|"Aura Elena Farfan, who heads an organization for families of the war's disappeared, inside her office in Guatemala City, surrounded by pictures of Guatemalans who were killed or disappeared during the 36-year-long civil war." (Arturo Godoy)|
By Lomi Kriel
The Houston Chronicle, May 26, 2012
"In 1982, the Guatemalan Army attacked a tiny village in the desolate northern region of Peten, raping, torturing and killing at least 200 peasants, including pregnant women and infants, tossing their bodies in a well and wiping the village off the map. For years, no one revealed what had occurred because they were afraid. It was only 12 years later -- as Guatemala's civil war was drawing to a close -- when some relatives confided in their priests, setting in motion two decades of seeking justice. Culminating with a judge's ruling this week, the massacre of Dos Erres could make Guatemala the first Latin American nation to try a dictator for genocide -- a remarkable feat for a country riddled with impunity and whose military, until now, has seemed untouchable. Thanks to a series of extraordinary events, prosecutors were able to obtain detailed information about what happened at Dos Erres, including eyewitness accounts from soldiers themselves - unprecedented, as the military refused to release practically any information about its wartime role. After years of international pressure forced the nation's courts to act, the case last year became the first of 626 massacres allegedly committed by the military to send army soldiers to prison. On Monday, a Guatemalan judge ruled Gen. Efraín Ríos Montt, the dictator overseeing the darkest wartime chapter, should also stand trial for the massacre. 'It's huge, both because it sets a precedent in the Americas but also because this was a tremendous wound on the psyche of Guatemalans,' said Eric Olson, senior associate at the Mexican Institute of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
Not only has the case of Dos Erres succeeded in holding some of Guatemala's war criminals accountable, it also reveals how U.S. officials knew about the atrocities that occurred but did nothing. In fact, a month after receiving reports that the military had committed the massacre, President Ronald Reagan affirmed his support of Montt, whose 'scorched earth' tactics meant, at its height, about 3,000 people were killed or disappeared a month. In sum, a quarter of a million people -- 3 percent of Guatemala's population -- died or went missing during the 36-year-long war between the army and leftist guerrillas, Latin America's most violent conflict. In 1999, two weeks after a United Nations-backed truth commission concluded that the U.S.-supported security forces committed at least 90 percent of the war's human rights abuses, saying it had committed genocide against the country's indigenous Mayans, then-President Bill Clinton said Washington 'was wrong' to have supported Guatemalan security forces. 'It is important that I state clearly that support for military forces or intelligence units which engaged in violent and widespread repression of the kind described in the report was wrong,' Clinton said. As Guatemala's current president, a retired general with his own questionable wartime record, lobbies to lift a U.S. ban on military aid, the case raises questions about whether that should be authorized. The story of Dos Erres also suggests that Guatemala's civil war has simply transitioned into the drug war, with the same parties benefitting. Razed by the army, the village is now a ranch owned by one of Guatemala's most powerful drug dealing families with links to the Mexican drug cartel Los Zetas. Relatives must beg permission from narcos to mourn at the site. [...]"