The inserts that have been circulated in the most recent Sunday editions of national newspaper elPeriódico contain a revealing symbol. The emblem of the Foundation Against Terrorism is a scale of justice. But the central support of the scale is not the conventional rod, but a military dagger.
What could that word have meant back then? (It was over half a century ago and ten years after the Nuremberg trials had taken place.)
While the word genocide seems to be unfamiliar to Guatemalans, the concept is not.
The message is clear, and reading the printed material becomes superfluous. The type of justice that the writers of this libel propose has violence at its core. The emblem--the dagger and the pans—appears on the booklet cover and is repeated as a large watermark throughout each one of the ten sheets that make the insert.“Genocide is a Farce Created by Marxists and the Catholic Church,”“Genocide NEVER Happened in Guatemala,” read the headlines of the front page in the April 14 edition. The insert, that accompanies other newspaper supplements without so much as an explanation of it being paid propaganda, endlessly repeats this denial.
Such "Paid advertisements”, like the one signed by a group of officials including Eduardo Stein, Gustavo Porras and 10 other cabinet members of President Alvaro Arzu’s government (warning of the dire consequences to peace that could ensue should Generals Rios Montt and Rodriguez Sanchez be tried for genocide) got what they bargained for. The so-called “trial of the century”—the first of its kind in world history to take place in a national court for crimes of genocide—was voided last Thursday the 18th by a pre-trial courtroom.
However, the paid insert that came in elPeriódico’s Sunday April 21 edition was defamatory. This insert did clarify, in a footnote on the first page, that the content was the “exclusive responsibility of the Foundation Against Terrorism.” It’s another set of twenty pages, practically illegible because they are so poorly written, and it contains a series of photographs of different sizes of ex-guerilla members and human rights activists that are accused of being murderers, war criminals, tie-wearing terrorists, judicial hitmen, and neo-Marxists. The language is consistent with anti-Communist propaganda from the 1970s and 1980s, and it is attune with this statement given by the late Mario Sandoval Alarcon(founder of the National Liberation Movement and vice president during
General Kjell Laugerud Garcia’s 1974-1978 government): “If I have to get rid of half of Guatemala so that the other half can live in peace, then I’ll do it.”
While the word genocide seems to be unfamiliar to Guatemalans, the concept is not. Nevertheless, a few years ago when I was thumbing through old police records at the now defunct Identification Bureauof the National Police—while I took notes for a text that would later become The Human Material—in the section labeled “political crimes,” I stumbled across the following:
"Aguilar Garcia, Benito. Born in1923 in Escuintla. He lives with hismother and siblings. Filedin 1948 when he enlistedto servethe Civil Guard. Later delivered to the National Committee Against Communism in 1955 after going on apunitive mission to Puerto Barrios under LieutenantCornelioLoneMejiain June 1954tocarry out acts ofgenocide."
What could that word have meant back then? (It was over half a century ago and ten years after the Nuremberg trials had taken place.) Was it part of local judicial jargon? In any case, boththe National Police and the members of the Committee Against Communismused the term when they arrested members of the Civil Guard belonging to Jacobo Arbenz'leftist Government.
“Bastards,” a recent column in the national newspaper Prensa Libre called those who believe the trial should continue. Another in the daily Siglo XXI reads: “Guilty of genocide" (...) that is how the world will condemn us. We’re not talking about a small, unimportant court, we’re talking about how the entire world will see us thanks to so-called human rights advocates.” If as a member of the Guatemalan State I deserve to be labeled as genocidal (after all, the amount of bodies of children between 0 and 10 years of age, women and elderly people exhumed in Guatemalan territory, many of themfrom clandestine graves within the perimeter of military bases,seems enough to sustain the most serious of accusations) I must resign myself and accept this.
I would rather count myself a citizen of a genocidal State—but acknowledging the criminal character of its past,and working torepair in any possible way the damage done—than be an accomplice of one wearing white robes, with hands still stained with blood.
*Rey Rosa was born inGuatemalain 1958.After finishinghis studies, hetraveledfor a yearin Europe. In 1980he visitedTangier where he met Paul Bowles in a creative writing workshop. Bowles translated his first books into English. He has also published several short story collections and novels including The Pelcari Project (Cárcel de árboles), The Human Material and The Deaf. Rey Rosa currently lives in Guatemala City.
Eduardo Stein is a former vice president of Guatemala.
Alvaro Arzu was president of Guatemala from 1996-2000, and in office for the signing of the Peace Accords in 1996.
Pre-trial judge, Carol Patricia Flores annulled proceedings and ordered the first genocide trial in the history of Latin America to go back to a speculative evidentiary phase.
Reference to President Jacobo Arbenz. He was president from 1951 to 1954 and ousted by a coup engineered by the U.S. Government and the CIA , and replaced by military junta leader, Carlos Castillo Armas.