Call It What You Will, It’s Still Genocide

Call It What You Will, It’s Still Genocide

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In a reversal that has frustrated victims, witnesses, human rights advocates and the international community who has been observing, the Constitutional Court of Guatemala has decided to annul the recent judgement of the Supreme Court which found ex dictator Efraín Rios Montt guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity.

The genocide judgment had been excoriated by some segments of the population, including the CACIF, an influential group of industrialists and representatives of commercial interests, which has long been viewed by many Guatemalans as having a vested interest in upholding the status quo. (In particular with regard to the prosecution of those in positions of command and responsibility during Guatemala’s 36-year armed internal conflict, which left 200,000 dead and 50,000 disappeared).

Starting with a massive report compiled by the Archdiocese of Guatemala after the peace accord of 1996 was signed, independent report after report has tied the vast majority of the bloodshed in Guatemala during the armed internal conflict to the government-led military and paramilitaries. 93 percent (according the Archdiocese’s REMHI report) of all of the violence that tore across the nation and that wholly wiped out a number of indigenous towns can be traced back to individuals who — if the Rios Montt judgment stood — could be tried for their part in the bloodletting. Including the current president, Otto Pérez Molina, who was implicated by a witness during the Rios Montt trial.

For those of us with any understanding of Guatemala’s history (and the U.S. part in bolstering it materially and politically) that Rios Montt was standing trial at all was indication that much had changed for the better in Guatemala; the judgment against him was long withheld justice for those whose lack of status and representation in the corridors of power had made them bear the brunt of the worst of military’s genocidal plans.

But power is still power in Guatemala. The brokers of it — who intoned dire warnings of violence if the judgment went against Rios Montt, and who accused the thousands of ordinary Guatemalans demanding admission of genocide of tarnishing the nation’s image and making it sound as if the nation as a whole was complicit — have been jubilant at the Constitutional Court’s ruling.

In effect, the trial has been rebooted back to April 19, as if none of the eyewitnesses and survivors and forensic experts had given their gut-wrenching testimonies. The expenses in bringing more than 100 witnesses and experts back for another trial will be monumental, and will fall not on the richest in the country but on the poorest. It is, in legalistic form, the same battle that was waged during Guatemala’s bad old days — in which only the rich, powerful and well-connected were guaranteed standing or hearing.

On Twitter, response to Constitutional Court’s annulment has been overwhelmingly one of disgust. “The Constitutional Court orders that the genocide trial be returned to 1982, before Rios Montt’s coup d’etat, so all the massacred Ixiles can be resurrected,” reads one of the sarcastic tweets. “It doesn’t matter how many times they repeat the trial,” starts a tweet by a Guatemalan rapper, “in Guatemala it was genocide. The law doesn’t annul history and much less our memory.”

And perhaps most clearly for those of us watching from afar, a tweet directed at the power brokers in Guatemala: “For those of you who need clarification, thanks to the decision of the Constitutional Court, now the state of Guatemala IS complicit in the genocide.”

That last, it seems, is the real verdict.