Michael Busch

Efforts at bringing Efraín Ríos Montt to justice for war crimes in Guatemala suffered another delay this week. The former dictator and war criminal, who as stood trial for genocide on and off for several years, was ordered by a Guatemalan court to undergo observations to determine his fitness for trial. 

Proceedings, which were scheduled to resume on July 30 following months of delay, were pushed back even further to August 3. It’s clear, at this point, that Ríos Montt’s attorneys intend to drag the trial out until the 89-year-old former general evades justice by giving up the ghost. The presiding judges appear all-too-willing to comply.

Adding insult to injury, Guatemala’s highest court green-lighted the presidential candidacy of Rios Montt’s daughter, Zury Ríos Sosa. As TeleSur reports, “According to Guatemala's constitution, relatives of dictators or de facto coup leaders are barred from running for president. The article has been invoked to reject Ríos Sosa's candidacy three times on the basis of her being the daughter of a former dictator and convicted war criminal Rios Montt.”

Aside from the connection to her father, Ríos Sosa is best known in the United States for her marriage to former Congressman Jerry Weller. The Illisnois representative stepped down from office in 2007 following a string of ethic violations and accusations of improrpriety—a track record that landed him on a list of the most corrupt politicians in the U.S. Congress. 

While her husband’s career ended in disgrace, Ríos Sosa has steadily climbed the ranks of Guatemalan politics, serving four terms in the Guatemalan national congress and building a reputation that afforded her increasing popularity amongst voters. In April, Ríos Sosa announced that she would seek Guatemala’s highest office on her father’s evangelical-based Vision with Values ticket.

Ríos Sosa may not be half the monster her father was, but she’s proven his most passionate defender. In January, Ríos Sosa publicly accused the Guatemalan judiciary of unfairly victimizing the former dictator, and cravenly suggested that his trial portended dark days ahead for the country. “"Today it's General Ríos Montt,” she warned journalists, “tomorrow it'll be you, your child or relative. The degeneration of justice and the way it's applied worries me."

Many Guatemalans are more concerned about a possible return to power for the Ríos Montt clan. Ríos Sosa enjoys the heft of considerable institutional support amongst conservative elites and their constituents, and religious fundamentalists, making her victory in September’s national elections a possibility, however unlikely. But the significance of the court’s decision runs deeper still.

The mere symbolism of a Ríos Sosa run at the presidency underscores the dreariness of Guatemalan politics, and the culture of impunity surrounding the architects of mass murder. Worse, it suggests that Guatemala’s future can still be held hostage by those same criminals, in spirit if not in person. Says Rios Sosa, “My father is my inspiration.” 

Michael Busch is Senior Editor at Warscapes. Follow him on Twitter at @michaelkbusch