Ex-Guatemalan despot incompetent to stand trial: doctors

1 min 15Approximate reading time

Former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt, charged with genocide during a brief but particularly brutal period of the country’s civil war, is incompetent to stand trial, doctors said Tuesday.

Rios Montt, 89, “is not in full use of his mental faculties, is not able to understand any of the charges against him, cannot understand the elements of a trial or judicial procedures and cannot contribute to his own defense,” said a report by the Guatemalan Medical Examiner’s Office.

The report was presented as evidence to a mid-level court to determine if he should be tried over the death of 201 farmers during his iron-fisted rule in the early 1980s.

But his lawyers say the report also affects a separate, much bigger case, one in which the aging ex-despot is charged with the genocide of Maya Indians.

That trial is scheduled to begin July 23.

Rios Montt ruled Guatemala from March 1982 to August 1983, as the country struggled with a bloody civil war pitting successive rightwing regimes against leftist rebels.

He and his former intelligence chief, Jose Rodriguez, are charged with ordering the army to carry out 15 massacres of Ixil Maya indigenous people in Quiche in northern Guatemala. A total of 1,700 Indians died.

In 2013, Rios Montt was sentenced to 80 years in prison for genocide and war crimes over these massacres.

But the country’s Constitutional Court threw out the conviction on procedural grounds and ordered a retrial.

On January 5 this year, another court was to begin his trial but his defense had the judge, Jeannette Valdez, recused for having made public an opinion about genocide in a 2004 thesis.

A new trial date was set for July 23. But this is now up in the air because of the medical examiner’s report declaring the former dictator mentally incompetent.

Some 200,000 people were killed or vanished without a trace in Guatemala’s 1960-1996 civil war, according to a 1999 UN-sponsored report.

More than 90 percent of the human rights violations took place between 1978 and 1984.

Rios Montt’s lawyers say he was unaware of the army’s killings of indigenous people.