Guatemalan Genocide Trial Scheduled to Reopen This Week Amid Growing Corruption Crisis

The genocide trial against former dictator Efrain Rios Montt is due to reopen in Guatemala on Thursday, July 23. The trial gripped the nation when Rios Montt was convicted of genocide in 2013. However, the attention on the anticipated retrial has been limited given the obstacles to prosecution, as well as the country’s growing political crisis, following massive corruption scandals brought to light by the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) and the public prosecutor.

The Rios Montt retrial has been stymied by obstacles and its opening this week is far from certain. Earlier this month, Guatemala’s National Forensic Institute presented a medical report concluding that Rios Montt was unfit to stand trial. Relying on this medical report, defense attorneys have sought to halt any efforts to retry the former dictator, presenting a legal challenge on Thursday.

The content of the evaluation has raised questions, relying on an analysis of the general when he was sedated. Further, the civil parties – the Center for Human Rights Legal Action (CALDH) and the Association for Justice and Reconciliation (AJR) – have questioned the impartiality of the medical evaluation, ordered by an investigative judge who no longer has authority over the case and is facing corruption challenges herself.

On April 30, CICIG and the public prosecutor sought to remove the immunity from prosecution for this investigative judge, Carol Patricia Flores, alleging illicit gain and her involvement in money laundering. Last week, Judge Jaime Amilcar Gonzalez advanced the effort to remove Judge Flores’ immunity, endorsing the prosecutor’s recommendation. The Supreme Court will make a final ruling.

On May 10, 2013, Rios Montt was convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity for his responsibility in the death of 1,771 indigenous Mayan Ixiles between March 1982 and August 1983; his head of military intelligence, Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez, was acquitted of the same crimes. Ten days later, the verdict was annulled by a divided judgment of the constitutional court, requiring a retrial which has been repeatedly stalled. The civil parties have also challenged the constitutional court’s intervention before the Inter-American Human Rights Commission, a challenge that is still pending.

Meanwhile, popular protests against corruption continued for the thirteenth straight week, this time with thousands gathered in the main square of Guatemala City demanding the president’s resignation and electoral reforms.

The investigations of CICIG and the public ministry last week implicated prominent candidates for the upcoming national elections. On July 15, authorities arrested 12 people and sought to remove the immunity from prosecution of three Líder members of congress, the party favored to win the September 6 polls. Among those implicated in the multi-million dollar corruption and money laundering investigation was Edgar Barquín, the Líder vice presidential candidate. According to CICIG, this is the first case of illicit financing in the past eight years, indicative of the difficulty in prosecuting corruption cases in Guatemala. Two weeks earlier, on July 6, authorities sought to remove the immunity from prosecution for four other Líder candidates implicated in corruption.

On Thursday, CICIG presented a report on corruption in elections financing, denouncing rampant corruption among all political parties. According to CICIG commissioner Ivan Velasquez, three-quarters of all political party financing comes from corruption and organized crime. Nonetheless, there is near-total impunity for crimes related to electoral financing.

Líder presidential candidate Manuel Baldizon decried the accusations as a “conspiracy” targeting the political party and accused CICIG of “judicializing” politics. The party called for a mass protest against CICIG to draw 100,000 supporters to Guatemala City on Thursday.

Nonetheless, CICIG’s work is drawing accolades both inside and outside Guatemala. Following mass anti-corruption protests in Honduras, the U.S. government announced it would set aside $2 million for the creation of an international anti-corruption commission in Honduras.