Tuesday is a historic day for the people of Guatemala. There's no shortage of coverage on the opening of the genocide trial against former president José Efraín Ríos Montt and retired general José Mauricio Rodriguez Sánchez.
Elizabeth Malkin at the New York Times has In Effort to Try Dictator, Guatemala Shows New Judicial Might. The integrity of the country's judicial system has a lot riding on the Rios Montt trial which is understandable but probably a little unfair. Guatemala's judicial system is indeed much better today than it was three or four years ago regardless of the outcome. A better job is being done to remove corrupt police. The police, lawyers, and judges are better trained and equipped to do their jobs. There are problems all around, but I'd say improvements all around too. Here is a slideshow to go along with the article.
Al Jazeera's David Mercer has a short video on Claudia Paz y Paz who he argues holds Guatemala's 'most dangerous' job.
Romina Ruiz-Goiriena writes Guatemala ready for genocide trial which might or might not be true. The prosecution and their witnesses are ready. However, it doesn't look like the defense is ready at all. They never thought the trial would come and were probably doubly surprised when it was moved up five months. They went from not believing that it would happen to denying that massacres were committed, blaming both sides, saying that Rios Montt did not know, etc. They tried every legal recourse to prevent the trial from moving forward.
In effect, Rios Montt did everything except accept responsibility. Yes, I was wrong about that one. On the other hand, it's not that I thought that he would make his you need me on the wall speech. I just hoped that he would.
I also do not know what the majority of the country thinks. If I remember correctly, most Guatemalans were born after the massacres of the early 1980s. There's not much about the war taught in school. And I haven't come across any polls that ask what people think of the trial (not that it should be left to public opinion).
Rios Montt's lawyer and others believe that the trial is a "political lynching" which is probably something which Armando de la Torre, the Dean of the graduate school of social sciences at the
Francisco Marroquín University, believes as well.
Let's just throw away the fact the the governments of the early 1980s came to power illegally via coups. They had a right to defend the country from the URNG but what they did to the civilian population and even to members of the URNG was unjustifiable and illegal. It doesn't matter if the guerrilas were going to turn "Guatemala into another Cuba;" the rape, torture, starvation and murder of civilians who might or might not have supported the guerrillas is just indefensible.
But Rios Montt now has the opportunity to defend his actions and those of the officers who carried out orders on his and the state's behalf.
There is some fear that there will be violence similar to the trial that dealt with the murder of Bishop Juan Gerardi, to Rios Montt's 2003 illegal campaign for the presidency, or the protests to remove Colom from office following the Rosenberg video.
There's been an uptick in murders related to the country's transport system which some say is bus vs. bus violence while others privately speculate might be related to creating instability around the trial. Then there are the recent kidnappings and murders of community leaders in Jalapa - probably land related but one can never know what is going on behind the scenes.
See also the Sonia Perez-Diaz's (AP) overview of Ex-Guatemala strongman on trial after 30 years, the Independent's The Ríos Montt genocide trial finally begins in Guatemala, the Pan-American Post's Guatemala Tries Rios Montt on Genocide, Crimes Against Humanity, and the Agence France-Presse's Former Guatemala dictator faces historic genocide trial.
Here are some of the things that I've written in the last year as well.
will Montt defend himself? (February 3, 2012)
Rios Montt goes to trial (January 29, 2013)
the first head of state to head to trial in the Americas for genocide
(January 31, 2013)
Who expected Rios Montt to go to trial? (February 3, 2013)