The most important evidence are the plans for three counterinsurgency campaigns known as Victory 82, Operation Sofia and Firmness 83 and after-action reports linked to mass killings. Almost all of the military plans were classified “secret” but were leaked to victims’ lawyers.
The plan for Victory 82 created a force made up of riflemen, paratroopers and combat engineers directed to operate in a part of the highlands known as the Ixil triangle and report its actions to the chief of staff of the army, part of the military leadership along with Rios Montt.
Military experts testifying for the victims have said this description of the chain of command makes it obvious that the military chief of staff and other high commanders including Rios Montt could have halted the massacres.
The Guatemalan Forensic Anthropology Foundation carried out more than 60 studies to identify some 800 sets of human remains from the area that will be evidence in the trial.
“The great majority of victims were women or children, who suffered violent deaths without putting up a defense. In some cases there were massacres, executions and people dying as they were fleeing, from hypothermia and hunger,” said the foundation’s executive director, Jose Suasnavar.
Mayas were treated as an internal enemy because they were seen as lending support to the enemy, according to the indictment against Rios Montt.
In the plan’s Annex C, the army chief of staff said that “the great masses of indigenous people in the nation’s highlands have echoed the proclamations of subversion, whose rallying cries are the lack of land and immense poverty ... they see the army like an invading enemy.”
By Anita Isaacs
I have spent the past 15 years researching and writing about postwar justice in Guatemala. I am encouraged that, a decade and a half after peace accords ended 36 years of civil war, Guatemala is being given a chance to show the world how much progress it has made in building democracy. The trial gives the Guatemalan state a chance to prove that it can uphold the rule of law and grant its indigenous Mayan people, who suffered greatly under Mr. Ríos Montt, the same respectful treatment, freedoms and rights the rest of its citizens enjoy.
Still, the trial process could be the trickiest part. Given how weak the former general’s case is, the defense has already set its sights on appeal, on the grounds that Mr. Ríos Montt was denied his constitutional right to a fair trial—a denial of justice that the veteran defense team itself is supposedly trying to engineer.
Of course, win or lose, the case could still be a victory for the government if it gives voice to Mr. Ríos Montt’s Mayan victims. So far, the prosecution has gone to great lengths to do just that.
The prosecution opened the proceedings with testimonials from indigenous people, provided interpreters so they could speak in their native language (which, as one witness explained to me, is “so much easier because I know the words”) and is listening aghast to the unimaginable horrors they tell. Giving each individual the chance to speak in his or her own words, to be heard and affirmed, is a long overdue acknowledgment that Mayan lives demand protection.
The witnesses included a man testifying about how the Guatemalan Army under Mr. Ríos Montt killed his wife and two children, slashing his 5-year-old son’s face with a machete and smashing his toddler’s head. Another described how his pregnant sister was tied to a stake and burned alive, along with her child and six additional children. One witness, Nicolas Brito, told of seeing soldiers cut out and stack victims’ hearts on a table.