarchs have never not had their hands on at least some important levers of power in Guatemala and in particular in the judicial system, but again I think it’s more productive to look at it as divisions and interstices than as monotonic hegemony.

    Reagan vs. Carter: how big was the difference?

    When I’ve brought this up with people who were involved in the struggle in Guatemala at the time, they minimize the difference.

    Was the Sandinista takeover in Nicaragua in 1979 a factor in Guatemala, especially in terms of how the US viewed the region?

    The massacres of entire villages in Guatemala happened mostly in the early 80s. But the systematic assassination of student and labor leaders in Guatemala City was already beginning in the early 70s, and was in full swing by the later 70s. There really is a direct line here, because with those voices of resistance gone, it was much harder to raise the alarm about the rural massacres. In fact, I think that that’s a lot of why (in my perception) leftists in the US in the 1980s were probably more generally aware of “los desaparecidos” in El Salvador than of the much larger number of dead in Guatemala.

    Cold war matters – 1990

    Argentina 83, Brazil 85 (transition under military purview, not done til 2002) chile 1990, salvador 92, nica 90, Urugay 89, Peru 80 but shining path…

    Wait, shining path? China vs USSR, or locals just grabbing ideology a la carte?

    Grounded locally. Arbenz and land reform. Not really international communist directed.Shining path is the exception, not the rule.

    Anticommunism: rhetorical template or believed?

    Chile vs Brazil: Chile is locking in democracy using international institutions, Brazil is realpolitik.

    Democracy being rolled back? Venezuela etc plus Honduras etc… Is this a trend?

    LA got advantageously ignored 2001-2008

    This is mostly discussion of Latin America as a region, and not Guatemala specifically, so I don’t have any comment here.

    Symbolic value of genocide conviction: discourages bad guys from being bad and others from following them.

    Yes. I think focusing on this as a symbolic moment is the right way to look at it. Rios Montt will probably not die in jail, but that’s not what’s important here.

    …Iksil triangle…

    Seriously? Ixil is pronounced Eesheel, and calling the region a “triangle” is considered offensive military terminology these days.

    Sorry, I know it wasn’t intentional. As a general rule, the “X” in Mesoamerica is a “sh” sound. “Texas” is the exception.

    • Regular LGM commenter in Guatemala

      Oops, “Was the Sandinista…” should be in b-quote.

  • Taco Bell

    This is America, The United States of America. We speak English, not Spanish. Get it straight obozoites.

    • Regular LGM commenter in Guatemala

      Not up to your usual, low, standards of trolling. I give it half a pancake.

      • Taco Bell

        I give your vile that you spread half a matzoh ball soup.

        • Regular LGM commenter in Guatemala

          Wow, that makes me really happy. I’m not just a privileged white boy, I’m a victim of antisemitism from ironically English-challenged trolls. Yay, me!

          • Taco Bell

            Stay in Guaty you half jew, half guaty commie

            • Regular LGM commenter in Guatemala

              OK, fine. Here’s another half a pancake if you love them so much.

              Ormalnay Eoplepay: Oday ouyay inkthay atthay e’reway inallyfay ettinggay ethay olltray’s oatgay? Ayyay! Oremay ancakespay!

  • Regular LGM commenter in Guatemala

    Also, reposting about the current situation of the Ixil people, the victims of the specific genocide that Rios Montt went down for (though not the sole target of his pogroms):

    The Ixil regional economy is based on coffee, and this year the Ixil region, like many coffee-growing regions of the Americas, is being hit hard by coffee rust fungus. The harvest season is yet to come, so the economic impacts aren’t yet directly apparent, but by the end of this year they will be suffering badly. So if the Rios Montt news motivates anyone to want to help, now is very much the right time. One organization that does good work is Fundación Ixil. (Small organization; the board of directors includes representatives of the coffee growers’ cooperative.)

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