The resumption of the genocide trial against former Guatemalan president Efraín Ríos Montt ended as confusingly as it began, in a theatrical first day of renewed proceedings on Monday. Following a three-judge panel’s 2-1 vote that determined that court president Irma Jeannette Valdéz was too biased to judge the case, the trial was suspended for an indefinite period.
On May 10, 2013, Ríos Montt—the de-facto dictator of Guatemala from 1982 to 1983—was convicted and sentenced to 80 years in prison for genocide and crimes against humanity—specifically, the murder of 1771 Maya Ixil people, the forced displacement of 29,000 others, and the torture and rape that took place during the course of 15 massacres in the early 1980s centered around the municipality of Nebaj in Guatemala’s Ixil triangle. Yet that conviction was voided on May 20, 2013 by the Corte de Constitucionalidad (Constitutional Court—CC)—which ruled that Ríos Montt’s right to a defense had been violated by the expulsion of his combative lawyer, Francisco García Gudiel, on the first day of debate—and the trial was rescheduled for January 2015.
Valdéz, who was one of the three judges on Monday’s panel and president of Tribunal B de Mayor Riesgo (High Risk Court, which deals with high-profile cases involving crimes like corruption and genocide) rejected an amparo (defense appeal) questioning her impartiality for having written a postgraduate thesis on genocide in Guatemala. However, the other two judges on the panel, Sara Yoc Yoc and Maria Eugenia Castellanos, sided with the defense—effectively ending the trial the day it resumed.
Valdéz, whose 2004 thesis was titled “Criterios para una mejor aplicación del delito por genocidio” (Criteria for a better application of the crime of genocide) said, “It is outrageous to doubt my impartiality after several hearings in which I have made decisions on this case.” She added that her thesis was “a scholarly opinion, not legal.”
Last week, Guatemala’s Court of High Risk “B” (Tribunal de Mayor Riesgo “B”) announced that the genocide trial of Guatemala’s former president, General Efraín Ríos Montt, will not resume until January 2015. The trial was pushed back from an earlier date of April 2014, and by the time proceedings continue, Ríos Montt will be 88 years old.
Ríos Montt had been tried and convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity committed against the Mayan Ixil people during one of the most violent periods of Guatemala’s civil war. On May 10, he was sentenced to 80 years in prison, but served just two days before being transferred to a military hospital.
A day later, one of the defense team’s 100-plus amparos—measures designed to provide constitutional protection of individuals—was upheld by Guatemala’s Corte de Constitucionalidad (Constitutional Court—CC). The result of the successful amparo was to move the trial back to its middle, where there was a judicial battle over who was to hear the case—Judge Yasmin Barrios or Judge Carol Patricia Flores.
The ruling backtracked on previous declarations that the trial would not return to a previous date. It also contradicted Guatemalan law, which states once a verdict is delivered, the defendant must continue their legal fight in the Appeals Court.
Since then, the original trial judges have recused themselves on the grounds that they have already issued a judgment. Dozens of judges have avoided hearing the case for fear of repercussions, and in October, the CC reopened the possibility that Ríos Montt may be granted amnesty, based on a 1986 presidential decree by former President Óscar Humberto Mejía Víctores that barred prosecutions for political crimes committed during Mejía and Ríos Montt’s administrations.
On Friday, Human rights organizations across Latin America will take to the streets to protest the May 20 decision by Guatemala’s Constitutional Court to overturn the genocide conviction of former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt. The Guatemalan general was sentenced to 80 years in prison on May 10 for ordering the deaths of at least 1,771 members of the Ixil Maya ethnic group during his 1982–1983 rule.
Protesters in Argentina, Mexico, Honduras, Peru, and Nicaragua will march to the Guatemalan embassy in each country in solidarity with the victims of the violence. Human rights activists in Guatemala City will also march from Parliament to the Supreme Court of Justice, ending in front of the Supreme Constitutional Court. Organizers in Guatemala expect some 10,000 participants.
The idea for the marches arose on Wednesday after 70 human rights and victims’ organizations throughout the hemisphere—including the Fundación Rigoberta Menchú (Rigoberta Menchú foundation), the Asociación de Familiares de Detenidos y Desaparecidos (Association of the Families of the Disappeared and Detained) and the Comisión Nacional de Viudas (National Commission of Widows)—signed a statement calling the decision to annul Ríos Montt’s conviction “illegal” and demanding that the court reestablish the conviction.
Participants in today’s demonstrations see Ríos Montt’s conviction for genocide and crimes against humanity as a triumph for international human rights. Ríos Montt was the first dictator to be convicted of genocide in Latin America. After the defense lodged several appeals with the court over alleged irregularities in the case, the constitutional court annulled the conviction and returned the trial to where it was on April 19.
By a majority of 3-2 the Guatemalan Constitutional Court ruled on Monday to throw out General Efrain Rios Montt’s guilty verdict and 80-year sentence for genocide and crimes against humanity, returning the trial to the proceedings of April 19.
The Constitutional Court also threw out the acquittal of former intelligence chief Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez. The court has 24 hours to comply with the order and moves are already underway by the defense to have Judge Yasmín Barrios and the two other judges, Pablo Xitumul and Patricia Bustamante, recused from the case.
"The court ensured justice,” said defense counsel Francisco García Gudiel on Monday. “There were many too many legal aberrations in this case, and time and again we have been proven right.”
Observers are waiting for the written judgment to come through from Constitutional Court Secretary General Martín Guzmán. However, the ruling seems to backtrack on previous statements that the trial could not be returned to a prior date. It may also go against Guatemalan law, which states that once a verdict has been reached, the trial cannot be returned to a previous date and must instead be dealt with in the Appeals Court.
The decision returns the trial to April 19, when Judge Barrios and Judge Carol Patricia Flores argued over who had jurisdiction over the hearing. Judge Flores, who presided over a portion of the pretrial hearing, wanted to return the trial to November 23, 2011, the day before she was recused. Judge Barrios refused to do this and continued the trial, calling the move illegal and an overreach of Flores’ power. The Constitutional Court has since ruled that the trial should have been suspended while the legal arguments were heard.
Top stories this week are likely to include: Rios Montt convicted of genocide; Venezuelan military to fight insecurity; Panama announces continued electricity rationing; FIFA expresses concerns over Brazil’s World Cup stadium; and China’s vice president travels to Venezuela.
Rios Montt found guilty: On Friday, a three-judge tribunal sentenced the 86-year-old former dictator of Guatemala, Efrain Rios Montt to 80 years in prison. Rios Montt was convicted of genocide for ordering the deaths of nearly 2,000 people of the Ixil Maya ethnic group between 1982 and 1983. He is expected to appeal the court’s decision, a process that promises to drag on a trial that, over the course of two months, has been beset by numerous delays. The conviction is seen as a victory not only for Guatemalans who endured the violence, but also for international human rights more broadly. It marks the first time a former head of state had been found guilty of genocide by a court in his or her own country. A hearing on Monday will focus on compensation for the victims.
Venezuela’s military deployed to fight crime: Today, some 3,000 military troops will deploy to the streets in several neighborhoods throughout Venezuela as part of President Nicolás Maduro’s efforts to tackle the country’s daunting and rising crime rate. Venezuela has the highest number of homicides per capita in Latin America and polls during the recent presidential election revealed that insecurity tops the list of citizen concerns. Troops will be concentrated in the municipalities of Sucre and Baruta—both areas dominated by opposition supporters and, according to the government, two of the most dangerous regions of the country. Critics say the move violates the constitution, but Maduro maintains that the troops are necessary to protect the Venezuelan people.
Strict electricity rationing to remain in place in Panama: On Sunday, Panama’s government announced that most of the restrictions on electricity use that went into place last week will continue until further notice. The rationing, which curtailed business hours and drastically limited the use of electricity-intensive devices, comes amid a severe drought that has dried up the water sources that power the country’s hydroelectric plants. While other restrictions will remain—and in some cases tighten—schools, which were closed last Wednesday to Friday, will reopen today. However, the government has instructed schools to keep the air conditioning off and to use lights sparingly. Over the course of the week, the government will monitor energy supply and modify restrictions as necessary.
FIFA warns Brazil about construction timeframe: As Brazil prepares to host the World Cup in 2014, FIFA, the games’ governing body, issued a warning about delays in the construction of six soccer stadiums. FIFA’s concern came after as second test at the Maracanã stadium was cancelled due to unpreparedness. The Maracanã stadium, along with the others in Cuiabá, Manaus, Natal, Curitiba, Porto Alegre, and São Paulo must be handed over to FIFA and tested twice by December, according to FIFA. Yet, the current timeline is that the stadiums are unlikely to be completed before February or March.
Vice President of China travels to Venezuela: China’s vice president, Li Yuanchao, arrived in Venezuela on Sunday, beginning a four-day visit focused on deepening the bilateral relationship and establishing alliances with the new administration of President Nicolás Maduro. On Monday, Li will participate in a memorial to former President Hugo Chávez, followed by a series of meetings over the course of the week with Venezuelan leaders, including the minister of science and technology. Li hopes to prioritize educational and technology exchanges between the two countries. He will also meet with the ministers of energy and economy, President of Petróleos de Venezuela Rafael Ramírez, and National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello, among others. The two countries are expected to sign accords on issues such as oil and mining. Li will then travel to Argentina on May 16.
Top stories this week are likely to include: Senate Judiciary Committee begins mark-up of the U.S. immigration reform bill; Álvaro Uribe reacts to Nicolás Maduro; Ríos Montt genocide trial is briefly suspended; Barack Obama criticizes the imprisonment of an American filmmaker in Venezuela; and 100 prisoners participate in the Guantánamo hunger strike.
Immigration Reform in the Judiciary Committee: On Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee will begin to mark up the 844-page immigration reform bill drafted by the bipartisan "Gang of Eight" U.S. senators with amendments to be considered due by 5:00pm on Tuesday. Dozens of amendments are expected to be submitted by members of the Judiciary Committee, including the Uniting American Families Act—an amendment to be offered by Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) that would allow U.S. citizens to sponsor their same-sex partners for green cards. On Friday, President Barack Obama said that he supported a proposal, calling it the “right thing to do.” If passed in committee, critics say the amendment could erode bipartisan support for comprehensive immigration reform. On Friday during his visit to Mexico, Obama said he was “optimistic” that Congress could pass immigration reform this year.
Venezuelan and Colombian Heads of State Face Off: Former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe said Sunday that he would bring Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro before the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights for putting his life in danger after Maduro accused Uribe on Friday of plotting to kill him. Maduro also alleged that Uribe was involved in the murder of Jhonny González, a sports reporter who was shot to death last week. On Sunday, former Colombian President Andrés Pastrana criticized Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos for not speaking out immediately against Maduro's accusations.
Guatemalan Constitutional Court Suspends Ríos Montt Trial: Guatemala's Constitutional Court announced on Saturday a "provisional" suspension of the genocide trial of former General Efraín Ríos Montt while it resolves an injunction request filed by Ríos Montt's attorney, Francisco García Gudiel. However, a definitive ruling on the genocide trial is expected this week after the Constitutional Court ruled on April 30 that the case could proceed. The presiding judge, Jazmín Barrios, granted a week’s recess so that García Gudiel could review the file against his client.
Obama Calls Imprisonment of American in Venezuela "Ridiculous": Venezuelan Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez Torres said on Sunday that American Timothy Tracy was posing as a documentary filmmaker to spy on the Venezuelan government. Tracy was arrested after Venezuela’s April 14 election as he was leaving the country and was charged with conspiracy late last month, saying he was plotting with opposition groups to destabilize the country. U.S. President Obama called the Venezuelan government’s claim "ridiculous” in an interview with Telemundo this weekend. Maduro responded on Saturday by calling Obama the “grand chief of devils.”
100 Prisoners on Strike in Guantánamo: An Afghan prisoner at the Guantánamo military prison in Cuba alleged in a sworn affidavit released Sunday that soldiers roughly searched prisoners' Qurans in February, triggering a hunger strike in which at least 100 prisoners have been participating for the ninth consecutive day. At least 23 prisoners are now being force-fed, though a prison spokesman said that no one is experiencing life-threatening conditions. Marine General John Kelly, head of U.S. Southern Command, told reporters that there was “absolutely no mishandling of the Quran” inside the prison.
After fourteen months of legal wrangling, the genocide trial of former Guatemalan President Efraín Ríos Montt began this week with oral presentations in court.
The trial will make history, as Guatemala becomes the first country in Latin America to try a former leader for genocide—a move that has divided the legal community.
Some classify the actions of soldiers under Ríos Montt’s command as crimes against humanity but not genocide, while others consider them genocide and still others maintain Ríos Montt’s innocence. The court’s interpretation of Ríos Montt’s orders to his soldiers during his command to consider all residents of certain areas, "guerilla sympathizers and therefore the enemy," will likely inform the trial’s outcome.
Peru tried and sentenced Alberto Fujimori to 25 years in prison for corruption and crimes against humanity during his presidency, a charge Ríos Montt and former Chief of Army Intelligence José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez also face.
The eventual verdict will hinge on whether various incidents, including massacres in the Ixil triangle region, constituted genocide against the Maya Ixil.
President Otto Pérez Molina has maintained in public declarations that genocide never happened in Guatemala. Given that Pérez Molina was stationed as a regional commander in Ixil during Ríos Montt’s presidency, the trial could bring unwelcome attention to his wartime activities—something foreign media focused on during his election campaign.
"We respect the independence of powers, so in that sense we will respect what the judiciary is doing and all the processes that are taking place," Pérez Molina said of the trial.
In the courtroom, Ríos Montt surprised observers by sacking his defense team— his fourth change of counsel since January 2012. When offered the chance to speak on the first day, Montt maintained his right to silence but stated that he would speak on record at a later date.
"There is no document or testimony can prove that my client was involved in the events that the Ministerio Publico (MP) accuses him of,” said defense lawyer Francisco Palomo. "What we ask for is a fair trial, away from pressures, and for it not to become a political lynching."
El juicio por genocidio y deberes contra la humanidad en contra de los ex-generales Efraín Ríos Montt y José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez dio inicio este martes, luego que la licenciada Jazmín Barrios, Jueza Presidenta del Tribunal A de Mayor Riesgo, resolviera de manera negativa varios recursos interpuestos por la defensa y declarara abierto el debate.
El juicio estaba contemplado inicialmente para dar comienzo el 14 de agosto de este año; sin embargo, el Tribunal A de Mayor Riesgo lo adelantó para el 19 de marzo. Con anterioridad, la Corte de Constitucionalidad rechazó una solicitud de amnistía presentada por la defensa de Ríos Montt. Los abogados de los encausados en reiteradas ocasiones han argumentado que se ha violentado el proceso y que se han violado los derechos de los señalados, pues las pruebas ofrecidas de descargo no han sido aceptadas por el Tribunal que conoció en Primera Instancia.
La discusión de fondo se centra en la existencia o no del delito de genocidio imputado a ambos procesados. Durante la audiencia, hubo momentos en que la jueza tuvo que llamar la atención del público, que reaccionó en contra de uno de los alegados del defensor del General Ríos Montt, Francisco García Gudiel, quién señaló a organizaciones internacionales y peritos de haber recibido grandes cantidades de dinero para emitir sus criterios.
La sala de vistas de la Corte Suprema de Justicias se vio abarrotada. Se calcula que participaron más de 350 personas, público que se ubicó de acuerdo con sus posturas en lugares según estén a favor o en contra del enjuiciamiento. En las afueras, organizaciones de derechos humanos se encontraron a la espera del resultado de la primera sesión de un juicio que ha sido calificado como histórico.
After years of appeals, Efrain Ríos Montt, Guatemala's former military dictator who ruled from 1982 to 1983, stood trial in the country’s first genocide trial that began on Tuesday. Ríos Montt is accused of being responsible for 15 massacres that took the lives of a combined 1,771 Ixil Mayas and forcibly displaced an additional 29,000.
The massacres were part of a counterinsurgency campaign against leftist groups based in Guatemala’s mostly Indigenous western highlands. Along with former head of intelligence José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez, Ríos Montt is charged with genocide and crimes against humanity and is being tried by three judges from the Supreme Court’s Tribunal Primero A de Mayor Riesgo (First High-Risk Tribunal A). This marks the first time that a former head of state has been tried for genocide in a domestic court.
Last March, the 86-year-old former dictator was denied amnesty under the 1996 National Reconciliation Law on the grounds that the law denies such protection to those accused of genocide, torture or forced disappearances. Prosecutors admit that there was never a direct order from Ríos Montt to massacre the victims in the Quiche Department where the guerillas were based. But they hope to prove that the leader had knowledge of the acts due to the absolute power granted to him by the military chain of command. His lack of action, they argue, is proof of his complicity. Guatemalan prosecutors have successfully prosecuted other military officers with similar evidence in the past, leading to speculation that Ríos Montt could be found guilty at the end of his six-week trial.
The first day of the trial saw the ex-dictator’s legal team abruptly quit. They were replaced by defense attorney Francisco García Gudiel who tried, unsuccessfully, to file motions to block the proceedings on procedural grounds. He was later dismissed from the courtroom for accusing Judge Jazmin Barrios of bias against him. The three-judge panel appointed a new defense lawyer to represent Ríos Montt for the remainder of his trial.
Top stories this week are likely to include: Lima Mayor Susana Villarán survives recall election; the OAS votes on IACHR reforms in an extraordinary session; the “gang of eight” considers providing a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants; former Guatemalan dictator Efraín Ríos Montt will stand trial for genocide; Rio de Janeiro and Espírito Santo challenge a new royalties law.
Lima Mayor Holds Onto Her Job: Lima Mayor Susana Villarán appears to have survived a popular referendum to recall her from her post on Sunday. According to Peru’s Oficina Nacional de Procesos Electorales (National Office of Electoral Processes—ONPE), 51.7 percent of voters supported allowing Villarán to remain in office, while 48.3 percent supported her removal. Villarán became Lima’s first female mayor in 2010, and while polls as late as last month showed a majority of voters would opt to recall her, the trend was slowly reversing itself in the weeks ahead of the election.
OAS to Vote on IACHR Reforms: The General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS) will vote on recommendations to reform the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). In an extraordinary session Friday in Washington DC, the assembly will consider measures proposed by ALBA and UNASUR countries which include limiting the sources of funding for the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression and moving the seat of the IACHR from Washington DC to Buenos Aires. Member states met in Guayaquil, Ecuador last week to discuss the proposed reforms.
U.S. Immigration Overhaul May Provide Path to Citizenship Within 13 Years: The bipartisan group of eight U.S. senators working to devise an overhaul of the U.S. immigration system may be planning to increase the wait time for green cards from eight years to ten, but may also reduce the total amount of time that immigrants must wait to apply for citizenship from five years to three. The proposal represents a compromise between Democrats and Republicans on the question of providing undocumented immigrants with eventual citizenship. On Monday, the Republican National Committee released a post-election report recommending that the party change its position on immigration in order to win Latino voters in future elections.
Former Guatemalan Dictator to Stand Trial: Former Guatemalan dictator Efraín Ríos Montt is expected to stand trial on Tuesday for genocide committed during his 1982-1983 regime. The 86 year-old will be tried for the execution of 1,771 Indigenous Maya in Quiché department during an internal conflict in which 200,000 people are estimated to have been killed or disappeared. The trial, which was originally scheduled for August, is expected to present more than 900 pieces of evidence and 130 witnesses. The defense has appealed to delay the start of the trial, though court officials reportedly said Friday that the trial would begin on Tuesday morning.
Brazilian States Face Off Over Oil Royalties: The Brazilian oil producing states of Rio de Janeiro and Espírito Santo are challenging a new law passed last week that would distribute oil and natural gas royalties equally between all Brazilian states. Congress overrode President Dilma Rousseff's veto to pass the law last week, and the president signed it into law on Thursday. Rio's government says the law will cost the state $3.4 billion reais in revenue each year and jeopardize its ability to host the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games.
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.