An appeals court in Guatemala has suspended the genocide trial of General Efrain Rios Montt hours before a criminal court was scheduled to reach a verdict.
Independent journalist Allan Nairn, who has covered many of the massacres in Guatemala, reports from Guatemala City tonight that while the suspension technically came from the appeals court, “behind the decision stands secret intervention by Guatemala’s current president and death threats delivered to judges and prosecutors by associates of Guatemala’s army.”
“Many dozens of Mayan massacre survivors risked their lives to testify,” Nairn reports. “But now the court record they bravely created has been erased from above.”
Nairn says he was called to testify in the Rios Montt case, was listed by the court as a ‘qualified witness,’ and was tentatively scheduled to testify on Monday, April 15.
“But at the last minute was I was kept off the stand ‘in order to avoid a confrontation with the [Guatemalan] executive,” he writes.
“What that meant, I was given to understand, was that Gen. Otto Perez Molina, Guatemala’s president, would shut down the case if I took the stand because my testimony could implicate him.”
“Beyond that, there was fear, concretely stated, that my taking the stand could lead to violence since given my past statements and writings I would implicate the ‘institutional army.’”
“The bargain under which Perez Molina and the country’s elite had let the case go forward was that it would only touch Rios Montt and his codefendant, Gen. Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez. The rest of the army would be spared, and likewise Perez Molina.”
“On that basis, Perez Molina, it was understood, would refrain from killing the Rios Montt trial case, and still more importantly would keep the old officer corps from killing prosecutors and witnesses, as well as hold off any hit squads that might be mounted by the the oiligarchs of CACIF (the Chambers of Agriculture, Commerce, Industry and Finance). Perez Molina has de facto power to kill the case via secret intervention with the Constitutional and other courts.”
But Nairn writes that “to the shock of many and to world headlines in a press that had long under- and mis-reported Guatemala’s terror, everything changed on April 5 when Hugo Ramiro Leonardo Reyes, a former army mechanic, testified by video from hiding that Perez Molina had ordered atrocities.”
“Testifying with his face half-covered by a baseball cap he recounted murders by Rios Montt’s army and then unexpectedly added that one of the main perpetrators has been Perez Molina who he said had ordered executions and the destruction of villages.”
“This had occurred, he testified, during the massacres around Nebaj when Perez Molina was serving there as Rios Montt’s field commander in 1982-83.”
Nairn said that after Reyes’ tesetimony, “Guatemala’s army and oligarchy rallied. They started to feel that they had no political need to sacrifice Rios Montt. As Perez Molina heard from the elite, his and Rios Montt’s interests converged.”
“On April 16 Perez Molina said publicly that the case was a threat to peace. On April 18, today, the Rios Montt genocide case was suspended.”