Genocide on Trial, Day 19: Defense Delays Resting Case & Statements Outside Courtroom Multiply

NISGUA (Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala) filed the following Day 19 report of the genocide trial of former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt and ex-intelligence chief Mauricio Rodriguez Sánchez in Guatemala City. They have given us permission to republish all their reports about this historic trial.

NISGUA continues live coverage of the trial in Guatemala of Efraín Rios Montt and Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez for genocide and crimes against humanity. Read our previous summaries: Day 1Day 2Day 3Day 4/5Day 6Day 7Day 8Day 9Day 10Day 12Days 13/14Days 15/16Days 17/18 and full archive of ongoing live Twitter coverage.

With only three witnesses for the defense heard this morning, the genocide case proceedings were truncated for the second day in a row when the defense failed to produce their remaining witnesses.
The defense had difficulty admitting testimony by Gustavo Porras, Harris Whitbeck Sr. and Antonio Arenales Forno when their questions were repeatedly ruled as irrelevant to the material the witnesses were proposed for or too indirect.
efrain_rios_montt_uniform
Outside the court, paid ads in opposition to the genocide trial have been published every day this week. Of great concern is the paid ad published by the military veterans association AVEMILGUA and the “Movement for Guatemalan Progress”, which was falsely signed using the logo of the Association for Justice and Reconciliation (AJR). Read the AJR’s full statement in our previous trial summary. Public expressions of support for the genocide trial have also surged on Twitter, with an explosion of the hashtag #SiHuboGenocidio, “Yes, It Was Genocide”, amongst the top trending topics today and yesterday. A call for support for the hashtag has resulted in a deluge of tweets that are ongoing at the time of this writing.

UPDATE: The AJR has since filed a formal complaint against AVEMILGUA and the ad was rerun today in Prensa Libre. AJR representative Anselmo Rodan stated, “They [the military] are using the practices of the past to undermine the truth”.

Testimony today began with Gustavo Porras, a former insurgent and Peace Accord signatory. Porras testified he had never physically been in the Ixil region during the time period relevant to the case, essentially nullifying his ability to answer defense questions. “I don’t know what happened in the Ixil region…I never participated as a militant in that area.” After the defense attempted to ask multiple questions outside of the framework Porras has been proposed to testify on, a court representative passed defense lawyer Marco Antonio Cornejo a notecard on behalf of the judges to remind the defense what themes their witness had been proposed to testify on.
Porras was able to answer a series of questions by Cornejo about whether Porras had ever heard of a state policy to exterminate the Ixil, the extermination of Ixil women or forced transfer of Maya Ixil children, to which he repeatedly answered with a simple, “No.” His testimony concluded with Porras’ much debated position that genocide did not occur in Guatemala, “I don’t deny the atrocities committed during the conflict but I don’t think the attack against the population was ethnic but political.”
In reference to his book “Footprints of Guatemala:
The day prior to giving his testimony, a paid ad entitled “Betraying the Peace and Dividing Guatemala” was published. The full page ad was signed by Porras, as well as former Vice President Eduardo Stein, Peace Accord officials and government representatives dating from the Álvaro Arzú administration. The ad claimed the accusation of genocide against Efraín Ríos Montt, José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez and the Guatemalan state represents “a serious danger for our country, including a sharpening of the social and political polarization that will reverse the peace achieved to date”. President Otto Pérez Molina spoke to the press today saying he openly supported the paid ad.
Second to be called to the stand was Harris Whitbeck Sr., (not to be confused with Harris Whitbeck Jr, journalist and former host of CBS’ Amazing Race) former Vice Presidential candidate alongside Ríos Montt and long-standing member of his now defunct party, Guatemalan Republican Front (FRG). Whitbeck spoke primarily of the Ríos Montt “Beans and Bullets” campaign.
RM invited us to lunch at his house. We went, it was the first time I met him. It lasted from 1-4pm and he told me everything he wanted…for the betterment of the country. He told me about “Beans and Bullets”, 80% beans and 20% bullets. The occupying army was to change into an army whose principal purpose was to help the people who had been forced to join the guerrilla.
We received foreign aid, from many churches. The Beans and Bullets program was created and programs trading food for work.
Amongst the churches that have been linked to Ríos Montt’s regime are US evangelical ministers Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell.
Whitbeck testified he travelled 2-3 times per week to the Ixil region via helicopter. Upon cross-examination he denied seeing any burned villages or destroyed crops during these flights.
The defense’s final witness of the day was current President of the Presidential Human Rights Commission (COPREDEH) Antonio Arenales Forno. Arenales Forno was one of the first representatives of the Pérez Molina administration to publically proclaim genocide had not occurred in Guatemala. For an in-depth look at his actions in the current government, read GuateSec’s “Impunity, or justice for crimes of the past?”
Like Gustavo Porras, Arenales Forno’s testimony was beset by the defense lawyers’ inability to formulate appropriate or direct questions, to such a degree that very little testimony was heard from the government official. Defense lawyer Cornejo, in an outburst of grandstanding or genuine frustration, stated, “Given the way you [judges] have conducted this hearing, I don’t know what the reasons are for not wanting to hear the opinions of the witness…I have no more questions.” It remains to be seen whether the defense is unwilling or unable to formulate legally acceptable questions to their witnesses.
The final evidence presented by the defense today were two videos in which an unidentified man and woman were interviewed by an unidentified person about acts committed by the guerrilla. Shortly after the viewing of the second video began, prosecution attorney Edgar Pérez lodged an objection, stating the defense was illegally entering witness testimony into evidence. In addition, Pérez stated the individuals in the videos were speaking to events taking place during dates and in regions not addressed by the current case. After review of the evidence submitted by the defense, it was decided the videos did not actually correspond to those submitted into evidence.
The day came to a close with none of the remaining defense witnesses having appeared. At different points during today and yesterday’s proceedings the court has granted defense lawyers additional time to produce their remaining witnesses, with Judge Barrios going so far as to instruct the media to assist in locating the missing individuals and informing them they must appear in court. Defense lawyers claimed they were unable to produce their witnesses because “they are outside of the capital,” in stark contrast to the prosecution’s coordination of 100 eyewitnesses from Quiché who gave their testimony at the beginning of the trial. After ordering yet another early close to proceedings, Judge Barrios instructed the prosecution and defense to have their concluding statements prepared for tomorrow.
Once proceedings closed there was a tumult in the court when a notification from the Appeals Court arrived and was presented to the case lawyers. Members of the press ran back and forth in a cluster from the prosecution table to the defense’s, recording the official receipt of the documents, as audience members from the gallery looked on. It remains to be seen whether the injunction filed by the defense will have an impact on the hearing tomorrow (April 18), set to convene at 8:30am.
NISGUA has provided human rights accompaniment to the witness’ organization, the Association for Justice and Reconciliation, and their lawyers, the Center for Human Rights Legal Action since 2000. We will continue to bear witness to the truth and bravery of these survivors throughout this historic trial. To bear witness with us, stay tuned to our ongoing live Twitter coverage @NISGUA_Guate, like ourFacebook page and sign up for email updates.
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