'Yes, there was genocide in Guatemala' and 'one year ago former President Efrain Rios Montt was convicted of crimes against humanity' were the two themes commemorated around the world in May, both dedicated to remembering the violence committed against indigenous and rural Guatemalans from 1982 to 1983; and within a week of these events the Guatemalan Congress passed a resolution saying no, there was no genocide.
From May 9th through the 11th however, activists and victims gathered to proclaim that 'Yes, there was genocide in Guatemala' through rallies and symposia about the atrocities committed by the Guatemalan military against the mostly indigenous rural people of the country. Commemorative events were held in various cities in Guatemala as well as in Spain, the United States, Argentina, France, the United Kingdom, Paraguay, Chile, Belgium, Costa Rica and Australia.
One of the larger gatherings took place in the University Cultural Center (known as the Paraninfo) in Guatemala City, the capitol of the country. Attorneys, jurists, activists and victims such as Elena de Paz Santiago spoke about the experience. Santiago was the only surviving member of her indigenous family and testified that the soldiers raped her before beating her in 1983 when she was 12 years old.
"I said it was him," Santiago stated about the moment when she saw Rios Montt at his trial last year. "He is guilty because he ordered the soldiers to do what they did."
Rios Montt had been the President of Guatemala between 1982 and 1983. On May 10th, 2013 he was found guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity due to his role in the slaughter of 1,771 Maya Ixil people. The former U.S. ally was sentenced to a total of 80 years in prison: 50 years for genocide and 30 years for crimes against humanity.
Ten days later the Constitutional Court of Guatemala overturned the convictions against Rios Montt on May 20th, returning the proceedings to its status on April 19th of that year (2013) due to an unresolved motion involving recusal of judges. It was then announced in November of 2013 that the next trial of Rios Montt would not take place until January of 2015.
On Tuesday, May 13, the Guatemalan Congress passed a resolution stating that it was “juridically inviable” that there was genocide committed during the armed conflict. The resolution was sponsored by Congressman Luis Fernando Pérez, a friend and political ally of Rios Montt.
By May 16 protestors were decrying the resolution. On the May 19 protests in front of the Guatemalan Congress, Diego Santiago Ceto, indigenous Mayor of Nebaj, one of the sites of the genocide, asked the Congress to rescind the resolution “because by recognizing the truth, it will help heal the wounds of the past and the application of justice.”