Various civic organizations denounced the December 17 decision by Guatemala’s Constitutional Court that ruled that the government of Spain has no jurisdiction in seeking to bring charges against five Guatemalan generals and two civilians accused of genocide. The court also decided, in a ruling emitted last week, that the arrests of army officers Ángel Aníbal Guevara Rodríguez and Pedro García Arredondo, which were demanded by human rights advocates, should be dropped. This week’s ruling would affect the prosecution of genocide charges against the notorious generals Efraín Ríos Montt and Benedicto Lucas García (both of whom became president), General Germán Chupina Barahona, as well as the civilians Donaldo Álvarez Ruiz and Pedro García Arredondo. The justices of the court claim that their decision is based on law and on the principle of defending the sovereignty of the republic.
At issue is the seizure by Guatemalan military and police of the Embassy of Spain in 1980. Guatemalan dissidents, including the father of Nobel Peace Prize-winner Rigoberta Menchú, were shot and burnt to death in a conflagration that remains mysterious to this day. Spanish official Federico Saínz was among the dead after Guatemalan troops stormed the embassy, ostensibly to arrest the dissidents despite the diplomatic immunity of the facility and its personnel. Official relations between Guatemala and Spain were severed for a time thereafter.
The Myrna Mack Foundation, the Association for Justice and Reconciliation, and the Center for Legal Action on Human Rights criticized the court’s decision and indicated that it may have had political motives. “This merely demonstrates to us that there is no justice in Guatemala and that cases of genocide will never be brought to justice”, said Rigoberta Menchú, who won a Nobel Prize for Peace in 1992. She also criticized the Guatemalan government for not taking up the case for over eight years, which required those seeking justice to recur to foreign courts. Menchú added “They cannot be arrested here, but the warrants for their arrest continue to be valid outside of the country.”
A 35-year fratricidal war between the government and people of Guatemala ended in a truce concluded in 1996. Human rights groups headed up by the Catholic Church and local human rights organizations concluded that the great majority of those killed during the war lost their lives at the hands of Guatemala’s military which throughout most of the period received military aid and training from the United States and Israel. US President Bill Clinton in 1999 told the people of Guatemala that his country was wrong to support the military in its pogroms weighed against indigenous populations, church leaders, dissidents, teachers, and entirely innocent victims.
Catholic bishop Juan Jose Gerardi, a human rights leader , was murdered in 1998. Other Christian clergy murdered during the military's onslaught was Rev. Stanley Rother, a Catholic priest whose cause for beatification is now being postulated. Rother was one of 10 Catholic priests murdered in 1981 alone. The Guatemalan military was implicated in their deaths, as well as the deaths of numerous other missionaries and human rights activists. In 1984, a US Peace Corps volunteer was also murdered.
Ironically, General Efrain Rios Montt is the brother of Bishop Mario Rios Montt, who succeeded in the see vacated by Bishop Gerardi. General Rios Montt is the founder of the Guatemalan Republican Front party and is considered to be a friend of US televangelist Pat Robertson. An ordained minister of the Pentecostal Church of the Word, General Rios Montt came to power in a coup d'etat in March 1983 but was deposed in August of the following year. While once seen as a reformer during the Reagan ad