Former Guatemalan dictator in the dock

January 28, 2012

Our friends Pamela Yates and Paco de Onís report:

Exactly one year after the release of our film Granito: How To Nail A Dictator at the Sundance Film Festival, the ex-dictator of Guatemala, General Efraín Ríos Montt, was brought up on charges of genocide in a Guatemalan court and placed under house arrest.

The culmination of decades of work by human rights advocates, forensic scientists and survivors of the Guatemalan genocide forced former dictator General Efraín Ríos Montt to appear in court Thursday after 30 years of impunity, for a hearing to decide whether there was enough evidence to take him to trial on charges of genocide.  This was a major event in Guatemala with hundreds of Maya people coming down from the highlands to gather in front of the courthouse, holding a candle vigil for the their murdered family members.

The prosecution spent hours presenting overwhelming evidence in the form of military documents,  exhumation reports, photos and footage from our film Granito: How To Nail A Dictator, linking Ríos Montt directly to hundreds of deaths and disappearances. Surviving family members, Ixil Maya in traditional dress, crowded the standing room only courtroom in stunned silence. Some wept. Outside the courthouse, in an open area now named Human Rights Plaza, hundreds more watched the proceedings on a huge screen.

The defense argued that Ríos Montt did not have command responsibility over his Army officers in the highlands, and that he was not responsible for the massacres.  This is belied by a clip from Granito that the prosecution and the Guatemalan media used to show the general taking command responsibility, saying that “If I don’t control the army, then who does?”

Judge Carol Patricia Flores deliberated for hours and returned her decision to prosecute Ríos Montt on charges of genocide, place him under house arrest, and set bail for USD $65,000. People hugged, cheered and set off firecrackers outside when the Judge read her decision stating that “the extermination of the civilian population was the result of military plans, and that these plans were executed under the command of Ríos Montt.”