A court-ordered evaluation of former dictator Efrain Rios Montt’s mental fitness to be retried on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity remains in legal limbo. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court of Justice has lifted the immunity of Judge Carol Patricia Flores, the pre-trial judge in Rios Montt’s first genocide trial, clearing the way for a corruption investigation. And presidential candidate Manuel Baldizon has brought his campaign against the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) to an international stage.
Rios Montt’s Transfer in a Deadlock
Whether Rios Montt will face a psychiatric evaluation, and if so, whether it will be at the national mental hospital or a private institution, remains in dispute among different courts involved.
The former leader’s retrial, together with his then-head of military intelligence, Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez, had been scheduled to begin on July 23. The two men face charges of genocide and crimes against humanity related the deaths of 1,771 Mayan Ixiles between March 1982 and August 1983. The constitutional court annulled the first verdict in the case ten days after trial judges convicted Rios Montt―and acquitted Rodriguez Sanchez―on May 10, 2013.
On July 23, the new trial chamber in the case ordered Rios Montt’s transfer to the Federico Mora national psychiatric hospital for a week-long evaluation to determine if his mental health allows for a retrial. Two days later, when the transfer was scheduled to take place, an appeals court specializing in violence against women granted a habeas corpus motion presented by the defense and suspended the transfer. The court gave a judge 24 hours to determine whether the transfer would endanger Rios Montt’s health or subject him to ill-treatment. On Tuesday, July 28, the judge who conducted the habeas corpus review rejected the suspension because, according to the defendant himself, his life was not at risk and he was not under threat of ill-treatment. The appeals court thus ordered the trial court to decide anew on a date for the transfer.
The trial court set the new date for last Wednesday, July 29. Prosecutors, journalists, representatives of Guatemala’s office of the ombudsman, and paramedics gathered in front of Rios Montt’s residence. Once again, everything was ready for the transfer and the ambulance had entered the house when an order from an appellate court again suspended it. This time, the fourth chamber of the criminal appeals court gave one hour for the first instance court to amend its order and send Rios Montt to a different hospital, arguing that conditions at the Federico Mora hospital do not comply with minimum standards.
The courts remain deadlocked after the high-risk trial court confirmed to the appeals chamber that Federico Mora is the only psychiatric hospital equipped to properly evaluate the former dictator. Further, the trial court stated that doctors tasked with conducting such evaluations at the national center could not do so elsewhere because this would require them to neglect their other patients.
On July 31, the Center for Human Rights Legal Action (CALDH) and the Association for Justice and Reconciliation (AJR), which are civil parties in the case, filed a brief with the constitutional court. It denounced the fourth chamber’s decision as discriminatory of other patients currently receiving treatment at the national mental hospital, and argued that the decision played into the defense’s delaying tactics. The presidential commission against discrimination also lodged a complaint that exempting Rios Montt from being evaluated at Federico Mora would amount to discrimination against other patients there. Meanwhile, Rios Montt’s defense attorneys have said that they will continue to pursue every legal avenue to block the transfer. The next hearing of the high-risk trial court in the case is scheduled for August 4, at which time arguments on the location of Rios Montt’s mental evaluation will be heard.
Judge Carol Patricia Flores Loses her Immunity
By unanimous decision last Thursday, July 30, the Supreme Court of Justice lifted Judge Carol Patricia Flores’ immunity from prosecution. The decision followed an impeachment process presented by CICIG and the public prosecutor on April 30. Judge Flores will now face a criminal investigation of suspected illicit gain. According to a preliminary investigation, Judge Flores’ monthly income is insufficient to explain her assets.
Judge Flores has been at the center of controversial decisions in grave crimes cases, including in the case against Rios Montt and Rodriguez Sanchez for genocide and crimes against humanity. On April 18, 2013, when nearly all of the evidence in the first trial of the two men had been heard after a month of testimony, Judge Flores issued a ruling that the trial would have to return to where it had stood in November 2011. Although the constitutional court ordered her on December 18, 2014 to hold a hearing to rescind her decision, she has refused to do so without the presence of the ailing Ríos Montt. Judge Flores is also the judge who first ordered a controversial medical evaluation carried out by the national forensic institute. The trial court in the retrial of Rios Montt and Rodriguez Sanchez has subsequently dismissed that evaluation because Judge Flores was not competent to request it.
Anti-CICIG Media Campaign
Lider presidential candidate Manuel Baldizon has brought his complaints about CICIG to Washington. He was in the U.S. capital last Monday, July 27, to meet with Organization of American States Secretary General Luis Almagro Lemes. Baldizon decried foreign intrusion into Guatemala’s political affairs, claiming that he was victim of political persecution, and that CICIG was behind a conspiracy against him and his party. In an interview with CNN, Baldizon stated that he felt CICIG is important and should continue in Guatemala, but without Ivan Velasquez, the Colombian lawyer who currently serves as its head.
The Lider party is favored to win the September 6 polls, but in the past two months joint investigations by CICIG and Guatemala’s attorney general have linked several of its candidates to alleged corruption. Among others, Lider vice-presidential candidate Edgar Barquin has been tied to an alleged money laundering network. On July 30, the Supreme Court of Justice allowed impeachment proceedings requested by CICIG and the attorney general against three Lider candidates suspected of influence peddling.
Meanwhile, CICIG and Attorney General Thelma Aldana have continued to enjoy support from the general population, civil society, political and economic organizations, and the diplomatic community. In an interview last Thursday, Commissioner Velasquez argued that it is normal for those affected by criminal investigations to complain about the investigators.