San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Guatemalan ex-dictator deemed unfit for genocide trial

GUATEMALA CITY – Guatemalan medical experts have determined that 80-year-old former dictator Óscar Mejía is too sick to stand trial for genocide and war crimes, justice officials said Monday.

After almost a week of tests, specialists concluded that Mejía has an “organic medical disorder” that makes it difficult for him to express himself and “limits his capacity to understand,” judge Patricia Flores said.

The team from the National Institute of Forensic Science also said Mejía had lost movement in his legs and decided that given his physical and mental failings he was “incapable of facing a trial,” Flores told reporters.

An arrest warrant issued for Mejía on Oct. 10 accused him of war crimes and genocide for massacres at indigenous communities in northern Guatemala during the brutal 1960-1996 civil war.

Mejía was briefly a fugitive from justice, but his lawyer gave him up last Tuesday, saying that the former dictator was unable to answer questions because he had suffered a stroke. Flores then ordered the hospital evaluation.

Mejía ruled Guatemala from 1983-86 after gaining power through a coup, during a period of bloody unrest in the Central American country.

Some 200,000 people are believed to have died or gone missing during the civil war, according to United Nations estimates.

Former Guatemalan armed forces chief Hector Mario López, who is accused of ordering the massacre of hundreds of Mayan civilians during that period, was arrested in June.

A judge earlier this month canceled a hearing to see if the 81-year-old should stand trial for war crimes and genocide after prosecutors said he had been sedated before being brought into court.

Three previous hearings were canceled after López’s lawyers said he was too sick with prostate cancer to attend.

Security forces during the civil war argued that they were targeting left-wing guerrillas in counter-insurgency operations.

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