Power Struggle in Guatemala

Dr. Armando de la Torre is dean of graduate social sciences at the Francisco Marroquin University in Guatemala and a columnist for the newspaper El Periodico. Steve Hecht is a businessman who has lived in Guatemala for four decades. Both are U.S. citizens.


Pro Rios Montt ProtestIn late 2011, Guatemala’s powerful attorney general, Claudia Paz y Paz, brought criminal charges of genocide against the country’s former leader, General Efrain Rios Montt. In May of this year, at the end of a long and highly unusual trial, the 86-year-old Rios Montt—who had helped save Guatemala from a leftist insurgency—was convicted of genocide and sentenced to 80 years in jail. The international Left celebrated the verdict, which promised to give the Left a dramatic increase in power. U.S. media highlighted the verdict but ignored a fact well known to Guatemalans: the U.S. had lobbied for Rios Montt to be convicted.

Shortly after the verdict, Guatemala’s highest judicial authority, its constitutional court, overturned the trial on procedural irregularities, declaring it null and void. In mid-October, however, the same court revived the case by instructing a lower-court judge to determine whether the amnesty granted at the end of Guatemala’s civil conflict should apply to Rios Montt. If amnesty applies, the trial is over. If amnesty does not apply, the trial will proceed.

Most people in Guatemala have been unable to follow the complicated legal battle. But almost everyone here understands that no genocide was committed. Most also know the country is riddled with corruption, and they know of the system’s crushing incompetence. Those who put it all together can see that no decision, even a judicial one, is based in law when powerful interests are at play.

The only law that governs in Guatemala today is one that’s never directly stated and requires an act of will to discover. America’s diplomats have all the information they need to discover it, but they’ve chosen not to. And U.S. media that have sympathized with Guatemala’s leftist insurgents—big guns like The New York Times, CBS and PBS—will shed no light on the matter. But a major conservative medium, The Wall Street Journal, dropped a very broad hint when it began running articles that reflected the views of the former guerrillas.

“Guatemala Opens Inquiry Into Disappearance of Ex-Rebel Fighter” by Nicholas Casey, on November 5, 2011, pointed clearly to the agenda that the ex-guerrilla Left was using to extort favors from the man who was about to win the presidency, retired General Otto Perez. “If you do not give us a share of power in your administration,” leftists could clearly be heard in the article telling Perez, “we are going to make your life miserable with these kinds of investigations.” And The Journal’s story, on its face, was backing the leftist instigators.

The Journal, which pays more attention to Guatemala than do most American media, has steadily taken the side of that country’s oligarchs. So its interest in the fate of a missing guerrilla commander was a matter of some significance. Might it signal a new alignment of political forces?

Indeed it did, and the new alignment is this: power in Guatemala is now being shared by an unlikely coalition of the extreme right and the extreme left. Former guerrillas, practicing Marxists, are in bed with the oligarchs and their political stooges, each party helping the other in countless, invisible ways. The Wall Street Journal won’t directly say it; The New York Times will not even hint at it; and neither will speak for the broad majority of people, from the upper middle classes to the rural peasants, whose interests are being attacked every day by the coalition of extremes.

In this arrangement, the oligarchs have the presidency of Otto Perez and the former guerrillas have the justice ministry of Claudia Paz y Paz. The oligarchs continue to do their moneymaking “business as usual” without interference from the Marxists, who are in charge of law enforcement. This division of power explains the anomaly of a former leader, whose fight against the leftist insurgency had been a boon to the oligarchs, being prosecuted under the rule of an oligarchs’ president.

Attorney General Paz y Paz worked very hard to bring the case against Rios Montt. She is a dogmatic leftist with family ties to former insurgent groups. Her career has been devoted to settling scores with those who prevented a Marxist takeover of her country. She is a doctor of law who operates with a stunning indifference to legal protocol. Her ministry actually promotes illicit land-grabbing operations by armed leftist gangs in Guatemala’s countryside.

If Paz y Paz were submitted to a vote of the people in her own ministry, she would be ousted in a landslide. But beyond Guatemala, in the precincts of international institutions and “progressive” media, it is all smiles for the heroic justicer and woman who is said to defend the interests of the oppressed. And she receives open, enthusiastic backing from the Obama State Department, whose policy is aided by the silence of the press.

Speaking to a Guatemalan columnist, U.S. Ambassador Arnold Chacon said that Paz y Paz is a personal favorite of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s. The ambassador explained that, whenever he visited the State Department during Clinton’s tenure, he was ushered into the Secretary’s office ahead of many others because Clinton wanted first-hand reports of Paz y Paz’s activities. According to other sources, Clinton used her weight with President-elect Perez to keep Paz y Paz in office, as her term had begun under the previous president.

Most egregiously, the U.S. embassy provided explicit support to Paz y Paz and her ministry during Rios Montt’s prosecution. In a highly questionable move, Ambassador Chacon attended a critical session of the trial. The embassy then took the step of issuing a statement that all but called for Rios Montt’s conviction. The statement, in Spanish only and unmentioned by U.S. media, extravagantly lauded the process of justice under Paz y Paz’s ministry. It then said:  “We exhort all Guatemalans to respect the legitimacy and integrity of this process.”

What business does a U.S. embassy have to lecture a foreign populace? Who authorized this foolish proclamation? Do we have an embassy out of control, or a State Department that doesn’t know what it’s about, or both?

The outright support of the U.S. embassy for the prosecution in this case—like the case itself—is incomprehensible from any vantage point besides that of raw politics. After all,  the charge was genocide—not wanton or excessive violence, not the abuse of civilians by armed forces, but “the systematic extermination of an entire people or national group,” to quote the dictionary definition.

Guatemala experienced more than three decades of armed conflict in which each of the contending parties had an armed force. It was not simply a situation—as the Left would have it—in which an oppressive state power imposed its depredations on an innocent, largely indigenous, civilian populace. The Leftists had their guerrillas,  extensively financed from abroad, who committed spectacular violence through kidnapping, murder and terrorism. The international media and institutions like the UN—to say nothing of Paz y Paz’s ministry—have all but ignored the crimes committed by the guerrillas. Since the truce that halted the armed conflict in 1996 also included a provision of amnesty, that may be seen as appropriate. But the spirit of amnesty is not upheld if it is applied to one side only; and Paz y Paz has been carrying out a legal revanchism in her prosecution of Rios Montt.

When Rios Montt was chief of state, he agreed to have the UN issue a human rights report, which it did from 1983 straight through to 1997; each report covering the previous year, and the lastreport covering the year in which the peace accords were signed. Not once did the UN ombudsman mention the crime of genocide in these annual reports. The UN had observers in Guatemala for about five years, and neither did they mention genocide. The UN was a party to the peace accords; had genocide occurred, UN officials would have been accomplices to it for not having denounced it.

The defense pointed to those facts and argued that no finding of genocide had ever been made. The court ignored this argument and simply moved to the testimony of witnesses. The prosecution put on about 100 witnesses. They mostly testified to things they had seen—massacres, rapes, mutilations, and more. Some witnesses claimed to have been raped repeatedly at military bases. Victims appeared to have been coached to say ‘yes’ to all questions about having been raped, so they just said they returned to the bases and were raped again. One witness claimed his two-year-old son had been murdered but, considering his age when he testified, the witness would have been nine years old at the time.

The prosecution established that atrocities had occurred, but they did not connect those atrocities to the charge of genocide. They appeared to argue that the crimes were so vile, the charge of genocide should be made to fit. When the defense tried to cross-examine, the court repeatedly interrupted the defense and restricted its questions.

Likewise, the prosecution’s experts were given great latitude to say whatever they wanted. They freely gave their opinions about what had occurred, but did not make the case for genocide. When the defense tried to scrutinize those opinions in cross-examination, the court repeatedly overruled it. Effectively, defense lawyers were disallowed from mounting a defense.

After about three weeks of the trial, defense lawyers decided that they were in a farcical proceeding and that their clients would be convicted no matter what. They stated their intention to abandon the court-room, an unprecedented move. The trial judge must not have been paying attention, because when the lawyers walked out the judge was caught by surprise. The walkout brought the trial to a halt, and the judge was caught up in a calamity. In the next session, part of the defense team returned to the court under pressure from family-members of the accused. But the unusual move by defense lawyers had dealt the court a blow. It was the following session of the trial that U.S. Ambassador Chacon attended, giving the clear message that he had come to support the judge and the process. There followed Rios Montt’s conviction and the action of the constitutional court, setting aside the final weeks of the proceedings.

Other circumstances beyond the trial provided a powerful argument against the genocide charge. When Rios Montt, always a popular politician, ran for president in 2003, he lost the campaign but won the preponderant support of the very people, the Ixils, whom he was later accused of annihilating. During the trial, thousands of Ixil people—in the face of deafening silence by international media—protested publicly on behalf of Rios Montt. If the genocide charge had contained any truth at all, those Ixils would have been like Jews demonstrating for Hitler. During the leftist insurgency, many of the Ixil people had actually fought alongside Rios Montt, both in the army and in the anti-guerrilla militias which rural peasants had asked the army to help them organize. The decades of internecine conflict in Guatemala had seen the same fact dramatized again and again: members of the same ethnic groups fighting on different sides of the conflict. And the fact points to a truth which Guatemalans intuitively recognize: genocide is a crime impossible to commit against yourself.

You can, however, take a ride to hell with the U.S. embassy. In a perfect parroting of Leftist verbiage, the embassy statement asserted that measures like the trial were “an important step toward reconciliation.” How would Guatemalans see as reconciliation a faulty verdict imposed by ex-guerrillas with the overt support of the United States? But some people never quit. According to sources, our State Department is already lobbying for Paz y Paz’s reappointment when her present term expires next year.

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  • herb benty

    The American Democratic Party is now Communist, for pete’s sake, quit pussy-footing around and call a spade a spade. When it talks like a duck…………..it’s a duck.

    • objectivefactsmatter

      Most won’t deny being “democratic socialists” in all but name. That means the revolution is achieved through the ballot box. Deception is fine. Just ask anyone involved in the ACA.

      • herb benty

        ya, I see your point, as far as it goes. However, Obama is firing all the good Commanders in the Military, he places Islamists in the Dept. Of Homeland Security, Christian Patriots are painted as enemies. Yes, the rigged ballot box, but if that fails….Obama is a dyed-in -the-wool Marxist. You know what they are capable of.

        • objectivefactsmatter

          I wasn’t so much disagreeing with you as fleshing out the details. If you call them communist people will scoff. But that’s the agenda regardless of how few people actually realize it.

          • m4253y

            i respectfully disagree. they are so brazen and emboldened in and of their ‘rights’ at present that they would welcome the ‘coming’ out party.

            lord knows academia and the lame stream media would be right at the forefront, leading the charge.

            our bay of pigs is coming and this time, we cannot fuck it up

          • herb benty

            You’re right of course, I sure want to avoid being seen as fanatical- too much of that. Thanx. HB

  • WillyWallace

    When visiting Guatemala and its Mayan ruins, I witnessed a protest march in the main square in Guatemala City. About thirty people were holding signs but what interested me was that about ten anglo American women were in the back of the protest sort of like sheepherders but posing as nuns and representing a religious organization that espouses Marxist Liberation Theology.

    When Americans get involved in these foreign conflicts, it never ends good since they are actually Communist do-gooders who the government knows so any Guatemalan, or El Salvadorean, who associates with these Americans is also labeled so and in some cases, they are eventually arrested and worse since they are labeled as “rebels trying to overthrow the government.” Many are not and the furthest thing from it but these Americans put them in that category.

    Now a point on the “disappeared” where right-wing death squads are to blame. Look in the homes of these American do-gooders working as maids and gardeners and then passed around their leftist community like slaves. They are also illegally hiding them even if a city says they are a sanctuary city. If we would arrest all illegals and then cross reference those names to the names of the “disappeared,” we would solve this farce and even expose an American illegal transporting ring and even known in these countries and families but these families are then used by the media to blame the “right-wing death squads.”

    • Drakken

      Quite a few of those commi leftist do gooders got what they deserved when they helped, collaborated and actively engaged with these commi movements .Case in point, everybody whined and cried about the priests and nuns who actively supported communist rebels in El Salvador and funneling arms from Nicaragua. They were shot for their effort and they bloody well deserved it. The leftist do gooders that are actively participating in these communist/leftist movements should be dealt with like the enemies they are.

  • Omar

    If there is anyone who deserves to be convicted in Guatemala, it should be the Marxist fraud, Rigoberta Menchu. She is infamous for “writing” (technically it was the French Marxist, Elisabeth Burgos-Debray, who wrote) the pseudo-autobiography, I, Rigoberta Menchu. That “autobiography” gives a false description of how Menchu and her family were poor, oppressed peasants and how the poor indigenous communities (Menchu is herself Mayan) suffered at the hands of Guatemalan society. Menchu “describes” how her father formed an indigenous rights group to combat injustice, only for the group to be brutally supressed by the Guatemalan security forces. In reality, Menchu’s father never formed any indigenous rights group. In fact, most of her father’s conflicts were land disputes with his own in-laws. Also, what led to the Guatemalan civil war in the 1980s was when Communist Cuba and the Soviet Union decided to infiltrate Guatemala and trying to get indigenous communities to join the fight against their own government. Most of the Marxist recruiters in Guatemala were urban Hispanics, not indigenous peasants. Most of the indigenous communities in Guatemala (as well as the majority of the Guatemalan people) wanted the Soviet/Cuban Communist-backed urban recruiters to leave them alone and to go away. There was a siege at Spain’s embassy in Guatemala City that would change the scope of the conflict. Despite the numerous falsehoods in Menchu’s “book”, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992. Another person that should have been charged and convicted of serious human rights abuses against civilians, particularly the indigenous communities, is Daniel Ortega, Sandinista ruler of Nicaragua. Ortega’s record of violence and oppression against Nicaraguan civilians, particularly the Miskito people, during the Nicaraguan civil war in the 1980s should have permanently banned him and his Sandinista hate group from running for any political office in Nicaragua. Instead, Ortega and his Sandinista hate group run Nicaragua again since 2006. Ortega’s agenda has not changed that much. The left’s double standards live on.

    • GuateNY

      “what led to the Guatemalan civil war in the 1980s was when Communist
      Cuba and the Soviet Union decided to infiltrate Guatemala and trying to
      get the people, particularly the indigenous communities, to join the
      fight against their own government.”

      You are full of crap. The civil war in Guatemala started in 1962, not the 80s. And the Soviet Union never got fully involved in Guatemala, as they did in Cuba because they saw no strategic value in Guatemala.

      The roots of the war were the deposition of Pres. Arbenz. in 1954, with the support of the United Fruit Company, CIA and State Dept. His deposition and the installation of the caudillo Col. Armas set the stage for the Marxist EGP and FAR to be formed by junior officers that rebelled against Gen. Ydigoras.

      • Omar

        You are the one who has your notes wrong. First of all, the coup against Arbenz happened not when he centralized United Fruit, but when he aligned his regime with the Soviet Union and Communist China. Also, the coup came into motion when a cargo of Soviet-bloc weapons arrived in Guatemala. The fact is that Arbenz was a Stalinist/Maoist who wanted to destroy democracy in Guatemala and impose Communist totalitarianism in that country. If you need more evidence, after he was deposed,Arbenz sought exile not in France or Spain or even Mexico (the traditional destinations for most deposed Latin American leaders), but in Communist Czechoslovakia, which was part of the Eastern Bloc and a Soviet puppet state. By the way, did you know that Czechoslovakia had a coup six years earlier that deposed that country’s elected leader, Edvard Benes, and replaced him with a Stalinist/Maoist despot, Klement Gottwald. And guess who overthrew Benes? It was the predecessors to the KGB, as well as the Soviet foreign ministry. The Soviet Union and Communist China were behind most of the atrocities in the world during the 20th century. The places that had Communist client states range from Libya, Syria, North Korea and Egypt to Cuba, Panama, Nicaragua, Angola, Peru, Ethiopia, Grenada and Suriname (as well as many other countries). Quit repeating Stalinist/Maoist propaganda.

  • LindaRivera

    ‘What business does a U.S. embassy have to lecture a foreign populace?’

    Lecturing, in fact, making constant demands of a foreign populace is something American leaders have been doing for many years with Israel.

    It was under the Clinton regime that the PHONY, dirty, DEMONIC Peace Process was signed: the infamous Oslo Covenant with Death. The peace-war agreement with global, barbaric Muslim terrorist, Arafat and his PLO savages.

  • SoCalMike

    The US State Department is truly occupied territory while the liberal Democrats on the left were decapitated decades ago and replaced with hard core government worshiping leftists.

  • CCC

    For several years I have been working on a documentary on the Maya and know these issues and the Guatemalan Maya first hand. From reading this article and the comments, I have never been so shocked to see such an incredible amount of statements totally based on ignorance and twisting of the facts! Most info here is entirely a distortion of the truth – more like Russian propaganda or Nazi dogma. There was genocide committed on the indigenous Maya people on a huge scale. I was just at a conference where they were covering the results of DNA testing of victims of the genocide to identify them. You don’t mention the Maya who were the victims so you obviously don’ really know what happened and what this is all about! This is not journalism in the wildest sense but just sick verbal garbage!

    “Most people in Guatemala have been unable to follow the complicated legal battle.” – What, you think the people are stupid and ignorant? They well know what happened and what is going on! What trash!

  • MBea

    We, the people that lived through the almost four decades of the so called internal conflict, cannot share your views after we experienced the horror and the desturction that left thousands of victims, yes, more so affecting indigenous communities but also hurting non indigenouspeople like US Ambassador cowardly killed by one of the four main guerilla groups. You do not mention that most of the army soldiers were also indigenous or Mayan descendants, and that they were also killed and blown to pieces by frequent bombings of army trucks transporting soldiers.
    It all happened in a context of a “Cold War” and that is why guerrilla groups were provided with arms, training and political suppor by Russia, China and Cuba, among others. You never mention the harm to the whole country that suffered death, fear and lack of development due to the violence of the confrontation. You do not mention that what guerrillas wanted was to throw out the elected governments and take over political power and emulate Fidel Castro’s ideology.
    We, the people who were grown ups when it all started and when it finally ended know that there were many masacres, assasination, and destruction but it all started when guerrillas started hitting public institutions. What we also know, is that genocide was not in the mind of state institutions. There never was an order or a strategy to eliminate groups of people due to their race or ethnic origin, nor any other preference. There was a fight between enemy forces, on one side the groups that wanted to take over government and on the other those who were responsible of protecting national institutions.

    • GuateNY

      ¿Ud es de que parte de Guate?