Guatemala: Resisting Impunity and Taking on New Challenges

Guatemala is one of the most violent and exclusionary countries in the region. Between 1962 and 1996, an estimated 200,000 Guatemalans were killed, one million internally displaced, 45,000 disappeared, 200,000 became refugees, and over 600 massacres were committed, according to the 1999 Historical Clarification Commission report. This recent history, marked by silence and a culture of fear, has changed in the past few decades, beginning with the transition to democracy in 1985 and consolidated with the signing of the Peace Accords in 1996.

Since 1996, however, Guatemala has experienced a process of re-militarization and an escalation of violence, exacerbated by repression by extractive industries and new economic policies where those most affected continue to be campesino and indigenous communities, women and children. The historic trial against general Efraín Ríos Montt, former dictator and SOA grad, and José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez, his former head of intelligence – on trial for the genocide of the Ixil Maya, and for crimes against humanity – is perhaps one of the most significant milestones in the demands for the rule of law, the respect for human rights, along with respect for and observance of due process.

In May 2013, a Guatemalan high court sentenced Ríos Montt to 80 years in prison for the genocide of the Ixil maya and crimes against humanity, but the sentence was annulled shortly after. The trial is set to reconvene in 2015, rolling back the entire process to where it was in November 2011, but CALDH and AJR, partner organizations in the case, are appealing this decision. This trial occurred under the government of Otto Pérez Molina, SOA grad and former general directly implicated in human rights violations during the 1980’s. His government does not have a policy in line with respect or protection of human rights, so the symbolic importance of this trial cannot be overlooked. This is the first trial against a former head of state for genocide in history that has taken place in a national court.

In light of the recent trial, SOA Watch has launched a new project inspired by our strategy that without students, there can be no school. At its core, the SOA Watch Legal Initiative aims to look into legal and institutional alternatives that will halt the sending of Latin American troops to SOA/WHINSEC. As a first step to this new strategy, and, SOA Watch has decided to start in Guatemala, and looks forward to contributing to end
a culture of impunity!

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