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.