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Guilty of Genocide: Guatemalan Dictator Sentenced to 80 Years in Jail

Ríos Montt was convicted of overseeing the slaughter of more than 1,700 people in Guatemala’s Ixil region.

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AMY GOODMAN: CNN host Fernando del Rincón pressied President Molina further, asking him if he would go against the Guatemalan justice system and continue to deny that there’s a genocide.

PRESIDENT OTTO PÉREZ MOLINA: [translated] Well, that’s hypothetical, Fernando. What you are telling me is an assumption. What is missing here is that the higher courts declare on the matter. I am not a part of the defense of General Ríos, and I will not be part of the official defense of General Ríos. In any case, as an executive, as president of the country, what is my responsibility is to be respectful. And it is what I also ask of all Guatemalans, that we be law-abiding. Here, we have to respect and we need to strengthen all the levels of justice. And what I have always said, we want justice to be served, but we want it to be a justice that is not biased to one side nor the other, because it would cease to be justice. And then what would happen is that Guatemalans would lose rather than be strengthened. They would lose confidence in the justice system. I’m not going to issue an opinion at this time.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s the Guatemalan president, Otto Pérez Molina, being interviewed by CNN. Investigative journalist Allan Nairn, your response?

ALLAN NAIRN: Well, at one point, it sounds like Pérez Molina is trying to take credit for the trial. And the trial happened against his will. And, in fact, just a few weeks ago, he intervened behind the scenes to help kill the trial, and it was only revived after an intense backlash from the Guatemalan public and also international pressure. This morning’s Wall Street Journal carries a  piece that has additional evidence citing various residents of the areas that Pérez Molina commanded also talking about him committing atrocities.

One of the remarks that Pérez Molina made in response to the verdict against Ríos Montt—he was echoing the comments of the American Chamber of Commerce, which represents the U.S. corporations in Guatemala—was to say that this verdict will discourage foreign investment in Guatemala. It’s a very revealing comment, because foreign companies, when they come into a country and are looking to invest, they want some laws to be enforced, like the laws on contracts, and they want other laws not to be enforced, like the labor laws and the laws which stop them from murdering their employees if they try to organize unions. In the ’80s, the leaders of the American Chamber of Commerce described to me how they would sometimes turn over names of troublesome workers to the security forces, and they would then disappear or be assassinated. Fred Sherwood was one of the Chamber of Commerce leaders who described that. And now, with this verdict, it seems that Pérez Molina and the corporate leaders and the elites in Guatemala, in general, are worried that they may have a harder time killing off workers and organizers when they need to.

And it’s especially relevant right now because there’s a huge conflict in Guatemala about mining. American and Canadian mining companies are being brought in by the Pérez Molina government to exploit silver and other minerals. The local communities are resisting. Community organizers have been killed. There was a clash in which a police officer was killed. So Pérez Molina has imposed a state of siege in various parts of the country. And just the other day, the local press printed a wiretap transcript of the head of security at one of these mines, in this case the San Rafael mining operation, where the security chief says to his men, regarding demonstrators who were outside the mine, he says, "Goddamn dogs, they do not—they do not understand that the mine generates jobs. We must eliminate these animal pieces of [bleep]. We cannot allow people to establish resistance. Kill those sons of [bleep]." And the security people later opened fire. This is the way foreign companies operate, not just in Guatemala, but around the world. I mean, it’s this kind of non-enforcement of law that made possible the Bangladesh factory collapse that killed over a hundred workers. And now they’re worried in Guatemala—

 
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