good things come in threes

It’s been a bad week or so for the forces of darkness in Latin America. The news that former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt has been found guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity was greeted with jubilation in many parts of the country. The case centred on the murder of nearly 1,800 Mayan Ixils. But the river of blood flowed far more freely than this. Rios Montt was central to the genocide carried out in the country, which killed or disappeared almost 250,000 people. Rios Montt and the rest of the genocidists were warmly backed by the Reagan government. Each new atrocity in Guatemala was greeted by US government spokespeople saying the human rights situation in the country was ‘improving’. A summary of the reaction to the conviction has been drawn up by LAB (see here).

In another blow for the mad men of the military, Uruguay has convicted General Miguel Dalmao for crimes under that country’s dictatorship. The hat trick was rounded off by the death of former Argentinian military President Jorge Rafael Videla. He died in jail, serving a fifty year sentence for kidnapping children. In reality this was the tip of the iceberg. Upwards of 30,000 people were murdered or disappeared in Argentina’s Dirty War (see here for Amnesty’s view on his passing).

It is interesting that all these convictions have emanated from within Latin American countries’ judicial processes themselves. International bodies such as the International Criminal Court (which seems to only target African dictators – see here for a piece by George Monbiot) or International Criminal Tribunals deal only with small, weak nations or the current members of the United States list of cartoon cutout baddies (however real the crimes that some of these have committed). Whole swathes of genocidists, including a long line of Latin American dictators, and the two major war criminals of the modern era – Bush and Blair – are off limits.

Apolo Santana, long time campaigner with the Clwyd Latin America Human Rights Group, praised the Rios Montt verdict. “The verdict could open the door for future charges against officials involved in atrocities during Guatemala’s 36 year civil was,” he said. “Justice is slow but eventually arrives.”

Like many of his follow Latin Americans, Apolo did not mourn the death of Rafael Videla. “The brutality of his regime was such that not even pregnant women escaped death, having their babies “adopted” by members of the military. Argentina’s military barracks became centres for torture and disappearance of thousands of people. Videla and his “buddies” (Galtieri, Massera, Agosti, Viola) ran the country until 1981 using the military and the secret police to repress any attempt of resistance to their rule. At the age of 87, this monster died unrepentant of his crimes and took full responsibility for his army’s actions during his rule, saying, “I accept the responsibility as the highest military authority during the internal war. My subordinates followed my orders”.”


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