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Between 1980 and 1983, El Quiché saw increased levels of violence in the conflict between the Army and various rebel guerrilla factions. Hundreds of Roman Catholic catechists and heads of Christian communities, most of whom were of Mayan origin, were brutally murdered. Gerardi repeatedly asked the military authorities to control their actions. – WIKIPEDIA

Former army general and president of Guatemala, Efraín Rios Montt, 86, was convicted of genocide and sentenced to 80 years in prison on Friday in a Guatemala City court. There will be an appeal of the ruling, but some die have been cast here, and the implications for the people of Guatemala are very, very important.

In the Holy Bible, it is written plainly, that those who have much, will gain more, and those who have little, even the little they have will be taken away. This has been what we may describe as the unrestrained history of Guatemala since it became independent of Spain in 1821. The big people in Guatemala, an elitist oligarchy who include mostly Guatemalans of European descent, have gobbled up most of the land and control trade, business, banking, agriculture, and industry, while the majority indigenous population have been marginalized, which is to say, they struggle to stay alive. Indigenous Guatemalans are practically landless.

During his presidency of Guatemala between 1951 and 1954, Jacobo Arbenz tried to initiate land reform, but not only did he anger his country’s domestic land bosses, he made enemies of a couple huge American companies which were very influential in Washington, the seat of political power in the United States. Washington, through its Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and with the support of the Guatemalan oligarchy, military, and church, overthrew Arbenz and installed Carlos Castillo Armas, who immediately began the return to pre–Arbenz policies.

The history of Guatemala then proceeded to establish that the pre-Arbenz state of affairs was untenable, because it was characterized by too much injustice and inequality, similar to the state of affairs in apartheid South Africa, a traditional ally of Guatemala’s. Even as Guatemala was entering a state of civil war early in the 1960s, following the rebellion of junior army officers, Marco Yon Sosa and Luis Turcios Lima, South Africa was entering a condition of violent rebellion after Nelson Mandela went underground to begin armed uprising.

Pressure from its majority black population combined with pressure from the international community eventually convinced the neo-European South African government to release Mandela from prison in 1990, and Mandela was elected president of South Africa in 1994. Apartheid was dismantled, and Mandela appointed a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to attempt to heal the wounds of the apartheid era through public hearings, confessions, and forgiveness.

A National Reconciliation Commission was established in Guatemala in 1988, and this later led to the Office of Human Rights of the Archbishopric. Work began on the Recovery of Historical Memory project, which presented its findings on April 24, 1998, two years after the formal end of the Guatemalan civil war. The report blamed the government and the military for human rights atrocities. Two days after the publication of the report, Roman Catholic Bishop Juan José Gerardi, who had been prominent in the project, was bludgeoned to death in the garage of his Guatemala City home.

Even as the apartheid system in South Africa was dismantled two decades ago, the socio-economic system in Guatemala has to change, but the oligarchy, the military, and even some church officials, have been resisting any real change. That is why Bishop Gerardi was murdered. The trial, conviction, and sentencing of Rios Montt now represent a triumph for the masses of the Guatemalan people.

Early in his 1961 to 1963 presidency, U.S. President John F. Kennedy had made a public statement like this: those who make peaceful change impossible, make violent revolution inevitable. He was talking about Latin America as he was launching his Alliance for Progress initiative. The initiative turned out to be more cosmetics than anything else, as such programs often are, but in Central America, and specifically in Guatemala, Salvador, and Nicaragua, the oligarchies resisted even minimal change, and violent upheaval became the order of the day.

The jubilation of Guatemala’s indigenous people at Friday’s ruling may seem incongruous, given Rios Montt’s innocent and vulnerable appearance in his 86th year on planet earth, but there was horror and there was terror inflicted on indigenous Guatemala between 1960 and 1996. Guatemala’s neo-European elite, in the name of free market capitalism and Judeo-Christianity, tortured and murdered hundreds of thousands of Guatemala’s indigenous people in order to preserve their super-rich way of life. They have more money than they can spend in their lifetimes, most of them, but they can’t find it in their hearts to give to the poor. It is because of that mentality that they appointed Rios Montt and encouraged him to commit genocidal atrocities. Rios Montt’s is the face of that guilt and that shame, but there is an elite class of Guatemalans for whose sins Rios Montt is paying. In one sense, it is not fair, but this is all Guatemala’s indigenous people can hold on to today for comfort and retribution.

Power to the people.

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