Sunday, July 16, 2006

JURIST - Paper Chase: Ex-Guatemala dictator says Spanish arrest warrant on genocide charges unfounded

JURIST - Paper Chase: Ex-Guatemala dictator says Spanish arrest warrant on genocide charges unfounded

I wasn't in Guatemala at the time of the coup that brought Efrain Rios Montt to power, and I'm not sure of how it came to be. The story I heard, which was generally accepted in circles I visited, was that the coup had been carried out by a group of young military officers, honest patriots, who had then drafted the honest Rios Montt to step into the vacuum they'd created by displacing corruption.

Likely story. Sure.

Well, it could be. I have a close, well-placed relative who would, having worked very closely with Rios Montt over the years, back something along these lines.

During at least part of his tenure, Rios Montt would grab all the radio and TV frequencies for an hour or so on Saturday or Sunday to "regañar al pueblo", to scold the public, to sermonize. Some time prior, Rios Montt had left the Catholic Church and become a Falwell-Robertson type of "evangelico". As I recall, Rios Montt didn't preach bible as much as talk civics, though he certainly mixed the two. My impression, not necessarily well founded, was that common people didn't much like being scolded, but they recognized a necessity for it.

Rios Montt required every member of his government to take a sworn oath that he or she would not lie, steal or abuse. It rather annoyed me to one day find myself in the coastal home of a fairly high official, and to find that he had a switch in his kitchen with which he would disconnect the electric meter when he needed to run his air conditioners. Oh, well...

This guy's offspring (the guy with the switch) had an effect on me, too. One day I was in their company on the beach at the town of Panajachel on Lake Atitlán, when an Indian lady approached to offer for sale some pants that had become popular among the tourists there. This lady's price was $4 for a pair of pants. Four lousy dollars. It really disgusted me to see these little center-of-attention pricks in their leather wrapped sunglasses automatically compelled to haggle the price down to $3.


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