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Guatemala Bleeds

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  • Dan Clore
    Journalist spotted; journalist dead! Guatemala bleeds; US press shrugs By Jeffrey St. Clair July 29 -- All hell is breaking loose in Guatemala and few
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 14, 2003
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      "Journalist spotted; journalist dead!"
      Guatemala bleeds; US press shrugs
      By Jeffrey St. Clair

      July 29 -- All hell is breaking loose in Guatemala and few
      outside that tragic nation seem to care or even notice.

      In recent days, followers of General Efrain Rios Montt,
      stirred into action by the rightwing Republican Front Party
      (FRG) which he controls, have charged into the streets of
      Guatemala City armed with machetes, clubs and guns. Led by
      FRG militants, the crowds, including many members of the
      Guatemalan army, have marched on the nation’s courts,
      opposition parties and newspapers, torching buildings,
      shooting out windows and bullying opponents of the
      Bible-spouting dictator.

      The riots were orchestrated by Rios Montt’s cohorts after
      the Guatemalan Supreme Court (the nation’s second highest
      court) suspended his campaign for the presidency and agreed
      to hear a complaint brought by two right-center parties that
      the general, the butcher of thousands during the 1980s, is
      constitutionally barred from running for president of the
      country he once ruled with an iron fist.

      The 77-year old Rios Montt, now white-haired and grizzled,
      denounced the ruling as "judicial manipulation" and, in a
      radio address, implored his followers to take to the streets
      to protest the decision. Within an hour of his speech,
      thousands of the general’s backers had flooded the capital
      city, blocking traffic, chanting threatening slogans and
      waving machetes.

      Hooded men ransacked buildings, fired machine guns from
      SUVs, smashed windows and set fire to cars and piles of
      tires. The situation in Guatemala City became so chaotic
      over the weekend of July 26th that the both the UN mission
      and the US embassy were closed.

      It all seemed like a bloody flashback to the 1980s, when
      Rios Montt’s goons roamed the streets at night threatening
      nuns and priests, kidnapping reporters, torturing dissidents
      and killing at will, especially those of Mayan descent.

      Journalists appear to have been a main target of the recent
      attackers. In the first wave of street violence, Hector
      Ramirez, a reporter for a Left-center television station,
      was hounded and chased by a mob until he collapsed in the
      street and died of heart failure. As Ramirez was carried
      away, the rioters chanted, "Journalist spotted, journalist

      Edgar Valle, a reporter for the Noticias television news
      show, was briefly detained and roughed up by Rios Montt’s
      mob. "They attacked everybody without differentiating," said
      Valle, after being released. "It was strange to me because
      my channel has always been identified with the government.
      These people didn’t want the press to cover what was

      The rioters seemed to target cameramen in particular. Hector
      Estrada was filming the riots for Guatevision when he was
      attacked by a gang of masked men swinging machetes. They
      seized his video camera, drenched him with gasoline and
      tried to light him on fire as he fled down the street.

      "I was praying for God to save me," said Estrada. "I thought
      they were going to hack me to pieces."

      Two political reporters in Guatemala told CounterPunch that
      they have received multiple death threats in the past week.
      One of the journalists reported that he had gotten two
      telephone calls threatening him and his wife and children.
      Another reporter said that she had arrived home to find a
      death threat nailed to the door of her home.

      "The press is the only functioning institution in this
      country," says Mario Antonio Sandoval, vice president of the
      excellent daily paper Prensa Libre. "That is why they either
      have to control it or scare it into silence."

      The strategy appears to have worked. Even though much of the
      violence has been aimed at journalists, the US press has
      largely ignored the riots and the political re-emergence of
      Rios Montt and his rightwing thugs. In the US, only the
      Miami Herald printed detailed accounts of the riots.

      Not only has the Guatemalan government taken no action to
      quell the rioters, members of the Army and police have
      actually joined the frenzy of violence. One account of the
      riots by Prensa Libre tallied 46 criminal acts of violence
      and vandalism, 12 of those the paper said were committed by
      government troops and police.

      Fearing the impending return of the regime that slaughtered
      nearly 200,000 people, Mayan peasants in the highlands began
      streaming across the border into Mexico last week. But they
      were blocked by hostile border patrols with orders from the
      Mexican government, under its cruel Plan Salvamento, to
      either send them back into Guatemala or lock them up in
      immigrant concentration camps, where they are routinely
      starved and abused by guards.

      The reaction of the Bush administration to Rios Montt’s
      antics has been restrained, given the circumstances. Even
      though the US Embassy was taunted by rioters, there have
      been no statements of condemnation directly from Colin
      Powell. Indeed, we’ve only heard from state department
      spokesman Richard Boucher, who continues to say the
      administration would prefer that Rios Montt not run for
      office. This weekend Boucher was again rolled out to remark
      on the rampages in the streets of Guatemala City. "They are
      a dangerous mockery of protest," Boucher said. But he
      stopped short of pointing the finger at the General, whose
      infamous career is every bit as bloody as that of Saddam

      A Rios Montt victory in November could complicate matters
      for a Bush administration that is crusading against
      political corruption in Latin America. Of course, the
      preacher in this crusade is none other than the unappetizing
      Otto Reich, who enjoys deep and warm ties to Rios Montt and
      his gang of gruesome generals.

      Still, Rios Montt is an unreconstructed monster of an older
      vintage, trained in the art of the military strongman at the
      School of the Americas in the 1950s. Powell no doubt feels
      that the general, if elected, might become as problematic as
      Manuel Noriega was for the current president’s father. That
      said, the Bush administration may calculate that it can’t
      afford to be too harsh in its condemnations of Rios Montt,
      who no doubt has many stories to tell about the CIA’s
      affirmative role in the Guatemala bloodbaths of the 1980s.

      Guatemala’s court system is a maze of conflicting and
      overlapping jurisdictions. Already this year, Rios Montt’s
      election bid has been ruled on by three different courts,
      the electoral court, the Supreme Court and the
      constitutional court.

      Last week’s decision to suspend Rios Montt’s campaign by the
      Supreme Court came only day’s after the nation’s highest
      court, the so-called Constitutional Court, approved the
      general’s candidacy in a sharply divided 4-3 decision. The
      majority on the constitutional court agreed with Rios
      Montt’s claim that the constitutional amendment that bans
      those who seized power in military coups from running for
      president doesn’t apply to him since the amendment was
      passed after he had left office.

      The General took power in a bloody coup in 1982, which was
      backed by the Reagan administration. Over the next 18 months
      Rios Montt supervised a vicious crackdown on political
      opponents and Mayan peasants that left more than 19,000
      dead, thousands more in jail and more than 100,000 displaced
      . He has been called the Pinochet of Guatemala and several
      war crimes complaints are pending against him in different
      courts in Guatemala and in Spain.

      The constitutional court is slated to hear Rios Montt’s
      appeal later this week. However, the three members of the
      court who voted against the General in the previous case
      announced that they will not attend the hearing unless their
      safety can be guaranteed by the current government, headed
      by Rios Montt’s protégé Alfonso Portillo.

      Rios Montt has boasted that he owns the votes of four
      justices on the court. And indeed that’s precisely how many
      votes he got in the July 15th ruling that initially put him
      on the ballot.

      Rigoberta Menchu, the Mayan activist who won the Nobel Peace
      Prize in 1982 and brought genocide charges against Rios
      Montt in Spain, bitterly concedes that the general is
      probably right about having the top court rigged in his
      favor. She says Rios Montt and his FRG party, its accounts
      plump with funds derived from a fruitful association with
      Colombian drug cartels, have corrupted the judicial system
      through bribes and intimidation in an attempt to grease the
      old dictator’s return to power.

      "The court has supported a coup d’etat by Rios Montt’s
      Republican Front," says Menchu. "And they have hidden its
      hand. The FRG usurped a court that was meant to protect the
      legal and moral welfare of the Guatemalan state."

      Menchu also says that Rios Montt knows he doesn’t have the
      votes to win the election in November unless he intimidates
      enough people into staying away from the polls. He certainly
      is off to a brisk start. But she suggests that the general’s
      campaign and the riots that have accompanied it may in fact
      be a kind of calculated rouse designed to create a chaotic
      and unstable political situation that would lead the
      military to seize control of the government in another coup.

      "It looks a lot like 1982," she said.

      That was a very bloody year.

      Source: Counterpunch

      Dan Clore

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