At the Genocide Trial: We Meet Again

Part of a roundtable reflecting on the death and legacy of dictator Ríos Montt. Read the rest here.

April 24, 2018

We haven’t seen each other in more than 30 years. Yet there you are sitting across the courtroom, eyes elusive. Judge Yassmín Barrios calls you to the stand and asks if you understand that you are being charged with genocide and crimes against humanity?

Yes. You nod your head. We’ve waited for this moment.

Nearly 100 Maya Ixiles survivors testify against you, telling their stories of state sanctioned terrorism, of murder, of how you ordered the destruction of their families, their communities and their culture in excruciating detail. You appear nonplussed, until the Maya Ixil women testify about the sexual violence, when everyone in the courtroom—including your own interpreters cry—do you look uncomfortable.  Because you keep telling yourself that what you’d done was right. What they’d taught you in the School of the Americas about the National Security Doctrine was what had to be followed. President Reagan even supported you in your effort to stop communism at all costs. Even if you had to kill unarmed Maya civilians, even if you had to wipe them off the face of the earth.

When the prosecution shows our interview together from 1982, I see you looking at yourself 30 years younger, at the height of your power and arrogance. You never thought then that you’d fall, you never thought you’d be called to pay for your crimes. You look puzzled.

I wanted to talk to you during the trial, but couldn’t create any incident that might be used by the defense lawyers to derail the prosecution.

A reporter approached you as we were waiting for the verdict to be delivered. He asked, “Do you remember Pamela Yates and that interview you gave her where you claimed that you were at the top of the chain of command?” You said, ‘If I don’t control the Army than what am I doing here?’”

Ríos Montt smiled slightly, “I don’t remember her, but now I’ll never forget her.”

Pamela Yates is the Creative Director of Skylight, and the Director of the films,“When the Mountains Tremble”, "Granito: How to Nail a Dictator" and “500 YEARS."

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