Moral Low Ground


Guatemala’s US-Backed Ex-Military Dictator Efrain Rios Montt Faces Second Genocide Trial over Dos Erres Massacre

Rios Montt. (Photo: SOA Watch)

The former head of Guatemala’s military is facing a second genocide trial after a judge ruled that he could be prosecuted for his role in the slaughter of 201 villagers in a 1982 massacre.

The BBC reports that General Efrain Rios Montt, a close ally of then- US President Ronald Reagan and a graduate of the US Army School of the Americas, will be tried for his role in the 1982 Las Dos Erres massacre, in which 201 men, women and children were killed by an elite commando unit of the Guatemalan army.

Rios Montt was Guatemala’s de facto military dictator in 1982 and 1983, one of the most violent periods during the Central American country’s 36-year civil war. Around 200,000 people, mostly poor, indigenous peasants, were killed during the conflict, more than 90 percent of them by the country’s brutal, US-backed military.

Rios Montt, age 85, was charged in January with genocide and crimes against humanity over the deaths of 1,700 indigenous Mayans and a campaign of rape and torture against leftist guerillas and their supporters.

On Monday, Judge Patricia Flores ruled that there was sufficient evidence to try Rios Montt for his role in the 1982 Dos Erres massacre. Flores rejected the defense’s assertion that since the general was not actually present at the massacre, he could not be tried for it. But prosecutors successfully argued that he had authorized the operation and thus bore responsibility for the atrocity.

After leftist guerrillas ambushed an army convoy near the village of Dos Erres in October 1982, killing 21 government soldiers, a special forces unit called the Kaibiles was deployed on December 4. Disguised as guerrillas, the elite soldiers were ordered to kill everything that moved.

The men of Dos Erres were tortured. Children were thrown alive into the village well. Babies had their heads bashed against walls or trees. Girls and women were brutally raped before being shot or bludgeoned to death with sledgehammers, then thrown into the well themselves. Fetuses were torn from pregnant girls and women. Some girls were kept alive for some time after the massacre, raped repeatedly, then strangled when they were no longer “useful.”

On the very same day that the Kaibiles attacked Las Dos Erres, President Reagan met with Rios Montt, who fully supported the killings. Reagan called him “a man of great personal integrity who wants to improve the quality of life for all Guatemalans and to promote social justice.”

Five Kaibiles who took part in the massacre have been tried, convicted and sentenced to lengthy prison terms. One, Pedro Pimentel Rios— who was hired as an instructor at the US Army School of the Americas and awarded a US Army Commendation medal just after Dos Erres– was sentenced to 6,060 years in prison.


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