Former Guatemalan dictator General Jose Efrain Rios Montt, who prosecuted a Reagan administration-supported war of genocide against the Mayan population, on January 17, 2007 announced that he plans to run for Congress in September. This would provide him with immunity from prosecution on the charges of genocide and other violations of human rights during the country's 36-year civil war, according to SOA (School of Americas) Watch.
Members of the country's Congress enjoy immunity from prosecution unless they are suspended from office by a court. "I am certain and sure" of getting a seat in Congress, Rios Montt, told a news conference. Rios Montt, who continues to be an influential and powerful politician in Guatemala, ran for the presidency in 2004 and finished third (Associated Press, January 17).
The Spanish National Court has charged the former dictator, who attended a "special course" in the 1950 at the SOA (now called WHINSEC -- the "Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation), with the crimes of genocide, torture, terrorism and illegal detention. In July 2006, Spanish Judge Santiago Pedraz issued warrants for the arrest of General Ríos Montt and several other former senior officials.
"The Guatemalan authorities subsequently took some of the accused into custody in order to ensure that they would not flee the country," according to Amnesty International. "However, General Ríos Montt remains free. Strong international pressure is needed to ensure that all either face trial in Guatemala or are extradited to Spain."
Guatemalan Nobel Peace Prize Winner Rigoberta Menchu charged five ex-military officials and three ex-government officials, including Rios Montt, in the disappearance of Spanish priests and a fire at the Spanish Embassy in Guatemala City that killed Menchu's father and 36 others. A Guatemalan court is still considering whether to order the arrest of the former dictator and his associates for crimes committed while he ran the country between March 1982 and August 1983.
Ríos Montt's rule was one of the bloodiest periods in Guatemala's civil war when over 200,000 people, mostly Mayan Indians, were killed or disappeared. The overwhelming majority of these people were innocent civilians murdered by government forces and paramilitary death squads. Rios Montt led his systematic and brutal "scorched earth" campaign to wipe out large portions of the country's indigenous population, under the guise of "stopping communism," in what I refer to as the "Guatemalan Holocaust."
According to the United Nations-sponsored Truth Commission, this bloody campaign resulted in the annihilation of nearly 600 Mayan villages. The Commission concluded that acts of genocide had been committed, "through methods whose cruelty has outraged the moral conscience of the civilized world."
Survivors seeking justice for human rights crimes committed during the most brutal period of Guatemala's civil war have faced years of delays, obstruction and harassment. Menchu and others have also asked courts in other countries to hear their cases to exercise "universal jurisdiction" over the crimes committed in Guatemala.
"Universal jurisdiction is based on the principle that all countries have an interest in bringing to justice those responsible for human rights atrocities, no matter where the crimes were committed, and regardless of the nationality of the perpetrators or the victims. International law permits and -- in some cases -- requires every country to investigate and, if there is sufficient evidence, to prosecute in such circumstances," Amnesty International explained in an action alert.
Rios Montt holds a special place in the ranks of history's genocidal murderers with folks like Adolf Hitler, Heinrich Himmler, Pol Pot and a number of U.S. presidents. President Ronald Reagan and other U.S. officials strongly supported and guided him in his campaign, so the blood of hundreds of thousands of Guatemalans is also on U.S. hands. In addition, Israel provided weapons and training to the former dictator's campaign of genocide.
The U.S. "Christian" right fervently supported Rios Montt and his "scorched earth" policy against the Mayan population. Rios Montt was a "born again" mass murderer who was a member ("elder") of the Arcata, California based Church of the Word (Verbo), a branch of Evangelical Gospel Outreach. He surrounded himself with advisers, both North American and Guatemalan, from his Verbo church. A loose coalition of right-wing fundamentalist organizations, including Pat Robertson's "Christian" Broadcasting Network, conducted an extensive fundraising drive and sent volunteers to Ixil Triangle villages under military control.
It would be the ultimate insult to the dictator's multitudes of victims if he was able to achieve immunity from prosecution by winning a seat in the Guatemalan Congress! It is crucial that people concerned about justice for the victims of the U.S.-engineered Guatemalan Holocaust exert powerful international pressure to ensure that Rios Montt and other officials either face trial in Guatemala or are extradited to Spain without delay. To send a letter quickly via the web, go to: www.amnestyusa.org/international_justice/actions.do
Dan Bacher is an outdoor writer, alternative journalist and satirical songwriter from Sacramento, California. He is editor of the Central America Connection and contributes to numerous publications and websites, including Dissident Voice, CounterPunch, Because People Matter and the Sacramento News & Review. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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