There have been a few noteworthy developments in the trial against former Guatemalan general / president / dictator Efraín Ríos Montt in the past week. The historical significance of this trial deserves a series of posts, which I’ll promise for a later date. See the third link below for a great op-ed by Kirsten Weld that provides an excellent overview of the situation.
For now I’ll just comment on the two developments referenced in the Prensa Libre articles below. First, Danilo Rodríguez, Ríos Montt’s defense attorney, argued that the judges in the case should recuse themselves because they had ruled in a trial last year involving the massacre of over 250 people in the village of Dos Erres in 1982. In that trial, the judges found several defendants guilty of mass murder and sentenced them each to over 6,000 years in jail. Rodríguez’s argument was basically that the judges’ sentence in the Dos Erres trial raised doubts about their impartiality. In a ruling on 19 February 2013, the judges rejected this charge, arguing that the Dos Erres case was separate from the charges being pressed in this trial, which are focused on genocide and crimes against humanity in the Ixil region while Ríos Montt was president and de facto commander of the armed forces. The lead justice, Jazmin Barrios, said that the cases were “absolutely distinct.”
I find it interesting that the defense would attempt this strategy. On the one hand, it could be part of a larger scheme to portray the Guatemalan judicial branch as being radically anti-military, tying together all of the ongoing and recent trials of former military officials and setting the stage for a showdown between the judiciary and the executive branch (i.e., General Otto Perez Molina). If this seems paranoid, you don’t know Guatemalan history.
On the other hand, in the short term it seems like a pretty dumb move. In calling for the judges’ recusal, Rodríguez seems to basically admit that his client is tied to the Dos Erres massacre as well, which isn’t even on the table in this trial. Importantly, Barrios’ response does not rule out that Ríos Montt could be held responsible for Dos Erres in the future; she just points out that this trial is about a different set of charges.
The judges and prosecutors charged that this was a stalling tactic by the defense, and as part of their rejection of the call for recusal, they stated that the trial would proceed on the previously scheduled date of 14 August.
Then, just yesterday, the tribunal decided to move the trial forward to 19 March. They didn’t offer much explanation, other than saying that the schedule opened up and it was their duty to carry out the judicial process as speedily as possible. Perhaps it’s their way of saying that the defense’s stalling tactics have backfired? Regardless of when the trial begins, it’s already long, long overdue.