Guatemala's Mayan Community Wins One For a Change
I saw the masked men
throwing truth into a well.
When I began to weep for it
I found it everywhere.
- Claudia Lars (El Salvador)
Those of us who have struggled for peace and justice over the past decades don’t have much to celebrate these days. But the news from Guatemala that a female judge -- Yasmin Barrios -- was able to successfully manage a trial in that benighted nation and convict former President Efrain Rios Montt of genocide is something to rejoice about. It suggests it’s no longer business as usual in Latin America -- especially vis-à-vis the United States.
The big stick of North American imperialism from Teddy Roosevelt to Ronald Reagan appears to be dwindling in size. The sentencing of a Guatemalan president to 80 years in prison for employing scorched earth tactics against native Mayan Indians is an amazing milestone -- and an incredible story to boot.
Following a 1954 US-directed coup that overthrew democratically elected President Jacobo Arbenz for his efforts at agrarian reform, the tiny Central American nation descended into a condition that can only be characterized, for the native Mayan people, as a state of Hell-on-Earth. The fact that President Rios Montt undertook his systematic slaughter of many thousands of Mayan peasants with the endorsement of Ronald Reagan only makes the conviction that much sweeter.
In the photograph, at left, Ronald Reagan, “the Great Communicator,” meets with Rios Montt, who is holding a document titled “This government has the commitment to change.” At the time, Reagan said Rios Montt was "a man of great personal integrity and commitment" who wanted to "promote social justice." At right, is a line of bodies from one of the Guatemalan army's massacres of people who, no doubt, were deemed "communists" and, therefore, inhuman and justifiably slaughtered like vermin.
Army General Efrain Rios Montt became president of Guatemala thanks to a coup in March 1982. He was, then, deposed by another coup in August 1983. This was a time when Mr. Reagan was hypnotizing the American people with his aw-shucks, soothing Hollywood narcotic speech tones.
Previous to the supportive Reagan administration, the Carter administration had cut off military aid to the Guatemalan military. But, then, our representatives in Washington cut a deal with Israel to arm the Guatemalan army and, thanks to lots of experience with Palestinians, to teach them how to monitor and keep track of the Mayans utilizing computerized records and other hi-tech tricks. Rios Montt reportedly once told ABC News that his success was due to the fact that “our soldiers were trained by Israelis."