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.
Reagan evaded Congressional oversight in order to provide Rios Montt with millions of dollars of military aid. When Reagan and the general met in Honduras in December 1982, Reagan spoke warmly of him:
"I know that President Rios 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. My administration will do all it can to support his progressive efforts."