Former Guatemalan dictator sentenced guilty for genocide. Filmmaker helped discovering the truth.

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(Photo’s credits to NY Times)

Guatemala, a country where impunity has been on the order of the day for decades, a country where a hidden 36-years-long civil war took place, marked by an outrageous genocide.

Yesterday 10 May 2013 it was a landmark date to remember, not only for the Latin country, but for the world too. It was the first time in history that a dictator had been tried guilty for genocide by his own national court. Efrain Rios Montt, former dictator of Guatemala, was sentenced – although only now at the age of 86 – to 80 years in prison by three judges of the Supreme Court.

The civil war that lasted from 1960 to 1996 left behind 200.000 victims, 1 million refugees and 33.000 thousand people disappeared. During the ruling of Rios Montt (1982-83) 1.200 indigenous Ixil Mayans were killed.

Jacinto Lopez, as other dozens of Ixil witnesses, described the atrocity occurred in his family in the small town of Santa Maria Nebaj in July 1982. “They killed my family and destroyed our corps. They took even my cows” CNN reported.

While the government used the good old excuse of the Communist rebels that were the plague to defeat, hundreds of rural Ixil Mayans villages were destroyed and hundreds of innocent Ixil Mayans killed, tortured and raped. All accused to be rebels or to host rebels.

The accusation to Rios Montt is for ethnic genocide and for authorizing indeed the military strategy. However, his attorneys have defended him until now by stating he did not order any of the atrocities. The archival footage of “When the mountains trembled” then turned into the new documentary of Pamela Yates “Granito”, was used for the trial to help confirm accusations towards the former dictator and to further witness the genocide.

Yates used to work as sound-recorder for other people films and went to Guatemala in 1982. Many journalists were being killed or silenced during the civil war, while international journalist stopped at the airport and deported. After 30 years the filmmaker Yates retells the story of a forgotten and hidden human crime.

As you can see in the trailer (below the article), she interviewed Efrain Rios Montt, President and Head of the military in 1982, who declared to her: “The army is ready and able to act…because if I can’t control the army, then what am I doing here?”. This sentence has been used as evidence in the liability theory for the chain of command, for which he was responsible, as the filmmaker explained to CNN in this video.

This trial worked as a worldwide example and opened the doors to justice in Guatemala. Apart from other figures who took part directly in the genocide, the verdict also showed implications of the United States’ role during Guatemala’s genocide. A political scandal in the 1990s revealed serious charges to CIA, which continued – despite of human right violations in Guatemala – to provide money to the Guatemalan military intelligence sources.

One of the many Ixil survivors witnessed for the trial:

“I was 12 years old,” said one woman, whose identity was protected by the court. “They took me with the other women and they tied my feet and hands. They put a rag in my mouth … and they started raping me … I don’t know how many took turns. … I lost consciousness … and the blood kept running. … Later I couldn’t even stand or urinate.” (CNN)

“Granito”

Laura Zuffi

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