Former military dictator of Guatemala convicted of genocide

Rios Montt and the politician who bankrolled murders of “civilian support” for guerillas

Former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt was found guilty on Friday of genocide and crimes against humanity during the bloodiest phase of the country’s 36-year civil war and was sentenced to 80 years in prison.

Hundreds of people who were packed into the courtroom burst into applause, chanting, “Justice!” as Rios Montt received a 50-year term for the genocide charge and an additional 30 years for crimes against humanity.

It was the first time a former head of state had been found guilty of genocide in his or her own country.

Rios Montt, now 86, took power after a coup in 1982 and was accused of implementing a scorched-earth policy in which troops massacred thousands of indigenous villagers thought to be helping leftist rebels. He proclaimed his innocence in court…

Prosecutors say Rios Montt turned a blind eye as soldiers used rape, torture and arson to try to rid Guatemala of leftist rebels during his 1982-1983 rule, the most violent period of a 1960-1996 civil war in which as many as 250,000 people died.

He was tried over the killings of at least 1,771 members of the Maya Ixil indigenous group, just a fraction of the number who died during his rule.

A throng outside the court chanted “Justice! Justice!” when the guilty verdicts were handed down on Friday…

“He had full knowledge of everything that was happening and did not stop it,” Judge Yasmin Barrios, who presided over the trial, told a packed courtroom where Mayan women wearing colourful traditional clothes and head-dresses closely followed proceedings…

Former U.S. President Ronald Reagan provided support for Rios Montt’s government and said in late 1982 that the dictator was getting a “bum rap” from rights groups for his military campaign against left-wing guerrillas during the Cold War.

He also once called Rios Montt “a man of great personal integrity”.

Birds of a feather and other similar dichos all apply here. All the Cold War crap rationales – from changing the name of the War department to supporting apartheid governments across the landscape of the Third World – are still grist for the propaganda mills of the Republican Party and their allies standing to the Right of Attila the Hun.

President Molina of Guatemala urges his peers in Central America to legalize drugs

Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

Guatemala’s president made a formal pitch to his fellow Central American leaders over the weekend, urging them them to sign on to a regional security plan that would include legalizing drugs.

President Otto Perez Molina proposed several options for dealing with drug-related violence in Central America, including creating a regional court to try drug trafficking cases, getting economic compensation from the United States for seized drugs and decriminalizing the transport and consumption of drugs.

The leaders did not come to an agreement during Saturday’s meeting in Antigua, Guatemala, but Perez Molina described the summit as a success. “It was as successful as we were hoping, successful in that we got rid of these taboos and myths that before kept the leaders of the region from talking or debating ideas, ideas that for a long time could not be talked about openly,” he said…

Perez Molina said Saturday that the leaders aimed to bring up the issue at the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia, next month. The proposal could pave the way for a significant policy shift in a region where brutal drug violence is a daily reality…

“This has been an academic debate and it has also been a scientific debate, an issue that has been studied. And bringing it back into political debate, I think, is important,” Perez Molina told CNN en Español last month.

The 61-year-old former military general pledged to rule Guatemala with an iron fist when he ran for office last year. He caught many Guatemalans off guard last month when he said he wanted to legalize drugs.

What I have done is put the issue back on the table,” Perez Molina told CNN en Español shortly after he first floated the idea. “I think it is important for us to have other alternatives. … We have to talk about decriminalization of the production, the transit and, of course, the consumption.”

Some skeptics have suggested…blah, blah, blah de blah, blah!

If you need to know what official backwardness has to say about the proposal, just watch for it on your local fair-and-balanced Republican TV station. Not that the independent-minded network stations will be far behind at covering their buns from any suggestion of support for reality, science, modern human affairs or thoughtful research.

Meanwhile, it’s a positive that this conservative ex-military politico looked around at what exists and what might be better for everyone. And had the nerve to say it in public while in office.

Mass grave in Mexico down by Guatemala turns up 167 bodies — UPDATED/CORRECTED

StringerMexico Reuters/March 10, 2012

Authorities are investigating a mass grave in southern Mexico containing 167 bodies that may have been dumped there at least 50 years ago, a Mexican official said…The remains, found in a cave near the Guatemalan border, “disintegrated at the touch,” said the official at the Chiapas state prosecutor’s office.

Investigators are trying to determine the age and gender of the victims and the cause of death, the official said on condition of anonymity.

The advanced state of decomposition suggests they are at least 50 years old, he said, adding there were no obvious signs of violence.

Mexican authorities including the police, the prosecutor’s office, civil protection personnel and the military were working to exhume the bodies and transport them for analysis.

The grave is on a remote ranch near the town of Frontera Comalapa, about 11 miles from the Guatemalan border in an area where migrants from Central America often cross on their way to the United States.

A 36-year civil war in Guatemala, which began in 1960, claimed 250,000 lives and left 45,000 people missing. Activists suspect they were killed by soldiers and secretly buried.

In recent years, drug trafficking gangs have dumped the bodies of hundreds of victims, including scores of Central American migrants, into mass graves.

Take your choice? Drug gangs violence? Civil War? Fascist-minded government officials, parochial or national in character, eliminating dissent?

UPDATE/CORRECTION: Anthropologists and forensics experts finally arrived on the scene and – guess what? – local coppers’ interpretations of what was found turned out to be seriously wrong. Starting with the realization the bodies have been in the cave about 1300 years!

Family of Jacobo Arbenz receives apology for CIA coup — from Guatemala’s current president — not the United States

Jacobo Arbenz was overthrown as president of Guatemala in a CIA-backed coup in 1954, a seminal event that historians say set the Central American country on a path of dictatorships and civil war that would last for decades.

Even though he was democratically elected and popular at the time, after Arbenz was deposed, his reputation was ruined and he was written out of Guatemala’s history books. He died in exile in 1971.

This week, 57 years later, current President Alvaro Colom made a public apology to the Arbenz family, a large gesture in Guatemala. There is also a larger rehabilitation of the image of Arbenz under way. Textbooks are being rewritten and a new biography will soon be published.

But this clearing of Arbenz’s reputation does not console everyone. Some ask: When will the United States, which was behind the coup, apologize for its meddling..?

The apology “doesn’t have a lot of resonance in the United States — though it should,” said Stephen Schlesinger, an Adjunct Fellow at the Century Foundation and co-author of a book on the 1954 coup.

The United States, after all, was the power behind the event.

I figure the US government will apologize for the Guatemalan coup about 3 years before never – which is just before they apologize for for overthrowing Iran’s first democratically-elected government and reinstating the Shah on behalf of Big Oil.


Our track record of admitting to criminal acts — for whatever political reasons used to justify them at the time — sucks big time. Reactionary politicians and so-called think tanks spend a portion of their annual budgets rewriting history and offering the latest rationales to cover our buns before American voters and international politicians. Liberal politicians just blush and say someone else was responsible. Ignoring the fact that Democrats collaborated with Republicans for most of these crimes – including when the roles were reversed. As in the Gulf of Tonkin.

The rest of the world has a clear recollection of what we have done.

USA used Guatemalans for illegal medical experiments

We condemned the Nazis for the same kind of medical experiments

U.S. government medical researchers intentionally infected hundreds of people in Guatemala, including institutionalized mental patients, with gonorrhea and syphilis without their knowledge or permission more than 60 years ago.

Many of those infected were encouraged to pass the infection onto others as part of the study.

About one third of those who were infected never got adequate treatment.

On Friday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius are expected to offer extensive apologies for actions taken by the U.S. Public Health Service…

The episode raises inevitable comparisons to the infamous Tuskegee experiment, the Alabama study where hundreds of African-American men were told they were being treated for syphilis, but in fact were denied treatment. That U.S. government study lasted from 1932 until press reports revealed it in 1972.

The Guatemala experiments…were discovered by Susan Reverby, a professor of women’s studies at Wellesley College, and was posted on her website [.pdf].

According to Reverby’s report, the Guatemalan project was co-sponsored by the U.S. Public Health Service, the NIH, the Pan-American Health Sanitary Bureau (now the Pan American Health Organization) and the Guatemalan government.

Reverby, who has written extensively about the Tuskegee experiments, found the evidence while conducting further research on the Alabama syphilis study.

The policies of the United States government have always been founded on the arrogant presumption that if our government feels something is beneficial to their corporate bosses, then they have the right to do whatever they wish. International law, the laws of our own land, ethics and decency are out of the equation.

The use of napalm and carpet bombing in Korea and VietNam, experiments with nuclear weapons risking civilian and military lives, were all part of the same attitude towards ordinary people and human rights.

Nothing has changed. We’ve had a few brief moments of lucidity. Sufficient pressure applied to Congress to pass the original Civil Rights Act, reversing COINTEL policies of the FBI come to mind.

But, McCarthyism in the 1940’s and into the 1950’s pretty much paralleled the goals and methods of today’s Tea Party in conjunction with the religious nutballs on the rightwing who own so much of the Republican Party. Add that to the cowardice of Democrats more afraid of their own shadow than the dangers of an Imperial America, domestically and abroad. Just as superpatriots during the VietNam War era cowed most “respectable” politicians into silence.

My first thought on these revelations? What will be exposed, say, in 2070 about what our politicians are doing to exploit ordinary folks today?

Audi’s topless hybrid concept at the Paris Show.

Audi keeps on growing its e-tron family. The automaker pulled a fast one by unveiling yet another electrified monster at the 2010 Paris Motor Show, only this time, the low-slung hybrid came sans-top. The concept is powered by two electric motors and a 300-horsepower twin-turbo TDI V6 that comes to the fight with 479 pound-feet of torque. Audi says that despite the hefty 9.1 kilowatt-hour battery mounted up front, it managed to keep the weight low and distribute the pounds evenly across the chassis. As a result, this e-tron should be plenty flingable if it ever makes it off of the stage and onto a public road.

Audi says the e-tron Spyder hits the scales at 3,196 pounds and that the drivetrain can be driver-controlled to operate on electric power only at speeds up to 37 mph for a total of 31 miles. The manufacturer says that in city driving, the capability is more than enough to hang with traffic. If not, there’s always that juicy diesel V6 to play with…

That’s a twin-turbo V6 diesel that gets up to 102 mpg. Plus – you add in the electric drive.

Central America turning to volcanoes for electricity

Berlin geothermal field, El Salvador, producing 104 MW

Dotted with active volcanoes, Central America is seeking to tap its unique geography to produce green energy and cut dependence on oil imports as demand for electricity outstrips supply. Sitting above shifting tectonic plates in the Pacific basin known to cause earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, the region has huge potential for geothermal power generated by heat stored deep in the earth.

Geothermal power plants, while expensive to build, can provide a long-term, reliable source of electricity and are considered more environmentally friendly than large hydroelectric dams that can alter a country’s topography…

Guatemala, Central America’s biggest country, aims to produces 60 percent of its energy from geothermal and hydroelectric power by 2022.

The government is offering tax breaks on equipment to set up geothermal plants and electricity regulators are requiring distributors buy greater proportions of clean energy.

Some 1,640 feet below the summit of Guatemala’s active Pacaya volcano, which exploded in May, pipes carrying steam and water at 347 degrees Fahrenheit snake across the mountainside to one of two geothermal plants currently operating in the country.

Run by Israeli-owned Ormat Technologies Inc, the plant harnesses energy from water heated by chambers filled with molten rock deep beneath the ground. The company has been operating two plants in Guatemala for three years and wants to expand but is weighing the risks of drilling more costly exploratory wells…

More than a fifth of El Salvador’s energy needs come from two geothermal plants with installed capacity of 160 MW and investigations are being carried out to build a third.

Costa Rica, which has 152 megawatts of capacity in four geothermal plants, is due to bring a fifth plant online in January 2011 and is looking into building two more.

Nicaragua generates 66 MW from geothermal energy and in the next five years plans an increase to 166 MW.


The coneheads up at Los Alamos have participated in geothermal experiments, off and on, over the years. But, generally, the powers-that-be would rather keep the focus on death and destruction. Which is too bad. There’s enough intellectual horsepower there to lead to breakthroughs – no doubt.

India’s farmers profit from organic boom

Organic teagarden in Sikkim
Daylife/Reuters Pictures used by permission

The northwest state of Punjab is popularly known as the breadbasket of India.

But many local farmers say that decades of using chemicals and pesticides, encouraged by the government, has caused health problems including cancer.

It’s a point of view borne out by research.

A 2008 study by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that the incidence of cancer in the area was nearly double that of a similar sized town 200 kilometers away, citing “involvement in cultivation, pesticide use, alcohol consumption and smoking…”

India is one of the largest producers of pesticides in the world, much of it for local consumption. But now there’s a new awareness. There’s a big change sweeping across the fields of rural India. Tens of thousands of farmers are giving up on chemical farming and going back to a traditional ancient way of farming which is organic.

Environmentalists estimate that India has around 300,000 organic farms. Farmers are learning different skills and adjusting their mindset, says Upendra Dutt, who organizes training sessions in organic agriculture.

With the growing demand both in India and abroad for organic products, it makes business sense as well.

Anuj Katyal’s company exports organic basmati rice to 15 countries where customers don’t mind paying a premium for the organic label. India’s organic farming sector accounts for only a sliver of the global $50 billion market for organic products but the potential is huge. “We tell people eating an organic apple is not only good for you, it’s good for the environment and will help the farmer grow another organic one,” Katyal said.

Agreed. We’re fortunate enough in our neck of the prairie also to be getting organic tomatoes, right now, from Mexico for the same price or less than the old-fashioned chain stores. Other goodies from Guatemala and Belize.

Should hospitals be allowed to deport illegal immigrants? – UPDATED

Old Hospital Photo

On his ride back to Indiantown from a landscaping job one afternoon nearly a decade ago, Luis Alberto Jimenez’s destiny collided with the front end of a stolen van. The impact killed two passengers in the car he was in and landed the van’s drunken driver, Donald Flewellen, in prison for nearly 10 years on a DUI manslaughter charge.

The crash also left Jimenez, an illegal Guatemalan immigrant, with debilitating injuries and the cognitive ability of a fourth-grader.

Jimenez has become the center of a legal battle between the hospital that flew him back to Guatemala after spending more than $1 million on his care and Jimenez’s family members who say the hospital falsely imprisoned him and deported him so it would no longer have to pay to treat him. The case is at the forefront of national debates on health care and immigration…

Against objections from Montejo (Jimenez’ cousin) and his attorney – after two years – a judge eventually sided with Martin Memorial. Montejo filed an appeal, but less than a day later hospital officials took Jimenez to Guatemala on a chartered jet…

An appeals court in 2004 overturned Judge Fennelly’s decision, saying he had no jurisdiction to authorize the return…

Martin Memorial officials declined last week to comment on the specifics of the case. They said their situation reflects those of hospitals across the country.

“Unfortunately, the cost of providing that care is rising and the burden of paying the health care bill for many undocumented immigrants is falling on hospitals and health systems that simply cannot afford to pay it,” hospital communications director Ronda Wilburn said in an e-mail.

I don’t know of another country that spends so much time feeling guilty over the plight of those who enter the country illegally. Educating children, providing medical care, job assistance – in some jurisdictions, the needs of illegal migrant laborers seem to take precedence over American citizens, whether by birth or naturalization.

Should be an interesting case to follow.

UPDATE: The Jury found on behalf of the hospital.