Will Ríos Montt Go to Trial for the Dos Erres Massacre?

Tomorrow, a court will determine whether former de facto head of state José Efraín Ríos Montt will face trial in relation to the 1982 Dos Erres massacre, in which an elite unit of the Guatemalan army known as Kaibiles slaughtered over 200 people, more than half of whom were children.

Last November, Ríos Montt’s defense lawyers sought to have the charges dismissed, arguing that Ríos Montt is mentally incompetent. Judge Claudette Domínguez of High Risk Court A rejected the motion. However, she did not rule on whether Ríos Montt would be prosecuted under special security provisions that do not require the presence of the defendant and preclude the public from viewing the proceedings. That determination is scheduled to be made at the February 9 hearing. Ríos Montt also faces charges in the Maya Ixil genocide case under these special provisions, but the case remains stalled.

Rumors circulated in Guatemala last week that Ríos Montt had died. Ríos Montt’s family said that while Ríos Montt’s health is delicate, he is still alive. Sources close to the case speculate that the rumors were deployed just prior to tomorrow’s scheduled hearing as a way to pressure the judiciary to dismiss the charges.

If Judge Domínguez determines that Ríos Montt is to be tried using the special security provisions, his guardians — his daughter Zury and his son Enrique — would attend the proceedings on his behalf. However, they granted legal representation to their lawyers, so, presumably, they will not attend the hearings.

Another hearing is scheduled on February 22 in the Dos Erres massacre case involving Santos López Alonzo, a Kaibil officer who was recently deported from the United States. A court has yet to determine whether López Alonzo will face trial in the case.


Jo-Marie Burt is an associate professor of political science and Latin American Studies at George Mason University. She is also a Senior Fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). She is an expert on human rights, transitional justice, and war crimes prosecutions in Latin America.  This report was prepared with the assistance of Paulo Estrada, human rights activist, archaeology student at San Carlos University, and civil party in the Military Diary case.