Guatemala: from bananas to genocide conviction
Guatemalan justice: retired Gen. Jose Efrain Rios Montt is mobbed in a packed courtroom after the guilty verdict was read on May 10, 2013
May 14th, 2013
08:43 AM ET

Guatemala: from bananas to genocide conviction

By Emma Lacey-Bordeaux, CNN

Follow on Twitter: @CNNEmma

Editor's Note: Listen to the full story in our player above, and join the conversation in our comments section below.

(CNN) - When it comes to justice, Guatemala historically has had issues. Law professor Naomi Roht-Arriaza says the country only has a 2 percent conviction rate. That's one reason why she says the conviction of former Guatemalan dictator, Efrain Rios Montt, is an achievement.

Rios Montt presided over one of the bloodiest chapters of Guatemala's 36-year civil war. His conviction for his role in the genocide of indigenous tribes, and the trial itself, gave many Guatemalans an opportunity, according to Roht-Arriaza:

[4:06] "Everyone is watching right?  This was on national TV everyday, it was on radio, it was all over the newspapers. And people could come, the courtroom was always full of spectators, many of them from areas that were destroyed when Rios Montt was in charge of the armed forces."

But the story of Guatemala's violent decades goes beyond Montt. The conflict itself has its roots with land reform, the domino theory and bananas, according to Dr. Virginia Garrard Burnett:

[0:13] "It's a sad but really interesting cold war parable," she says. "It all started in the 1950's when Guatemala's president tried to institute land reform. The single biggest land owner in the country was the American-owned United Fruit Company."

The company was well-connected, the CIA got involved and the president was toppled in a coup. That's also when violent clashes between the military on the right and guerrillas on the left began. Rios Montt came to power in 1982 and embarked on a scorched earth campaign. During Montt's 17-month rule, some 1,700 indigenous Ixil Mayans were killed.

Montt was ousted in 1983 but went on to serve in Guatemala's parliament  He had immunity until he resigned last year. Journalist Xeni Jardin was in the court for portions of the seven-month trial. She says the verdict is important, but:

[5:14] "The resolution of the court did not lead to some utopian instant peace where everyone is happy and mellow and feels good about each other, it's quite the opposite."

In fact, an appeal seems likely and, already, many have spoken out against it, including Guatemala's current president.

For now though, it's justice delayed, but not denied, in Guatemala.

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soundoff (3 Responses)
  1. ACorn

    why wasn't this a bigger story? Is it because the US propped him up?

    May 14, 2013 at 5:47 pm | Report abuse |