718 page Rios Montt judgement released: all eyes on Constitutional Court

Little fanfare accompanied the trial court’s release of its 718 page full reasoned judgment on May 17, 2013, one week after the court convicted former de facto head of state Ríos Montt of genocide and crimes against humanity and sentenced him to 80 years in prison. The trial court simply notified the parties to pick up a copy of the sentence at 3pm, when the doors to the courthouse were already closed to the public.

The release of the judgment also starts the 10-day window for the defense counsel to appeal the guilty verdict, which lawyers for Ríos Montt have pledged to do if the Constitutional Court does not overturn the verdict first.

After the guilty verdict was issued Friday, May 10, the Constitutional Court has said that it has been reviewing various pending challenges lodged by the defense counsel. After postponing the release of the decisions twice last week, the Constitutional Court said on Thursday that it intends to issue judgments on Monday after a 10 amextraordinary session, apparently called in light of ongoing divisions within the Court. ​

The pressures on the Constitutional Court, and in the country, are very high, some of them alarmingly so. Francisco García Gudiel, Rios Montt’s lawyer, expressed his frustration over the Court’s delay in resolving the matter and stated to the press that if the Court rules against his client, there are 45,000 supporters willing and ready to “paralyze” the country. On Thursday, the President of the Bar Association of Guatemala, Luis Reyes, urged the lawyers connected to the trial to refrain from dividing the nation further through their public remarks about the trial.

Meanwhile, the Indigenous Observatory and the Secretary General of the Ixil Community, Miguel Ceto, have accused the powerful business lobby CACIF of funding efforts by former members of civilian patrols (PACs, or private militia groups formed under Ríos Montt) to co-opt people to go to Guatemala City on Monday to lend their support to Rios Montt. The Indigenous Observatory alleged that CACIF secured participation through promises of fertilizer and access to government welfare programs. President Otto Perez Molina affirmed that no government funds could be used to support  protests.

Meanwhile, security concerns remain high for both government officials and human rights defenders perceived as supporting the guilty verdict. Government offices, including the Constitutional Court, have received bomb threats. High-profile government officials, and especially Judge Yassmín Barrios, who presided over the trial, have become the targets of highly sophisticated media campaigns to discredit them. They have also been threatened with disciplinary sanction or even civil or criminal charges.

A protest banner hanging from the highway reads: “Fair Trial – No More War” (Juicio Justo – No Mas Guerra). Handwritten underneath is scrawled “To the Constitutional Court.”  It is meant to recall the war, and perhaps threaten further instability. And its message is clearly directed at the judges who have promised new judgments on Monday.


  1. I for one was gratified to learn of the outcome of Rios Montt’s trial in which he was convicted of genocide. I am a little uncertain of the meaning of genocide — numbers or actions? But I do not think the motive of the military was to eliminate all the Mayan tribes. After all, at least 3/4 of the country’s population is of Mayan descent. In view of this, if all Mayans were exterminated, who would take care of the animals, grow the food, groom the Ladino children for school, perform all the tasks that the Ladinos are not equipped to handle? All or nearly all the manual labor is carried out by the Mayas, all work that keeps the country going.

    At the time of the coup de’ tat I had the congregation of my church rejoicing that a “born again Christian,” had taken the presidential office in Guatemala. Shamefully, I had to correct this error when it was known that his policies were even worse than his predecessor.

    I would also like to mention that from the beginning of the bloody conflict to the end when the Peace Accords were signed between the military and the guerrilla forces in 1996, all the dictators of Guatemala, those who committed a multitude of heinous crimes, were given full support by the US Government during the Reagan/Bush administration. For this reason, they are as culpable as any of the despots in Central America and those still living involved in the Iran-Contra scandal, the same faction that carried out the nefarious activities in the whole of Central America (with the exception of Costa Rica) should be called to task for their criminal behavior. The US Government officials knew full well what they were doing at the time. As what could be thought of as proof, I heard Romeo Lucas, dictator declare in the initial stages of the conflict in 1980 in Guatemala City, “When Ronald Reagan is President of the US, we’ll have no more trouble with our”gringo” friends of the North.” Certainly, this is a clear indication that the military support given to Guatemala was planned ahead of time.

    Not able to reach large numbers of people, by word of mouth, I wrote a book of which it was difficult to find a publisher but finally after many years, it got into print,”Guatemala: Blood In The Cornfields,” I had been in Guatemala at the time the war broke out and the soldiers were sent to Santiago Atitlan to ravage the village. I thought at the time, as was promulgated by the Guatemalan media, that the military was sent to the pueblos to protect the country from Cuba, and to my horror learned that “they” began a killing spree the first night, and it never really ended until the brave indigenous people kicked out the army in 1990, with help of Vinicio Cerezo, civilian president at the time.The pueblo was able to do expel the Army, but only following what was called, “the massacre.” But in truth, this was not “the massacre,'” but only one, and the reason for its having received so much attention worldwide was because it was another one the “firsts’ in Guatemala.

    Many apologies from various sources have been directed to Guatemala’s persecuted people which is very commendable. But one of the greatest tragedies of history seems to be that nothing is ever done at the time the outrages occur, only in retrospect!

  2. Can you please provide the final judgment in Spanish? Will you be providing a translation?

  3. The disgrace of Ronald Reagan’s name being attached to the airport of Washington, D.C., an office building within the District, and a turnpike in Florida should be reversed by expunging the name of this mass-murderer-by-proxy from every public facility to which it has been attached. The airport should return to its historic name, the Washington National Airport, in the name of a truly great American and the father of our country.

  4. What on earth does “moderation” of a comment refer to? The subjects of which we are speaking are far beyond any moderation. Hideous atrocities cannot be adequately described by the use of pleasant and polite words.

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