Guatemala's new Vice President Alejandro Maldonado was one of the judges to rule in favor of annulling the 2013 genocide conviction of dictator Efrain Rios Montt.
The constitutional judge, who was a former cabinet minister and ambassador, was selected by Guatemala's Congress Thursday after the previous vice president resigned amid a corruption scandal.
Maldonado was chosen from three nominees selected by President Otto Perez Molina. Grahame Russell, director of solidarity organization Rights Action, points out that the president was also responsible for selecting the ousted vice president Roxana Baldetti, accused of being part of the “La Linea” organized crime gang.
“Perez Molina – an alleged war criminal himself for his role as an intellectual and material author of war crimes during the worst years of U.S.-backed repression in the 1980s – is also widely suspected to be, along with the now disgraced Roxana Baldetti, one of the masterminds of the “La Linea” crime syndicate,” Russell told teleSUR.
Rights Action works with and funds victims groups in the country, mainly Indigenous, which continue to struggle for truth, memory and justice for the war crimes and genocide carried out by U.S.-sponsored regimes during the country’s bloody 36-year civil war that left over 200,000 people dead and tens of thousands more tortured and disappeared. According to the Guatemala’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the Guatemalan government was responsible for 93 percent of the deaths during the conflict.
“For most Guatemalans, none of this is surprising,” Russell added. “However, it is profoundly depressing and ensures continuity of an undemocratic, repressive and exploitation regime in power.”
Maldonado was one of three judges on the country’s five-member Constitutional Court to overturn Rios Montt's guilty verdict over charges of crimes against humanity and genocide and its accompanying 80-year prison sentence. The annulment occurred just 10 days after the historic May 10, 2013, verdict.
After numerous delay tactics and procedural motions by the defense, a retrial was eventually set for Jan. 5, 2015. However, the case has struggled to get underway, due to the alleged poor health of the ex-despot as it has been suspended again.
His military regime, which carried out a scorched earth campaign largely against the country’s Indigenous population, marked one of the bloodiest periods of Guatemala's 36-year civil war, as Rios Montt is accused of killing at least 1,771 Guatemalans, committing 1,400 human rights violations and displacing tens of thousands of Indigenous people.
During the trial, almost 100 witnesses testified over counts of rape, infanticide and the destruction of crops to induce starvation.
The selection of Maldonado will deal an extra blow to the victims of the genocide, after it emerged in April that Rios Montt's daughter, Zury Rios, was planning on running for president.
Rios has declined to comment on whether her father's legal case could affect her campaign. However, back in January she criticized her father’s trial by saying, "Today it's General Rios Montt, tomorrow it'll be you, your child or relative. The degeneration of justice and the way it's applied worries me."