Still, even if found guilty, the general will never suffer a punishment commensurate with his alleged crimes. He is 86 and more likely to remain under house arrest than to be sent to prison. As the Guatemalan journalist Juan Carlos Llorca points out, maybe he has already won.
Or has he? The overarching goal of the Guatemalan counterinsurgency was to destroy all oppositional thinking. But as Hannah Arendt wrote, any state’s efforts to make its opponents “disappear in silent anonymity” are doomed to failure. That Mr. Ríos Montt now faces trial is proof of that. When the judge’s decision was announced Monday, the packed courtroom erupted in cheers. The dictator had lost.You can follow her on Twitter @kirstenweld.
Amy Ross, an associate professor of geography at the University of Georgia, also has an op-ed on Al Jazeera with Wading uncharted waters: The trial of Rios Montt. Amy looks more at the importance of the trial as the first of its kind where a former head of state stands trial for genocide where the crime was actually committed.
With cases before international and now, its own national judiciary, Guatemala presents an important opportunity to explore the efficacy of each of these mechanisms in a world increasingly aware of and concerned with war crimes. Legal experts, perpetrators and those affected by state violence are watching to see how these geographically diverse jurisdictions function. The stakes are significant not only for Guatemala, but for all of humanity. What are the advantages of prosecuting genocide cases in the nation where the crimes occurred? What are the dangers?
Guatemala's security situation remains precarious. Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz issued indictments and arrest warrants in 2011 against other senior members of the armed forces. Soon a group of retired military officers published an announcement in Guatemala’s largest newspaper warning: "We are ready to fight again if the circumstances require it."