Or Will Reagan
Administration Loyalists Evade Accountability for Genocide?
By William Boardman
The Guilty Get Some Breathing Room, But Not Safety Yet
Former members of the Reagan administration are breathing easier now that they are somewhat less likely to face criminal charges for their part in the Guatemalan genocide of 1982-83, supported by Reagan policies.
The threat that former officials might be held accountable for genocidal policies of the Reagan administration increased on May 10, when a Guatemalan lower court convicted the country's former president, Gen. Efrain Rios Montt, 86, of genocide and crimes against humanity for his part in the killing of thousands of Guatemalan civilians.
Rios Montt's conviction and sentence included an order by Judge Iris Yassmin Barrios to Attorney General Paz Y Paz to further investigate everyone else involved in Rios Montt's crimes, an investigation that would include many Guatemalans including the country's current president, as well as U.S. military advisors, CIA and other American agents, and Washington officials like Elliott Abrams and others directly involved in supporting the Guatemalan governmental genocide.
But this threat of prosecution for accessories and accomplices to genocide didn't last long, as Guatemala's highest court, the Constitutional Court of Guatemala ruled, by a vote of 3-2 on May 20, that the lower court's proceedings going back to April 19 were dismissed, thus annulling the verdict.
The Genocidal General's Trial May Yet Begin Again
But the Constitutional Court ruling also allows the trial to resume at some undetermined time in the future. The dismissal sets the trial back to April 19, when a judge who had heard earlier but separate proceedings relating to Rios Montt asserted jurisdiction over the continuing trial that had started a month earlier. Judge Barrios overruled the prior judge supported by Attorney General Paz Y Pay, who said his claim was unlawful.
The jurisdictional dispute proceeded to the Constitutional Court while Rios Montt's trial continued to its unsurprising conviction, given the weight of the evidence against him and his administration.
Rios Montt came to power in 1982 through a military coup, after he had lost a democratic election for the second time, claiming massive fraud both in 1974 and 1982. Between elections, in 1978, Rios Montt had left the Catholic Church and become a minister in the evangelical/Pentecostal Church of the Word, based in California. His friends and supporters included Rev. Jerry Falwell, Rev. Pat Robertson, and others connected with the evangelical movement that helped elect Ronald Reagan president in 1980.
Rios Montt would be the American-supported dictator of Guatemala for only 17 months, before he fell to another military coup. But in that time he was responsible for government forces that killed more than 1,700 people, mostly indigenous Mayans, and also tortured, raped, kidnapped, and brutalized thousands more -- for which he was found guilty on May 10.
Ronald Reagan and His Administration Supported Gen. Rios Montt
President Reagan praised Rios Montt for his anticommunism and claimed that human rights were improving under his rule, while human rights organizations condemned the general and the army. Amnesty International estimated that Rios Montt's forced killed more than 10,000 rural Guatemalans from March to August 1982, and drove more than 100,000 from their homes.