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News > Latin America

Guatemala Recognizes Mayan Ixil Genocide, But Absolves General

  • Retired General Jose Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez during his last declaration at court in Guatemala City on September 26, 2018.

    Retired General Jose Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez during his last declaration at court in Guatemala City on September 26, 2018. | Photo: EFE

Published 26 September 2018

The court determined a genocide had indeed happened but absolved chief of intelligence Jose Mauricio Rodriguez. 

A court in Guatemala declared that the army committed crimes against humanity and genocide against the Indigenous Mayan Ixil people during the dictatorship of Efrain Rios Montt, but determined that the accused chief of military intelligence Jose Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez was not able to give orders at that time.


Guatemala: Indigenous Mayan Ixil Midwife and Activist Murdered

Rodriguez was the chief of military intelligence for the second department during the most violent years of the civil war in Guatemala and the events collectively known as the Mayan genocide, during which thousands of people were killed by state security forces.

"The accused could give orders due [to] his position he had in the army," Judge Jaime Gonzalez said, regarding the events that took place between 1982 and 1983.

The Public Ministry demanded a sentence of 80 years in prison for 73-year-old Rodriguez, who is accused of crimes against humanity and a genocide involving 1,771 Indigenous Mayan Ixil people of Quiche. The court, recognizing that there was a systematic genocide, against the Ixil population, is a historical sentence for the people of Guatemala, as there is still sectors of society which deny that it happened.

"The growing oligarchy instills in the military that the Indigenous person was the reason for the nation's backwardness," Judge Sara Yoc explained while reading her verdict, adding that it "therefore aims to strip them from their worldview and land." 

The sentence declared that racism in Guatemala exists as a structural problem coming from times of the Spanish conquest and persisting until modern times.

Yoc was the only judge to vote against Rodriguez's innocence and declared him guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity.

"The accused was chief of the second intelligence authority, it's such a coincidence he was appointed on the same day that Rios Montt took over the presidency," she said. "He must have had all the information about what was going on in the field to advice his superiors."

During his last declaration at the Higher Risk Tribunal “B,” Rodriguez declared himself innocent and asked the court to let him free to enjoy the last years of his life, as he doesn’t have an “assassin profile.”

“We have listened to painful declarations but with all certainty, I want to declare, with my head high, I didn’t do nor did I ordered to do all they say I did,” Rodriguez said. “They said I did the Victoria 82 [Plan] and deduct that massacres and lootings came out of that. I invite you to tell me, wherein the Victoria 82 does it say all that?”

"In Nebaj, Quiche, the Ixil people gathered at the main square waiting for the sentence against Jose Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez, former chief of the G2 Military Intelligence of Guatemala's army. At 6:30 p.m., the Higher Risk Tribunal “B" could condemn him."

The Victoria 82 Plan, also known as Operation Ashes, was the first stage of a comprehensive National Security and Development Plan in Guatemala, aimed at crushing the armed insurgency against the military dictatorships following the U.S.-backed coup against president Jacobo Arbenz, who was threatening the economic interests of the United Fruit Company. Along with Plan Sofia and Plan Firmeza 83, the operations resulted in the deaths of thousands of people and about 29,000 displaced in the mostly Indigenous regions of the country.

Rodriguez was accused of signing the documents detailing the plans and being aware of the social consequences of such repressive operations against the Indigenous population, such as mass murders and burning of whole villages.

Judge Maria Eugenia Castellanos, president of the tribunal, said that the massacres were selective and that the plans focused specifically on the Ixil communities that didn't engage in combat.

"The communities were quiet at home or working in the fields when systematically attacked," according to Castellanos, who also highlighted the sexual crimes committed against the Ixil population, saying that "a sexual violation is never forgotten by the victim." She, however, did not declare Rodriguez guilty.

At the end of the tribunal, it was determined that Rodriguez played no role in the Victoria 82 Plan.

The deliberation session concluded at 6:30 p.m., on Wednesday, after lasting for hours. The final decision was eagerly awaited by different sectors of Guatemalan society, with people gathering in several cities to hear the verdict. The judges reviewed statements from 69 survivors and relatives of the victims, along with 600 documents.

In 2013, the Higher Risk Tribunal “A” and Judge Yassmin Barrios declared Rodriguez innocent and sentenced Rios Montt to 80 years in prison, but the Constitutional court overturned the decision and ordered a retrial. The case reopened on October 12 and the court decided to separate their processes after Rios Montt peacefully passed away on April 2018.

It is estimated that about 200,000 people were either murdered or went missing during the conflict years, according to a 1999 report by the United Nations. The Mayan genocide has been described as a ‘silent holocaust’ by the truth commission in Guatemala.

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