By Ruth Conniff
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The news that a judge in Guatemala has ordered Gen. Rios Montt to stand trial for genocide and crimes against humanity is welcome, to say the least.
Rios Montt headed the Guatemalan government in 1982 and 1983, when it was slaughtering its own people.
Congratulations to this Guatemalan judge, Miguel Angel Galvez, for having the guts to hold Rios Montt accountable in a country where the military still has a lot of power.
But when will a judge or a prosecutor hold accountable members of the Reagan Administration, who were helping Rios Montt do his dirtiest work? Reagan himself called Rios Montt a man of “great personal integrity.”
As the great investigative reporter Allan Nairn has pointed out, “In '82 and '83, as Gen. Rios Montt was sending military sweeps into the northwest highlands, annihilating by their own count 662 rural villages, Reagan went down, embraced Rios Montt, and said Guatemala was getting a bum rap on human rights. The U.S. military general attaché at the time told me the sweep strategy was in large part his idea, and that he was working hand in hand with [the Guatemalan military] to carry it out. It's hard to overstate the U.S. role, because the U.S. role was so extensive.”
In “The Guatemalan Connection,” a cover story Nairn wrote for the May 1986 issue of The Progressive magazine, he also pointed out a State Department role. “During the Rios Montt period, as the Reagan Administration repeatedly tried and failed to win Congressional approval for sale of the $2 million worth of helicopter parts, the State Department was giving the nod to a separate, costlier deal,” Nairn wrote. “In late 1982, it quietly approved a pair of transactions worth $40 million to supply the Guatemalan air force with two transport jets and eight T-37 trainers.”
I looked long and hard at the reports in the mainstream corporate press today to try find mention of the U.S. role in the atrocities committed by Rios Montt, but I’ve found nothing.
That’s one reason why the U.S. perpetrators go free, while Rios Montt now stands trial.
If you liked this story by Matthew Rothschild, the editor of The Progressive magazine, check out his story The “Final Offensive” Against Organized Labor.
Follow Matthew Rothschild @mattrothschild on Twitter