Friday, September 18, 2009

Genocide in Guatemala News, 2001 to 2004 pt2


WP 15 Mar 2003 Guatemala Strife to Be Probed MEXICO CITY -- The Guatemalan government, conceding that armed groups have been killing and intimidating judges and human rights activists, has established an international commission to investigate political violence. The three-member commission, with representatives from the United Nations, the Organization of American States and the Guatemalan government, aims to identify the faceless groups that have suspected links to organized crime and corrupt elements of the military and police. "This is a big deal," said Joy Olson, a consultant to the Washington Office on Latin America. "It's one of the most significant things that has happened in a long time regarding justice in Guatemala." Nearly seven years after Guatemala signed peace accords to end a 36-year civil war that killed 200,000 people, paramilitary groups continue their attacks and intimidation. Supreme Court Chief Justice Carlos Larios has reported that 19 judges received death threats during December alone. Judicial groups told a U.N. representative investigating the violence that during 2001, 147 judges had been threatened and three killed. Amnesty International recently described Guatemala as being in a "human rights meltdown." In January, Washington "decertified" Guatemala as a partner in anti-drug efforts. Mary Jordan

NYT 10 Apr 2003 Government in Guatemala Is Accused of Backing Crimes By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS GUATEMALA CITY, April 9 — An alliance of social groups has accused the Guatemalan government of being behind a string of burglaries and attacks intended to intimidate human rights groups in the country. In a written statement on Tuesday, the alliance said the attacks left many in the groups terrified that they would be the targets of violence. One alliance leader said he believed the crimes were related to creation of a state commission to investigate civil rights abuses. On Monday, thieves raided the Guatemala City home of Mario Polanco, a director of the Mutual Support Group, which is for relatives of people who died or disappeared during the country's civil war, from 1960 t0 1996. That attack came hours after assailants broke into the offices of the country's human rights ombudsman in Puerto Barrios, 150 miles northeast of Guatemala City. On Friday, kidnappers abducted Diego Xon, a Mayan priest who was active in the Mutual Support Group in the largely Indian province of Quiche, in central Guatemala. Mr. Xon was well known for his condemnation of a plan to pay Guatemalan peasants who joined paramilitary forces and helped the government carry out anti-insurgency campaigns at the height of the war. About 200,000 people, mostly Mayan peasants, were killed before peace agreements ended the fighting. The statement said government officials indirectly organized these and other recent attacks and demanded that the authorities "investigate, identify and prosecute those responsible for these crimes, which together provide evidence of continuous pressure and systematic policies" against human rights groups. Alejandro Pérez, a spokesman for President Alfonso Portillo, could not be reached to comment. Gustavo Meono, director of a group founded by Rigoberta Menchú, the winner of the 1992 Nobel Peace Prize, said tge violence demonstrated "that these types of attacks are not isolated incidents, nor are they the product of common crime." Mr. Meono said the homes and offices of human rights activists are often raided by thieves who "come for information and take files and computer hard drives." He added, "These kinds of attacks happen over and over again." Mr. Meono said criminals associated with the government launched new attacks because a state commission had been created to investigate illegal groups and clandestine networks that violate human rights.

Tico Times /AFP 16 May 2003 Acquittals Called 'Step Backwards' for Guatemala By Edin Hernández AFP GUATEMALA CITY - Last week's acquittals of three former Guatemalan military officers accused of murdering a human-rights investigator are proof of an ebbing tide of justice and the persistence of militarism, the victim's family, diplomats and humanitarian organizations said. Last Wednesday, an appeals court absolved retired colonel Juan Valencia, who had been convicted last year and sentenced to 30 years in prison, of having ordered the 1990 murder of anthropologist Myrna Mack, who was investigating massacres of indigenous people during the country's protracted civil war (1960-96). The court also reaffirmed the acquittals of retired general Edgar Godoy and retired colonel Juan Oliva, also members of an elite Army unit who had been charged with playing a role in the crime (TT, May 9). "This ruling is a blow not only for Myrna and my family, but also for Guatemala, because this pushes aside the hope for a rule of law," the victim's sister, Hellen Mack, said. "I had the hope that judges courageous enough to convict military officials still existed, but from the looks of things, there are not. Guatemala is a long way away from being a state of law." NO JUSTICE: Esperanza Mack (left) is consoled by her daughter Hellen after acquittals. Orlando Sierra, AFP Mack was particularly critical of the appeals court, which she said is well-known for supporting military officials accused of crimes. She noted the same appeals court had thrown out the convictions of three military officers and a priest in the 1998 bludgeoning death of Church human-rights advocate Bishop Juan Gerardi. "This court was not impartial," she said, adding, "I did not expect this ruling that only shows that Guatemala is far from having justice free of fear and coercion." Over the last year, a growing number of judges and judicial prosecutors have complained about receiving death threats and actually being attacked. "This is a setback in the construction of a state of law in Guatemala and a shame of the administration of justice, as well as a demonstration of the authoritarianism and militarism that persist in Guatemalan society," humanitarian support group Mutual Aid Group (GAM) director Mario Polanco told AFP. "As GAM and the organization of families of the (civil war) disappeared, we reject this ruling and hope that Guatemalans and the international community react adequately to halt this series of abuses of justice." "This is an act that shows that in Guatemala there is no justice," U.S. Ambassador to Guatemala John Hamilton said. The envoy was in the courtroom along with Swedish Ambassador Maria Lessner and the head of the United Nations Verification Mission for Guatemala (MINUGUA) Tom Koenigs when the ruling was announced. "Although we respect the court's decision, it is disappointing that 13 years after such a barbarous murder, the intellectual authors have not been convicted," Hamilton added. The ruling has added to speculation that the U.S. may seek to limit Guatemala's role in the proposed free-trade agreement with Central America. "It is regrettable that the intellectual authors of this crime have not yet been established," Koenigs warned. "Obviously the investigations were not sufficient to establish the responsibilities of these authors, and thus, there is no conviction of them, whoever they may be." The U.N. representative admitted he was "a little surprised" by the acquittals and added that "It casts a cloud not just the system of justice but also the system of investigation because the intellectual authors remain at large." Lesser said it was "very regrettable" that "Guatemala has not been able to serve justice for Myrna and the other victims of the harsh repression the country suffered" during the civil war. No fewer than 200,000 Guatemalans are believed to have been killed or disappeared during the civil war. A report issued by Gerardi just days before his murder blamed the U.S.-backed Guatemalan Military for the majority of the human-rights abuses during the war. 16 May 2003 KILLING MAYAN PRIESTS Rights Action is extremely concerned by a series of killings of Mayan priests who have supported efforts to end impunity and promote indigenous rights and identity. This information was prepared by Annie Bird in Guatemala. Over the past eight months many Mayan spiritual guides, or Mayan priests, have been killed. In this request for urgent action we describe five of them. Some were involved in the exhumation of mass graves resulting from massacres carried out by the Guatemalan army and paramilitary groups under their command during the genocide campaign between 1981 and 1983. All were dedicated to promoting respect for human rights and Mayan identity. All were also key figures in re-building and maintaining community unity and values. In these cases (between September 2002 and May 2003), the victims were not robbed. In those cases where witnesses are coming forward, police officers and former military personnel linked to crime gangs have been implicated. If thoroughly investigated, these killings could prove illustrative of the clandestine networks of crime, repression and social control. Unsurprisingly, all of the killings remain in impunity. Rights Action joins Guatemalan human rights organizations, that we support and work with (including CONAVIGUA, ADIVIMA, GAM and others), in condemning the killing of Mayan priests and calling for the immediate investigation and prosecution of those responsible, while taking measures to protect the life and safety of witnesses and family members pursuing justice, and other Mayan priests and human rights activists receiving death threats. Rights Action also believes these killings can only be understood in a broader and historical context. GERARDO CAMÓ MANUEL During the evening of May 3, 2003, Mayan priest Gerardo Camó celebrated a ceremony on a hill beside the village of Chiac, Rabinal, Baja Verapaz. At approximately 2 am, while he was delivering the prayer of thanks to the heart of the sky and the earth, a man appeared on the ridge three meters from the group, which included the priest and three others. He shot Camó six times, killing him, and fled from the astonished group. The assassin was recognized as a native of Chiac, Gerardo’s home village, who joined the National Civil Police - PNC. Ever since then he has brought numerous guns into the village, which neighbors believe to be stolen, and fires them off at night with others. Sixty-two year old Gerardo Camó was a respected community leader. In coordination with ADIVIMA (Association for the Integral Development of the Maya Achi Victims of the Violence/ Asociacion de Desarrollo Integral para las Victimas de la Violencia Maya Achi), he formally denounced to the District Attorneys office the existence and location of two mass graves in Las Tres Cruzes, Rabinal, which were exhumed beginning December 3, 2002. He and another Mayan priest performed ceremonies during the exhumation. He left a widow and two adult children. On May 14, 2003, members of ADIVIMA were verifying the location of another mass grave in Chiac when an unidentified person began shooting, forcing the group to flee. DIEGO XON SALAZAR At approximately noon on Wednesday, April 3, 2003 in Canton Camanchaj, Chichicastenango, Quiche, Diego Xon Salazar was harvesting apples in his garden when two heavily armed men kidnapped him. Xon’s children, in the house at the time, heard strange noises and looked outside in time to see at a distance their father being forcibly taken by the men. Later that day they heard gunshots that they believed originated on the outskirts of town, and concluded that their father had been shot. On Thursday, April 4 Xon’s children initiated a search for their father with agents of the National Civil Police - PNC, but the PNC quickly suspended the search saying they needed a judge’s order to proceed. The family went to the office of the Justice of the Peace, who did not authorize the search telling family they would have to go to the District Attorneys office on Monday. However, on Saturday, April 4, 2003 Xon’s body was found in a field outside of the town. Diego Xon was a Mayan priest and also an activist with the Mutual Support Group – Grupo de Apoyo Mutuo - GAM, an organization of victims of Guatemalan state sponsored repression. He collaborated in the creation of 17 human rights committees in Quiche, in exhumations and in the work of GAM. In addition, he was a member of the Academia de Lenguas Maya, a national Guatemalan organization that champions Mayan languages, and of Ucux Mayab Tinamit, a local organization in Quiche that promotes Quiche culture. According to GAM, in March 2002 Xon began denouncing the re-organization of the PAC (Civil Defense Patrols/ Patrullas de Auto Defensa Civil), paramilitary organizations created by the army in the early 1980s, several months before their June 2002 public actions demanding indemnification for “services” provided to the army during the years of repression and of genocide. After making these denouncements, Xon began receiving death threats from former PAC members and members of evangelical churches which in addition to threatening his safety warned him to stop his religious activities as a Mayan Priest. These threats were duly reported to the National Civil Police, but GAM expresses concern regarding the inadequate measures taken by the police to protect Xon given the complaints of threats. Further, GAM is concerned by the lack of investigation into the murder by the District Attorney’s office. MARCOS SICAL PÉREZ At 8:20 pm on December 16, 2002 seventy-two year old Mayan priest Marcos Sical Perez and his seventy-one year old wife, Marcela Cortez Sarpec had just returned from a Christmas celebration (posada) and were de-graining corn on the patio of their home when two men entered the patio, ordered them to put their arms in the air. They shot Marcos Sical 12 times in the face and chest and shot Marcela 5 times in the left leg. The assailants then proceeded to hit both of the victims in the head with the guns and a stick, presumably testing to see if they were alive, and then fled the crime scene. Marco’s and Marcela’s daughter witnessed the incident from approximately twelve meters. Marcela survived the attack. The attackers were recognized by both Marcela Cortez and her daughter, as well as by neighbors who witnessed the attackers flee the home. One is the resident of a neighboring town, works for a private security company, is known to have been trained as a Kaibil (an elite commando unit of the Guatemalan army known to have been responsible for a large number of massacres) and to be the leader of a crime band that violently robs people in the area. His accomplice was also a resident of Pichec, a distant relative of the victim, who is known to belong to the crime band. The witnesses and victim of the crime could not place a formal complaint until the third week of January since the District Attorney’s office was closed for Christmas. The men identified by the witnesses as the attackers were arrested a few days after the complaint was filed. The District Attorney in charge of investigating the case elected not to formally press charges against the accused attackers. On March 13, 2003, the men that witnesses identified as the assassins were released. The surviving family which pursued justice for the murder now fear for their safety. Marcos Sical, a highly regarded resident of the village of Pichec, Rabinal, Baja Verapaz, was a well known Mayan priest in the region. In coordination with ADIVIMA, he performed ceremonies for the commemoration of massacres in Rabinal, including the anniversary of the Panacal and Rio Negro massacres, and during the exhumation of mass graves, including the exhumation of the mass graves from the Rancho Bejuco and Pichec massacres. Given her age, Marcela Cortez has had difficulty recovering from the multiple fractures to her leg and may be permanently crippled. In addition to the widow, Marcos Sical left seven grown children. ALVARO POP CAAL On October 9, 2002 Antonio Pop, sixty-two year old Mayan priest, lawyer, renowned champion of indigenous rights and identity, and a founder of the Academia de Lenguas Mayas, was kidnapped. After a small effort to demand ransom, communication with the kidnappers ended just three days after the kidnapping. On December 16, 2002 three men were arrested for extortion in a neighboring town. One of the detainees admitted to participating in Pops kidnapping and having witnessed his murder by one of the other detainees. On December 17, 2003 he led police to a well where Pops body was found. Forensics determined he had killed by a gunshot several days after the kidnapping. Though the killing has the appearance of common crime, given how little interest the kidnappers demonstrated in negotiating a ransom, Pop’s family and human rights organizations fear the motive was political rather than economic. MANUEL GARCIA DE LA CRUZ Manuel Garcia de la Cruz worked tirelessly to facilitate the exhumation of mass graves in the municipalities of Joyabaj and Sacapulas, Quiche. In collaboration with CONAVIGUA (National Coordination of Widows of Guatemalan - Coordinadora Nacional de Viudas de Guatemala), he coordinated the exhumation of mass graves in Estansuela in Joyabaj and Trapichito, Chuchuca, Arequin, and San Jose Sinache in Zacualpa, among others. Like other Mayan leaders killed, he was committed to helping the surviving victims of the genocide give their loved ones a proper burial. A deeply spiritual man, he believed the spirits of the victims must rest properly, and he coordinated ceremonies for the exhumations. Garcia worked closely with the Mayan spiritual guides in the region. He was willing to respond to any request of the guides. He facilitated communications and coordinated with the spiritual guides. During the evening of September 6, 2002, Manuel Garcia de la Cruz was brutally tortured and killed. His body was found in the town of Cruzchich, Joyabaj where he had traveled the previous day from his home in Chuchuca, Sacualpa with the intention of buying corn. He was decapitated, disemboweled and his ears and nose cut off. Manuel Garcia will be remembered for his total commitment to his community. His widowed wife was pregnant when he was killed and they were already raising five young children. No one has been prosecuted for this crime, and there has been little investigation.

Article's Date: Tuesday, May 20, 2003 Guatemala Defense stand or presidential office? Jill Replogle As a lawsuit against Ríos Montt progresses, so does his presidential campaign. While the ruling Guatemalan Republican Front (FRG) party gears up for the official start of this year’s national election campaign, a genocide case against the party’s presidential candidate and current Congress president, General Efraín Ríos Montt, edges closer to the courthouse doors. Ríos Montt stands accused of ethnic cleansing by the survivors of 22 communities that suffered massacres at the hands of the dictatorial regimes headed by himself (1982-1983) and Romeo Lucas García (1978-1982). The "scorched earth" policies employed by both administrations saw tens of thousands of indigenous people murdered and over one million displaced. The Association for Justice and Reconciliation (AJR) filed the lawsuit in 2001 and all evidence is expected to be in the public prosecutor’s hands by the end of the year, according to the AJR’s legal representatives from the Center for Human Rights Legal Action (CALDH). A similar case against Lucas García, who was overthrown in a coup by Ríos Montt in 1982, is being prosecuted at the same time by the AJR. According to Sandra Sosa, assistant public prosecutor in the case, more than 100 witnesses of 25 massacres (11 committed during the Lucas García regime and 14 during Ríos Montt’s time) have given testimonies. Additionally, all forensic evidence has been turned over to the prosecutor’s office by CALDH, while nearly all the site reports have been completed. CALDH estimates that over 2,100 men, women, and children died in the 25 massacres orchestrated by the two dictators and carried out by the army and army-controlled Civil Defense Patrols (LP Aug. 12, 2002). Of the over 200,000 people killed during Guatemala’s 36-year civil war, it is thought that some 132,000 perished under the governments of Lucas García and Ríos Montt. Of them, 83 percent were indigenous peoples, according to the Guatemalan Commission for Historical Clarification. If the cases against Ríos Montt and Lucas García make it to trial, they will be setting a precedent both nationally, as the first genocide cases to be heard in Guatemala, and internationally, as the first to be heard in the court system of the nation where the crimes were committed. Past and ongoing war crimes and genocide trials, against Nazi leader Adolf Eichmann and, more recently, against former Yugoslavian president Slobodan Milosevic, have been heard in foreign or international courts. This is the case in the other pending genocide case against Ríos Montt, pursued by Nobel Peace Prize winner, Rigoberta Menchú in Spanish courts. Trying the case nationally during this fragile period of democratic transition in Guatemala is both a challenge and a key opportunity. "Justice is one of the most important factors in strengthening state institutions, and this case could help the justice system regain its credibility," said Fernando López, legal director of the Justice and Reconciliation Program at CALDH. "If there isn’t legal truth, documented and filed, there’s a risk that this could be forgotten and repeated," said Christina Laur, also with CALDH, adding that the legal process has provided both an outlet for the victims to express their grief and the possibility of healing. "When the witnesses first started to meet as a group, people kept their heads down, they didn’t talk. But when they finally did start talking, there was an incredible outpouring of grief," said Laur. "Now they’ve moved from being victims to social actors." In April, the children of the witnesses, now young adults, got together for the first time to learn about the case their parents are prosecuting. "It’s time for us to be informed about the legal process," said 23-year-old Oliverio Uz Alvarado. "When our parents die, there won’t be anyone left to say what happened." As the case moves along, so does the FRG election campaign, headed by its presidential candidate, Ríos Montt. The party’s Secretary of Organization, Haroldo Quej Chen, said the FRG is not worried about the accusations against its candidate. The more immediate problem is whether or not Ríos Montt will be allowed to run in this year’s election. His attempts to get on the 1990 and 1995 ballots were both thwarted when his candidacy was ruled unconstitutional. Article 186 of the Guatemalan Constitution states that anyone who has participated in a coup is prohibited from running for president or vice-president of the country. However, according to Roberto Villeda, from the Center for Defense of the Constitution, the FRG’s influence in the courts could be stronger than the jurisprudence that has thus far found Ríos Montt’s candidacy to be illegal. While other analysts and human rights activists share this concern, some are more optimistic about the power of the law. In an interview with Guatemalan daily Prensa Libre, political analyst Héctor Rosada said, "if [Ríos Montt’s candidacy] is approved, it would go against history, and compromise the image of the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Electoral Tribune."

VOA News 24 May 2003 Former Guatemalan Dictator Nominated for Presidency Guatemala's ruling party has chosen former military dictator Efrain Rios Montt as its presidential candidate for the November elections. Leaders of the conservative Republican Front party announced their decision at a meeting Saturday in Guatemala City. The country is due to elect a new president in November. General Rios Montt is an evangelical minister who is currently the head of the Congress. His opponents say he cannot legally run for president brecause the country's 1985 constitution bars former coup leaders from seeking the presidency. Mr. Rios Montt is expected to mount a court challenge to that ban. Mr. Rios Montt seized power in 1982 and ruled for 18 months, during which his government was accused of numerous human rights violations. Human rights groups say at least 17,000 political opponents were murdered during the general's "scorched earth" anti-guerrilla campaigns. The strongman eventually lost power in 1983 via another military coup. Two years, ago, authorities ordered investigations into General Rios Montt for charges of genocide against Mayan Indians during his administration. Thousands of peasants were killed and hundreds of Indian villages were destroyed during his reign. Human rights groups describe General Rios Montt's 1982-83 presidency as the most violent period in Guatemala's 36-year civil war. Peace accords ended the fighting in December 1996. Some information for this report provided by AP and AFP.

AP 23 May 2003 Washington Squirms Over Guatemala Race By GEORGE GEDDA - To the discomfort of the Bush administration, Guatemala's ruling party is preparing to nominate as its presidential candidate a former president who is remembered for massacres of civilians during his first presidency two decades ago. The selection of Gen. Efrain Rios Montt as the nominee of the ruling Guatemalan Republican Front Party is expected to be made official Saturday. Administration officials have informed allies of Rios Montt that U.S. relations with Guatemala could be damaged if he were to prevail in elections this fall, which could affect cooperation in such areas as alien smuggling and counternarcotics activities. Rios Montt currently is president of the Guatemalan Congress. Except for strategically important countries, leaders of foreign governments with a record of rights abuses generally do not get White House invitations. Rios Montt is expected to be no exception if he is elected. The Rev. Phil Anderson, of the Washington-based Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA, said, "We stand with those in Guatemala, many of them survivors of massacres during his presidency, that want him tried for acts of genocide." A Guatemalan truth commission that examined human rights conditions during three decades of civil war concluded that, during Rios Montt's presidency, agents of the state "committed acts of genocide against groups of Mayan people." The Guatemalan Constitution bars anyone who has participated in a coup from assuming the presidency. The incumbent president, Alfonso Portillo, a Rios Montt supporter, says he believes the candidate will be able to clear that hurdle. The issue may be decided by Guatemala's Constitutional Court. If nominated, analysts say Rios Montt would be no shoo-in on election day because of Portillo's unpopularity. The U.S. visas of a number of Latin Americans have been revoked for human rights violations. The State Department, following established procedures, won't say whether Rios Montt is among them. Efforts seeking comment on Rios Montt's candidacy Friday from the Guatemalan Embassy were unsuccessful. Successive U.S. administrations have praised the evolution of democratic rule in Latin America, seeing it as the best hope for a better future. Reflecting disappointment with the results so far, Secretary of State Colin Powell warned a month ago that Latin American governments need to deliver a better life to their peoples, or democratic rule could be in jeopardy. A handful of countries have performed well, but Guatemala, with its problems of endemic poverty, corruption and rampant street crime, is not among them. Most of the high hopes generated by a 1996 peace agreement with leftist rebels have not been fulfilled. The State Department's most recent report on human rights conditions worldwide cites some positive developments but says the Guatemalan judiciary "suffers from inefficiency, corruption and intimidation." A U.N. mission in Guatemala reported last year that the overall human rights situation in the country had deteriorated. While many in Guatemala have bitter memories about Rios Montt's presidency two decades ago, others remember with fondness that order prevailed in the capital city in that period. The city is not nearly as safe now as it once was. Rios Montt was part of a long string of military presidents who ruled from the mid-1950's until 1986. He seized power in a coup in March 1982 and was deposed 17 months later. --- On the Net: State Department's Guatemala page: 18 June 2003 GUATEMALA: THROWING STONES AT A LEADER OF GENOCIDE The article below describes a confrontation between Maya-Achi residents of Rabinal (department of Baja Verapaz, Guatemala) and politician-members of the ruling FRG party that occurred on the day that Achi massacre survivors were re-burying the remains for their loved ones who had been massacred during the years of genocide [1978-1983]. They had only recently completed the legal-forensic process of exhuming the mass graves. The President of the FRG ruling party in Guatemala is former General Efrain Rios Montt, who was one of two military leaders that oversaw and implemented the policies of massacres and genocide. GLOBAL BUSINESS AS USUAL During the years of genocide and repression, the regimes of Guatemala were supported – militarily, politically and economically -- by the United States, other ‘western’ nations, the World Bank (WB), the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), and an endless number of western-based companies and banks. Today, the FRG –headed by Rios Montt– has full military, political and economic relations with the USA, Canada, western nations, the WB, IDB, … and an endless number of western-based companies and banks. IMPUNITY This confrontation is to be understood in the context of historic and on-going impunity. Despite the documented repression and genocide [leaving over 200,000 mainly Mayan people killed and disappeared], next to no justice has been done in Guatemala. The ruling economic and military elites –-empowered by their extensive relations with the international community-- continue to run the country as they have in the past – with impunity. COURAGE Despite the impunity and on-going human rights violations [including economic exploitation], there are courageous and visionary groups across the country – like ADIVIMA – that are challenging the impunity at every step of the way. Over the next weeks, Rights Action will publish a series of articles about local and regional efforts to have justice done, despite the impunity of the national power holders and their international supporters. If you want on/ off this e-list, Please publish and circulate this information, citing source.=== GUATEMALA: THROWING STONES AT A LEADER OF GENOCIDE by Annie Bird and Grahame Russell (Rights Action) On September 15, 1981, Rabinal (center of the Maya-Achi world in Guatemala) celebrated its biggest annual town fair. As villagers auctioned their cattle and children climbed into a Ferris wheel, the Guatemalan national army blocked all the exits from the town square and began massacring indiscriminately the fairgoers; even the Ferris wheel operator was killed. Witnesses estimate more than 1,000 people were killed that day and their bodies dumped into mass graves on the edge of town. This was the largest of dozens of massacres in the municipality of Rabinal that left more than 5,000 Maya-Achi dead, more than a quarter of the total local population at the time. Family members of the victims of the September 15 massacre recently exhumed the remains of some of the victims (with the support of the FAFG exhumation team), and planned to properly bury their loved ones on June 14, 2003. On June 2, ADIVIMA (Association for the Development of the Maya Achi Victims of Violence) began plans for the re-burial. They placed radio announcements and on June 9 got the required permit from the mayor. What is on-going impunity? This mayor is an active local leader of the FRG political party and a man personally accused of killing hundreds while he served as Military Commissioner during the years of repression and genocide. In spite of the surviving victim’s plans, on June 12 the FRG announced a political campaign visit to Rabinal for their Presidential candidate in the upcoming November elections, Efrian Rios Mott. Rios Mott was the military dictator of Guatemala during the second half of the ‘scorched earth’ military campaign whose strategy was to massacre civilian, mostly Mayan villagers, including many whose remains were to be re-buried June 14. Rios Montt has been formally accused of genocide in two separate complaints, one in Guatemalan courts and another in Spain. His eligibility to run for president is in question because of a constitutional provision preventing those who came into power through a military coup from running for president. Though lower courts have rejected his candidacy, the Constitutional Court will make the final ruling. What is national and global impunity? Whether the courts rule in his favor or not, he remains the president of the ruling party and the most powerful politician in the country, maintaining a whole host of economic, political and military relations with western countries, international financial institutions and global companies and banks. On the day of the re-burial, more than 500 surviving victims gathered to carry the coffins to the cemetery. Outraged by the presence of Rios Montt in Rabinal they decided to carry the coffins to the FRG rally as a demonstration against the ongoing impunity enjoyed by the authors of genocide in Guatemala. Many accused war criminals, including Rios Montt and Rabinal’s mayor, form part of the FRG-controlled government, which dominates the executive branch and congress. Only 3 paramilitaries (PAC – Patrullas de Autodefensa Civil) and 1 civilian Military Commissioner have been convicted for atrocities committed during the State sponsored genocide and repression in which more than 200,000 people were killed and disappeared. At the rally, approximately 2,000 people were gathered. The majority were former paramilitaries – PAC – the FRG brought in from the neighboring municipalities of Cubulco, San Jeronimo, Grandos and El Chol. They were rumored to be collecting the controversial State payment to former paramilitaries that the FRG government promised last year (for their “services” during the repression and genocide) and began disbursing recently during the electoral campaign. Few PAC from Rabinal were present, though many residents of the town center of Rabinal gathered to watch the rally. The victims, from outlying Rabinal villages, arrived and began shouting “murderer”, “genocidist”, and “thief” at the FRG congressional candidate for Baja Verapaz, former military officer Juan Santa Cruz. Santa Cruz responded by accusing the protesters of being manipulated by opposition parties and foreigners who steal babies. The latter is an accusation Guatemalan journalists and human rights organizations say is promoted by evangelical churches, former paramilitaries and right wing politicians which have spawned violence against tourists, including at least two mob murders. When an Associated Press photographer climbed onto the stage for better photos, Santa Cruz pushed or kicked him violently off the stage. The angered crowd, including townspeople from Rabinal who had gathered before the arrival of the victims, began throwing rocks at the stage and burning FRG banners. The stage was evacuated, but when the crowd began to disburse they saw another stage had been set up 100 meters away where Rios Montt and his vice presidential candidate, Edin Barrientos, were speaking. The crowd then proceeded to throw sticks, bottles and stones. Rios Montt was hit but not seriously injured. He was rushed off to the stage into a nearby car, where he was shuttled to Cubulco. In Cubulco, according to press reports, he promised the PAC a third payment for their “services” during the state sponsored genocide, but in response the PAC called him a liar and a thief. The surviving victims proceeded to the cemetery to bury their loved ones with Mayan and Christian ceremonies. The next day one activist with ADIVMA received a written death threat referring to the previous day’s incident. This is the latest in a constant stream of violence and threats directed against ADIVIMA members since they formed the organization in 1995.

NYT August 1, 2003 Former Dictator to Seek Guatemalan Presidency By DAVID GONZALEZ UATEMALA CITY, July 31 — Efraín Ríos Montt, a former military dictator accused of presiding over atrocities during the harshest era of Guatemala's civil war, registered today as a presidential candidate. His registration came less than 24 hours after the Constitutional Court, the country's highest court, ruled in his favor, ending a judicial crisis over legal challenges filed in a lower court by opposition parties. His registration also came less than a week after mobs apparently organized by his political party rampaged through upper-class neighborhoods in the capital demanding that he be allowed to run. The Constitutional Court also reversed two of its rulings in 1990 and 1995 that had prohibited Mr. Ríos Montt from seeking the presidency. Opposition leaders faulted the court's 4-to-3 decision, saying the judges should have recused themselves over conflicts of interest for having been friends of Mr. Ríos Montt or having served as ministers during the present government, which is dominated by his Guatemalan Republican Front party. Mr. Ríos Montt, a 77-year-old evangelical Christian, is third in opinion polls, but the ranking may not accurately gauge his popularity in remote rural provinces where his party enjoys its greatest support. It was in those rural provinces that Mr. Ríos Montt imposed his harshest rule, forcing indigenous men into patrols that joined troops in numerous massacres, according to a report published after the 36-year civil war ended with peace accords in 1996. "Under Ríos Montt they no longer committed selective massacres of men," said Victoria Sanford, an anthropologist and the author of "Buried Secrets," a recently published book that looked at human rights in Guatemala and analyzed data on massacres. "Ríos Montt killed more people, he killed more women and children. It was a systematic practice." Mr. Ríos Montt has immunity as president of the Congress. "Morally, his candidacy is a tragedy," said Frank LaRue, director of the Human Rights Legal Action Center here, which has filed a complaint against him. "He does not have the moral qualities to be president. And we will follow the case whether he is president or not." Mr. Ríos Montt has dismissed the criticism. He has not apologized for any crimes or excesses during his rule. He has presented himself as a champion of the poor who will impose order — promises that appeal to impoverished rural communities.

NYT 1 Aug 2003 Editorial: Guatemalan Power Play Guatemala's Constitutional Court made a fateful mistake this week when it ruled that Efraín Ríos Montt can run for president in November. Mr. Ríos Montt has already proved his unfitness for the job — he was Guatemala's dictator in 1982 and 1983. Backed by clandestine security forces, his victory could once again allow fear to rule Guatemala. The Constitutional Court, the nation's highest, has bought the contorted argument that Mr. Ríos Montt is not covered by a law that bars anyone who took power in a military coup from serving as president. Mr. Ríos Montt took over the government in a coup, and the law clearly applies to him. In fact, it was approved because of his coup. It is legal sophistry to suggest, as the court did, that it does not apply to him because his seizure of power occurred three years before the law was adopted. Mr. Ríos Montt's misrule was disastrous for Guatemala. The truth commission in Guatemala concluded that during his brief time as president, 400 Mayan villages were destroyed and some 17,000 people murdered. These were the worst atrocities of the country's 36-year civil war — the truth commission called them acts of genocide. Mr. Ríos Montt, a retired general, tried to run for president in 1990 and 1995 but was blocked by the Constitutional Court under the same law. The difference this time is that his party, the Guatemalan Republican Front, controlled several of the court appointments. A supposedly random lottery to choose judges to sit on the case was conducted in private by the court's president, a former minister in the current Republican Front government. Mr. Ríos Montt serves today as president of Congress and is widely seen as the power behind President Alfonso Portillo. Intimidation is openly part of his strategy — thousands of his supporters were recently allowed to carry out a daylong protest in the city center, and they looted stores, burned cars and attacked reporters — fatally, in one case. His supporters are also widely thought to be behind a series of attacks on democracy advocates. The next president's term in office will coincide with the withdrawal from Guatemala of a United Nations' monitoring mission, a move that will sharply reduce the world's interest and scrutiny. If Mr. Ríos Montt comes back to power, there will be virtually nothing to stop him and his network of former military officers from returning Guatemala to the dark ages.

Denver Post 1 Aug 2003 Ex-dictator seeks presidency -- Guatemala's poor back Rios Montt despite bloody history By Billie Stanton, Special to The Denver Post GUATEMALA - Former dictator Efran Rios Montt, 77, registered as a presidential candidate Thursday, 20 years after a reign that was widely denounced by human rights groups. The Supreme Electoral Tribunal accepted Rios Montt's registration for the November election after the nation's top court ruled he was eligible despite a constitutional provision banning from the presidency those who have seized power in the past. After an initial court ruling last week against Rios Montt's candidacy, an angry mob of more than 5,000 demonstrators rioted in Guatemala City, wielding weapons including machetes. Many of those demonstrating on Rios Montt's behalf came from Guatemala's poor villages, such as San Antonio Aguas Calientes, about 30 miles from the capital. The village sits in a verdant valley encircled by volcanoes - and it is plastered with posters of support for "Seguridad, Bienestar, Justicia," and for Rios Montt's party, the Frente Republicano Guatemalteco. Security, the good life, justice - promises critics say drip with irony, considering Rios Montt's previous 18-month presidency. More than 60,000 people were killed or disappeared in a campaign that lay waste to 440 indigenous Mayan villages, according to international human rights groups. But 32-year-old Juan Perez, of the village of Ciudad Vieja, said Rios Montt has his vote. "I was a child when this (genocide) happened. (But) I don't think he would do that now because the laws are stronger," Perez said. When Montt took office in March 1982, he annulled the nation's 1965 constitution, disbanded Congress and convened secret courts to try his opponents and other "subversives," according to the Council on Hemispheric Affairs. But Perez shrugs off the complaints. "Rios Montt's party gives fertilizer to the farms. I will vote for Montt." In San Antonio, the tiny white snack shop run by Maria Lopez sports blue stenciled slogans supporting Rios Montt. "The majority of the town supports Rios Montt," so she lets his party post the advertisements, said Lopez, 47. Still, Lopez recalls indignantly how Rios Montt, a former evangelical minister, snubbed a papal visit to this predominantly Catholic country. "He started off good, normal. But later he changed. He doesn't care about the indigents. But he pays them, in other places," for their votes. Many urban residents support presidential candidate Oscar Berger, saying his independent wealth will preclude him from corruption. Educated Guatemalans don't think twice when asked how Rios Montt can muster support from the very people whose villages were decimated. He feeds them, they say. And he pays them - powerful tools in a country where at least 80 percent of the people live in extreme poverty, according to a Harvard University report. The nation's illiteracy rate exceeds 30 percent, according to Stanford University. "Rios Montt drives the poor people in all the country, because he knows the hatred toward the social class for many years," said Sergio Anleu, 42, an environmental engineer. "Poor people don't read the papers; they don't pay attention to politics; they don't know anything. Rios Montt wants to destroy the (democratic) system of government, and then he will take the power. Poverty and corruption here are hand-in-hand."

Pacific News Service, 12 Aug 2003 Why Won't Bush Condemn Rios Montt, the 'Central American Saddam Hussein'? Commentary, Roberto Lovato, Editor's Note: The Guatemalan Constitutional Court has recently cleared the way for Efrian Rios Montt, responsible for mass killing in Guatemala in the 1980s, to run for president. The writer explores why the U.S. barely denounces Rios Montt while it condemns Saddam Hussein daily. We don't need to spend $4 billion a month to bring a genocidal dictator to justice. Not a single drop of American or non-combatant blood needs to spill in order to punish someone universally acknowledged in the early 1980s to have gassed, tortured and killed as many people as Saddam Hussein. Instead of sending out several naval fleets to pursue justice, all that's needed are a few airline tickets -- to Guatemala. U.S. marshals then can simply go to the Guatemalan Congress and arrest the current head of that body, former dictator Efrain Rios Montt. But instead of pursuing justice against the 77-year-old retired brigadier general whom some call the "Guatemalan Saddam Hussein," the interventionist Bush administration responds to Montt's potential return to power with laissez-faire human rights policy. Lack of U.S. government condemnation of the former dictator places the United States in an untenable moral position and endangers the peace and people of Guatemala. Following a decision on July 30, 2004, by Guatemala's Constitutional Court clearing the way for a Rios Montt candidacy, Guatemalans and human rights activist are on red alert for the renewed possibility of terrorist attacks -- by their own government. During his 17 months as Guatemala's president, Rios Montt presided over a military responsible for almost half of all atrocities committed in Guatemala over the past 30 years. But as human rights activists like Rosalina Tuyuc wasted little time warning of another potential "genocidio," the Bush administration weakly responded to the possibility of a Rios Montt presidency, calling it "problematic." Why the fuzziness about the man in the Americas who most embodies Bush administration descriptions of "evil"? Steady, daily denunciations of Saddam Hussein over the last 23 months contrast staggeringly with the deadly silence around Rios Montt. It's hardly the response we've come to expect from an administration bent on redefining the moral discourse of the world. So why is Washington being evasive? Some observers believe that lack of resources like oil in Guatemala condemns it, and, for that matter, the entire Central American region, to perpetual neglect. Others think that former President Ronald Reagan's influence on the Bush administration guarantees that the mass graves of Guatemala will not see the light of CNN, though such sites were being uncovered at about the same time as those in Iraq. Declassified State Department documents released by the Clinton administration in 1999 reveal that high-level U.S. officials knew that Guatemala's mass graves were created after "executions ordered by armed services officers close to President Rios Montt." On Dec. 4, 1982, President Reagan visited Central America and met with Rios Montt, whom he described as a "man of great personal integrity and commitment" who had been "getting a bum rap." Forensic anthropologists later found that three days after the meeting, Rios Montt's military slaughtered more than 300 villagers in the hamlet of Dos Erres. A month after the massacre, Reagan managed to free military aid to Guatemala that had been frozen in Congress because of human rights concerns. Many of the same people who crafted Reagan's policies and pronouncements in Central America now shape Bush policy in Iraq. The high moral tone of current Bush administration discourse has its roots in Central America policy by way of high-level policymakers such as former Reagan administration assistant secretary of state Elliot Abrams, who was largely responsible for U.S. policy in Central America in the 1980s. Abrams is now senior adviser on the Middle East at the National Security Council. The re-emergence of Rios Montt puts the Bush administration in a quandary. Silence in the face of his past crimes looks bad. But bringing attention to Rios Montt's legacy risks the exposure of decades of U.S. support for genocide in Central America. Human rights advocates continue efforts to put Rios Montt on trial for crimes against humanity in Nuremberg-style proceedings. Bush must call on Montt to withdraw his candidacy and submit himself to international tribunals or face arrest. Rios Montt and his cronies threaten a peace already paid for with the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocents in Guatemala. PNS commentator Roberto Lovato ( is the former head of the Central American Studies program at California State University, Northridge.

South Florida Sun-Sentinel 13 Aug 2003 Ex-dictator loses support By Robert Buckman Special to the Sun-Sentinel Posted August 13 2003 GUATEMALA CITY · Former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt has slipped to fifth place in the presidential race, apparently a victim of the violence his supporters unleashed in the capital last month. A new survey, published in Tuesday's edition of Prensa Libre, was conducted from July 28 to Aug. 4 by the firm Vox Latina, the week after supporters of Ríos Montt's ruling Guatemalan Republican Front, or FRG, went on a violent rampage in the capital. It shows Ríos Montt with only 3.3 percent of support. The poll also shows the frontrunner, former Guatemala City Mayor Oscar Berger of a new three-party coalition called the Grand National Alliance, or GANA, close to a first-round victory on Nov. 9 with 44.4 percent. A distant second was Alvaro Colom, candidate of a left-wing coalition called the National Unity of Hope, or UNE, with 17.1 percent. The survey included 1,200 respondents from throughout the country and has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percent. In the last Vox Latina poll on July 2, Berger had 36.9 percent, Colom 13.1 percent and Ríos Montt 7.9 percent. "The polls for more than a year have shown a downward trend for him [Ríos Montt] because of corruption and unkept promises," Berger said on Thursday. Berger , who lost the 1999 election to the FRG´s Alfonso Portillo, cited his own poll showing him winning a first-round victory with 51 percent, but he said he fears the FRG will resort to fraud. "His popularity is stronger in the rural areas, where they have a very disciplined organization, where they have undertaken public works," said Berger, who turned 57 on Monday. "We don´t worry that much about actual electoral fraud, but about intimidation. These are some very violent people, and the [Indians] are very timid people. They are very easy to intimidate. About 60 percent of Guatemala´s 12 million people are of Mayan descent. Berger is of Belgian descent. Interviewed Friday, Ríos Montt´s daughter, Zury Ríos Sosa, the second vice president of Congress, discounted polls showing her father´s drop in popularity as a ploy of what she called "the oligarchy." "Polls in Guatemala are not very sophisticated and you can make them say whatever you want them to say," she said. On July 24, which the media have dubbed Jueves Negro, or Black Thursday, dozens of FRG supporters wearing ski masks and carrying clubs committed acts of vandalism, burned tires and attacked journalists, one of whom died of a heart attack. They were protesting a Supreme Court decision that briefly delayed legalization of Rios Montt's candidacy. For years, Ríos Montt, 77, who ruled from 1982-83 and is blamed by human rights organizations for committing genocide during the 36-year guerrilla war, was barred from running by a provision in the 1986 constitution that blocks those who have participated in military coups from seeking the presidency. On July 14, the Constitutionality Court, a majority of which is composed of FRG appointees, voted 4-2 to overturn the ban and permit Ríos Montt, now the president of the Congress, to run. The anti-Ríos Montt media published photographs and aired video footage of FRG deputies, high-ranking party officials and Ríos Montt´s niece, Ingrid Argueta, participating in the disturbances. Mario Antonio Sandoval, a political columnist for Prensa Libre and president of the paper´s new cable channel, Guatevisión, linked Black Thursday to Ríos Montt´s precipitous drop in the newest poll. "Guatemalans reject violence, especially when someone who has been accused of violence is being violent again," said Sandoval, a harsh critic of Rios Montt. If a runoff is necessary, it will be held on Dec. 28.

Amnesty USA 2 Oct 2003 After tremendous pressure from thousands of activists in the US, Guatemala and around the world, and from governments who joined in our calls to action, on September 24, 2003 the Guatemalan Congress passed a law to abolish the EMP (Estado Mayor Presidencial or Presidential Guard). The law transfers its legitimate functions to the Secretariat of Administrative Affairs and Security of the Presidency (SAAS). . . The Estado Mayor Presidencial (Presidential General Staff, also translated as the Presidential Guard or Presidential High Command), and generally referred to as the EMP, has been implicated in many of Guatemala's high profile human rights cases. While officially charged with providing security to the president and the vice-president, the EMP has in practice served as one of the most notorious military intelligence agencies. The 1996 Peace Accords, which officially ended Guatemala's three-decade-long conflict, identified the abolition of the EMP and other reforms to military intelligence as integral components of demilitarization.

AP 7 Oct 2003 Rios Montt Tells AP He'd Obey Moral Code GUATEMALA CITY (AP) -- Efrain Rios Montt, a former iron-fisted dictator and evangelical minister who is running for president, said in an Associated Press interview Tuesday that he would look to God to solve his country's problems. He also dismissed charges his past administration committed acts of genocide. The 78-year-old brigadier general, who has made campaign stops with a former guerrilla commander by his side, called on Guatemalans to move beyond their bloody past. He said those who accuse him of past atrocities are only attacking him because his government won the country's civil war. ``They are still affected here, today, because they lost the war,'' he said, speaking at his daughter's posh Guatemala City home. ``They are their own victims. I don't want to blame all the victims of the war, but what occurred was a dirty and cruel war fought all over the country, so what they did was very unfair.'' Human rights groups say Rios Montt's government carried out some of the worst atrocities in Latin American history. Rios Montt seized power in a 1982 coup and was deposed in another military uprising the following year. His dictatorship came at the height of a 36-year civil war between the government and leftist, largely Mayan guerrillas. He ordered an anti-insurgency campaign in which soldiers burned down mountain villages to cut the rebels off from civilians accused of supporting them. Peace accords ended the war in December 1996, but not before 200,000 Guatemalans had been killed. Criminal complaints filed in Guatemala and with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in Costa Rica charge Rios Montt with genocide for massacres soldiers carried out during his dictatorship. Rios Montt founded the party that controls Guatemala's presidency, and he served as president of Congress up until Aug. 27 when he took a leave of absence to run for president. A victory on Nov. 9 would extend the immunity from criminal prosecution he enjoys as an elected official. On Tuesday, Rios Montt said he believes Guatemala can battle soaring crime rates, stamp out corruption and improve a sluggish economy by following the Christian code. He refused to give specific policy examples, saying only he ``would not impose anything,'' but added that he would ensure Guatemalan society was ``based on strict values, because if we don't put fundamental norms in place, we lose our way and go backward.'' While in office, Rios Montt enforced a curfew, ordered restrictions on the sale and consumption of alcohol, and gave podium-pounding television addresses every Sunday, singing the praises of evangelical values for an audience that was overwhelmingly Roman Catholic. He said that if he wins the election he would lead ``by example, doing what's appropriate, honest and fair,'' and that he was the only one capable of re-establishing a ``proper moral center'' for his country. ``If we want to maintain an ethical and social system, we should build one based on spiritual, and moral values that transcend any interest,'' he said. ``God is vital.'' Washington was openly supportive of Rios Montt's dictatorship. In December 1982, then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan called him ``a man of great personal integrity'' who was ``getting a bum rap on human rights.'' During the interview, he sat next to a black-and-white photo of him sitting with Reagan. However, the State Department said in May that a second Rios Montt government would jeopardize Washington's relationship with Guatemala, apparently because of his human rights record. Rios Montt is trailing in the latest polls behind Oscar Berger, a conservative former Guatemala City mayor supported by the business community, and Alvaro Colom, a former interior secretary running on a left-leaning ticket. But Rios Montt has gained ground recently in large part because potential voters see him as the most capable of reversing a crime rate that has skyrocketed since the end of the war. ``If you look at my past in a legal light,'' he said, ``You see I followed the law.'"

AP 17 Oct 2003 Reporter Covers Guatemala Despite Threats Friday October 17, 2003 8:01 AM By GEORGE GEDDA WASHINGTON (AP) - Guatemala is not an easy place to be an independent journalist. Marielos Monzon knows firsthand. Since 1998, when she began to expose the abuses of the military and allied groups, Monzon has received threatening phone calls. Her home has been broken into three times. After her two dogs were kidnapped, she received a call warning that her two children would be next. Monzon, 32, was so concerned about safety this past spring that she left Guatemala for three months. Not long after her return, her two cats were kidnapped and killed, their remains delivered to her house. ``The message,'' she says, ``was that that the same thing is going to happen to you and your children.'' Monzon's tenacity earned her a ``Courage in Journalism'' award this week from the International Women's Media Foundation. In an interview, Monzon said not much has changed in Guatemala since a 36-year civil war ended in 1996 with the negotiation of as peace agreement between the government and rebel forces. The war is believed to have killed some 200,000 Guatemalans, the great majority at the hand of the military, according to an independent commission that examined the conflict. Monzon's assessment of the postwar situation is shared by a U.N. mission in Guatemala. In a report issued a year ago, the mission documented assassination threats to human rights activists, church workers, judges, witnesses, journalists, political activists and labor unionists. ``Lynchings and mob violence continued. Illegal groups and clandestine structures operated with impunity,'' according to the report. Monzon, whose children are 9 and 11, outlined her thoughts to a reporter hours before taking part in a ceremony with two other women honored by the foundation: Anne Garrels of National Public Radio and Tatyana Goryachova, editor in chief of an independent weekly newspaper in Ukraine. Monzon started out as host of a radio program that highlighted rights abuses. She now writes a column for the independent newspaper Prensa Libre and is host of a television program that examines the upcoming presidential elections. The candidate of the ruling Republican Guatemalan Front is Efraim Rios Montt. To some, his selection was a surprise, given his role 20 years ago as military dictator during one of the bloodiest periods of the civil war. A Guatemalan truth commission that examined human rights conditions during the war concluded that, under Rios Montt, agents of the state ``committed acts of genocide against groups of Mayan people.'' She says it will not matter much who wins because no candidate is able to neutralize the military. Guatemala has elected civilian presidents since 1986, but Monzon says the country remains backward politically, economically and socially. The blame, she says, rests with the country's military, its oligarchs and, lastly, the United States. She sees as a major turning point a CIA-led coup in 1954 against a leftist president and the installation of a rightist colonel. On the other hand, she says the United States does exert positive influences today, citing its support for human rights groups in Guatemala and for development of civil society. But she has little hope that things will change, at least over the short term. ``I see the situation as very difficult,'' she says. ``I don't believe that the problems will be resolved by the next government."

WP 26 Oct 2003 Social Breakdown Turns Deadly in Guatemala Drugs, Broken Justice System and Resurgent Militarism Are Blamed for Growing Lawlessness By Mary Jordan Washington Post Foreign Service Sunday, October 26, 2003; Page A21 PUERTO DE SAN JOSE, Guatemala -- Minutes after Elder Anibal Moran and his wife, Veronica Colindres, got into their car to distribute campaign banners last week, the bullets -- a hallmark of the upcoming national elections -- started flying. Moran ran from the car but fell dead 20 feet away, in front of Mery's beauty salon in this small town on the Pacific Ocean. Colindres died on the way to the hospital. Many of the 24 bullets that pierced their red Toyota had hit her, too. It is unclear why the couple's four children were so suddenly orphaned. Family and officials are divided on whether the killings were motivated by politics or drugs. Both have contributed to the alarmingly lawless atmosphere that now reigns in the most populous country in Central America. About 60 people are killed every week in Guatemala City alone, double the murder rate in 2001, according to analysts. They say the violence and bloodshed in this country of 12 million people stems from growing drug trafficking organizations, a broken justice system that investigates as little as 3 percent of all crime and the resurgence of past military leaders. One of the leading candidates for president in the Nov. 9 election is former general Efrain Rios Montt, who was dictator in 1982 and 1983 at the height of Guatemala's bloody civil war. Under his leadership, soldiers and paramilitary squads murdered thousands of unarmed people, mainly Mayan Indians. Human rights activists are now pressing a genocide case against Rios Montt, even as he runs for president. Rights activists say retired soldiers from Rios Montt's era, organized in clandestine gangs, are behind much of the recent violence. Rios Montt supporters paralyzed the capital in July, burning tires, breaking windows and assaulting journalists who had criticized him. "There is anarchy," said Hilario Herrarte, the mayoral candidate in this port, where men fish for snapper and shark and women sell embroidery along the black sandy shore. "We fear we are going backwards to the time of the war." Peace accords signed in 1996 officially ended the civil war in which 200,000 Guatemalans were killed. The war left this country one of the most heavily armed in the hemisphere. Guatemala's independent ombudsman for human rights estimates that there are 2 million unregistered guns in Guatemala, one for every six people. It seems as though nearly everyone carries a gun, from the guard sitting atop a Coca-Cola truck rolling down a city street to the families who live in shacks in the mountainous countryside, rich in coffee and coconuts. The peace accords were followed by relative tranquillity in the late 1990s. But now, murders, kidnappings, lynchings and politically motivated assassinations are more common than at any time since the war, according to human rights activists, who also express the fear that social unrest threatens Guatemalan democracy. Regardless of the outcome of the November election, many believe riots will follow. If Rios Montt doesn't win, he faces possible criminal prosecution for past abuses, as do many of those around him. These stark choices for Rios Montt supporters -- the presidency or jail -- have raised the stakes and the tensions here, electoral officials said. "It's a time bomb about to explode," said Santiago Canton, executive secretary for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, part of the Organization of American States. Although reliable crime statistics are hard to come by, civic groups here estimate that the murder rate has more than doubled in the past two years. During the current campaign, two dozen candidates and political activists have been killed, according to the Mirador Electoral, a private nonprofit funded in part by the United States and European countries. Many acts of violence are similar to the case of Abel Perez, a mayoral candidate in Santo Domingo, who was kidnapped, blindfolded for three days and tossed at the side of the road last month with a warning to quit his campaign. No ransom was asked. Perez has stayed in; others have quit. Herrarte, 38, a business administrator whose party, the rightist Grand National Alliance, is leading in the polls said he, too, has been threatened. He said anonymous, menacing voices on his phone have urged him to quit the race. He said he believes supporters of Rios Montt's party, the Guatemalan Republican Front, which is also the party of outgoing President Alfonso Portillo, are stirring up violence because they fear "their time is up." Drugs are also playing a role. U.S. officials said powerful cartels are taking advantage of Guatemala's weak and underfunded anti-drug forces, while the Bush administration focuses on Colombia. "It's a drug dealer's paradise," said one U.S. law enforcement official. Most drug shipments pass through Guatemala unnoticed. But occasionally there are spectacular cases, such as the $14 million in U.S. currency found hidden at a house in an upscale neighborhood of Guatemala City. Crashed hulks of small planes, believed to belong to drug traffickers, routinely turn up in remote areas of the country. Last month, a Cessna with nearly a ton of cocaine was found on a farm. Some people suspect that the killings of Moran and Colindres were an act of political vengeance. Others, including neighbors and the police chief of Puerto San Jose, said they suspected the couple was mixed up in the drug trade because they had a fancy new car and unusually expensive possessions. The couple's 16-year-old son, Alberto, said he doesn't know why they were killed. But Alberto said crack cocaine and marijuana are flooding into this port, where the Daiquiri Disco and other establishments have signs that say "no illegal drugs are allowed to be consumed here." Whether inspired by politics or drug trafficking, many people agree that poverty is the ultimate source of the violence. "It has never been worse economically," said Miguel Quiej, a national leader representing indigenous peoples, who are a majority in Guatemala. Quiej estimated that unemployment is as high as 40 percent in some poor agricultural zones. Many coffee plantations have closed due to low world coffee prices, idling hundreds of thousands of workers. Much of Rios Montt's support comes from rural Guatemala. But Quiej said the former dictator is trying to manipulate poor people, telling them that even during the days of civil war there were jobs. "If he wins, there will be another war. People won't stand for it," he said. President Portillo, who is closely tied to Rios Montt, has been widely criticized, in Washington and elsewhere, for doing little to stop drug trafficking. U.S. officials have said that drug cartels have ties to the Guatemalan government and military. However, Washington recently recertified Guatemala as a cooperating partner in the fight against drug trafficking. Meanwhile, Rios Montt, 77, is on the campaign trail, casting himself as a man of the poor and a tested leader who can restore order. In an interview earlier this year, the general, as his campaign posters refer to him, said he has done nothing wrong. Rios Montt's daughter, Zury Rios, who is vice president of the Guatemalan Congress, said in a recent interview that her father has been unfairly maligned and that his administration would be "totally democratic." She said her father was looking forward to an election that would vindicate his record. "Let the people decide," she said. There is growing friction between those who supported Rios Montt's "scorched earth" policy against leftist opponents of his military government and candidates who want those responsible for abuses during those years to be held accountable. Rigoberta Menchu, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and human rights activist, has called for genocide charges against Rios Montt. She was shoved and roughed up by Rios Montt supporters earlier this month. The clash between wartime leaders and those pushing for them to go on trial, as well as the rising body count, weigh heavily on merchants on the narrow street where Moran and Colindres were killed. But few in this town of 50,000 were willing to talk about the murder or the upcoming election. "We are so nervous we can't sleep. It's scary," said one shopkeeper, who asked not to be identified by name. She said she had voted for Portillo in 2000. "I had a lot of hope then, but now if I saw him, I would slap him. Look at what has happened to our country." Staff writer Marcela Sanchez in Washington contributed to this report.

Denver Post 2 Nov 2003 perspective Guatemala's election choice: democracy or genocide By Billie Stanton GUATEMALA CITY - A momentous presidential election one week from today will show the world whether Guatemala is poised to take new strides toward democracy or possibly revert to the genocide and atrocities of yesteryear. Although two credible candidates appear to be in the lead, no one truly can measure the quiet country support for former dictator Efrain Rios Montt, whose brief hold on power during the 1980s was a field day for war crimes, murders and torture. While polls show wealthy businessman Oscar Berger and industrial engineer Alvaro Colom well ahead of retired general Montt in popularity, such polls depend on telephones, a scarce luxury in outlying regions that may support Montt. "Rios Montt should definitely not win this election," says Joel Edelstein, who retired from the University of Colorado at Denver after decades of teaching Central American studies. "The Republicans are saying we can't have normal relations with Guatemala if Rios Montt becomes president," notes Rick Clifford, a member of the Denver Justice and Peace Committee who spent the first half of this year in Guatemala. "Democrats don't want him either. Even (President Bush) says Rios Montt is not the answer to Guatemala's problems." "Clearly, his record is abominable," agrees Dr. Eric Popkin, an immigration expert and assistant sociology professor at Colorado College. "Under his reign, more people were killed - particularly indigenous people - than at any other time in Guatemalan history." Yet along roadsides from the poor pueblo of San Antonio Aguas Calientes to the tourist magnet of Coban, boldly painted rocks promise "Seguridad, Bienestar, Justicia - FRG - Rios Montt." "Security, the good life, justice" - promises dripping irony, considering the record racked up during Montt's 18-month presidency after he seized power in a coup d'etat in 1982. More than 60,000 people were killed or disappeared in his scorched-earth campaign, which laid waste to 440 indigenous Mayan villages, according to documentation by human rights groups worldwide. Memories are long. Many blue-collar Denver Guatemalans, as well as a local university professor from Guatemala, politely declined to comment on Rios Montt. "We still have family in Guatemala ... and our family could easily be identified," one said, summarizing fears expressed by the others. The exception was Dr. Alvaro Arias, a math professor at the University of Denver who immigrated in 1985: "I remember the time of Rios Montt. And I don't know a single person who likes him." Nonetheless, Montt "definitely" could win the election, Popkin says. The fallout from a Montt victory would hit the U.S. and Guatemala hard: Guatemalan migration to the U.S. quickly would escalate, predicts Popkin. The U.S., Canada and many European nations have vowed to end trade with Guatemala if Montt ascends to the presidency. Guatemala's coffee industry, suffering already amid worldwide price drops, could sustain another severe blow. So could tourism, which surpassed coffee last year as the nation's leading industry. Native weavers, whose vividly hued textiles keep them afloat, would face a struggle to survive, as would other impoverished rural folk who flow into tourist towns to hawk their hand-crafted wares. Without tourists, who will buy? Still, few dismiss Montt's ability to win. Popkin cites the former dictator's fierce anti-crime stance for his appeal among rural campesinos entrenched in "horrible poverty" and rampant crime. "He tends to win even in villages that had been decimated under his rule. A perceived 'strong leader' appeals to people who feel vulnerable. They don't connect the dots." In addition, Montt's evangelical Christian beliefs seem to have prompted "a substantial rise in evangelical and Pentecostal sects," Popkin notes. "I remember in the early '80s on late-night TV watching Pat Robertson try to raise money for 'Brother Rios Montt.' His (evangelicalism) is a motivation for some to vote for him as well." More startling was the leak of "Plan Lazaro," the secret, three-pronged election strategy of Montt's party, Frente Republicano Guatemalteco (FRG) or the Republican Guatemalan Front, which is in power today under President Alfonso Portillo: Secure the Constitutional Court's vote to let Montt run, or use force, if necessary, to ensure his candidacy. (The court gave Montt's campaign the nod July 30, amid an international outcry. The ruling came one week after "Black Thursday," when more than 5,000 Montt supporters stormed this capital city, wielding machetes and rocks, killing one Guatemalan journalist, injuring bystanders, burning buildings and bringing downtown business to a halt.) Using resources supplied by the current FRG government, make threats or commit violence against the opposition. (Amnesty International reported Sept. 18 that intimidation and threats against opposition leaders, journalists and human rights activists have escalated as the election nears. In June, 12 armed men forced their way into the home of Jose Ruben Zamora, editor of El Periodico newspaper, held a gun to his head and beat his sons. U.S. Ambassador to Guatemala John R. Hamilton urged the government to investigate and prosecute perpetrators of the "violent and barbaric" attack.) Ensure high voter absenteeism on election day. Says Arias, the only Denver Guatemalan willing to speak on the record, "Montt was not supposed to be able to run (under the constitution), yet he's running. They can always resort to fraud in the end. They are the party in power." In addition, the government made payments in April to about 2,000 former Civil Defense patrollers (Patruilleros de Defensa Civil, known as the ex-PACs). These civilian, supposedly unpaid "volunteers" were assigned by the former Montt regime to patrol villages. The government insisted they would prevent crime; human rights defenders and massacre survivors say the PACs worked as unpaid thugs. Now, Portillo's government vows that more of approximately 1 million ex-PACs will get payments after the election, provided the FRG retains control. Human rights activists fear that surprise payments may even be made in late October, to ensure more FRG votes Nov. 9. In a nation of 11 million people, with about 4.5 million registered voters, the impact of votes from the newly reorganized ex-PACs could prove significant. Any candidate receiving 50 percent or more of the votes Nov. 9 - an unlikely scenario - wins the election. A runoff election Dec. 28 is more likely. The FRG, meanwhile, repeatedly has denied any involvement in the July 24-25 protests that rocked the capital or in any threats, intimidation or violence. Montt, likewise, consistently denies culpability for genocide and war crimes. Montt told The Washington Post recently, "I was president, not a platoon commander," and thus wouldn't have known about atrocities. Known as "Guatemala's Pinochet," the 77-year-old Montt was trained at the much-criticized, U.S.-funded School of the Americas, where U.S. experts trained Latin American "anti-Communist" strongmen and their army officers in anti-guerilla combat, psychological warfare and mass coercion. Montt ruled with covert U.S. support during the Reagan era. Educated Guatemalans don't think twice when asked how Montt can muster support from the very people whose villages were decimated. He feeds them, they say. And he pays them. In Guatemala, seemingly, poverty promotes power. If poverty and illiteracy spawn power in Guatemala, Montt is in the right place. At least 80 percent of Guatemalans live in extreme poverty, and the illiteracy rate exceeds 30 percent, according to studies by Harvard and Stanford universities. Many urban residents back Berger (pronounced Ber-shay), saying his wealth will preclude him from corruption. Many also insist that Montt's support springs from those too young to remember or too unsophisticated to know better. Several mature poor people, however, belie that simplistic analysis. Teodoro Hernandez, 52, says he is poor but cannot support Montt. As the dusty road from Antigua to San Antonio morphs into a smooth highway, Hernandez dismounted his bicycle to reflect on Montt's politics. "The past governments began to build this road. But the FRG stopped construction. Now, with the election coming up, they've started again," says Hernandez, a stout but hardy cyclist who rides this stretch daily. "And the farmers who owned this land don't get paid for the land that was taken (to build the road). They went together to the capital because the road has environmental and construction problems, too. But they got no solution. I tried to work construction on this road, but I wasn't with the right party, the FRG." His views on Montt are echoed by many in the international tourist center of Antigua and in Guatemala City, bastions of urban sophistication compared with the rest of Guatemala. Says Elena deAragon, 42, a mop- topped Spanish teacher in Antigua, "He has an obsession to govern the country. He does not accept failure. So he wants to be president, and he doesn't care how. If it's necessary to murder, to sell our resources, whatever - he's oppressive." Says ex-patriate restaurateur Jesper Nielsen, 24, "I'm sad to say, but I think he has a chance to become president because of his manipulation of the current government and the people in the country. He masterminded a coup before, and he may do it again." As world attention once more swings southward, the educated middle-class of Guatemala can't help but remember that Montt's first term brought a massive exodus of the country's dispossessed. Most fought desperate odds seeking illegal sanctuary in the kitchens, ski resorts, farms and gardens of Colorado and other states. Many found richer, safer lives elsewhere in "El Norte." But the world is a far more dangerous place since September 2001. American borders and immigration laws, which never welcomed Central America's huddled masses, could prove a more daunting barrier if "the troubles" loom closer. At least Nielsen, a four-year Guatemala resident and Danish member of a large and entrenched European and American population, has an exit strategy. If Montt takes office, he says, "A lot of us will leave the country."

WP 8 Nov 2003 Party To Mass Murder? By Daniel Wilkinson Saturday, November 8, 2003; Page A27 A presidential election is being held tomorrow in which one of the leading candidates stands accused of genocide. Efrain Rios Montt, a retired general, is seeking the presidency of Guatemala. In the early 1980s he headed a military regime that carried out hundreds of massacres of unarmed civilians and -- according to a U.N.-sponsored truth commission -- "acts of genocide." Now Rios Montt is attempting to return to power, and as part of his campaign has even displayed a picture of himself with Ronald Reagan that was taken in the '80s. The U.S. Embassy has pointed out that this photo was taken in a different context, and indeed it was. The context was the Cold War, and the Reagan administration, concerned about leftist insurgencies in Central America, was seeking congressional approval to restore direct military aid to Guatemala. Reagan posed with Rios Montt, praised him as "a man of great personal integrity" who was "totally dedicated to democracy," and dismissed charges of atrocities in Guatemala as a "bum rap." As Reagan spoke, Rios Montt's troops were preparing to march on a village called Las Dos Erres for a counterinsurgency operation that was to include the rape of young women, smashing of infants' heads and the interment of more than 160 civilians -- some while still alive -- in the village well. Now the skeletons have been exhumed from the well in Las Dos Erres, as well as from hundreds of other clandestine cemeteries scattered throughout the countryside. A truth commission has documented tens of thousands of abuses committed by the Guatemalan state, as well as a much smaller number committed by leftist guerrillas. And in 1999 President Clinton issued a public apology in Guatemala for the U.S. role in supporting that country's abusive regimes. The apology came backed by aid -- millions of dollars that the U.S. government has invested in efforts to promote the rule of law in Guatemala, including the truth commission, an extensive U.N. peacekeeping mission and the litigation of human rights cases. And what does Guatemala have to show for these efforts? Only two major human rights cases have resulted in convictions of senior army officers. And these came only after witnesses were assassinated and investigators, judges and prosecutors forced to flee the country. (Both convictions were subsequently overturned on dubious grounds and remain under review in the courts.) Neither Rios Montt nor his fellow officers have been tried for the massacres of the 1980s. Although the public prosecutor's office has opened a formal investigation into charges that they committed acts of genocide, it has moved at a snail's pace. Meanwhile, the general is running for president and stands a decent chance of forcing a runoff with the rightist politician who is the frontrunner. Whoever wins the election, the country's most pressing problem will remain its perilous journey toward the rule of law after the years of repressive violence that peaked under Rios Montt's previous rule. The biggest obstacle to recovery is the existence of a shadowy network of private, illegally armed groups that appear to have links to both government officials and organized crime. They are powerful, ruthless and apparently responsible for scores of threats and attacks against rights activists, justice officials, journalists and others. Given these groups' ability to corrupt and intimidate, it would be easy to conclude, as many have, that the situation in Guatemala is hopeless. But it isn't. At least not yet. A new initiative has emerged that could offer Guatemala its last best opportunity to restore the rule of law. This year the Guatemalan government and civil society leaders agreed to support the creation of a special U.N.-sponsored commission to investigate and promote the prosecution of these groups. To be successful, this commission will require substantial support -- political and economic -- from the United States and the rest of the world. Without adequate resources and personnel, the commission is likely to fail, a failure that could make things in Guatemala even worse, with half-baked investigations leading to the acquittal of dangerous criminals and reinforcing the climate of impunity in which they thrive. Given Guatemala's position as both the largest economy in Central America and a major transshipment point for the illegal drug trade, any further deterioration of the country's rule of law could have implications far beyond its borders. If, on the other hand, the commission succeeds, it could serve as a useful model for other countries in the region. Two decades after supporting Rios Montt, the United States should do all it can to help Guatemala clean up the human rights disaster it helped create. The context may have changed, but the wounds have not healed. The writer is counsel for the Americas Division of Human Rights Watch and author of "Silence on the Mountain: Stories of Terror, Betrayal, and Forgetting in Guatemala."

Reuters 11 Nov 2003 Guatemala ex-dictator's party accepts defeat - Human Rights Situation Remains Bleak, UN Reports By Frank Jack Daniel GUATEMALA CITY, Nov 11 (Reuters) - Former dictator Efrain Rios Montt's Guatemalan Republican Front accepted defeat on Tuesday in the country's presidential election, ending his hopes of regaining power through the ballot box. The ruling party, known by its Spanish initials FRG, had remained quiet since Sunday's vote, only Guatemala's second presidential election since the end of its 36-year civil war. That had raised fears its supporters might protest results showing Rios Montt finishing third, out of next month's runoff between the top two candidates. Edin Barrientos, who was Rios Montt's vice presidential running mate, said on Tuesday the party accepted defeat. "Of course we accept the results. The election is an expression of the people and the people didn't vote for us," Barrientos told Reuters. "We know the people are the judges and if they say no, it's no. What are we going to do? We go back to the opposition," he said. "The people did not vote for us because the media spoke badly of us throughout the campaign." With 85 percent of votes counted, conservative businessman and landowner Oscar Berger led with 35 percent support. A former Guatemala City mayor backed by the country's wealthy elite and the main newspapers, Berger fell short of an outright majority. He now faces a runoff on Dec. 28 against leftist politician Alvaro Colom, who won about 26 percent of the vote. Rios Montt, who ruled this impoverished Central American nation with an iron fist in the early 1980s, trailed with 17 percent. His share was expected to rise only slightly as returns came in from Guatemala's most remote rural areas. CRUSHING DEFEAT It was a crushing defeat for the fiery 77-year-old former general, who spent the past few years planning a return to power at the ballot box. The FRG also lost its control of Congress. Rios Montt's 1982-1983 dictatorship was the bloodiest period of Guatemala's 36-year civil war. Survivors and rights groups accuse him of ordering massacres of civilians in Maya Indian villages as part of a "scorched-earth" campaign against leftist rebels. They are building a genocide case against him, and Rios Montt, who is the FRG's secretary-general and leads it in Congress, could face trial once his parliamentary immunity ends at the end of his legislative term in January. Analysts said Guatemalan voters rejected Rios Montt because of his civil war legacy and because the outgoing FRG government of President Alfonso Portillo had been plagued with corruption allegations and a rise in organized crime. Portillo was barred from seeking a second four-year term. Although Berger came in first on Sunday, he is linked to a traditional elite many poor Guatemalans despise, and some analysts say Colom could pull ahead in the runoff by winning smaller parties' support. Berger has accused Colom of seeking an alliance with Rios Montt's FRG, but Colom said on Monday he had no plans to meet with Rios Montt. "We're not interested in that," he said. 10 Nov 2003 ELECTIONS DEMONSTRATE DESIRE FOR PARTICIPATION, SOVEREIGNTY AND END TO IMPUNITY: Rios Montt eliminated, Berger and Colom face off in a Second Round -- by Annie Bird (Rights Action co-director) In the November 9, 2003 Guatemalan presidential elections the biggest news is who did not win. The ruling party, the Guatemalan Republican Front (FRG) presented Efrain Rios Montt, a former military dictator who presided over the massacre of tens of thousands of unarmed men, women and children in a State-sponsored genocide between 1982 and 1983, as its presidential candidate. After widespread repudiation during his campaign, having been stoned, protested, and denied entry to towns during his campaign, and even booed while he voted, Rios Montt was eliminated in the first round. In loosing his candidacy, Rios Montt will also lose the immunity he has enjoyed during his term as President of Congress, possibly expediting efforts to bring him to trial for the crimes against humanity committed during his rule. Oscar Berger and Alvaro Colom will face off in a December 28 run off election, given no candidate captured more than 50% of the total vote. Berger is the candidate for the GANA coalition and Alvaro Colom is candidate for the UNE party. Colom had previously run in the 1999 elections for the ANN coalition that included the URNG party composed of the former revolutionary movement. The URNG had little presence in these presidential elections, and their performance may have been further affected due to internal party administrative problems that left at least two mayoral candidates favored to win in Rabinal and San Miguel Chicaj, Baja Verapaz off the ballots. The millions of Guatemalans who voted did so in spite of tremendous difficulties. Late opening and early closing of voting tables caused unrest. Problems with the voter registry caused mass confusion, with voters waiting in line for hours then being told they had to go to another voting center or were not registered. In Chajul, Quiche two elderly women were crushed to death in line when voters pressed in to the late to open polling center. Some voters had to walk for hours, bus drivers refusing to transport voters in two municipalities known to lack support for the ruling party. According to the official numbers, virtually every adult Guatemalan was registered to vote. This extraordinarily high number of voters led to suspicion that the ruling FRG party had manipulated the registries. Many suspect that false citizen identification cards were issued, especially given a well-publicized robbery of the blank cards from the national printer over a year ago and the lack of control of the private companies that produce the cards. Others suspect the reason for the high turn out was corrupt use of State resources by the ruling party in conditioning payment for having served as a paramilitary during the war and participation in development programs on voting for the FRG. There were widespread reports that the supposedly indelible ink that marked people who already voted was easily removed. Several false citizen cards were detained, trucks with ballots marked in favor of the FRG were detained and people intending to vote in municipalities to which they were not residents were stopped. In months leading up to November 9, there were many reports of people carrying two citizen cards and that others were voting in the place of dead people. Though corruption did not bring Rios Montt to power as some had feared, it is unclear to what degree municipal and congressional elections may have been effected. VIOLENCE OVERSHADOWS ELECTIONS – VOTERS WANT END TO IMPUNITY Many feared more violence, given that violence has been ever present during the campaign and during the elections. Reported elections-related violence has included killings, threats, violent attacks, rape, kidnapping, rioting and arson. Violence was particularly targeted against journalists, in hopes of limiting citizens’ access to information. However, opposition party activists were the principal victims. Elections day violence was relatively limited; more than 9,000 votes were burned in El Quetzal, San Marcos and 11 tables of votes were burned in Cuyotenango, Suchitepequez by mobs of former Civil Defense Patrolers (PAC) discontent at not having received the promised payment for their services during the war. Even today, 17 years after the formal shift from military to civilian rule and seven years after the signing of the peace accords, Guatemala lives in the shadow of the massive State sponsored violence that peaked between 1981 and 1983 with widespread massacres in the highland Mayan villages. More than 200,000 Guatemalans lost their lives, 93% of those as a result of US and western-backed military repression against a largely civilian population in what the United Nations sponsored truth commission called “State-sponsored genocide”, those responsible for the violence continue to hold positions of power in local and national government. Human rights organizations combat the clandestine networks of occult power which continue to maintain impunity and control resources through corruption and violence. The FRG government has been considered the maximum expression of the marriage of State and mafia and most reporting of these elections has focused on the nefarious role of Rios Montt in the elections. GANA, IMPUNITY & WAR CRIMES However, little has been reported on the wide spread presence of military actors implicated in human rights violations in most of the political parties. This includes the GANA coalition which is favored to win. GANA, a party led by the economic elite, has been billed as the “clean” alternative to Rios Montt. However, the GANA coalition includes the Partido Patriota, a new party formed by former military officers, and allies such Otto Perez Molina, who served as an intelligence officer during the genocide. Harris Whitbeck, another PP leader, was in charge of the social programs during the period of genocide which formed the Beans of the “Beans and Bullets” strategy. In this infamous social control strategy, peasants were given the choice of forming paramilitary organizations commanded by the military and receiving development aid, or being massacred. This spawned the widespread support of the FRG by these paramilitaries who still form the party’s principal base. Unfortunately, the electoral process appears to offer little possibility of ending the impunity enjoyed by the ongoing alliance between the military, the local economic elite and their international business partners. A DEEP DESIRE FOR DEMOCRACY AND SOVEREIGNTY – DENIED Irrespective of how much violence and corruption have tainted the elections, what was made clear today and in the months leading up to the elections was the tremendous desire by the majority of Guatemalans to participate in the governance of their country, a basic right denied to them throughout Guatemalan history, beginning with the Spanish colonies, followed by the interests of competing colonial-imperial powers and then by a century of constant direct and covert military and economic interventions by the United States. While civil society struggles to rebuild itself and foster the ability of the people to exercise self-governance, international financing institutions (World Bank, Inter American Development Bank and the International Monetary Fund) have pushed through programs and legislation that weaken Guatemalan citizens’ ability to exercise control over their own nation, its resources, and basic social services such as education, healthcare and energy. These institutions have promoted the privatization of basic services to transnational corporations, the concession of natural resources to multinationals with little or no benefit to the population or control of environmental damages, free trade policies that undermine small producers and destroy local economies and the dedication of State resources to creation of infrastructure needed by corporations rather than investing in promoting local markets, social services, better conditions for small producers, and guaranteeing fundamental human rights. “THE US EMBASSY CANDIDATE” Both Berger and Colom are promoting agendas favorable to international economic interests. Indeed, Berger is known as the US embassy candidate. Widespread reports indicate that US embassy officials and USAID funding has openly supported GANA through both political support and financial resources for GANA-dominated non governmental organizations which, among other things, have promised easier access to US travel visas for those who participate in their activities. Guatemala’s ability for self-governance is further undermined given that policies related to two of the largest sources of income for the nation, remittances sent by undocumented workers in the United States and profits from drug trafficking, are entirely determined by the United States. Though very different in nature, migration and drug trafficking have led to increased militarization and human rights violations. Drug profits appear to be controlled by many of the same mafia that maintain influence in the government, and have led to the increased violence, arms and death squads freely operating in sections of the country. The ability of the United States to act directly in military and policing operations to control drug trafficking and migration has increased, especially in the context of the “War on Terrorism”. Just how “clean” the elections were is difficult to determine, despite the presence of thousands of Guatemalan elections monitors and many international observer delegations. Over the next few days, much will be reported about the electoral process. However, there is little discussion of the global structural conditions that undermine self-determination in a small, former colonial nation like Guatemala and the efforts of thousands of organized Guatemalans struggling to make a decent life for their family and their community and in the process build a better nation. Over the next few weeks, Rights Action will be distributing information related to the possibility of democracy and self governance, impunity and social control, and information produced by volunteers accompanying community based organizations, RA partners, struggling to transform their society and their planet.

Reuters 28 Dec 2003 Businessman Battles Leftist in Guatemalan Vote By REUTERS F GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) - A wealthy landowner bids to win back power for Guatemala's farming and banking elite on Sunday in a runoff election against a leftist who wants to put a former dictator on trial for human rights atrocities. Oscar Berger, 57, a former Guatemala City mayor and businessman backed by the country's traditional power brokers, squares off against Alvaro Colom, a 52-year-old career politician who owns a textile factory. Polls have shown a clear advantage for Berger, who led the pack with 34 percent of the vote in the first round last month, but Colom's team says the polls are too ``city biased'' and do not reflect rural support for his National Hope Unity party, or UNE. An economist, Colom first ran for president in 1999 and calls himself ``the candidate of the poor'' in this Central American nation of 11 million people where more than half the population are Mayan Indians. It is Guatemala's second presidential election since 1996 peace accords ended a 36-year civil war that killed 200,000 people, most of them Mayan Indians living in dire poverty. Berger has promised if he wins to clamp down on a recent wave of violent crime. In the months leading up to the first round of voting, there were at least two dozen election-related killings. The violence has since ebbed. Both men are promising job creation, rural development and increased spending on health and education. Colom is also hoping to pick up votes with his tough stance against former dictator Efrain Rios Montt, who is blamed for civil war atrocities during his 1982-1983 rule. ``Our plan is more human, more social than our rival's,'' Colom told reporters late on Saturday. Berger is running for the GANA coalition, which is backed by Guatemala's traditional ruling elite that lost power in 1999. He has been less strident about putting former military leaders like Rios Montt on trial for human rights abuses. Berger's camp says the issue is for the courts to decide. Rios Montt, backed by the governing Guatemalan Republican Front, or FRG, ran for president in the first round but came in behind Berger and Colom and failed to make the runoff. Analysts said Guatemalans voted firmly against Rios Montt's dictatorial past and against the FRG government of outgoing President Alfonso Portillo, plagued by corruption allegations. Rights groups and survivors blame Rios Montt for massacres in hundreds of Indian villages as part of a ``scorched earth'' counterinsurgency campaign at the height of the civil war. Colom says Rios Montt has ``blood under his nails'' for human rights abuses and he supports moves by human rights groups to develop a genocide case against the retired general and evangelical Christian. Rios Montt, the FRG's secretary-general and head of Congress, could face trial once he loses parliamentary immunity from prosecution when his legislative terms ends in January.