Sunday, May 11, 2014

Presidents and Mothers / Presidentes y madres

photo: courtesy the Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala and CMI Guatemala

Yesterday, May 10, was the one-year anniversary of the historic sentence of genocide in Guatemala against Efrain Ríos Montt, president (by coup d’tat) of this country from 1982–1983. It was the first time anywhere that a government official had been tried for crimes against humanity in their own country. The Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala (NISGUA) issued a “worldwide action in commemoration” of this historic event by asking people to select a phrase or paragraph of the genocide sentence to read aloud (see below).

It was also Mother’s Day here, always on May 10, so the two events are inextricably bound forever. I think of all the mothers in Guatemala who lost loved ones or were brutally raped during the civil war, which ended in 1996 after 36 years. Over 200,000 people were killed and 50,000 displaced during that time (out of only 15 million, about the size of Tennessee); and so many problems still exist. Obviously, it wasn’t just Ríos Montt who was responsible, but the evidence against him was fierce, and the 86-year-old man was sentenced to 80 years imprisonment.

“We the Judges believe that the means of proof that we have analyzed prove that the inhabitants of Santa María Nebaj, San Juan Cotzal and San Gaspar Chajul belonged to the Ixil ethnic group, [that] they were persons dedicated to agricultural activities, and [that they] belonged to a civilian population that was attacked without offering resistance. [It] has been amply demonstrated by the historical, social and military expert opinions, as well as by the testimony of eyewitnesses, that the men, women, elderly people and children were subjected to inhuman treatment, [given that] they were removed from their houses, subjected to torture, a great number of women were raped, and the survivors were forced to flee to the mountains in order to save their lives. [This] shows that they were treated with extreme cruelty and brutal perversion. [It] has been demonstrated that the aim was to cause the disappearance of the Ixil ethnic group.”

Unfortunately,  the conviction was annulled 10 days later by the Constitutional Court (CC), based on a complaint from Ríos Montt's defense attorney.

The standing president of Guatemala, Otto Pérez Molina (elected in 2012), was a military general in the 1980s, heavily suspected of having a hand in the disappearance or murder of civilians at that time. An article in Foreign Policy in Focus (FPIF) charged that Pérez Molina's government has been taking “careful and calculated” steps “to stifle dissent.” The article details attacks (sometimes fatal) on journalists, human rights defenders, dam or mining opponents, unionists, judges and prosecutors. The widely-respected Attorney General, Claudia Paz y Paz, who successfully brought the case against Montt, has been dismissed as of the end of this month. One of the judges has also been dismissed.

According to FPIF:
Attacks on human rights defenders — a term encompassing journalists, judicial workers, unionists, indigenous leaders, and others working for basic rights — increased last year by 126%. ...
18 human rights defenders were assassinated, a 72% increase over 2012, even as the country’s general murder rate has decreased. ...
Last year the government filed 61 unsubstantiated criminal complaints against human rights defenders, holding some leaders for months on charges ranging from usurpation to terrorism. Most of those targeted were indigenous leaders defending their land from transnational companies that are erecting large-scale mining projects, plantations of sugar cane and palm oil, and hydroelectric dams without the consent of communities. ...
Journalists, too, have been sued, for charges ranging from slander and extortion to insulting the president. ...
4 journalists were assassinated in 2013. ...

In 1870, Julia Ward Howe wrote the original Mother's Day Proclamation when she was 51 years old (she also wrote “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”). It was an appeal to womanhood to rise against war in response to the Franco-Prussian War. She was appalled by “the cruel and unnecessary character of the contest ... a return to barbarism, the issue having been one which might easily have been settled without bloodshed.”
Arise, then, women of this day! Arise all women who have heart, whether our baptism be that of water or tears!

Say firmly:

'We will not have our great questions decided by irrelevant agencies.

Our husbands shall not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause.

Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.

We women of one country will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.

In the name of womanhood and of humanity, I earnestly ask that a general congress of women without limits of nationality may be appointed and held at some place deemed most convenient and at the earliest period consider with its objects to promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions, the great and general interests of peace.
apron designs by Lisa Simms, 2014 Santiago Guatemala
designs by Lisa Simms, 2014

Please help me commemorate the brave actions of Guatemalans in bringing a war criminal to trial.

By the way, our own former president, George W. Bush, is a convicted war criminal as well. In February 2011, Bush was forced to cancel a scheduled appearance in Geneva, Switzerland “after human rights groups filed a criminal complaint charging him with violating international treaties against torture. 

Bush, along with former Vice President Dick Cheney, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and several other top Bush administration officials — were convicted of war crimes in absentia by a special war crimes tribunal in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Commission was convened and conducted according to internationally recognized procedures and rules of evidence, and the week-long hearing ended with the five-member panel unanimously delivering guilty verdicts.

Happy Mother's Day!

Ruiz-Goiriena, Romina. "A Year after Genocide Trial, Has Justice Been Done?" CNN. Cable News Network, 07 May 2014. Web. 11 May 2014. <>.

"Guatemala: Victims Challenge Suspension of Ríos Montt Trial." World War 4 Report, 23 Apr. 2013. Web. 08 May 2014. <>.

Davis, Patricia. "Guatemala: Suppressing Dissent at Home and Abroad - FPIF." Foreign Policy In Focus. N.p., 24 Apr. 2014. Web. 05 May 2014. <>.

"Bush Administration Convicted of War Crimes." Information Clearing House. N.p., 31 May 2013. Web. 11 May 2014. <>.

Ridley, Yvonne. "Bush Convicted of War Crimes in Absentia." Foreign Policy Journal. N.p., 12 May 2012. Web. 11 May 2014. <>.

Davis, Patricia. "In Guatemala, A Mass Grave for the Truth." Foreign Policy In Focus. N.p., 23 Apr. 2013. Web. 09 May 2014. <>.

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