Despite Historic Conviction, Genocide Continues in Guatemala

On May 10th, the Guatemalan Court of Justice convicted the ex-dictator General Ríos Montt to 80 years in prison for the massacres of indigenous people during the 1980s. But while the Guatemalan people celebrate the conviction, the processes of genocide initiated 30 years ago by Ríos Montt’s massacres still continue by other means.

Photo by Caracol ProduccionesSource: Food First

On May 10th, the Guatemalan Court of Justice convicted the ex-dictator General Ríos Montt to 80 years in prison for the massacres of indigenous people during the 1980s [1]. Many Guatemalans hope that the judicial process against the criminals of the country’s “dirty war” will continue [2].

But while the Guatemalan people celebrate the conviction, the processes of genocide initiated 30 years ago by Ríos Montt’s massacres still continue by other means.

In the last decade, the expansion of oil palm plantations and sugarcane production for ethanol in Northern Guatemala has displaced hundreds of Maya-Q´eqchi´ peasant families, increasing poverty, hunger, unemployment and landlessness in the region, confirms Alberto Alfonso-Fradejas in the new Food First report, “Sons and Daughters of the Earth: Indigenous Communities and Land Grabs in Guatemala” [3]. There is a tremendous contradiction here: at the same time that the ex-General Ríos Montt is convicted for genocide, the state allows the oligarchy, allied with extractive industries, to displace entire populations without taking into account the human cost, and in many cases, resulting in the murder and imprisonment of rural people who resist the assault. The genocide against the indigenous peasant population in Guatemala no longer has the face of a military dictatorship supported by the United States…. Now it is the corporations, the oligarchy and the World Bank who push peasants off their lands.

The fourteen families of the oligarchy who control the country’s sugarcane-producing companies (AZAZGUA), the five companies that control the national production of ethanol, along with the eight families that control the production of palm oil (GREPALMA) [4] and members of the Coordinating Committee of Agricultural, Commercial, Industrial, and Financial Associations (CACIF) are accumulating land and wealth with the support of investment from international institutions such as the World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI). The convergence of multiple global crises: finance, energy, food and environment, has directed corporate investment into land-based resources such as agrofuels, minerals, pasture and food. The situation in Guatemala is extremely violent; this is due to the global trend in which agrarian, financial and industrial interests converge to grab control of peasant lands and resources.

In many ways, land grabbing is a new form of genocide. Ricardo Falla’s study “What Do You Mean There Was No Genocide?” analyzes the definition of genocide and its characteristics [5]. According to Falla, of the five acts that define genocide, two were most prominent in Guatemala: “the massacre of the members of a group” and “the intentional subjection of a group to living conditions which will lead to their total or partial physical destruction.” The first genocide was against the Ixil peoples during the time of Ríos Montt. This second genocide is enacted through the privation of the Q´eqchi´ peoples’ means of survival through land grabs. Hundreds of families have been displaced; they do not have land on which to produce or live and they are denied their cultural and community identity. These are conditions that lead to their physical destruction.

The conviction against a person who committed genocide is an historic victory, but it is not enough [6]. Ríos Montt was convicted only after he was no longer useful to the system of exploitation and subjugation. The oligarchy, which benefitted from the genocide, continues to commit genocide against the indigenous peasant population. They are supported by international investment and hidden by a legal system that favors land grabs to the detriment of the Guatemalan people.

[1] “The judges are totally convinced of the intent for the physical destruction of the Ixil’ area, in reference to the death of 1,771 indigenous Ixil people in Quiché between 1982 and 1983, perpetrated by the Army. Moreover, “the attitude of Ríos Montt is inexplicable, which allowed the Army to carry out massacres, massive violations against the population.” Judge Jasmín Barrios, Tribunal Primero A de Mayor Riesgo, reading the sentence, Prensa Libre, 05/11/13.

[2] “To the surprise of all, one of the ex-military witnesses testified that Pérez Molina (President of Guatemala) ordered the committing of atrocities. I was going to give my testimony in the trial, but at the last moment, I was blocked, because they feared that I would also mention the role of Pérez Molina. Now that the trial is ending, if Ríos Montt is convicted the next question will be: what role did Pérez Molina play?” Commentary (of the American journalist present in the area of Ixcán in 1982) Allain Nair,

[3] Alonso-Fradejas, Alberto. 2013. “Sons and Daughters of the Earth”: Indigenous communities and land grabs in Guatemala (Land & Sovereignty in the Americas Series, No. 1) Oakland, CA: Food First/Institute for Food and Development Policy and Transnational Institute.

[4] Asociación de Azucareros de Guatemala / Association of Sugarcane Producers of Guatemala (ASAZGUA) y Gremial de Palmicultores de Guatemala / Guild of Palm Growers of Guatemala (GREPALMA).

[5] Genocide was defined in the Convention for the Prevention and Sanction of the Crime of Genocide, adopted December 9, 1948, in effect since January 12, 1951. Signed by Guatemala in 1950. In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
(a) Killing members of the group; (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

[6] The process against Ríos Montt was interrupted on two occasions and has encountered many obstacles since it started on March 19, 2013. At least 150 recusals, complaints, requests for dismissal of judges and others have been imposed throughout the trial. The process against Ríos Montt and Rodríguez Sánchez started in 2000 when the Association of Justice and Reconciliation (AJR) presented the denunciation in the department of Quiché. However, the tried party that received the document was not likely due to the rain of legal resources, but to the fact that Ríos Montt maintained immunity from that year until 2012, when he was no longer a congressperson. “Genocide: Court condemns Ríos Montt to 80 years and absolves Rodríguez” Prensa Libre, 05/11/13.