Guatemala: will Ríos Montt finally face genocide charges?

Former Guatemalan military dictator Gen. Efraín Ríos Montt (1982-83) is to appear before a judge on Jan. 26 in what could become a trial for genocide. Ríos Montt headed the government during one of the bloodiest periods in a 36-year counterinsurgent war that left more than 200,000 people dead, mostly civilians. After the fighting ended in 1996 Ríos Montt re-emerged as a politician, leading the right-wing Guatemalan Republican Front (FRG) and holding a seat in Congress from 2000 until this month. The legislative position gave him immunity from prosecution, which has now ended.

Guatemala’s new president, Otto Pérez Molina, who was inaugurated on Jan. 14, was a major in the army during the Ríos Montt dictatorship. He operated around Nebaj, El Quiché department, in the Ixil Mayan region, where the killings amounted to genocide according to a 1999 report by a truth commission backed by the United Nations. The new president denies any involvement in war crimes and says he’ll support efforts by the attorney general to bring human rights cases to trial. (New York Times, Jan. 23)

Titular de Hoy: Guatemala, a documentary from 1983 which appeared on Finnish televeion, includes a scene in which Pérez Molina, then known in the Nebaj area as “Commander Tito,” is interviewed by US investigative reporter Allan Nairn. The scene, which was posted separately on YouTube in May 2011, shows Commander Tito standing near several battered corpses in Nebaj; one of his soldiers said these were captives Pérez Molina had “interrogated.” (Democracy Now!, Jan. 17)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Jan. 22.

See our last posts on Guatemala and Central America.


  1. War criminal marches against violence?
    President Pérez Molina joined 12,000 Guatemalans who climbed the Volcán de Agua in a “Walk for Life” against femicides and domestic violence. “We want violence to end in this country, we don’t want Guatemala to be one of the most violent countries in the world,” said Pérez as he joined the crowds hiking to the summit. Also taking part in the climb was British ambassador Julie Chappell, whose embassy helped fund and organize the event. (BBC News, Jan. 21)

    So can anyone explain to us why Omar Bashir is wanted by The Hague, while the erstwhile Comandante Tito is embraced by the British embassy as a partner in combating violence?