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Genocide trial for Guatemala's ex-dictator Ríos Montt resumes Wednesday, to continue Thursday

GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala – A genocide trial against former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt, begun 50 days ago and suspended by a judge’s order over a technicality, resumed on Wednesday, with judges rejecting repeated motions by the defense team to delay the trial.

A prosecutor asked judges to deliver a 75-year prison sentence to Ríos Montt, a former dictator who supervised a “scorched-earth” policy of war in the early 1980s during Guatemala’s brutal civil war. The prosecutor also asked that Ríos Montt be placed under preventive detention and removed from house arrest. 

The trial is a first for Guatemala – and the world – in that a country is holding criminal genocide proceedings in its own courts. Judge Jazmín Barrios said a verdict would be coming soon, although she did not indicate a specific date. 

Francisco García was restored as lead defending attorney on Wednesday after having been expelled from the courtroom on March 19 for what a judge characterized as obstructionism and ethics violations. 

García asked for the trial to be suspended again, but was rejected by the court. He followed with an outburst directed at judges, telling them, “You are not above the law. I will not rest until I see you behind bars.”

Justice Barrios responded by saying, “We will not accept any type of threat.” She ordered the trial to move to closing testimony and arguments.

Ríos Montt’s former head of military intelligence, Gen. José Rodríguez, is also on trial for genocide.

Prosecutor Orlando López, who throughout the trial had called more than 100 family members of massacre victims and presented forensic anthropology evidence, asked for the 75-year prison sentence for both men for acts of genocide and crimes against humanity.

Ríos Montt and Rodríguez are on trial for the massacre by the Army of 1,771 Ixil Mayans in the Department of Quiché during the Ríos Montt dictatorship, which lasted from 1982-1983. 

“[Ríos Montt] had absolute power over the military,” López said, adding that military plans approved by Ríos Montt ordered soldiers to classify indigenous Ixils as “internal enemies” for their alleged collaboration with guerrilla fighters during the 36-year civil war, which lasted from 1960-1996. That, said López, consisted of genocide, as it specifically targeted the destruction of an ethnic group. 

Ríos Montt has been under house arrest since January 2012, and Rodríguez has been in a military hospital. The prosecutor asked that both be taken into custody, as they are a “flight risk.” 

“What 75 years will do is rejuvenate me,” Ríos Montt said sarcastically to journalists as he exited the courtroom. 

The trial will continue on Thursday with closing statements from representatives of the victims and the defense. Judges will then set a date for a issuing final verdicts. 

So far, Ríos Montt has not taken the stand in his own defense. 

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