The U.S. support for the genocidal regime of former Guatemalan dictator Jose Efrain Rios Montt could still be part of the information presented in a new trial.
The Constitutional Court of Guatemala overturned the convictions against Rios Montt on Monday, May 20th, returning the proceedings to its status on April 19th of this year due to an unresolved motion involving recusal of judges.
On May 10th, Rios Montt had been convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity for his role in the murder of 1,771 Maya Ixil people during his presidency, which ran from 1982-1983. (Related story: Rios Montt Guilty of Genocide in Guatemala)
The former U.S. ally was sentenced to 50 years in prison for genocide and 30 years for crimes against humanity.
During the year of his presidency, Rios Montt's scorched earth policy resulted in multiple murders, rapes, incidents of torture and other abuses committed against Maya Ixil people according to testimony presented at the trial.
The case against the former dictator began in 2000, the year after the publication of the United Nations-sponsored Report of the Commission for Historical Clarification (CHC) entitled "Guatemala, Memory of Silence," which was used by prosecutors in the Rios Montt trial.
The CHC was directed by three people: a German jurist named Christian Tomuschat, and two Guatemalans, Edgar Balsells, a lawyer, and Otilia Lux Coti, a Mayan teacher. In the process of their investigation they gathered testimony from 9,200 witnesses from all sides of the conflict and investigated the specific circumstances surrounding the deaths of 42,000 people.
One part of their final report was entitled, "The cold war, the National Security Doctrine and the role of the United States," where the Commissioners noted the role and influence of the U.S. in the war.
"The Commission recognizes that the movement of Guatemala towards polarization, militarization and civil war was not just the result of national history. The cold war also played an important role. Whilst anti-communism, promoted by the United States within the framework of its foreign policy, received firm support from right-wing political parties and from various other powerful actors in Guatemala, the United States demonstrated that it was willing to provide support for strong military regimes in its strategic backyard. In the case of Guatemala, military assistance was directed towards reinforcing the national intelligence apparatus and for training the officer corps in counterinsurgency techniques, key factors which had significant bearing on human rights violations during the armed confrontation."
Former President Ronald Reagan was openly supportive of Rios Montt (who was a graduate of the U.S. School of the Americas) and made the following comments on December 4, 1982, eight months into the Rios Montt presidency.
"Well, ladies and gentlemen, President Ríos Montt and I have just had a useful exchange of ideas on the problems of the region and on our bilateral relations…I know that President Ríos Montt is a man of great personal integrity and commitment. His country is confronting a brutal challenge from guerrillas armed and supported by others outside Guatemala. I have assured the president that the United States is committed to support his efforts to restore democracy and to address the root causes of this violent insurgency. I know he wants to improve the quality of life for all Guatemalans and to promote social justice. My administration will do all it can to support his progressive efforts."
No date has been set for the trial to restart. According to the BBC all statements given before April 19 will stand, but closing arguments would have to be given again.
Diana Cameros, a psychologist who attended the Rios Montt trial addressed the court and it’s apparent contradiction to the earlier ruling where it said “the process couldn’t be wound back to stages that had already concluded.” In speaking to Reuters she summed up the ruling to overturn the conviction as “absurd.”