Rios Montt passed on: Fight for justice continues
Guatemala's former dictator Efrain Rios Montt stands in the courtroom on trial. | Moises Castillo/AP

I begin this with reference to the recent fine article written by Emile Schepers in the PW on the passing of the genocidal despot, Jose Efrain Rios Montt of Guatemala. Just a small comment by way of correction: Schepers says in reference to the decades-long Guatemalan conflict that “there began a long civil war in which over 200,000 people, most of them civilians and many of them members of the large Indigenous population of Guatemala were killed.” There were not just “many members” of the Maya people killed, but over 200,000 of them who were slaughtered and some recent estimates indicate the figure is as high as 250,000.

The vast majority of those killed were Maya. Perhaps, the true figure will never be known. Over 440 and as many, by some accounts, 600 Maya villages were literally wiped from the face of the earth and 50,000 non-Maya were “disappeared.” Again, the real number may never be known. This struggle is now known in some quarters as the “Silent Holocaust.”

I am familiar with the horrific Guatemalan tragedy as I was in the country during the summer of 1991 along with several hundred other Indigenous from North, Central and South America, attending the Second Intercontinental Indian Conference when the civil war was still raging. The conference supported the Maya armed struggle against the government. I was subsequently involved over the years with organizing actions in support of the Guatemalan struggle with an emphasis on the long-suffering Maya population in conjunction with the Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala (NISGUA), including bringing Maya survivors to speak at venues in this country.

The passing of Rios Montt at age 91, on April 1, has to be bittersweet.  He died of a heart attack and was under house arrest awaiting his retrial on genocide. On the one hand, his passing has to bring tears of joy, while on the other hand, his demise evokes great bitterness because he never paid for his crimes against humanity.

The Maya had long been the victims of racist slaughter beginning with the Spanish invasion in the 16th Century. But it must also be remembered that the Maya have heroically resisted in a myriad of ways including armed struggle for the past several hundred years. Notable in this regard is the Caste War of Yucatan, 1847 to the 1930’s during which time the Maya maintained an independent, sovereign Native state and the 1994 Zapatista rebellion in Chiapas that is ongoing to this very day.

Albert Bender

Nashville, Tenn.


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